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.