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House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was athletes.

Topics

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-294, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (sports and recreation programs), as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Speaker's RulingIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

There is one motion in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-294. Motion No. 1 will be debated and voted upon.

Motion to AmendIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-294, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing lines 10 to 15 on page 1 with the following:

“(A) the taxpayer is, in that month, a registered participant with, or member of,

(I) a sports team or recreation program of the employer in respect of which membership or participation is restricted to persons under 21 years of age, or

(II) a sports team or recreation program of a college or university,”

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois will, of course, support Bill C-294, now before us, because it helps young athletes.

The situation in which athletes find themselves is a reflection of the importance given to sports. And there is work to be done, considering that this country will host the 2010 Olympic Games.

The Bloc Québécois strongly supports this bill, which is a step forward to help athletes directly, because, in many cases, they must pay to participate in their sport, particularly young athletes, who receive very little help, both in terms of money and visibility or credibility.

There is only one program providing direct financial assistance to athletes, and that is the Assistance Athlete Program, or AAP. The funds earmarked for this program account for only 13% of the overall budget for sports in Canada.

So, despite the minister's announcement earlier this year that this program would be improved, the fact remains that athletes need more support from the federal government, which seems to perceive these athletes more as a source of visibility and pride, than as people who should get support.

So, the Bloc Québécois supports this bill, which provides additional assistance to athletes, particularly young athletes, who must often spend large sums of money to train in order to perform, on things such as food and housing, sportswear, transportation, tuition fees, medical expenses, travel and competition expenses, registration fees at competitions, training session costs, membership fees, food supplements, and so on.

The amendment that I presented at report stage, and which is proposed by the Bloc Québécois, seeks to recognize the important role of Quebec and Canadian university sports, as regards sport issues.

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of the amendment that you read is to add a second part to clause 1(A), so as to include a sports team or a recreation program of a college or university. That is an addition. The bill already includes all the teams whose members are under 21 years of age. However, university teams should be supported, because they include young athletes. In many cases, some members of those teams will be over 21 years of age, and it would be unfortunate to exclude them for that reason.

To highlight the importance of university sports in Quebec, I would like to speak about an event that takes place every year from September to March. More than 10,000 student-athletes participate in 11 sport disciplines, with a schedule of close to 3,000 events. These events lead to the ultimate goal in university sports: claiming the National Championship title. This weekly competition provides student-athletes with the best there is to offer in Quebec and in Canada.

Annually, regional champions from the four conferences vie to compete in the following disciplines or championships, which are held in November of every year: women's field hockey; men's and women's cross country; women's rugby; men's and women's soccer; the Mitchell Bowl, which is the football semi-final; the Uteck Bowl, which is also a football semi-final; and the Vanier Cup football final.

In March of every year, the following championships take place: women's and men's wrestling; women's ice hockey; men's and women's swimming; men's and women's volleyball; men's and women's indoor track and field; men's and women's basketball; and the University Cup for men's ice hockey.

There are many events at the university level which deserve to have this clause included in the bill.

No other sport organization in the country can match the breadth and scope of such a program. From Victoria to St. John's, student-athletes competing for national honours represent an exciting vibrant dimension of Quebec and Canadian society. Every Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) student-athlete must attend an annual drug education seminar as part of the CIS drug education and doping control program. The seminar highlights key issues and health concerns of drugs in sport. This seminar is extremely beneficial as it allows the student-athletes to discuss the ethics of drugs in sport and educates them about CIS's zero tolerance policy.

Internationally, student-athletes can experience the excitement of the Winter and Summer World University Games, the second largest international multi-sporting events in the world, second only to the Olympics. Every two years, student-athletes have an opportunity to compete with the best from around the globe in 12 sporting disciplines at the summer games and seven sporting disciplines at the winter games. These games provide Canadian university athletes with a unique experience both culturally and athletically and are often the platform for student-athletes to launch their international athletic careers.

My purpose in summarizing these various activities was to emphasize the contribution of university sports to the next generation of Quebec and Canadian athletes, and to support the motion in amendment I tabled at the report stage.

The purpose of Bill C-294 is to amend the Income Tax Act to provide additional support for athletes by excluding from their taxable income allowances from non-profit groups or associations. Concretely, the bill proposes adding a provision to the existing Income Tax Act to exclude from their taxable income any allowances for board and lodging and any other reasonable expenses of the taxpayer that are paid to or on behalf of the taxpayer by a non-profit organization in connection with its operation of a sports team or a sports or recreation program, to a maximum of $350 for each month of the year, adjusted annually to reflect inflation. This applies in two cases: if the taxpayer is registered during the year with the organization as a member of the sports team or as a participant in the sports or recreation program; and if the taxpayer is under 21 years of age. In fact, membership in the team or participation in the program must be restricted to persons under 21 years of age. We are proposing this amendment because we found that the part that allowed only for teams whose members were all under 21 years of age automatically excluded many university students.

I would like to take a moment to illustrate how important Sport Canada is. This bill does much more than give tax credits to athletes, it reopens the debate on funding for amateur sport and the general situation of athletes in Canada and Quebec. Sport Canada is the public agency that administers sport in Canada. The agency comes under the Department of Canadian Heritage and under the direct political responsibility of the Secretary of State for Sport, who reports to the minister. Its mandate is to help athletes achieve excellence in high-level sports and build a Canadian sports system in order to reinforce the unique contribution sport makes to Canada's cultural identity.

Unfortunately, I will not have time to talk about the various programs Sport Canada offers, but the purpose of my presentation was to demonstrate that, even though some efforts are being made, we are not providing enough support for our athletes, especially young athletes. The Bloc Québécois will support this bill. We encourage all parliamentarians to support our amendment in order to ensure that this bill includes university sports.

Motion to AmendIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Fitzpatrick Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I understand where the member is coming from. We all should be trying to encourage athletic participation as best we can but I believe the amendment would create a lot of problems.

The bill is completely confined to $300 per month for room and board. It is also restricted to organizations where the participants are all under the age of 21. If we are to use the Laval football team as an example, which is an excellent team with a top notch program and it won the Vanier Cup, most of the players are over age 21 and therefore would not be eligible for this.

Second, the junior teams got into difficulty because the tax department said that was an employer-employee relationship. If a university were providing room and board to a student, which I doubt is happening right now, but even if it were, that would not be an employer-employee relationship. There would be no tax consequences for the room and board at a university level. If it is happening, it is being done by a third party, in the case of Laval by a very wealthy person who supports the program.

However, as best as I can understand, if he is helping students with their room and board it is not subject to taxation under current law. It is a different category altogether and it diverts away from the main attempt to get the 140 junior A teams across Canada, many of them in Quebec, and the junior B teams to bring the tax relief to them so they can have the same benefit that maybe the Laval football players have at present.

This is a catch 22. It does not really lean anywhere. If there were some way the Bloc member could withdraw the motion, it would keep us focused on the main issue, which is to help midget hockey, junior B hockey and junior A hockey which are really suffering a great deal right now because of current tax rules. The university people do not experience this problem.

Motion to AmendIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, given that the subject of today's debate deals with the financial tribulations of young Canadian athletes, I would like to pause for a moment or two, if I could, and begin my remarks with an appropriate salute to a fallen soldier.

Yesterday, Canada lost one of three remaining veterans of World War I, Lloyd Clemett. Lloyd was a resident of Toronto and first enlisted in the Canadian Forces an incredible 91 years ago.

As I understand it, the bill before us was initiated through the efforts of a Saskatchewan boy of high school age.

Lloyd Clemett was just 16 years old when he volunteered for action and was eventually sent to the front lines in France. His valiant service to the country was lauded and recognized in his time and should be now, for now it falls on us to ensure that his sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Today, just as in the time of Lloyd Clemett, young men and women are apt to pursue their dreams against all odds, be it on an ice rink in rural Saskatchewan or on a basketball court in downtown Toronto. The House should be ready to affirm the pursuit of sport for our youth and remove any barriers that might stand in their way.

The act before us deals with the issue of young athletes billeting their way into rural escapes to pursue the games they love.

In and around my constituency, many young athletes arrive on a daily basis. Some are supported by parents and some are lucky enough to be sponsored or championed by large or local businesses but others face financial hardships and paying their own way as they balance school responsibilities and sport.

In rural parts of my province, the latter situation is the most common. In parts of the country, where a metropolis of opportunity is not looming, it is even more unusual to find student athletes who are as confident with their finances as they are with their hockey stick or baseball glove.

Young athletes who assume part time jobs while living in communities that have adopted them should not be further burdened by a tax system that penalizes them for their sacrifice.

The House must give support to this bill but we must also ensure that it serves a greater good for athletes of all kinds, with abilities at all levels and in cities and communities all across the country. We are all well aware that star athletes and sports prodigies have an easier time making ends meet than the stalwart and dedicated sportsmen and women who still play for passion.

While it has been and will always be in our best interest to foster the best of the best, and while our society will always be drawn to the extraordinary acts of athletic achievement, the intent of the bill seems to salute the hard-working yet unheralded athletes.

There is something about the purity of sport that inspires us to forget our daily troubles and escape into the games we played as youths.

While I am not as quick as I once was on my skates, I know the joy of a hockey rush and, on the other hand, the solitude that can only be found at the lonely end of the rink. The lessons and benefits of sport are unique and invaluable. Amateur sports and amateur athletes deserve all the support the House can give.

I believe the bill, subject to the proper and traditional scrutiny, is a good first step but a first step that can meet the criteria for affirmation of the House. In fact, it would be hard to argue against the basic thrust of this proposal which seeks only to relieve amateur athletes of an undue tax burden.

I would like to direct members' attention to the comments which were made by my colleague, the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country. He pointed out in a detailed way some of the shortcomings of the present tax regime that purports to support amateur sport and that definitely improvements need to be made, as other members have attested to.

Over the course of this debate we should also make it clear that we in the House recognize the sacrifice and hard work being done by those who billet and house these athletic travellers. Without the generosity of families who open their homes to players of hockey, lacrosse and so many other sports, the vibrancy of sport in Canada would be greatly reduced.

By being so accommodating and welcoming, these billeting families are helping to improve the situation of Canadian athletes and Canadian sport itself. I wish to applaud these generous citizens. I am confident that all members of the House will join with me in that recognition.

When an athlete is provided with funds from a team that is only generating revenue by way of ticket sales and gives those funds to the family that is hosting him or her, it should be a taxless exercise. Surely the sacrifice is thankless enough.

Apart from the families and the athletes, we must also consider the coaches. I recently met with Clifford Linton, a dedicated parent and coach from my riding who represents concerned parents and athletes. He expressed to me and proved with appropriate documentation the huge disparity that exists between the cost to train an athlete and the funding available from the government.

In addition to the unusually high costs associated with children in sport, the government also requires that any athlete who wishes to represent Canada in international competition must pay a fee to Athletics Canada. In one instance where two junior athletes were fortunate enough to win the right to represent Canada at the world championships in Beijing, their chance of a lifetime was nearly cancelled by a $9,400 total expense. There comes a time when the coaches and athletes at Canada's highest level can no longer ask their friends and families for support and the government must lend a helping hand.

Any nation can trace its sporting history back to its early recollections. In Canada we have such a rich history of sport: Algonquin lacrosse matches that amazed the early Europeans; Royal Military College students playing what is considered the first ever hockey game with students from Queen's University. Our history books tell us that John Kennedy and Lester Pearson were united by their professions, of course, but formed a much more personal bond over their shared love of baseball.

Sport is a timeless and valuable aspect of our history. There is no bond across the social milieu that is greater. We can all sit in an arena or stadium and be united by our love of the hometown team or of our hatred for the bitter rival. It is sport that truly brings out the best in us and the best of us.

This bill has noble intent and with some enhancements could provide both substantive financial support and reaffirm our understanding of the role sport plays in our Canadian way of life.

Motion to AmendIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will focus my comments on the amendment that has been proposed by our friend from the Bloc.

First of all, it was interesting to me that it was not discussed at all. We sit on the finance committee where we reviewed this bill recently. To be frank, based on the discussion at that committee, we were able to get what I would say was all party support for the changes to the tax system where it reflects an employee-employer relationship for not for profit or small junior clubs.

The bill applies to a lot of things. I want to say to the member opposite that I do not mind his concept in terms of providing some sort of assistance to athletes at the college and university level. In fact I have two daughters who are very competitive volleyball players who may some day benefit from being university or college volleyball players, and some assistance might be of interest, but let us not confuse that with what is proposed in the private member's bill that is in front of us today.

It is a $300 opportunity, and that was even adjusted at committee, to help a club and young people afford to be junior hockey players in this country. That is not for major junior. It is junior A, junior B and midget players who are boarding somewhere, trying to progress as athletes. This is a simple proposal to help them, through the tax system, to afford to be billeted somewhere else.

I am absolutely standing in favour of what the private member's bill is for. I am standing today opposed to what the amendment is, because it does not actually fit.

I would suggest to the member opposite that if he or his party is interested in supporting amateur athletes at the university and college level, who are often, as was previously pointed out, over 21 when they are there, that that is a separate issue that should be brought in front of the House for a proper debat, sent to committee to be properly debated and discussed, and brought back here.

I would suggest to the members of the House that if the amendment still stands, if it has not been withdrawn, that we reject the amendment, and that we move to vote in support of this private member's bill so that we can have this in law in time for the next hockey season.

I am not sure how well thought out the amendment was, and based on some brief discussions I have heard by the mover of the main motion, there is some ambiguity in what it covers, such as the age and how it affects the Income Tax Act, and that we should, at the very least, look at it separately.

I would ask that the House not support the amendment and then move to the debate on the main motion and support that main motion at that time.

Motion to AmendIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is the House ready for the question?

Motion to AmendIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Motion to AmendIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The question is on Motion No. 1. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Motion to AmendIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Motion to AmendIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the amendment will please say yea.

Motion to AmendIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Motion to AmendIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Motion to AmendIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Motion to AmendIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 98, the deferred recorded division will be held on Wednesday, February 28 at the beginning of private member's business.

It being 2 p.m., this House stands adjourned until Monday at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2 p.m.)