Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak about my private member's bill, which I call “Discover Your Canada”.
This bill seeks to amend the Income Tax Act in order to make travel within Canada more affordable for Canadians by providing income tax deductions on the expense of purchasing tickets for taxpayers and their children, for non-business travel by airplane, train or bus, if travel covers at least three different provinces.
During the many speeches we will be hearing on this bill, some members of Parliament will erroneously discuss the potential high cost of the bill. However, this bill is intended to be about unifying Canadians and not about finances. As an accountant and former chairman of the finance committee, I am usually the first person to want to ensure that the numbers add up. I have written Bill C-463 in order that the federal treasury would not be impacted and that this bill would be revenue neutral, while perhaps even being an economic generator.
Therefore, the primary focus of this bill would not be financial. As is evident in the name “discover your Canada act”, I want more Canadians to have the option to travel across this country, something that is usually only an option for the more affluent. I want as many Canadians as possible to be able to visit other parts of their great country, and not as a layover to a foreign destination, not as a two-hour drive up to the cabin, and not as a business trip, where all they will see is an airport or perhaps a conference room. We want Canadians to see a part of Canada that is as distant and as different from their own little corner of this great land as possible.
I first got this idea years ago while I was in Vancouver chairing the finance committee during its pre-budget consultations. Anyone who has been to Vancouver can tell us that there are some impressive sights to behold. As a visitor walking the streets after a long day of witnesses telling us how the government should spend its money, I looked up and was astounded by what I saw. I thought that if more Quebeckers would see what I am seeing right now, none of them would want to separate. It was every bit as beautiful as my hometown of Montreal, but it was also very different. The vastness of the Pacific Ocean was different from the charm of the St. Lawrence River. The grandeur of the Rocky Mountains was different from the soothing humility of Mount Royal. The modern architecture was different from the classic beauty of Old Montreal. Pictures can never do justice to Canadian scenery, and one can never truly appreciate and feel like it is part of his or her natural heritage until he or she can see it and touch it in person.
In the past, even prior to being a member of Parliament, and afterwards of course, I have been to places in Canada as far east as Newfoundland, as far west as British Columbia and as far north as Yukon and the Northwest Territories. I have found in each place a newer and deeper appreciation for Canada. I am certain that all Canadians would have a better sense of their own national identity if they just had a chance to see parts of this country that are out of reach for some of them now. This is why I have chosen to refer Bill C-463 to the heritage committee instead of the finance committee. The discovery of Canada act would not be about dollars and cents; it would be about allowing Canadians to take ownership of their national heritage by providing them with a bit of assistance and incentive to see their own country.
Having said all this, it would be unlike me not to discuss costs at least a little bit. The deductions I propose in the Discover Your Canada Act are not extravagant. The deductions are also capped, and conditions to ensure that the deductions are not abused are written into Bill C-463.
As a result, the upper threshold of deductions will not be reached by most eligible travellers, as was confirmed by a Parliamentary Budget Office study I requested for this bill soon after it was introduced.
According to newspaper articles, the government says that this bill will cost money. However, even if the government is able to justify its estimate of the cost of this bill, nothing can compare to the $5.2 billion that Canadians spent in the United States in 2012.
During the second quarter of 2012, during trips to the United States, Canadians spent $3.4 million, the most money in 20 years. In June, they spent a record $1.9 million. This increased spending is a result of the increase in duty free allowances, which went from $50 to $200 for a stay longer than 24 hours, and from $400 to $800 for a stay of 48 hours. We are talking about travel abroad.
According to the government, this will result in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in 2013-14. This is another gift for the American industry.
It is easy to add tax deductions. Administering them will cost the Canada Revenue Agency nothing extra. The Parliamentary Budget Office said so as well.
The last thing I want is for this bill to create more red tape.
When a new income deduction is proposed, there is always a measurable cost, but it is not so easy to calculate the economic spinoffs.
The Parliamentary Budget Office acknowledges that Bill C-463 will generate economic and financial spinoffs, but it cannot calculate those with certainty.
Generally speaking, I can say with confidence that increased travel within Canada is bound to generate positive economic and financial spinoffs.
Increased revenues from provincial and federal sales taxes are one such fiscal benefit.
I know that when I travel, I need to stay somewhere, I need to eat, and I want to take in some local attractions. I like to enjoy a night out on the town, and I enjoy bringing souvenirs back to family and friends. All this costs money and all this will contribute to government revenues in the form of federal and provincial sales tax.
Increased economic activity from more Canadians travelling domestically will also benefit the tourism industry in Canada in addition to industries that see spinoff benefits from increased tourism.
According to Industry Canada, almost 600,000 jobs in Canada are directly generated by tourism in every province and region of the country.
If that is not specific enough, I encourage each member in this chamber to visit the Tourism Industry Association of Canada website, where a breakdown of tourism jobs per riding is available.
I took examples from the ridings with the largest cities in the country. Tourism represents 4,905 jobs in Elmwood—Transcona, 5,460 jobs in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, 9,445 jobs in Vancouver South, 10,080 jobs in Calgary Centre, 11,150 jobs in Trinity—Spadina, and 11,170 jobs in Laurier—Saint-Marie in downtown Montreal. These are just a few examples. There is a list of all the ridings across Canada.
These are real jobs for real people in each and every one of our communities. We need to be cognizant of what stimulating this industry can mean to local economies and the national economy as a whole. The possible benefits are too big to ignore in my opinion.
I could go on, but as I stated earlier, the bill is not about dollars and cents.
Since I introduced the bill back in November, what has struck me most of all is how much Canadians have rallied around this idea. According to a Harris/Decima study released on November 7, 2012, total support for the discover your Canada act stood at 70%, and it enjoyed strong support throughout the country.
For example, the Atlantic region registered 78% approval, Quebec registered 68% approval, Ontario registered 69% approval, Saskatchewan and Manitoba registered 66% approval, Alberta registered 76% approval and British Columbia registered 74% approval.
The same study showed that 39% of Canadians would be more likely to consider travelling within Canada if the discover your Canada act were to become law, while only 5% would be less likely to consider travelling within Canada if the discover your Canada act were to become law, for a net gain of over 34%.
The same study also notes that the bill has the potential to address Canada's growing international travel deficit, which grew by $91 million in the second quarter of 2012 alone.
Beyond the numbers, I have been humbled by messages of support I have received from Canadians from all over the country who want to see the bill pass. One lady from Alberta wrote to tell me that “Despite not being one of your constituents, I am writing to tell you that I support your recent private member's bill, the discover your Canada act. I live in Alberta. However, I have strong ties to Quebec through my maternal grandparents. In such a vast country as Canada, I would welcome this initiative in assisting my travel within our own borders. Canada has so much to offer”.
I cannot go on all day quoting letters and emails, but this is just one of several letters of support I received. They all have the same theme: a desire for us as Canadians and as parliamentarians to implement this idea.
It is not because they want to save money or because they are looking for a handout, but simply because they love their country and like the idea of more Canadians visiting more places within Canada to strengthen their bonds to this country and to each other, especially when we have a travel deficit in this country.
It has long been said that Canada has too much geography and not enough history. In 2017, Canada will have precisely 150 years of history behind it. Our nation's history is no longer in question, but our geography remains both a source of pride and a challenge to our nation's cohesiveness. Facts are facts: there is no inexpensive way for people to traverse such a massive country as Canada. As parliamentarians, we should recognize this reality and react accordingly.
I have chosen 2017 for the coming into force of the bill, because I believe that for Canada's 150th birthday, we should give Canadians the greatest gift we could possibly give them: we should give them Canada.
The government will be investing all kinds of money in celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary, so I am asking the government to think about offering Canadians a choice of where they choose to spend their money and not have the government decide for them.
We do not know how much money the government will put towards the anniversary, but this investment is minimal. There will events across Canada, as I just stated. We should have Canadians plan today where they want to travel to get to know Canada much better so that they will not be watching the events on a TV screen because they cannot afford the trip. They will be able to watch and participate in these events, up close and in person.
We should remove some of the financial barriers that stop them from exploring this great land and tell them to go out and discover your Canada, because one thing I have learned is that financial incentives are one way to get people to change their behaviour.
Thank you for your time, Mr. Speaker. I am open to questions.