Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to speak to this bill amending the Income Tax Act to deal with travel and accommodation deductions for tradespersons.
It is no surprise that this legislation comes from my colleague and friend, the member for Hamilton Mountain. Nickel Belt and Hamilton have much in common besides their good sense in electing New Democrats to the House of Commons.
My colleague has been tireless in her support and advocacy for working men and women. Like her, I understand the extraordinary contributions made by tradespeople for our economy and our communities. People in Hamilton and Nickel Belt get this.
Like her, I know the extraordinary contributions unions make in the fight for justice, fair wages, pension protection of workers, and so much more. Examples are the Edgar Burton food drive in Sudbury, led by local 6500 USW, and the building of the cancer treatment centre in Sudbury, which was driven by all union members in Sudbury and Nickel Belt.
Unlike the government opposite, we on this side respect the union movement and the role unions play in building our communities and our country. The Conservatives proved last night, by supporting Bill C-525, how they feel about unions.
This is a reasonable proposal before the House today. It would allow tradespersons and apprentices to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable incomes so that they could secure and maintain employment at a construction site that is more than 80 kilometres away from their homes.
I worked for a mining company for 34 years as a tradesman. I know the importance of the trades and the need, from time to time, for those skilled labourers to travel great distances to projects in other parts of the province or country.
Sitting these past two years on the natural resources committee, I understand the demand for skills in these major oil and mining projects and the likelihood of our workers travelling great distances to secure these jobs. This is an issue that is going to become increasingly important in our country.
This bill will help our working people and their families. The Canadian building and construction trades have been asking for this legislation for over 30 years. They got a lot of words from successive Liberal and Conservative governments, but no action.
Let us think about taking this reasonable small step in helping these tradespeople and our economy.
Construction workers cannot claim their travel or accommodation expenses when they accept jobs in other parts of the province or country. Building and trades officials report that the average expenses to relocate can be about $3,500. Some cannot afford to pay those expenses knowing that they cannot get a tax credit for them.
The member for Hamilton Mountain has done her homework on making this a win-win situation for everyone. It would solve the challenges in our regions where one area suffers from high unemployment while another suffers from temporary skilled labour shortages. Let us help the skilled workers get to where they need to be.
This legislation is even revenue neutral, given the savings that would happen in employment insurance benefits. The government has trouble figuring this out.
I have a response to a petition I submitted last month that was in favour of Bill C-201. The government calls this bill costly and flawed. The government insults workers, claiming that this tax relief could be open to much abuse, with moves done for lifestyle decisions rather than for work.
Any tax credit is, of course, open to abuse and requires safeguards and monitoring, which the Canada Revenue Agency is supposed to provide. It is not that difficult to confirm that a move has been made to take a skilled job that has not been filled.
The government response also alleges that certain individuals might receive a windfall gain and would have incurred ineligible travel and accommodation expenses in any case. I do not know who they were thinking about when they made these comments. It was probably Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau, Harb, and Lavigne. These people I named are not tradesmen. They are professional fraudsters. They are senators.
It is not difficult to make clear what an eligible expense is and who qualifies.
The CRA is also there to investigate any double-dipping.
This is also a win-win for the employers, giving them access to much larger pools of qualified workers. We need to act when we look at this country's demographics, including the baby boom generation, the numbers to retire in the next 10 years, and the statistics on shortage of skilled workers.
This bill has been introduced in every parliamentary session since 2006. It was part of the NDP's election platforms in 2008 and 2011. What we want is simple. The bill would allow tradespersons and apprentices to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable income so that they can secure and maintain employment at a construction site that is more than 80 kilometres away from their home.
These mobile workers across Canada continue to have to worry about maintaining a residence and their family, while spending their own money to travel in order to find work. The tax credit would cover the cost of travel, meals and accommodation and reduce the amounts paid by employers for the same things. The 2008 budget offered a similar break to truck drivers in order to reduce problems associated with mobility in that industry.
I remember what the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department director, Robert Blakely, said at the 2012 pre-budget consultations:
We have spaces for nearly 2,500 people to enter the construction industry in the next five years, and another 163,000 people in the five years after that. It's an industry that is going to change. If we have trained people all across the country, we need to be able to move them.
There are an estimated 1.6 million construction workers in Canada. An estimated 10% of them travel each year. This legislation is even revenue neutral, given the savings that would happen in employment insurance payments.
The government has trouble figuring this out. The government needs to do the real math, not the nonsense of estimating the cost of the bill at $60 million per year.