Madam Speaker, coastal communities, especially like the ones in my riding of North Island—Powell River, offer many opportunities to work and play in nature. Whether it is fishing, logging, hiking, skiing, or simply enjoying the outdoors, the general ruggedness presents many unique dangers. The advantage of knowing first aid can mean the difference between life and death.
I am glad to be speaking about the importance of first aid this afternoon. I wish to thank the member for Cambridge for tabling this private member's bill.
While nearly 80% of Canadians believe that first aid is a very important skill to have, only 18% of Canadians are actually certified. The bill we are debating aims to provide a financial incentive to encourage more Canadians to receive first aid and other emergency health and safety training courses. Taxpayers would be eligible for this credit, and so would their qualifying children.
Bill C-240 proposes to introduce a non-refundable tax credit of up to $200 for first aid courses, CPR training, and automated external defibrillator, or AED, training. According to the Red Cross, Canadians with first aid training and certification are considerably more confident in their skills and ability to help someone experiencing a medical emergency.
Life emergencies are generally unexpected and can be life changing. Having the know-how to prevent, manage, and respond is profound. Whether in the wilderness or at home or at a workplace, having someone with first aid creates a safer environment for everyone.
Agencies in Canada offer a wide variety of courses and are often accessible to smaller communities. This is important, because being trained in first aid techniques allows us to determine the immediate course of treatment required until advanced medical help arrives.
While I support this initiative at this current stage of debate, I would like to point out four concerns I have about the bill and its unintended consequences.
New Democrats are concerned about the excessive number of boutique, non-refundable tax credits that have been added to the Income Tax Act in recent years. The Conservative government was well known for introducing a myriad of these tax credits. The trouble is that often these tax credits make the tax system less transparent and they add to the complexity of the income tax system, yet once they are put in place, there is little public accountability with respect to their effectiveness or the amount of money spent on them.
According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, whether or not these measures are desirable and effective in achieving their objectives, they have distributional impacts in that they affect the taxes paid by different income and demographic groups, and indirectly, they reduce available revenues that could be used for income transfers or public services.
These kinds of tax credits are believed to primarily benefit middle- and upper-income families who would not face the same financial barriers as low-income Canadians in accessing this training.
If the goal of this bill is to increase the accessibility of first aid training by means of incentives, we must therefore look at the question of who could be left out. The cost of undergoing training is prohibitive for many large families or lower-income Canadians, meaning that they may not have enough income to benefit from a non-refundable tax credit. This is problematic. All Canadians deserve access to first aid training and the incentives that would go with it.
I hope the committee studying Bill C-240 will be able to broaden the reach of the bill.
According to a 2012 lpsos Reid survey undertaken for the Canadian Red Cross, first aid training for 53% of the respondents had been arranged by their employers, in which case the employers likely financed the cost of the course. The sponsor of the bill acknowledged this fact in his speech to this House.
This initiative may also have the unintended consequence of subsidizing the corporate sector by inadvertently encouraging employers to abandon their existing first aid training programs. This may be a second potential drawback of Bill C-240. I would be keen to hear stakeholders speak to this if the bill makes it to committee.
The third concern I hope the committee will commit to study is costing. Canadians have a right to know and as parliamentarians we have a responsibility to stay on top, and see how much this is going to cost.
I truly believe that all bills that amend the Income Tax Act should be properly and transparently costed for parliamentarians and the Canadian public. As of this moment, the Library of Parliament estimates there will be a potential cost of between $30 to $60 million a year. That is concerning for me.
I wish to highlight a possible omission in the bill. I regard first aid as help given to a person until treatment is available. The bill, as drafted, supports a limited vision of first aid: standard first aid, mariners first aid, CPR, etc., but what about mental health first aid? MHFA is excluded. I hope the sponsor of the bill will be able to explain this.
One in three Canadians will experience a mental health problem at some point in their life. Just as physical first aid is administered, MHFA is given until appropriate treatment is found or the crisis is resolved.
Whether we are talking about the skills taught by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, or different distress centres across Canada relying on applied suicide intervention skills training, let us not forget that these workshops do save lives.
In rural and remote communities like the ones that I serve, having people with all types of training in first aid is significant. The need to support people during times of distress, whether it be mental health issues or physical health issues, is key in the regions where the help that is required may take some time to access. Many service organizations in my riding work hard to provide these supports and benefit from MHFA training.
I would like to finish by commenting on the reasoning given by the member for Cambridge for tabling his bill. In his speech he talked about the approaching demographic shift, and the associated challenges with an aging population.
Emergency preparedness is indeed a crucial element to this, and I commend the member. Having performed numerous consultations in my riding, specifically, on seniors issues, I can share with full confidence that what is needed and what seniors want is home care.
The 2016 federal budget does not include any additional provisions for home care or palliative care, even after the Liberals promised $3 billion for home care during the campaign. It is time for the Liberal government to act.