House of Commons Hansard #12 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.


Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to answer—

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

An hon. member

There is no question.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am not asking a question.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

We only have 10 minutes of questions. We are resuming debate.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Order, please. Resuming debate, the hon. member for Winnipeg North.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity for questions and answers and I am sure the member would have provided some clarification on that $60 million. I suspect that is why he was up on his feet.

We had a Speaker's ruling just recently in which the Speaker indicated that we have to take all members as hon. members and believe that they are bringing truthful answers to the floor. We will leave the PMO out of this debate. I would assume that in all honesty this particular member did bring forward what he believes is the true figure, as I do believe the sponsor of the bill. I understand that from within the construction industry stakeholders group there was a study or some sort of a financial analysis that was conducted. There is no reason for us to believe that was not done properly. That is why I believe that there is merit in terms of us taking the bill to the next level.

We can all talk about the construction industry and the importance that industry plays in our country from coast to coast to coast. We can no doubt all talk about individual stories. My brother has been in the construction industry for 20-plus years. He has done work in British Columbia and Manitoba. He is currently in Saskatchewan. Sitting around the family reunion-type kitchen table there is always a discussion and he is always quite willing to share his thoughts and opinions about that particular industry with me.

I see, understand and appreciate the value of recognizing the importance of that industry and what it is that we can do to help facilitate some very serious issues. Those that I would highlight have been pointed out. Labour mobility is a big issue when it comes to the whole construction area. That is one of the reasons why I posed the question to the sponsor of the bill in regard to other jurisdictions. It is not only from one region of the country to another region. For example, we can have more labour shortages in some areas of a province than in other areas of that same province.

When I posed the question I was trying to get a better understanding as to whether there were other jurisdictions because I believe that is often quite helpful. A province does have the ability through provincial consideration to recognize and provide for tax deductions that would allow for the type of measures the member is hoping to achieve in the bill. Are there examples that could be given from other jurisdictions outside of Canada? I believe there is value in terms of us knowing this information once we go to the committee stage. That is the reason why I asked.

Those of us in the Liberal Party recognize the importance of labour mobility. Economies shift quite significantly in terms of activities. Just an hour or so ago we were talking about the economic activity out in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia. A lot of that is being driven through our natural resource industry and the demand that is there. In Manitoba we could talk about hydro development and the potential of the Limestone generating station or the future Conawapa, as well as some of the other major projects that are on the horizon, whether in Vancouver, out on the east coast or in central Canada. We all know and I suspect we can appreciate why that takes place. How are we able to best accommodate that?

Last year we talked about the foreign worker program. We have tens of thousands of foreign workers who come into Canada, in part, to meet that particular demand.

First and foremost, is the government doing its fair share in ensuring that our jobs are in fact being offered and made available to Canadians, and second, to what degree are we enabling individuals to get those jobs?

I could be corrected on this, but I believe just over 1.5 million people work directly within the construction industry. There is a percentage of those individual workers who have to, not necessarily out of choice in terms of their profession—if a plumber, for example, living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is offered the opportunity to work on a significant project in the province of Saskatchewan, whether it is Regina, Yorkton or wherever it might be, that plumber should be afforded the opportunity to take it. On the surface of the bill that is being proposed, there is a great deal of merit in allowing for or providing some form of tax deduction dealing with one's travel and accommodation. There is merit for that.

If we take the micro situation and apply it to the macro situation, one can get a better appreciation for why it is that we should be looking at this bill quite seriously. That is the reason why, as the Liberal Party has indicated, it is prepared to send it to committee. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered and I look forward to its ultimate passage, hopefully, even though I am somewhat doubtful, given the government members' position on it. We will have to wait and see when it ultimately comes to a vote.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


Ryan Cleary NDP St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I stand in support of Bill C-201, an act to amend the Income Tax Act, travel and accommodation deduction for tradespersons. I want to thank the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain for tabling the bill in the House of Commons. I want to thank the hon. member on behalf of untold thousands, tens of thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, Atlantic Canadians and Canadians in general who migrate for work across the country and around the world. I meet them at airports. I talk to them on airplanes. I knock on the doors of their families left behind.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a history of working away from home. Our forefathers worked on the Grand Banks and off the Labrador coast for months on end. They lived on wooden walls, the sealing ships, for weeks, when they were in the fat, when the seal hunt was in its prime.

In my riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl, on the top of Signal Hill, at the entrance to St. John's harbour, is a peak that is known as Ladies Lookout. Ladies Lookout is the very point where women gathered for generations to look for their men returning from sea after days, weeks, months and years. The wharf and lookout of yesterday is the airport of today.

So many Newfoundland and Labrador families live on a rotation: two weeks on, one week off; four weeks on, two weeks off. Long commutes and extended absences have been a way of life in Newfoundland and Labrador. However, the scale and intensity of the westward move to places like Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie and Lloydminster that began a few decades ago sets it apart from past experience. Let me quote from a recent article I read on the Newfoundland and Labrador migration: “Some call it a rite of passage. Some wives back home call it a fiscal blessing, but a blow to the heart”.

It is not just men who migrate for work; it is women too. It is our youth, our newly educated, bayman and townie alike. Leaving for work is a way of life, especially since the early 1990s when our fisheries collapsed. We have lost 90,000 people since then. One-sixth of our population left. They are gone. Untold thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians migrate for work on a weekly or monthly basis so that their families can live comfortably back home. It is how I grew up, personally, with my father away for six to nine months at a time. He worked on what was then known as the Distant Early Warning line across the north.

If one drives through the outports today in rural Newfoundland and Labrador one will see nice, new homes and nice vehicles. There is pride in property, but we've always seen that. My office has tried to research the amount of money that migrant Newfoundland and Labrador workers bring back with them. There are no accurate numbers, but I can say it is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It is in the billions of dollars. According to Statistics Canada, the number of workers commuting from Atlantic Canada to Alberta increased threefold between 2004 and 2008. The median earning for oil and gas workers in Alberta who live out of province was just under $60,000 in 2009.

Bill C-201 would impact thousands of Atlantic Canadians and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. The bill would allow tradespersons and apprentices to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable income. The bill would allow tradespeople to maintain employment on work sites that are more than 80 kilometres away. The bill would help migratory workers and migratory construction workers. There is no doubt that the bill would help workers in my riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl, in all of Newfoundland and Labrador and in Atlantic Canada.

Workers have to leave home. That is hard enough, but they should not have to foot the bill for travel and accommodation too. Under current rules, construction workers often incur large personal expenses to accept jobs in other parts of the province or country because neither travel nor accommodation expenses are tax deductible under the Income Tax Act. These costs create a huge disincentive for workers to accept work in other parts of the country that are experiencing skills shortages.

Figures suggest that the average mobile worker spends approximately $3,500 of his or her own money to temporarily relocate. That $3,500 is a significant barrier to the appeal of accepting jobs away from home. We have to make it easier and more enticing for skilled labourers in this country to fill labour shortages in other parts of the country.

How much will the bill cost? It is actually revenue neutral for the federal government, because the cost associated with the income tax cut is more than made up by savings in employment insurance. Instead of punishing Canadians who receive EI, we can start helping skilled labourers in this country by making it easier for them to accept work.

Let me throw out some numbers. There are an estimated 1.6 million construction workers in Canada, and 10% of them travel each year. At an average cost of $3,500 per worker, a 15% tax credit would cost the federal government $525 per mobile worker per year, for a total cost of $84 million. However, if the same number of 160,000 travelling skilled trades workers, which is 10% of 1.6 million, received average weekly employment insurance benefits of $393 per week, for an average period of unemployment of four weeks, the government would pay $250 million in EI benefits per year. That works out to $84 million from a tax cut versus $250 million in EI benefits. The tax credit proposed in the bill would result in net savings of more than $160 million a year.

The bill would not just help workers. The bill would help employers, because they would have larger pools of skilled workers across this country to draw from. They would not have to resort to hiring temporary foreign workers to get the jobs done.

The bill would also help Newfoundland and Labrador. We have huge projects on the horizon, such as Labrador's Muskrat Falls and offshore oil projects. We have had three new offshore oil discoveries within the past year off Newfoundland and Labrador.

Despite successive Conservative and Liberal governments making promises for years about helping migratory workers, there has been nothing done. In fact, this bill has been tabled in each Parliament since 2006. It was part of the New Democratic Party's platform in 2008 and 2011. Now we have the opportunity again to help migratory workers in this country.

The ask is simple. Allow our tradespeople and apprentices to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable incomes so that they can secure and maintain employment at a construction site that is more than 80 kilometres away from their homes. It is that simple.

People in this mobile workforce maintain homes and families in communities across Canada, in Atlantic Canada, and in Newfoundland and Labrador while using personal funds to maintain employment.

Included in the tax credit would be the cost of travel, meals, and accommodation, less any money paid by the employer for those purposes.

To conclude, the bill makes sense for workers. The bill makes sense for families. The bill makes sense for employers. The bill makes sense for industry. The bill makes sense for taxpayers. The bill makes sense, period.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

October 31st, 2013 / 2:20 p.m.


Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity today to speak to Bill C-201, an act to amend the Income Tax Act, to allow:

—tradespersons and indentured apprentices to deduct from their taxable income any travel and accommodation expenses that they have incurred in order to secure and maintain employment in a construction activity at a job site that is located at least 80 kilometres away from their ordinary place of residence.

While the hon. member's goal is worthy, to support tradespersons and indentured apprentices, her proposal contains a few flaws. Providing a deduction for job-related travel and accommodation expenses as proposed under Bill C-201 will make it difficult to ensure that tax relief is not provided for personal expenses solely reflecting lifestyle decisions.

Similarly, the open-ended nature of the proposed deduction raises serious concerns that could also make it vulnerable to abuse and unfair tax planning. For example, one can envision a situation where an individual can claim a residence, perhaps a cottage, more than 80 kilometres from work as their principal residence and then deduct those costs of maintaining their urban residence as an expense required to secure and maintain employment.

This bill would raise equality 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 must incur similar work-related travel expenses, such as nurses, firefighters, correctional officers, would not receive that same tax assistance.

There is also a risk that this bill would simply result in a windfall gain to individuals who have incurred eligible travel expenses and accommodation in any case. Estimates suggest that providing tax assistance to tradespersons and apprentices for travel and accommodation could cost approximately $60 million every year at maturity. These costs are substantial. Our government is already on track to eliminate the deficit and remain squarely focused on this goal. Canadians expect us to be fiscally responsible at all times. Therefore, while our government is ensuring that we continue to support tradespersons and apprentices, this bill is not a measure that we can support.

Let me also suggest to the member opposite that tax changes should be undertaken through the budget process and not on an ad hoc basis. The budget process enables the government to fully consider trade-offs, balance priorities and undertake new fiscal commitments only to the extent that they are affordable. The hon. member should also be aware that Canada's tax system already provides a number of tax relief provisions for employees, including tradespersons who travel or relocate for their employment. For example, there is a moving expense deduction which recognizes costs incurred by workers who move their ordinary place of residence at least 40 kilometres closer to their place of business or employment in order to pursue employment or education opportunities.

There is a also a special and remote work sites tax provision that allows employers to provide board and lodging benefits to employees on a tax-free basis. Under this provision, where an employee is required to work at a remote location where only employer-provided accommodation is available, while continuing to pay expenses associated with his or her own home, amounts paid by the employer for room and board at the remote location are not included in the employee's income. The exemption recognizes in many instances employers need to provide these benefits in order to attract workers to a particular work site.

There is also a travel expense deduction which recognizes costs associated with business travel. The travel expense deduction allows employees who are ordinarily required to carry on the duties of employment away from the employer's place of business or in different locations to deduct travel expenses incurred, including 50% of their meal expenses when they are required by the employer to pay their expenses on their own. For example, an employee who must travel from his normal work site in Ottawa to Brampton or from Whitehorse to Carmacks in order to perform employment-related duties may claim a deduction for eligible travel and meal expenses to the extent that their employer does not already pay those expenses.

Similarly, self-employed individuals may deduct reasonable expenses incurred in connection with the generation of income from a business, including travel expenses such as lodging and, again, 50% of their meal costs while they are away from home.

Close to home for me, there is the northern residents deduction, which provides tax relief to individuals in northern and isolated communities to assist in drawing skilled labour to the North.

Finally, in 2006 our government introduced the Canada employment credit for all employees. In 2013, the Canada employment credit provides a tax credit of up to $1,117 on employment income. By increasing the amount of income that employed Canadians can earn without paying federal income tax, the employment credit recognizes that some of the income that individuals earn is used to pay for work-related expenses.

Our government is committed to lower taxes for all Canadians, tradespersons included. That is why, since coming into office in 2006, we have introduced broad-based tax relief such as lowering the GST from 7% to 5% and introducing the tax-free savings account.

In total, we have introduced more than 160 tax-relief measures, reducing taxes in every way that the Government of Canada collects them. Canadians at all income levels are benefiting from the personal income tax relief introduced by our government, with low- and middle-income Canadians receiving proportionally greater relief. Overall, personal income tax rates are now 11% lower with the tax relief provided by the government, and more than one million low-income Canadians have been removed entirely from our tax rolls.

Our strong record of tax relief is saving the typical Canadian family of four more than $3,200 each and every year. This is significant. It means that hard-working Canadians from coast to coast to coast have more money in their own pockets at the end of every year so they can decide how best to spend that money.

In addition, our government has been aggressive in closing tax loopholes used by a small group of taxpayers who have been trying to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Ensuring tax fairness keeps taxes low for all Canadians and their families.

To conclude, while we understand the objectives of the bill, it is flawed, and therefore we simply cannot support it.

The proposed deductions would be hard to monitor, would make it vulnerable to unfair tax planning, would be limited to amounts earned at the new work location in the year, and would cost approximately $60 million a year at maturity. Therefore, I urge all members to join me in opposing the bill before us for reasons I have mentioned.

Some questions about mobility rights and the importance of mobility across our country were discussed earlier. While we recognize that mobility is important, the one thing I have heard as the member of Parliament for Yukon as I have travelled across the North is people saying that they want Yukon people for Yukon jobs, northern people for northern jobs. I would say that the same thing is true for all regions in our country.

Proposing the bill without supporting the other important measures that our government has put in place in budget 2013 and previous budgets that would actually make it a reality for Yukon people to get Yukon jobs, northern people to get northern jobs, and regional people to get regional jobs so that mobility is not a requirement would be something the opposition should seriously take a look at.

I can point to examples like the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining in my home territory where we are trying to improve working conditions and take an unskilled labour force and move it into semi-skilled and highly skilled labour opportunities. The literacy investments that our government is making across the three territories to give people that first chance of success in their own home so they do not have to exercise those mobility rights is a critical measure.

I am surprised that the members of the opposition have not supported those measures, in particular the member for Western Arctic, who has voted against those critical measures each and every time we put them in place.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

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

It being 2:30 p.m., pursuant to an order made Monday, October 21, 2013, this House stands adjourned until Monday, November 4, 2013 at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:30 p.m.)