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.