Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate today. I want to thank my colleague from the Bloc for bringing the motion forward.
My colleague from the Conservatives mentioned a previous motion that had come to the House. It passed by the House on November 4, 1998, exempting employer paid public transit passes.
In 1998 the Liberal government had an opportunity to encourage ridership on public transit and it failed to implement it. I want to add that the current finance minister voted in favour of it. I find it hard to believe that he will be doing the same this time around, but it would be nice if he was not changing his tune so quickly.
I will read a fair bit from my colleague, Nelson Riis, who when he was here brought that motion forward. It says a lot about the bill of my colleague from the Bloc as well.
I am acknowledging that I am reading almost verbatim my colleague, the speech of Nelson Riis, so I do not get accused of using his words. They were great words and I will repeat them because they are just as good today as they were in 1998. He said:
We all pay tax on our earnings. Some benefits we receive from our employer must also be declared as income and are therefore income taxable. Employer provided parking and employer provided transit passes are both examples of benefits that are considered taxable under the federal Income Tax Act.
However, Revenue Canada's interpretation of this act provides loopholes allowing most employees to receive their free parking income tax free. Workers with this benefit save approximately $1,722 annually. This is an incentive for commuters to drive and represents a significant loss of income tax revenue.
The government can address this bias by making employer provided transit passes an income tax exempt benefit.
This indicates that individuals would receive a direct benefit into their homes if this were made tax exempt. He further said:
This change would provide a rare opportunity for the federal government to seriously affect public policy at the local level.
I want to respond at this point because it clarifies the position of the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, my Liberal colleague who spoke earlier. I wish I had the chance to question him because he said that studies showed there was no benefit to doing this. I would like to see those studies and at least get the name of them to review them.
My colleague also stated that in the United States when this exemption was brought in, and while both the amounts and the manner in which transit subsidies could be offered were limited, transit use increased an average of 25% among employees offered this benefit.
Obviously it was a significant change in emphasis. In San Francisco, for example, transit use among participating employees increased 31%, removing an estimated 17 million vehicle miles from the Bay area, avoiding 61 million tons of pollutants and generating $1.6 million of new transit revenue.
To my colleague from the Liberals, where is his study to prove differently? I just indicated the one from San Francisco and that area that shows that it does work.
He went on to say:
All taxpayers benefit from decreased congestion. They benefit from health care savings, reduced infrastructure costs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Very few tax policies impact so favourably on so many Canadians.
Supporting public transit is not solely a transit issue. It is a health issue, it is a social issue. It is pollution issue. It is an environmental issues. It surely is an economic issue as well. It is a solid foot forward in the battle to meet our Kyoto obligations and it makes sense. It is cost effective and it has proven effective in other jurisdictions.
To those doubters out there, this is not just about giving a tax exempt break and someone is going to get a bit of a cost benefit. We are going to have an overwhelmingly major cost benefit to our health care system and meet our Kyoto commitments, so there is benefit.
Again, it is not just the New Democratic Party that says this or in this case the Bloc that supports it as well. The representative of the Canadian Urban Transit Association stated:
Public transit can offer a major solution, but needs expanded capacity and ridership and incentive for Canadians to take transit, like tax exempt transit initiatives.
We all meet with the Canadian Urban Transit Association every year when it does its lobbying. I wonder how many of my Liberal colleagues told members of the Canadian Urban Transit Association that they were absolutely wrong and that they did not agree that tax incentives for public transit passes would not work.
If they are going to recognize these associations as being credible, then they should at least have the gumption to stand up and support some of the policies it says will work to increase public transit and reduce emissions in this country, the ultimate benefit going to the Canadian population.
The vice-chair of the association said that a change in the federal tax code to make employer provided transit benefits tax exempt would go a long way to allowing employers to offer a real incentive for people to switch from driving alone to public transit for their journey to work, something we have already done in the House. We voted on that in the House with the results being that 141 Liberals said that it would work. Only 23 Reformers, 39 Bloc members, 21 New Democrats, the whole kit and caboodle at the time, 15 Progressive Conservatives and 1 independent voted in favour of this. We had 4 Liberals and 21 Reformers who voted no while the rest must have been off vacationing somewhere. The reality is that Parliament voted saying yes that tax exempt public transit passes will work.