House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was care.


SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion, the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The chief government whip has requested that the vote be deferred until the end of government orders tomorrow.

Is that agreed?

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions among all the parties and I think you would find unanimous consent to see the clock as 5:30 p.m.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2005 / 5:15 p.m.


Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil, QC

moved that Bill C-306, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (public transportation costs), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-306, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (public transportation costs). This enactment amends the Income Tax Act to allow an individual to deduct certain public transportation costs from the amount of tax payable.

Public transportation includes a public transportation service by bus, subway, commuter train or light rail. Of course, the definition included in the bill is not restrictive and could be expanded in time to other types of mass transportation.

In 2005, everyone believes that promoting public transportation must be a priority. The purpose of Bill C-306 is, essentially, to provide Quebec and Canadian taxpayers with a tax deduction for the cost of their bus or train pass, in order to further encourage them to make greater use of the various modes of public transportation. That was the basic objective of the bill: to encourage people to use means of transportation that are far more economical and ecological and at the same time lessen the pressure of vehicular traffic on our highway systems.

I do not think there is any point in making a long argument to demonstrate the benefits of making public transportation a priority, nor of the necessity of doing so. We all agree on this and there have been public awareness campaigns around it for some years. All manner of organizations have carried out studies to demonstrate its merits and are seeking solutions to increase its use.

However, despite all the virtues ascribed to public transportation, it has often been overlooked by governments. A tax incentive alone will obviously not set everything right and make it possible to achieve this objective. Some people will say that it is one thing to favour increased use of public transportation, but that does not solve the infrastructure needs. I agree entirely. And here, I must point out one important detail, and that is respect for the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces.

The federal government's actions must be in its own areas of jurisdiction. It should be remembered that funding for public transportation is an exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. It is obvious, though, that the needs are great and Quebec's financial capacities are limited—we all know why. For many years, there has been a serious problem with the fiscal imbalance, which undermines the Quebec government's ability to meet the needs of municipalities, particularly in regard to financing public transportation infrastructure.

The federal government has too much tax room in comparison with its responsibilities. We have been saying so for a long time, but we can never say it enough: the money is in Ottawa while the needs are in Quebec City. The Bloc Québécois has been denouncing this situation at every opportunity and will continue to do so as long as the federal government has not responded to the mounting pressure to increase transfers to Quebec, without any conditions, of course.

Quebec must be the master of its own choices and priorities, and most importantly, have the fiscal room to respond adequately. Instead of interfering in areas under Quebec's jurisdiction, as it has a great propensity to do, the federal government should use the tools at its disposal, in particular by changing the Income Tax Act to provide the tax incentive proposed in Bill C-306.

What must be kept in mind are obviously the economic and environmental benefits of this measure in both the medium and long terms, which will outweigh any costs involved in granting this kind of tax deduction. We must avoid shortsighted strategies and instead make responsible, sustainable investments beginning right now.

Insofar as sustainable development is concerned, I would like to mention two aspects that should be taken into consideration to ensure such a measure is sound. People must be wondering why an incentive should be favoured by means of a tax deduction.

I would say that one of the most important aspects of public transportation has to do with environmental issues.

Without question, public transportation promotes a better environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing energy consumption and enhancing quality of life and the urban environment.

This is the Kyoto era and we have a collective responsibility to find ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Public transportation is an effective way, is safer than transportation by car and provides better mobility. Heavy traffic in cities has an impact not only in terms of productivity, but also in terms of atmospheric pollution.

According to the most recent data from Statistics Canada, between 2002 and 2003, the number of cars increased by 5.5%, which represents close to 18 million cars on the highways of Quebec and Canada. Just think about that; it is huge. If nothing is done to encourage alternative modes of transportation, there will be harmful consequences in the very near future in terms of increased atmospheric pollution, the ability to get around in urban settings and the possibility of achieving Kyoto protocol objectives. There is an urgent need to take action and promote responsible transportation choices.

One responsible choice is to encourage public transportation and that is precisely the purpose of Bill C-306, to give an incentive likely to influence users directly.

Allow me to provide a few figures that speak for themselves. A 60 km commute can cost up to 10 times less with public transportation than with a car. To get from Longueuil to Montreal on the metro might take 10 minutes, while sometimes you have to bank on over an hour by car, regardless of weather or traffic conditions.

The bus produces up to nine times less greenhouse gases than the car. The metro causes even less pollution since it runs on electricity. A full bus represents between 40 and 50 cars during peak hours, which translates into over 175 tonnes fewer greenhouse gas emissions a year. These figures confirm, beyond any doubt, that environmentally speaking, public transportation is paramount and a tangible way of contributing to a healthy environment.

When debating a legislative measure such as the one before us today, we must give its economic impact serious consideration, too. In this regard, it is obvious that public transportation also plays a major role, for example, by reducing the costs related to traffic congestion for companies and drivers. Economic growth in Quebec and the major urban centres depends on an efficient, rapid transportation system that improves mobility.

Clearly, everyone is a winner: companies will be more competitive, particularly in the context of guaranteeing just-in-time delivery, and users will realize substantial savings. This means direct economic benefits for the community as a whole.

I refer members to an important study published by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal entitled, “Public transit: a powerful economic-development engine for the metropolitan Montreal region”. According to this study, in 2003 alone, public transit enabled Montreal households to save almost $600 million in travel expenses. These savings resulted in increased household purchasing power, which generated significant economic spin-offs for the greater Montreal region.

According to this same study, economic losses related to traffic congestion in Montreal are estimated at nearly $1 billion annually, and public transit contributes directly to reducing losses caused by traffic congestion. Furthermore, a 2% increase in the modal share of public transit means 19 million fewer car trips in the Montreal region. The economic benefits total more than $150 million annually. That is why it is important to promote the increased use of public transit. These are just a few, albeit very significant, examples.

In conclusion, I would like to point out that this proactive measure received unanimous support from various organizations concerned with public transit. These organizations and urban authorities responsible for managing public transit are on the lookout for initiatives encouraging users directly to use their services.

For the past ten years, some of them, including the Montreal transit authority, have requested tax measures from higher levels of government to encourage people to leave their cars parked at home.

They have been waiting a number of years already for governments to act. In the meantime, a broad coalition has been established over the years calling for measures that are cost effective in the short term, but sustainable in the long term.

There is a consensus on such a measure. All that is lacking is the government's political will to proceed and promote increased use of an essential public service that benefits not only users but society as a whole.

I am taking advantage of this debate to invite the federal Minister of Transport to be consistent for once with his remarks on December 12 in the Gazette , to the effect that the government should permit a tax deduction for bus passes. As we saw with the most recent budget, the Minister of Transport's powers of persuasion do not reach as far as his colleague in finance. Still, I invite him to be a little more persistent and fight this important battle within his government. It is an opportunity for the minister to make political hay and serve everyone's interests.

In closing, I invite all my colleagues in this House to support Bill C-306. It concerns people's quality of life, environmental protection and economic vitality. Today's decisions determine the course of the future.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this questions and comments period as part of the debate on Bill C-306 introduced by my hon. colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher.

Here is a bill that meets two fundamental objectives. First, it will reduce the pressure on our highway system. Second, this is the kind of policy that Canada should have put in place many years ago. Why? Because, in order to meet our greenhouse gas emission reduction targets—a commitment made by the federal government under Kyoto—efforts must be made to ensure that Canada's taxation policy plays its role to the fullest.

Naturally, reaching this reduction target requires that the regulatory process follow its course. Also, there should be a shift from a voluntary approach to a more compulsory one for industries and for all sectors of economic activity in Canada. At the same time, it is important to ensure that the tax policy and tax instruments available to the federal government are effective.

In Canada, the federal government often refuses to adopt environmental fiscal policy. What is environmental fiscal policy all about? It is designed to provide tax incentives, tax deductions and tax credits to those who switch to better environmental principles.

As my hon. colleague pointed out, the federal government could very well have responded to this kind of initiative in its budget by including tax deductions or tax credits for the purchase of hybrid vehicles. That is the purpose of Bill C-306: to provide tax credits to public transportation users. Still, the government stubbornly continues to put forward greenhouse gas reduction plans, even though the results are an increase instead of a reduction.

The government has come onside with the opposition in adopting measures consistent with environmental fiscal policy.

To conclude, because I am running out of time, I will ask my hon. colleague this. With this type of policy, can Canada reach its targets in terms of greenhouse gas reductions?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question and for the additional information that he provided.

Indeed, I think that a bill like this one can not only help users, as I mentioned in my speech, but can also send a positive message. Of course, it is the federal government that is responsible for the environment. It simply has to make a decision to send positive messages to the public and explain the importance of public transit and its economic and environmental impact. In my opinion, Bill C-306 is a good way to send positive messages to the public.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on private member's Bill C-306. The bill proposes that tax assistance be provided to those Canadians who use public transit. The intent of this measure is to promote the use of public transit in order to improve the environment. We all agree that this goal is a worthy one. However, the question is, is tax assistance for transit passes the best method to promote an increased use of public transportation? Based on numerous studies, the answer is no. There are much more effective ways than that.

For instance, the Liberal government has put in place infrastructure programs that make direct investments in public transit. Under the new deal for cities and communities we are making significant funding available to municipalities which they can use to address priorities such as public transit.

Since the mid-1990s the government has invested more than $12 billion in its infrastructure programs. These include programs such as the $4 billion Canada strategic infrastructure fund, the $2 billion infrastructure Canada program, and the $1 billion municipal rural infrastructure fund. We are using these infrastructure programs to fund projects across Canada, including public transit in our major urban centres. Let me take this opportunity to present some of these projects.

We have committed $450 million toward the RAV transit line which will link the city of Richmond and Vancouver International Airport with downtown Vancouver. This rail link is planned to be operational and in service in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics Games in British Columbia.

Significant federal funding is also being directed toward public transit projects in Toronto. Some $385 million is being provided to GO Transit to expand and improve its commuter services. A further $350 million has been committed to help modernize and invest in capital renewal of the Toronto Transit Commission.

We are also committing $103 million to renovate Montreal's metro.

The new deal for cities and communities is a priority for our government.

In fact, the first measures relating to this new deal were taken in 2004, including the full refund of the goods and services tax to municipalities. This measure will give municipalities new resources totalling some $7 billion over 10 years, which they can use for major infrastructure priorities such as public transit.

We decided to go even further. In the 2005 budget, we pursued our commitment to provide cities and communities with reliable, long term funding, to help them meet their needs. In particular, we confirmed that we would give them $5 billion over five years to support environmentally sustainable infrastructure, including public transit. The Minister of State for Infrastructure and Communities is already negotiating with the provinces and territories to reach an agreement on this funding.

These investments, and others, will result in a significant improvement in public transit services all across Canada. The improvement of these services will encourage people who normally use their cars to switch to public transit.

One of the key environmental challenges facing the world today is that of climate change. The government recognizes the importance of addressing these challenges.

In April 2005 my colleagues the Minister of the Environment, the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of Industry released “Moving Forward on Climate Change: A Plan for Honouring Our Kyoto Commitment” which will be used to guide the federal government's approach to implementing measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I am pleased to report that key elements of this plan were funded in budget 2005.

These initiatives include $1 billion for an innovative Clean Fund to further stimulate cost-effective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and—in the event that the national interest is at stake, and Canadian businesses are contributing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions—for projects elsewhere.

There is a $250 million partnership fund to deliver targeted support for large strategic projects that are jointly agreed upon priorities for the Government of Canada and provinces and territories.

There is an expansion of the wind power production incentive and a new renewable power production incentive to encourage the production of electricity from clean, renewable power sources.

They also include expansion of the EnerGuide for Houses retrofit incentive program. A total of 500,000 housing units will have benefited from this by 2010.

An estimated $295 million in enhanced tax incentives through accelerated capital cost allowance will encourage investment in efficient and renewable energy generation.

In addition, a plan to develop a sustainable energy science and technology strategy in conjunction with the provinces and territories is scheduled by the end of 2006.

There is also a $300 million enrichment of the green municipal fund, which makes investments in innovative green municipal projects in areas such as energy and water savings, urban transit and waste diversion to strengthen the sustainability of communities. Half of this amount will be targeted to the cleanup of brownfields, which are abandoned or idle properties where environmental contamination is known or suspected and where there is an active economic potential for redevelopment.

In total, budget 2005 targeted over $4 billion in investments over the next five years for key initiatives included in the climate change plan, bringing total federal spending in support of measures to address climate change to over $6 billion since 1997.

Existing climate change programming includes measures to support science, impacts and adaptation research, international work, policy development, public education and outreach, such as the one tonne challenge, and technology development and demonstration, such as funding for sustainable development technology Canada.

We understand that more action will be required in the future. The government has pledged to introduce additional measures as resources permit. We will continue to learn from our investments and international experience.

This government believes that the plan and climate change measures introduced in budget 2005, in combination with climate change initiatives already under way, will shift Canada toward a clean energy future and increase the efficiency, sustainability and international competitiveness of the Canadian economy, while moving toward our emissions reduction objectives under the Kyoto protocol.

Many initiatives will also be important to spur activities and to change behaviours in ways that mitigate climate change impacts and generate other environmental benefits, such as meeting Canadian objectives for reducing air pollution, since atmospheric pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions often come from the same sources.

In addition to addressing the problem of climate change, our government wholly supports the conservation and improvement of our environment. The government's commitment to this is illustrated by the environmental initiatives announced in recent budgets, over and above those more directly related to climate change, which have exceeded $7 billion since 1997.

These investments include measures to clean up contaminated sites; to design, implement and enforce framework legislation such as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Species at Risk Act; to improve air and water quality and to invest in the development of environmental technologies.

Our actions show that this government takes our environment very seriously. We have invested heavily in infrastructure programs. We are putting in place a new deal for cities and communities. We have provided significant resources to address climate change and have developed a climate change plan for Canada. Clearly, we are doing our part and we are doing it through much more effective ways than providing tax assistance for public transit.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Bob Mills Conservative Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the private member's bill, Bill C-306. Listening to the last speaker, I cannot help but comment a little about the bragging that went on as far as the Liberal government. Let us quickly look at the facts.

In terms of Kyoto, we are now 30% above 1990 levels. Our commitment was to be 6% below 1990 levels. We obviously have a big failing grade on that one.

We have all kinds of programs that were announced. Yet as far as the OECD is concerned, of the 29 industrialized countries, in 2003 we were 24th out of 29. In the last report for 2004, we are now 28th out 29 countries rated in environmental integrity by the OECD, the industrialized world. The last speaker probably should not be bragging about the Liberal record.

We have three cities still dumping raw sewage in the ocean. We still have about 10,000-plus federal contaminated sites, 50,000 other contaminated sites and no action on brownfields. We have the Sydney tar ponds.

I have been here since 1993. Every year I have heard the government say that it will clean them up. Guess what? Two or three weeks ago, we heard there would be another two year study on the Sydney tar ponds and that the government would clean them up. The poster child of the Liberal government is the Sydney tar ponds. I guess if I manage to survive here another 10 or 15 years, I will probably hear the government say that it will clean up the Sydney tar ponds.

We have boil water warnings. We have all kinds of environmental problems, such as smog days in Toronto, et cetera.

Before I got to the bill, I had to set the record straight from our last speaker.

The bill plans to give a tax credit for public transport. This is probably a good measure in the sense that it would go directly to the people who would be using it. Hopefully, it would have some effect on changing individual behaviour so public transit would become the way to go. Those are the kinds of things that we have to do.

For instance, I have a son and daughter who both live and work in Vancouver. They have great difficulties now because of increased costs. They are both using cars, both using transportation to take the kids to the babysitter, then going to work. In big cities like that it costs about $600 to $700 a month of cost for gasoline. They are still doing that.

However, I think if they were provided some kind of incentive, even though it might not be quite convenient, having rapid transit, or bus passes, or the subway or whatever, they probably would consider changing how they run their lives. The incentive of a tax break would probably have some effect on them.

We are trying to convince people that there are environmental benefits as well in using something like public transport. If we look at Canada's transport sector, we find that 27% of the greenhouse gasses released in this country come from transportation while .03% come from the various types of public transit. There would be a tremendous saving, whether it is sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide or particulate matter. All those things that result in smog obviously could be helped greatly if we were to improve our urban transit system and the use of it.

As well we must also try to find a way to do something for rural people who feel the effects of increased fuel prices and the difficulties of getting around. I must admit I do not have a ready answer but I have some ideas. As well we should be emphasizing the clean air that could be brought about by various types of rapid transit.

As the critic for this area, I have a lot of people who lobby me, as I am sure they lobby many of the members in the House, on behalf of the fuel cell industry, the fuel cell buses, the propane buses and the natural gas buses. Almost all of them say that we do not have them Canada. They have them in Los Angeles and Beijing. They have orders for 1,000 for the Olympics in Beijing, but there are none in the big cities in Canada. Something is wrong with our system of promoting rapid transit.

It is interesting that Calgary, as an example, is using wind energy with its light rail and has promoted it as “ride the wind”. It is one of the major purchasers of wind energy which runs all the light rail system in Calgary. That has become a major promotion item. It is amazing how many international guests comment on the fact that it is one of the first cities they have been in which uses a renewable energy source for its public transit. There is a great deal of pride there and an awful lot of bragging goes on by the people of Calgary. They are the envy of a lot of places.

What are the economic and social impacts of rapid transit? It reduces congestion, as the Bloc member pointed out. Congestion is a major problem in our big cities. Without building new roads, ultimately it becomes impossible to carry the loads of traffic that we might expect. There would be a saving there.

I have mentioned clean air and cutting out the pollution associated with that. There is more social mobility and reduced health problems. One of the reasons that countries like China and India are looking at some of these environmental problems in rapid transit is because of that health issue.

What we always have to remember, when we talk about Kyoto, air and what we might do, is we are a cold climate. We have large distances, few people and relatively little infrastructure to help us solve some of those problems.

A bill similar to this has been in the House before. It passed by 240 to 25. However, as with so many of the private members' bills that pass in the House, no action is taken on them. We hear about other programs and that there will be action. They are re-announced over and over, but the dithering that goes on in dealing with many of these is quite remarkable. I hope this bill passes and when it does, I hope something will done about it and there will be direct action to help people in this area.

We can go to corporations and ask them to provide some incentives to their workers to take different means of getting to work. They give them incentives now like free parking spots or covering some of their costs. That is part of many contracts under which people work. Maybe if we could use rapid transit as a carrot for some of these people, it would be something that industry might buy into, particularly if we were to give them some tax credits for that kind of a promotion. There is so much that we can do in this area.

If I have one fault with this bill, it is the lack of detail in terms of how we would do this and how much it would cost. All of that would have to be worked out.

When we look at the G-7 or G-8 countries, we find that most of them, with Canada being the one exception, invest quite heavily in public transit. Public transit becomes one of their major conservation issues and one of the major ways to deal with smog and pollution in their large cities. We can learn a lot. We could go south of us and we would find quite a bit.

There is a lot of benefit to this. I believe it needs some fine tuning. I see the chair of the environment committee here. I would hope the environment committee could deal with this, fine-tune it and come up with some real solutions that would help solve our air problems in our major cities, and let us not forget the rural people whom we might be able to help as well.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate today. I want to thank my colleague from the Bloc for bringing the motion forward.

My colleague from the Conservatives mentioned a previous motion that had come to the House. It passed by the House on November 4, 1998, exempting employer paid public transit passes.

In 1998 the Liberal government had an opportunity to encourage ridership on public transit and it failed to implement it. I want to add that the current finance minister voted in favour of it. I find it hard to believe that he will be doing the same this time around, but it would be nice if he was not changing his tune so quickly.

I will read a fair bit from my colleague, Nelson Riis, who when he was here brought that motion forward. It says a lot about the bill of my colleague from the Bloc as well.

I am acknowledging that I am reading almost verbatim my colleague, the speech of Nelson Riis, so I do not get accused of using his words. They were great words and I will repeat them because they are just as good today as they were in 1998. He said:

We all pay tax on our earnings. Some benefits we receive from our employer must also be declared as income and are therefore income taxable. Employer provided parking and employer provided transit passes are both examples of benefits that are considered taxable under the federal Income Tax Act.

However, Revenue Canada's interpretation of this act provides loopholes allowing most employees to receive their free parking income tax free. Workers with this benefit save approximately $1,722 annually. This is an incentive for commuters to drive and represents a significant loss of income tax revenue.

The government can address this bias by making employer provided transit passes an income tax exempt benefit.

This indicates that individuals would receive a direct benefit into their homes if this were made tax exempt. He further said:

This change would provide a rare opportunity for the federal government to seriously affect public policy at the local level.

I want to respond at this point because it clarifies the position of the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, my Liberal colleague who spoke earlier. I wish I had the chance to question him because he said that studies showed there was no benefit to doing this. I would like to see those studies and at least get the name of them to review them.

My colleague also stated that in the United States when this exemption was brought in, and while both the amounts and the manner in which transit subsidies could be offered were limited, transit use increased an average of 25% among employees offered this benefit.

He said:

Obviously it was a significant change in emphasis. In San Francisco, for example, transit use among participating employees increased 31%, removing an estimated 17 million vehicle miles from the Bay area, avoiding 61 million tons of pollutants and generating $1.6 million of new transit revenue.

To my colleague from the Liberals, where is his study to prove differently? I just indicated the one from San Francisco and that area that shows that it does work.

He went on to say:

All taxpayers benefit from decreased congestion. They benefit from health care savings, reduced infrastructure costs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Very few tax policies impact so favourably on so many Canadians.

Supporting public transit is not solely a transit issue. It is a health issue, it is a social issue. It is pollution issue. It is an environmental issues. It surely is an economic issue as well. It is a solid foot forward in the battle to meet our Kyoto obligations and it makes sense. It is cost effective and it has proven effective in other jurisdictions.

To those doubters out there, this is not just about giving a tax exempt break and someone is going to get a bit of a cost benefit. We are going to have an overwhelmingly major cost benefit to our health care system and meet our Kyoto commitments, so there is benefit.

Again, it is not just the New Democratic Party that says this or in this case the Bloc that supports it as well. The representative of the Canadian Urban Transit Association stated:

Public transit can offer a major solution, but needs expanded capacity and ridership and incentive for Canadians to take transit, like tax exempt transit initiatives.

We all meet with the Canadian Urban Transit Association every year when it does its lobbying. I wonder how many of my Liberal colleagues told members of the Canadian Urban Transit Association that they were absolutely wrong and that they did not agree that tax incentives for public transit passes would not work.

If they are going to recognize these associations as being credible, then they should at least have the gumption to stand up and support some of the policies it says will work to increase public transit and reduce emissions in this country, the ultimate benefit going to the Canadian population.

The vice-chair of the association said that a change in the federal tax code to make employer provided transit benefits tax exempt would go a long way to allowing employers to offer a real incentive for people to switch from driving alone to public transit for their journey to work, something we have already done in the House. We voted on that in the House with the results being that 141 Liberals said that it would work. Only 23 Reformers, 39 Bloc members, 21 New Democrats, the whole kit and caboodle at the time, 15 Progressive Conservatives and 1 independent voted in favour of this. We had 4 Liberals and 21 Reformers who voted no while the rest must have been off vacationing somewhere. The reality is that Parliament voted saying yes that tax exempt public transit passes will work.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

An hon. member


Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

We overwhelmingly voted in favour of it, including the finance minister. Has the government implemented it? Is that not what we do in Parliament? When Parliament says that we should do something, are we not supposed to do it? I thought that was why we were elected, why we got here and what democracy was all about, but the government has not done it.

We could have seen the benefits of this over the last seven years of less pollution and less vehicles on the road. Maybe we could have seen the need to go a step further and have it not just for employer paid public transit passes but for all public transit usage. Quite frankly, the same argument for any public transit usage being tax exempt is the one that was used for the employer paid public transit passes and certainly would be a benefit.

My colleague from Kamloops at the time, Nelson Riis, used very strong and positive words at the time. When one hears something good there is no point trying to rewrite it. I want to emphasize again that we have a situation where Canadian tax policy encourages people to use automobiles. Tax exempting parking spaces is a classic example.

We encourage that but a the same time we talk about wanting to be environmentally friendly and sustainable. It is time for Parliament, the government and the Prime Minister to actually say what they mean and follow through on what they say. It would be a real change and would probably shock the heck out of Canadians but it is time they did that.

Even if this motion should happen not to pass today, it is time to implement the one that was passed in 1998. I certainly hope this motion as well will get the support of this Parliament and just maybe the Liberal government will shock the heck out of Canadians and actually follow through and do what Parliament requested and voted on.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, my congratulations to my colleague from the riding of Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher on presenting this bill.

I am pleased to speak as the Bloc critic for national revenue to Bill C-306, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (public transportation costs).

A person might well wonder about the reasons behind this bill. Why give public transit users a tax deduction? In the course of my remarks, I will try to answer the question.

This is not the first time a bill providing tax deductions for public transit users has been debated in this House. In 1999, Parliament passed a motion, 240 to 25, calling on the government to examine the question of a tax exemption for public transit use. In 2001 as well, Bill C-209 proposed similar objectives. It was very well received by this House, and outside it, by user groups. However, the bill was blocked by the Liberal government.

The government has always contended that it was seeking a better future for everyone through a variety of programs. Any measure promoting greater use of public transit will certainly contribute to the achievement of the objectives in this report. Such a bill would really encourage people to use public transit.

There is a lot of discussion of the Kyoto protocol. In this vein, the Government of Canada could adopt a specific measure and thus accomplish two things at once, by promoting the use of public transit and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The measure could have an even more beneficial effect. It would help reduce highway congestion and the costs of building and maintaining roads and increase people's quality of life.

Clearly public transit is very economical for users. I might be allowed to demonstrate this. It costs about $8,000 a year to own a mid size car, which does not include the cost of parking. The cost annually of public transit, which varies according to where people live in Quebec, is between $500 and $1,000, which is a huge saving.

It goes without saying that some will object, claiming this is a discriminatory measure since it does not affect all Quebeckers and Canadians. My riding has several smaller cities in its regions. Residents of such small centres in rural areas with no access to public transportation will not benefit from this tax break. People living in rural areas do not always have established services like those in the cities.

Yet, this measure is beneficial to the entire population, since one of the most important parts of this bill is on providing a better quality of life for everyone.

The bill has not only a significant economic component but also an environmental component for improving quality of life for individuals.

In my opinion, the federal government must offer help to public transit users in the provinces and in Quebec to promote increased use of public transit.

Providing tax breaks will increase revenue for transit companies that could in turn provide better services in their community.

Despite the fact that Montreal—I think we must use Montreal as an example—is the place where public transit is used the most in North America, proportionally speaking, and that the use of public transportation continues to grow, unfortunately the use of the automobile is increasing at a faster rate. This phenomenon is seen in Canada, Quebec and other areas in the world.

Governments are facing a major challenge in motivating taxpayers to use public transit. To meet this challenge, the government will have to invest millions of dollars in renewing transportation infrastructure and equipment to ensure the sustainability and renewal of this community heritage. Just think of the metro in Montreal, which was built back in the 1960s; it will need a major facelift in the near future.

That is but the tip of the iceberg. Major investments are planned in Quebec. It is estimated that, over the next 10 years, the governments will be investing some $4.6 billion, as compared to $2 billion over the past 10 years.

In light of the many investments planned for the coming years, and given that part of the income tax, gas tax, and licence fees that taxpayers pay goes to public transit, I am wondering what measures governments could put in place to further encourage people to use public transit.

Bill C-306 has one significant advantage. First, by creating a tax deduction, the federal government is intervening directly in its own area of jurisdiction. Furthermore, this is a concrete measure that will undoubtedly increase the revenues of various public transit authorities. More taxpayers will purchase monthly or annual passes instead of individual tickets.

Second, this will also benefit the transit authorities on the outskirts of urban centres. If we use, as an example, the Société de transport du Saguenay, which, in my riding, has three major terminals: Jonquière, Chicoutimi and La Baie, and a budget of nearly $16 million annually, such a measure could mean increased revenues for this transit authority and act as an incentive for many residents thereby forcing some municipalities to add new routes and improve the public transit system.

In short, this bill is the ideal way to decrease traffic congestion in Quebec and Canada. If all users of public transit in the greater Montreal region were to drive, travel times would increase by 1.5 hours, tripling what they are now.

Such initiatives offer an affordable alternative to people who have become victims of rising gas prices.

Furthermore, our roads would last a little longer if we reduced the number of cars being driven. This would mean we would save millions of dollars each year on road maintenance and improvements.

I hope that Bill C-306 is adopted.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Scarborough—Guildwood Ontario


John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I will go through some of the points that need to be brought out in this debate. It is not a very happy task to bring the bad news to situations where on the face of it at least this appears to be a good idea. Who would disagree with the overall concept of trying to encourage the use of transit? Certainly, the government would not and no member in the House would. However, our basic position on the bill is, however well intentioned it might be, that it is a very costly initiative for a dubious benefit.

Hon. members know that the Government of Canada is quite fiscally prudent. They have only learned that recently, but they know that we are in fact quite prudent with the moneys that taxpayers entrust to us. We are glad to know that it has been a recent enlightenment on the part of the NDP.

The bill is of dubious effectiveness and it is not quite as fair as it might otherwise seem to be. The overall thrust of the bill is the desire to create more transit users. As I said earlier, there is no person in the House who does not agree with that intention. However, we also have to weigh costs against that encouragement and there is no clear evidence that it will generate the desired increases in public transit. So, costs need to be weighed against other considerations such as accessibility, convenience, comfort and personal preference.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise to anyone that study after study shows that the use of public transit is relatively insensitive to the cost for users. That is econo-speak. Transit users use transit for reasons other than cost, for reasons such as convenience and for reasons that are personal unto themselves. In this instance we are looking for tax relief for the cost of using public transit. The studies show that this will create a relatively speaking small increase in ridership and members may say that even three more riders is good. Well, three more riders at what cost?

In this situation this would be accompanied by a very hefty price tag. Let us say for instance that the ridership was increased by 10%. That would cost the government in the order of about $240 million upwards in the range of possibly as much as $300 million, with 90% of the relief going to the people who are already using the transit system. Here we are paying out 90%, somewhere between $240 million and $300 million to people who are already using transit. That is a very expensive 10% increase in the ridership of a transit system.

In addition to questioning the effectiveness, I would also have to question the fairness of the bill. There is no doubt that most transit systems are in urban centres and urban centres would be the overwhelmingly large beneficiaries of this initiative as opposed to rural or other centres. As well, those who use other environmentally friendly means of getting from point A to point B would also be potentially disadvantaged.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I can tell the hon. parliamentary secretary that when the matter comes before the House again, he will have six minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks, which I know he will want to exploit to the fullest.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.


Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, the question I want to pursue is related to the tragic case of Zahra Kazemi. Coincidentally, I was able to meet today with Ms. Kazemi's son, who also met with the leader of the official opposition. We went over some of the issues.

I want to remind the minister as I pose the question that it was two years ago when this case began to unfold and Ms. Kazemi was arrested. We knew there was going to be trouble. When we heard of her death, we knew we could not believe the stories we were getting from the Iranian regime.

First, we said the government had to show it was serious. Second, we said we had to bring home the ambassador right away. Third, we had to demand an open trial. Fourth, the government had to raise this at the United Nations right away. Fifth, we had to announce the possibility of sanctions; and sixth, we were going to demand that the remains of Ms. Kazemi be brought home.

The government did none of that. They played their tired old soft diplomacy game which does not work. Soft diplomacy does not work when dealing with hard tyrants. There is an understanding and it is a basic philosophical difference that we have, but it is very clear and history shows that appeasement does not work when dealing with these hard regimes.

I want to read a quote from the former leader of the Czech Republic, a brave and courageous individual. These are his comments on this issue. We should take it very seriously because these are people who have been there. These are people who have certainly paid the price and they know what they are talking about when we are dealing with tough regimes. On January 28 he spoke to all of Europe and said:

It is suicidal for the EU to draw on Europe's worst political traditions, the common denominator of which is the idea that evil must be appeased and that the best way to achieve peace is through indifference to the freedom of others. Just the opposite is true:--

People such as Nathan Sharansky who chronicles what he has learned from his years in prison and in the gulag, and suffering at the hands of oppressive regimes says and advises all governments that “the international community should never trust a state more than it trusts its own people”. The Iranian government does not trust its own people. It holds them repressively. It tortures, persecutes and kills.

We cannot trust a government that does not trust its own people. Yet, our government trusted the Iranian regime officials when they said to just leave it to them and not to worry. They said that they will find out what happened to Zahra Kazemi. Nathan Sharansky also said to be careful because any regime that does outrageous things to its people will do the same to other people. This is exactly what happened to Zahra Kazemi.

When the government got the conclusive evidence from a doctor in November of last year, what was our response? The doctor had done the autopsy and then escaped. He was safe and out of Iran. He said that this woman was tortured, raped and then she was murdered. What was our response in November after getting that news? We sent our ambassador back to Iran to normalize relations. That is abnormal behaviour. Why did it happen?

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.

Pickering—Scarborough East Ontario


Dan McTeague LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to this important matter raised by the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla.

The Government of Canada remains, as he should know, determined to pursue justice for the Kazemi family. I want to assure the member that this matter goes well beyond being just a simple consular case. It is also very clear that the violations of Ms. Kazemi's most fundamental rights have also attracted the attention of the entire international community.

The government has taken extraordinary measures to press for results in this case. We have clearly indicated our indignation and displeasure to the Iranian government. We will also continue to press for concrete changes in Iran's broader human rights performance.

Most recently, following the unsatisfactory outcomes of court proceedings of May 16 in Tehran, the hon. member was at the foreign affairs committee when the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced a tightening of Canada's controlled engagement policy toward Iran. These new measures will persist until Iranian authorities are prepared to deal with the Kazemi case in a serious and credible manner.

However, we have been very clear that these measures do not include the recall of our ambassador to Iran for which the member is asking. Since the tragic events leading up to and following Ms. Kazemi's death, we have twice recalled our ambassador in protest. The hon. member knows this. We did this to clearly express our indignation over Iran's handling of this case.

The message was clearly understood by Iran and the measures that the minister announced two weeks ago reiterates and entrenches our resolve. Recalling our ambassador yet again for these same reasons would do nothing to strengthen this message.

The information presented recently by Dr. Shahram Aazam has underlined the concerns that many Iranians, including members of the Majlis, have long expressed about Ms. Kazemi's brutal treatment while in custody.

When we were initially approached with word of Dr. Aazam's account in November of 2004, we were of course concerned for his safety and security. He had specifically requested safe haven in Canada. Of course, the Privacy Act also required that confidentiality be maintained. We did not divulge his account and this was, in my view, the responsible decision. The final decision to go public was taken by Dr. Aazam only.

We are continuing to pursue real results in this case. It would have been easy at any time to take draconian action by limiting or even breaking off our diplomatic relations with Iran. However, such a response would only have been detrimental to the defence of Canada's interests. Not only is recalling an ambassador a symbolic act, it hinders the outcome of necessary action and, most important, closes doors that need to remain open.

Our ambassador was asked to return to Iran because we have serious concerns that must be given the necessary attention. Our ambassador is in Tehran to deal with the Iranian authorities so justice can be done in the Kazemi case and he is there to apprise us of possible action within the Iranian system itself.

I want to point out that in all of this we do work with international partners. Canada's committed line of action has been taken by the minister. We believe that taking the draconian and the very difficult steps that the hon. member is proposing, while perhaps well intentioned and perhaps based on something that he calls soft diplomacy, would make it irrelevant diplomacy. We believe it is important that we find a solution to this case.

We also understand that the son of Ms. Kazemi, Mr. Hachemi, has applauded the actions of the minister of May 17 and 18. We will continue to work to ensure that the case of Ms. Kazemi's death is not forgotten in the test of time.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I met with the son of Zahra Kazemi not two hours ago. There was no applause coming from his hands; there was no praise coming from his lips whatsoever. He had only absolute distress and concern over the lack of action.

The hon. parliamentary secretary called the recall of our ambassador draconian and said it is not in Canada's interests. What about the interests of a woman who was captured, wrongly arrested, tortured, raped and murdered? Those are the interests we should be concerned about, the very human rights.

What did Canada do last week? There is a group called MEK, which CSIS has called a terrorist group. I have spoken to MEK, a group of expatriates from Iran who are opposed to the regime in Iran. I have made the case to them. They said that if we are committed to attacking innocent civilians, that is not good and not right, but at the same time we ban this group--

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know the hon. member has informed the House that he has met with the family. There is no doubt in my mind and lawyers representing the family note that this is a very important step that the hon. member has taken.

If the hon. member is true to making these arguments as effective as he is trying to make them now, the last thing he would want to do is to preclude any opportunity for making these arguments where they belong, which is directly and clearly in Iran.

There is also the other issue which must be taken into consideration and that is Iran's lack of respect for international norms as they relate to nuclear proliferation.

Having tried and gone down the road of withdrawing our ambassador, we are responsible for Canadians abroad. There are other Canadians there. We want to ensure that this is not a question of abandonment of their rights and their opportunities.

We understand the Kazemi tragedy. We understand the murder. We understand the Iranian regime, but we must also ensure that we present absolute pressure to that regime to ensure that no other Canadian is subjected to that. This makes a better claim to the cause of human rights in that country to ensure that individuals are never affected like that again.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, over the last nine months I have asked the Minister of Social Development on a number of occasions to commit to a not for profit delivery system for the new national child care program.

As a matter of fact, last week I asked him if he was not afraid of the advent of big box child care if he continues down this road. I shared with him that all the research supports the fact that a not for profit model gives us the best quality, which he insists is what will drive his child care program.

The minister says that his benchmark is quality, and he believes that whether the model is for profit or not for profit does not have any impact on quality. That is not what the research says. That is not what practical experience from around the world says either. He points to Quebec as a jurisdiction with both, but fails to recognize that in order for Quebec to have what it has, which is primarily not for profit, it put a moratorium on any public money going into for profit care for five years.

Therefore, if the issue for the minister is quality, he is obviously not looking at the research. Research from around the world and here at home shows that non-profits provide better quality care and are more accountable for the proper use of public money. A study done by the University of Toronto in December 2004 found that, with government subsidies accounted for, the quality of care in non-profit child care centres was about 10% higher than in for profit child care centres.

The same study also showed that the wages and education of employees were higher at not for profit child care centres. Higher wages and education among child care workers positively impacts care quality and helps maintain a workforce with experience.

In a field widely acknowledged as lacking room for profit, for profit centres cut operating costs in order to maintain profitability and competitiveness. Parents should not have to choose the amount of quality they can afford.

Two studies in Quebec both confirmed that quality is higher in not for profit delivery. It happened in home care in Ontario and it will happen in child care unless the McGuinty Liberal government closes the floodgates now.

If we build it, they will come. Let us build it right and invite the kind of providers we really need, those providing quality, non-profit, community based care. Let us stop the advent of big box day care in Canada.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Ahuntsic Québec


Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development (Social Economy)

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to elaborate on an important issue raised by my hon. colleague, the member for Sault Ste. Marie, concerning agreements in principle reached with provinces and territories for early learning and child care.

Just recently, the Minister of Social Development signed agreements in principle with his counterparts in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, as the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie mentioned, as well as Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, to support the development of quality early learning and child care in these provinces.

These agreements represent a clear commitment on the part of governments to build something significant, to build a system of early learning and child care in each province that children and their families can benefit from. We are using these agreements as models and we are hopeful that we can reach agreements with all provinces and territories in the days and weeks ahead.

As my colleague can see, every agreement in principle reflects our common commitment to a national vision and national principles and objectives for early childhood learning and child care. The agreements also incorporate the priorities and specific objectives of each province and territory. This will allow them to design and deliver programs and services that best respond to the needs and circumstances of the children, an area that comes under their jurisdiction.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan have longstanding policies of promoting non-profit child care and this is reflected in their agreements in principle, but provincial and territorial governments all have different systems and different priorities. As my hon. colleague knows, many of them rely on a mix of profit and non-profit regulated services. Under the agreements in principle we are putting in place, they will retain the flexibility to invest as they see fit to enhance early learning and child care in their jurisdictions.

However, if I may step back for a moment, I believe it is important that I quickly review what is meant by non-profit and profit child care in order to clarify this issue.

Non-profit early learning and child care services are incorporated under provincial or territorial legislation. Like other organizations in the social economy, they either generate no surplus or invest any surplus funds back into the program. Public child care services operated by municipal or provincial governments, hospitals or educational institutions are generally considered to be part of the non-profit sector.

For profit early learning and child care services can include child care centres and regulated home child care agencies. Child care services can be operated by an individual, a partnership or a corporation incorporated under provincial or territorial legislation.

As I have mentioned, right now Canada's mix of supports and services for early learning and child care includes both non-profit and for profit.

The non-profit sector made up 77% of all child care places in Canada in 2001, the last year for which national data are available. The highest proportion of for profit child care services was in Newfoundland with 64% and Alberta with 56%.

Government funding policies on for profit child care services vary from one province and territory to the next. Some provinces, such as Manitoba and Saskatchewan, limit funding to the non-profit sector and the percentage of child care spots in the for profit sector is very low at 8% and 1% respectively.

Other provinces, such as Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta also fund both sectors and a relatively high proportion of child care places is provided by the for profit sectors.

Working together with our provincial and territorial partners, the government is confident that we can ensure its investments provide high quality--and those are the key words--early learning and child care programs and services that meet the needs of children and their families across Canada.