Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to deal with the consideration of the merits of private member's bill, Bill C-209.
There is no question that encouraging the use of public transit is a laudable goal. As a matter of public policy this is a goal that is obviously consistent with the government's plan. Every time we remove a private automobile from our roadways, there is a direct effect in the reduction of greenhouse gases and that is a relationship that all of us can understand and appreciate. The government recognizes the importance of reducing greenhouse gases, but in doing so we must remember that the tax system is only one of the possible methods and mechanisms we can use in order to help us reach that goal.
First and foremost, governments at all levels must work together to be effective in this challenge. Second, I submit that we should examine the legislation we have before us today in light of the other options that are available to us and also look at where we could most effectively utilize the money that this proposal might cost the public purse.
It has been estimated that this proposal, if enacted, would in fact cost the public purse approximately $100 million annually. For $100 million annually, the question is, do we believe that this would accomplish the goal and would there be other expenses that might be incurred in its implementation?
Clearly those who already take public transit do not need a tax deduction to encourage them to use this service, so why, as the bill advocates, should we spend money from the treasury to provide a subsidy to those existing users? It might be beneficial to those current riders, I suppose, if they had sufficient income to be taxable, but the deduction from taxable income is not helpful at all to those who do not have a net taxable income.
Clearly this part of the bill is a discriminatory measure and would take away from the benefit a person of lower income might have received. Surely this was not the intent of the drafter of the bill, but it certainly would be the ultimate effect as it is drafted. Whether they were patrons of the transit system or whether they would decide to begin using public transit, surely a section of this nature is truly inappropriate. The bill would not legislate any sort of direct payment to the person who uses the public transit system but in fact would legislate a deduction from net taxable income. That is a very important distinction to make in relation to the bill as it appears before the House.
As I look at the bill my initial thoughts are that, first, the tax system credits proposed would not be equally applicable to all riders because of our graduated tax system. Second, if one is not taxable at all, obviously there would be no financial benefit or incentive under the bill. Third, if the goal is to reduce greenhouse gases by increasing ridership, why should we provide any financial support to those who already take the transit system? Fourth, this proposal would not appropriately target the group that we wish to encourage to take the public transit system, that is, those who currently simply do not use that system.
When we reflect on what we should consider, other alternatives ought to be taken into consideration. Some of the alternatives we should be looking at, I would suggest, are the infrastructure programs that are used for transit capital improvements, for direct capital investment and for adding to operating grants. These are effective ways of keeping down the cost of public transportation and also of broadening the base of support through the extra moneys that would be provided by capital infusion. We want to induce more people to use the public transit system and ultimately reduce greenhouse gases.
I would submit that public expenditures that are directed at creating the least expensive, cleanest, most well maintained, modern and efficient means of public transit would be a better and more direct method of achieving the goal of getting more riders to leave their cars at home.
Another problem with the bill is the practical application of the accountability section as drafted, subclause 118.96(3), which states:
The individual shall provide supporting vouchers indicating the amounts paid by the individual for the use of a public transportation system.
With respect to the bill itself, the word shall used in subclause 118.96(3) is a mandatory word which requires one to provide the supporting vouchers or receipts in order to deduct from the net taxable income this public transportation expenditure.
Let us think about what this really does. What does it really create? Not only does it create a new administrative problem for the traveller in having to obtain and maintain the receipts, but there is also an expense created for the travel provider on every trip taken by the taxpayer.
This is not to mention the fact that ultimately CCRA has to receive and store all of these vouchers, which conceivably could be in the hundreds per taxpayer, which again could be something significant.
The cost of producing the vouchers by the travel provider and the cost to receive and store these vouchers by CCRA would not be, I suggest, a positive use of government resources, again taking into consideration that the primary purpose of the bill is ultimately to reduce greenhouse gases.
In the bill I think what we are looking is possibly the creation of a very expensive administrative system, not only for the federal government but for all levels of government, which in effect really are part and parcel of the whole idea of public transit. That would include the provinces as well as the municipalities.
The government is committed to reducing greenhouse gases and clearly excellent public transit is one important part of that policy. The government is committed to the important principles of sustainable development across a wide spectrum of government activities. That means clear goals in relation to the environment. The federal government has required all of its departments to prepare sustainable development strategies for tabling in the House. As well, every federal budget since 1994 has included measures that will help achieve a better integration of the economy and the environment.
In budget 2000 and in budget update 2000, $1.4 billion was allocated toward key environmental challenges. One of those challenges of course is climate change. A green municipal investment fund is a part of those initiatives and is there to provide loans in support of municipal projects in such areas as urban transit.
As part of reducing greenhouse gases within the scope of mass transit, our government is also leading by example. The Alternative Fuels Act of 1995 requires that three-quarters of the federal government fleet, which includes those green buses we see travelling up and down the Hill, if vehicles meet the minimum feasibility requirements, will use alternative fuels. Clearly this is a positive step in reducing greenhouse gases.
In conclusion, I wish to thank the hon. member for bringing this important issue to our attention, but as I have articulated there are better ways to use public moneys in order to achieve the goal of minimizing greenhouse gases and better serve the environment. The tax deductibility provided in Bill C-209 does not meet the tests required for an efficient, effective and wise use of public funds. Therefore I am not in support of Bill C-209.