Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-240, an act to amend the Income Tax Act, to provide a tax credit for first aid courses. This bill proposes to introduce a non-refundable tax credit of up to $200 for all first aid courses, cardiopulmonary resuscitation training, and automated external defibrillator training.
The member for Cambridge introduced this bill with the intention of providing a financial incentive to encourage more Canadians to receive first aid and other emergency health and safety training courses. If adopted, all taxpayers and their eligible children would become eligible for this credit. I want to congratulate him on this initiative and tell him that the New Democrats will be proudly supporting this at second reading.
First aid, CPR, and AED are skills that can be used by everyday citizens in emergency situations to stabilize health conditions until first responders arrive. An Ipsos Reid poll commissioned in 2012 revealed that nearly 40% of Canadians say they have provided first aid in their lifetime. The majority of first aid is provided, importantly, to a family member.
As well, while nearly 80% of Canadians believe first aid is a very important skill to have, only 18% of Canadians have been certified. According to the Red Cross, Canadians with first aid training and certification are considerably more confident in their skills to be able to help someone experiencing a medical emergency. It saves lives.
Here are a few relevant facts about first aid in Canada. The Red Cross estimates it trains approximately 600,000 Canadians every year in first aid, CPR, and/or AED. While nearly 80% of Canadians believe first aid is a very important skill to have, only 18% of Canadians were certified. An Ipsos Reid poll commissioned in 2012 revealed that 40% of Canadians have provided that important skill to their family members. First aid saves lives, and efforts to promote this training should be encouraged.
New Democrats support the objective of this bill and look forward to engaging in a deeper study at the committee stage. As a party, New Democrats believe fundamentally that the lens of equity and social justice should be applied to all legislation that passes through the House. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that New Democrats are always concerned by the proliferation of non-refundable tax credits that have been added to the Income Tax Act in recent years.
Many expert observers argue that these kinds of tax credits primarily benefit middle- and upper-income households. To quote a 2013 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives:
These credits...make the tax system less transparent and...once they are put in place there is little...accountability of the amount of money spent on them or their effectiveness.
...a large number of current deductions and credits disproportionately benefit high earners....
The question of accessibility cannot be forgotten in the larger discussion around the promotion of first aid training. When assessing this bill, members should ask themselves who benefits and who could be left out. Certainly, this bill can achieve the desired effect of promoting first aid training among a number of families. However, the same must be focused on low-income Canadians and those on social assistance.
There are Canadians for whom the cost of first aid training presents a barrier. These are the Canadians who might not have enough income to benefit from a non-refundable tax credit, and like the rest of us, these Canadians would also greatly benefit from first aid training. It is, therefore, my hope that this bill progresses to the committee stage and that the committee is given the opportunity to take a closer look at the issues of accessibility in this bill, in the hopes of broadening its reach.
On a similar note, New Democrats believe all bills involving tax credits should be properly costed before being adopted by Parliament. In my research on this bill, I asked the Library of Parliament to draw up a rough estimate of the annual cost of Bill C-240. Accounting for multiple variables, the analysts have estimated a cost at between $30 million and $60 million per year. While relatively small in the grand scheme of a $300-billion budget, it is not insignificant, particularly when we consider the number of proposals for tax credits that have been introduced in Parliament and the others that are already on the books.
Finally, 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. We would have to keep a close eye on that.
These are some of the issues that New Democrats believe require consideration at committee stage, and I look forward to having the opportunity to participate in that analysis.
As I have stated before, Mr. Speaker, this bill has the laudable goal of promoting life-saving first aid training among Canadians, and it spurs a conversation about how best to improve first aid training in our communities.
While reading Bill C-240, I was reminded of the local heroes in Vancouver and across Canada who either teach or use first aid, CPR, and automated external defibrillation to save lives every day. My thoughts go to those remarkable first responders in Vancouver who have worked admirably throughout the years, and today, often in very challenging situations, to make our communities safer for everyone.
I have often had the great pleasure to meet with firefighters in Vancouver, from IAFF Local 18, people like Rob Weeks, Lee Lax, Dustin Bourdeaudhuy, and Chris Coleman. These are hard-working local heroes who, with their workmates, often on the front lines of traumatic and tragic events, provide life-saving skills every day. In their jobs they save lives, livelihoods, homes, and more. In my meetings, I hear the pride they have to serve the public and to perform their jobs with honour and professionalism. These men and their colleagues truly make Vancouver a safer community for everyone. On behalf of the residents of Vancouver Kingsway, I want to thank them here in this House for their work.
I have also listened to the legitimate requests these local heroes have made to improve their occupational health and safety, and their quality of life. I have heard their requests for a firefighter compensation fund, funding for increased staffing in fire halls, and better PTSD services for working firefighters. We need to act on these justified and necessary requests, and do so soon.
My thoughts also go to first responders such as Tom Stamatakis, from the Vancouver Police Union, and the men and women who serve us in the police forces across this country. I have heard of the valiant work of policemen and policewomen who patrol the streets and are often the first people to answer emergency calls. In cities sometimes blighted by organized criminal activity, the policemen and policewomen are on the front lines every day to make our cities and towns safe and secure places to live. They save lives every day as well. I want to thank them in this House for their work.
In my capacity as health critic, I have also had the great pleasure of meeting with representatives from the Paramedic Association of Canada. Paramedics save lives every day in emergency situations, using first aid skills, and a variety of other specialized medical training. We need to thank them and support them in their work.
My thoughts also go to the countless organizations in Canada that provide first aid training in schools, community centres, and offices, to better equip the public for emergencies. Many see first aid as a form of community care, a form of empowerment for people in our communities to take care of themselves and save lives.
As many know, Vancouver is blessed with its location between the mountains and the ocean. Despite the wonderful geographic features that make Vancouver so unique around the world, we also live with many of the associated risks. Vancouverites are active boaters, swimmers, hikers, and skiers. These exciting sports are part of the attraction of the west coast lifestyle, but they also raise the risk of accidents and emergencies. Widespread first aid training is vital to creating a safer environment for Vancouverites, British Columbians, and indeed all Canadians, to get out and play in our beautiful environment and our country. Therefore, thousands of Vancouverites, and millions of Canadians, count on incredible non-profit Canadian agencies, such as the Lifesaving Society, St. John Ambulance, Canadian Ski Patrol, Canadian Red Cross, and Heart and Stroke Foundation to provide life-saving first aid training.
Vancouver is a city that sits on a seismologically active fault line. Frequent minor earthquakes in the region are a reminder of the power of the earth beneath the feet of Vancouverites and British Columbians. For years, geological scientists have predicted the possibility of a large seismic event in the Pacific northwest. The “big one”, as it is commonly referred to, could strike here, at any time. We had recently a magnitude 4.1 earthquake on the west coast of Haida Gwaii. Earthquake preparedness is part of the way of life for Vancouverites. We need to make sure our first aid training, our seismic upgrading, and our preparation for our population, particularly on the west coast, is given a high priority by the Liberal government.
To conclude, I want to reiterate that the New Democratic Party's support for Bill C-240 is strong. We believe more needs to be done to promote first aid training among Canadians to make our communities safer. We look forward to a vibrant debate at committee stage and beyond as we work to improve and implement the provisions of this important bill.
Once again, I thank my hon. colleague for bringing this important issue to the attention of the House.