Mr. Speaker, I had hoped to be able to rise in the chamber tonight to thank my colleagues from all sides of the House for putting partisanship aside and doing the right thing; the right thing for Canada's building and construction trades, for employers who cannot find enough skilled workers to meet their job requirements, for regional economies and for the taxpayers of this country. We could have achieved all of that simply by supporting Bill C-201, an act that would allow tradespersons and indentured apprentices to deduct from their taxable income any travel and accommodation expenses they incur to secure and maintain employment in a construction activity at a job site located at least 80 kilometres away from their ordinary place of residence.
However, it is clear from the Conservative members' comments in this debate that they are once again going to allow partisanship to stand in the way of good public policy. In fact, the member for Yukon basically said as much when he stated essentially that I should not have had the audacity to introduce this bill because, in his view, it should have been introduced by the Conservatives as part of their budget process. I would have been happy for that to happen. In fact, ever since I first introduced this bill in 2006, I have repeatedly been in touch with the government, including the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, to indicate that I would happily withdraw my bill if the government wanted to introduce it as a Conservative budget measure. However, eight years later, the building trades have still only received lip service instead of action and, frankly, they deserve better. What they are getting from the current government is the same run-around that they got from previous Liberal and Conservative governments for the last 35 years. It is a disgrace. The reasons being articulated by members on the government side just do not hold water. I only have five minutes to participate in tonight's debate, but thankfully all of the arguments are easy to rebut.
The first argument put forward by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue was that the bill would be very costly and that the cost would be significant to our economy at this time. However, just a few minutes later he went on to take credit for “Canada's strong economic performance”. Well, which is it? Did the Conservatives fail and the economy is still fragile? Or is the economy robust and the Conservatives are simply refusing to act? Either way, the government is failing Canada's building and construction trades.
The next argument put forth by government MPs is that the Canada jobs grant is a better solution than my bill for the skilled labour shortage, which has been identified by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce as the number one issue facing its membership. However, oops, the Canada jobs grant does not actually exist yet and, given the provinces' rejection of the federal approach on this file, it may in fact never get off the ground. However, that of course has not stopped the government from already spending taxpayer dollars on advertising this non-existent program.
To add insult to injury, the Conservative talking points then suggest that my bill would provide tax relief for “personal expenses that reflect lifestyle decisions”. That argument is buttressed by examples of imaginary workers who would use my bill to scam the government by going to the cottage so they could claim to be more than 80 kilometres away from a job site that in reality is close to their primary residence. That argument is so absurd that I do not even know where to begin, but suffice it to say that tax credits only return a percentage of the actual money spent on travel, so no one is going to come out ahead financially under this bizarrely concocted Conservative scenario. It would be cheaper for them to live at home. I do not think I will be taking any lessons on tax evasion from a government that has done nothing to recover the $5 billion to $7.8 billion in Canadian tax revenue that is lost annually to tax havens around the world.
The last argument put forth by the government is that the bill would “raise equity concerns”, meaning that by singling out tradespersons my bill would not go far enough in offering the same benefits to other workers. On that point, we can agree, and I would be more than happy to entertain amendments in committee to broaden the coverage of my bill. I had specifically kept the focus narrow to keep the bill revenue-neutral and to alleviate the cost concerns that I knew would be at the root of the government's objections. However, by all means let us include others; the members of ACTRA, for one, would be delighted. However, the only way to do that is to actually vote in favour of my bill at second reading, so it will end up in committee where amendments could be made. That is where the rubber would hit the road.
I know the Conservatives are not sincere in wanting to improve the bill. They have their marching orders. Even those members like the MPs for Brant and Mississauga—Streetsville and the Minister of Labour, who spoke out in favour of my bill at the HUMA committee, now appear to be backtracking. I cannot believe they would just allow themselves to be muzzled by the PMO. Nor do I want to believe they are the kind of politicians who say one thing to one audience and something else to a different crowd. I want to believe they are more principled than that.
So today in these final few seconds of second-reading debate, I want to speak directly to them and say to stand up for what they believe in, that they know this bill is the right thing to do; to talk to their colleagues and tell them that it is never wrong to fight for what is right.
On February 5 when this bill comes to a vote, let us make history. Let us pass this initiative that helps the very men and women who have literally built our country. Canada's building and construction trades deserve nothing less.