moved that Bill C-219, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I almost feel sorry for my colleagues opposite to have to listen to me. Everything happens at once I guess. Maybe it is that good things happen all at once, I do not know.
This private member's Bill C-219 is really about fairness. I am shocked at the approach that the Government of Canada took yesterday in trying to deny the opportunity for the bill to be debated.
However, in your ruling, Mr. Speaker, you agreed that the bill was proper and should be debated. Even though the government attempted in a backdoor way to deny volunteer firefighters and others a tax deduction, the Speaker ruled, I believe wisely, and hopefully this bill will pass and meet the needs of those volunteer firefighters and others.
The bill is about ensuring that those who serve their communities by placing themselves at risk, by sacrificing time from their families and from their businesses, will have that time honoured and given recognition.
Most significantly, Bill C-219 is about acknowledging one of the fundamental principles behind the success of our rural communities and indeed urban ones as well. It is volunteerism.
I am referring to those who are volunteer firefighters, volunteer ambulance attendants, those who volunteer for search and rescue operations, and all of whom are required to attend training sessions and actively participate in preparation for those activities.
The principle contained in the bill has been presented in previous private members' bills in the past. In 2005 the member for Cape Breton—Canso presented Bill C-273. In 2002 the member for Lethbridge presented Bill C-325.
It is fair to say that members of all parties in past debates have basically been supportive of this approach. I was pleased to support both of those bills and wish to extend thanks on behalf of the volunteer emergency workers. This legislation will assist those members by providing recognition to those volunteers for their efforts.
It is important to note that each of these bills received the support of the House and most recently, Bill C-273 received the support of the Standing Committee on Finance.
The reason this legislation has not been passed already is not I believe been because of any particular partisan political issue. What should be acknowledged is that members of Parliament from all political parties have agreed with this legislation. That was shown with the last bill.
The problem is this. The problem has been the bureaucrats at the Department of Finance. They seem to be finding any way to stymie this bill in its tracks.
We are the politicians. We are the people who should be making the decisions. That is why I was so shocked that the deputy House leader for the governing party tried to stop the bill again because there are many people in that party who support this approach to assisting firefighters and others who do good volunteer work.
The officials of the department have been able to provide numerous reasons why they cannot comply with the legislation. What we need in this town is common sense. We do not need 16 reasons why it cannot be done. We need one reason why it can be done and that is what we want the Department of Finance to do. It is to find that one reason and make it work.
Yes, there were questions in the finance committee the last time around. There are ways of addressing them and they need to be done, so that we can assist the volunteers in rural communities.
In terms of the specifics, Bill C-219 proposes the following: that the Income Tax Act be amended to allow voluntary emergency workers to deduct from their taxable income the amount of $1,000 if they performed at least 100 hours of voluntary service and $2,000 if they performed at least 200 hours of voluntary service. That needs to be done.
Many of us rub shoulders. In fact, some people in the House have been volunteer firefighters. It is not like being a volunteer at a club. I myself, a little over 24 years ago to be exact, had a major fire and there were four fire departments in the yard. It was a day in May. Many of those firemen were farmers, too, or businessmen. As soon as the buzzer went off on their belts, they were there. It did not matter whether they were baling hay or it was threatening to rain. They left and tended to the fire.
Those people ought to be recognized. They put their businesses in jeopardy. They leave their families. They leave their businesses, they leave their families, and they leave their farms to work for the benefit of others in the community.
Liberals had this problem as well when they were on the government side fighting for the contents of this bill. There already is a payment to firefighters along the lines of this bill, though not quite as high. It is called voluntary firefighters, but only voluntary firefighters receive an honorarium.
In my community volunteers do not receive an honorarium. They take the money out of their own back pockets for their training, to buy equipment, and to assist in fundraising. We absolutely have to recognize the volunteers and what they do.
The Library of Parliament, in a paper examining Bill C-219, stated:
The current Income Tax Act contains a provision exempting from taxation the first $1,000 received by an emergency worker for volunteer services performed as an ambulance technician, firefighter or a person who assists in search or rescue of individuals or in other emergency situations. Payment must be received from a government, municipality or a public authority. The emergency worker must not be regularly employed, or paid as an employee, for their services as an emergency worker by the government, municipality or the public authority. This exemption was enacted in 2001.
The premise behind this legislation is to ensure that those who do not receive an honorarium from a government, municipality or other public authority, and yet provide the same type of service, are also given a form of compensation for that participation. That is what the bottom line is.
We need to support those voluntary emergency services out there. The point of this legislation is to have the sections, which officials acknowledge are not there, implemented and become effective for what we could call volunteer volunteers.
The finance committee, in its examination, raised a number of questions. I do not have time to go through them, but all of the questions were technical. Some of them related to record keeping. That is easily done. We do not want to impose a paper burden on anybody in terms of the administration of this bill. That is not what we are asking for. Those records are kept by fire chiefs, in any event.
For heaven's sake, can the Minister of Finance or the deputy minister of finance or whoever is in charge of the bureaucracy at the Department of Finance not trust a fire chief who is willing to put his or her life on the line, to assist in the community? I would think so. Those answers can be found and they need to be dealt with so the bill can be implemented.
I would submit that one of the key roles of the Department of Finance, given the fact as has been demonstrated by research undertaken by the Library of Parliament, has already presented the fact that the Income Tax Act currently accepts the first $1,000 voluntary emergency workers receive from taxation. It should apply the same definition to the provisions of Bill C-219, that voluntary emergency workers, not paid emergency workers who do not receive an honorarium, receive the improved income tax deductions outlined in the bill.
To conclude, for all the reasons outlined, volunteer emergency workers are people in our rural and urban communities not paid for what they do. They put themselves at risk. They take training which costs money. They have to drive back and forth to fire halls and other places for that training and for weekly meetings, taking money out of their own pockets. They have to exercise and stay in shape with the costs of doing that and buying equipment. They have to go to emergencies on the call of the buzzer. It does not matter what they are doing, whether they are in the middle of a hay field, or attending to business, or selling a widget to a client.
Firefighters and other emergency workers need to be treated fairly. They need to be recognized for their efforts. Bill C-219 will give them that recognition and assist them a little bit financially. Certainly, their families would recognize and be more supportive of their activities if Bill C-219 would be passed and carried.
The best way to deal with this would be for the Minister of Finance to just put it in the budget and be done with it because many members support it in this House.