The bill proposes to allow tradespeople and apprentices to deduct from their taxable income travel and accommodation expenses that they incur in order to secure and maintain employment. These deductions would be subject to certain conditions.
I would like to focus on a few reasons why I oppose Bill C-201.
First of all, our government is quite focused on providing support for employees and tradespeople across the country. Second, the bill would be ineffective and inequitable. It would be ineffective because there is no evidence that the proposal would increase the likelihood that tradespeople will travel more for work, and inequitable in that some tradespeople would receive tax relief for work-related travel while other workers would not.
Third, especially during a time of fiscal responsibility, the bill would be very costly and that cost would be significant at this time in our economy. The bill looks nice and has a nice sound to it. It is kind of like a chocolate cake with a lot of icing on it. We look at the icing on the chocolate cake and say it looks tasty, but it really is not good for us. There is no way to square that piece of cake to be good for us.
I will start by highlighting our government's role in supporting employees and tradespeople. I would like to say that the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain did not support any of the legislation that we brought in to support employees and tradespeople. That needs to be noted during this debate. I mean, it is one thing to have a personal preference. It is one thing to have a party bias. I think we all have some party bias in this place. However, it is another thing to ignore good legislation simply because it is the government that brings it in.
Canada's strong economic performance during the global recession has been widely recognized around the world. Although it may not have gotten the same amount of press as other key initiatives, Canada's economic action plan provided key funding to several organizations to stimulate growth and jobs during the recent recession and helped tradespeople and other Canadians find jobs.
Our government knows that Canadian workers are among the best educated and the best trained in the world. However, Canada is facing a skilled labour shortage. In particular, persistent pockets of unfilled positions exist for some skilled tradespeople and professional occupations. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, for example, has identified Canada's skills shortage as the number one issue facing its membership.
Our government takes this issue seriously. To help Canadians connect with available jobs, in economic action plan 2013 we set out a three-point plan to address these challenges. First, economic action plan 2013 introduced the new Canada job grant, which would provide $15,000 or more per person, including the maximum federal contribution of $5,000, to be matched by the provinces, territories and employers, to ensure Canadians are getting the skills employers are seeking.
Second, the plan would create opportunities for apprentices by working with provinces and territories to examine the use of practical tests as a method of assessment and to harmonize requirements, and by introducing measures that would support the use of apprentices through federal construction and maintenance contracts, investments in affordable housing and infrastructure projects that receive federal funding. Finally, it would provide support to groups that are under-represented in the job market, such as persons with disabilities, youth, aboriginal peoples and newcomers, to help them find good jobs.
These are great initiatives that are directly helping to fill the labour shortages and connect Canadians with jobs. These are all measures that the opposition has voted against. If the member's bill attempts to focus on apprentices and tradespeople, let me highlight some of the measures our government has already taken to support these individuals.
Since 2006, our government has invested nearly $2.7 billion per year to support skills and training programs. We have supported tradespeople with the tradesperson's tools deduction and extended the fees eligible for the tuition tax credit to include those examinations required to be certified as a tradesperson in Canada, thereby encouraging more tradespeople to become red seal tradesmen. With a red seal, they can work anywhere in the country.
Our government has legislated measures such as the apprenticeship job creation tax credit, the apprenticeship incentive grant, and the apprenticeship completion grant. Tax credits already exist for employers and tradespersons, such as the Canada employment credit, the moving expenses deduction, and the special or remote work sites tax exemptions.
That is not all. We understand that education has a big part in this equation as well. We will promote education in fields where there is high demand for employees, including science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and skilled trades. We will help improve educational and labour market outcomes for aboriginal peoples by investing to improve the on-reserve income assistance program and by providing funding for post-secondary scholarships and bursaries.
We will continue to work with the provinces and territories and stakeholders to improve the foreign credential recognition process, thereby enhancing the integration of internationally trained individuals in the job market.
Put simply, our government remains focused on what matters to Canadians—jobs and economic growth and ensuring that Canada's economic advantage today will translate into the long-term prosperity of tomorrow.
Let me now address some of the specific concerns we have with the bill before us.
First, we believe that providing an income tax deduction for job-related travel and accommodation expenses, as proposed under Bill C-201, would make it difficult to ensure that tax relief is not provided for personal expenses that reflect lifestyle decisions. Under the provisions of this bill, expenses incurred by eligible individuals who choose to live more than 80 kilometres from the workplace for personal reasons would quality for tax relief.
Second, the open-ended nature of the proposed deduction would make it vulnerable to unfair tax planning and abuse. For example, individuals could arrange their affairs to claim a recreational property, such as a cottage that is more than 80 kilometres from work, as their principal residence. They could then deduct the cost of maintaining their urban residence as an expense required to secure and maintain employment. That is a serious flaw with this piece of proposed legislation. This is not conductive to a fair tax system, especially as we have just been debating Bill C-4, which emphasizes our government's commitment to a fair tax system for all Canadians.
Third, the bill would raise equity concerns, as eligible tradespersons and indentured apprentices would be able to reduce their tax liability when they incurred eligible travel and accommodation expenses whereas other workers who had to incur similar work-related travel expenses, such as nurses, would not receive tax assistance. This would result in individuals with a similar capacity to pay taxes having markedly different tax liabilities, due solely to occupational differences.
Fourth, it is not clear that the bill would increase travel by tradespersons and indentured apprentices. In fact, for individuals who would have incurred eligible travel and accommodation expenses in any case, the deduction would represent a windfall gain.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the cost of the proposal would be significant. Preliminary estimates suggest that providing tax assistance to tradespersons and indentured apprentices for travel and accommodation expenses would cost approximately $60 million per year at maturity. At a time when our government is committed to returning to balanced budgets and eliminating the deficit, this bill, which already raises some concerns, would be extremely costly to the government.
In addition, Bill C-201 would create pressure to extend tax relief in respect of other expenses or other types of employees, at a higher fiscal cost.
Make no mistake. Our government believes in tax relief for all Canadians. Canadians know that when it comes to tax reductions, this government has a long-standing record of significant achievements. By keeping taxes low, our government is allowing Canadians to keep more of their hard-earned money.
In conclusion, this bill is poorly targeted, would subsidize personal choices, and would open the door to unfair tax planning. It would also entail a cost of approximately $60 million per year. It would create pressure to extend tax relief to other work-related expenses at a higher fiscal cost. In addition, our government already provides tax relief and program support for tradespersons and apprentices and tax relief for employees who must incur travel-related expenses in the course of their employment.