moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe that the time has finally come to debate Bill . It is the very first bill I introduced in this chamber after being elected in January 2006 and it is a bill that is near and dear to my heart.
However, my wait is nothing compared with the wait experienced by the workers who are at the heart of my bill. The Canadian building and construction trades have been lobbying for this legislation for over 35 years. Their tenacity on this file is remarkable and ought to be indicative to the government that this issue matters deeply to the very people who have literally built our country.
In fact, I would be remiss if I did not publicly thank Bob Blakely, the chief operating officer of the Canadian Building Trades Unions, for his personal commitment to this bill and for never ceasing to fight for the best interests of his members. Bob knows only too well what a bumpy road it has been to get to this point today.
Both Liberal and Conservative governments have made promises to the building trades in the past about concrete action to come. However, those games of political footsie led exactly nowhere.
It is time for the games to stop and for all members in the House to stand up and be counted. Lip service is no longer good enough. I am delighted to give members the opportunity to clarify their positions in the coming vote on my bill.
I know, Mr. Speaker, that you follow American politics closely, so you will remember former Speaker Tip O'Neill coining the phrase “all politics is local”. It is the principle that a politician's success is directly tied to his or her ability to understand and influence the issues of constituents.
While that certainly encapsulates the genesis of bill that we are debating today, I introduced it because of the amazing education and awareness-raising efforts of the members of the Building and Construction Trades Council in my hometown of Hamilton.
In particular, I want to single out the leadership of business manager Joe Beattie, who invited me to meet with the building trades about this issue before I was even elected.
We can see that the Hamilton building trades are not just savvy lobbyists, they are also clairvoyant. They knew I would eventually get elected, even before I believed it myself.
The case that was put to me by Joe, along with the members of Carpenters Local 18, UA Local 67 and Sheetmetal Workers Local 537, made sense then, and it still makes sense now. It makes sense for workers, who would benefit from a reduction in their temporary relocation costs and a reduction in time spent unemployed. It makes sense for employers which will benefit from access to larger pools of qualified workers and reduced costs relating to participation in programs such as the temporary foreign workers program. It makes sense for the government, because it would benefit from increased long-term income tax revenues and reduced dependence on costly social programs.
However, let me not put the cart before the horse. Let us start at the beginning and look at the issue that my bill is seeking to address, the specific remedy that it offers and the opportunity that it represents for the government and all members of the House.
Right now, there are two major human resource challenges facing Canada's construction industry: regional labour shortages and barriers to labour mobility.
The 2011 edition of the Construction Sector Council's “Construction Looking Forward” report suggests that to replace retiring workers and maintain productivity, construction employers, collectively, must hire more than 320,000 new workers between now and 2019. While training programs and recruitment from non-traditional labour sources are part of the solution, they will not be enough to ameliorate the significant labour shortages that are projected for the decade ahead.
Compounding this problem is the unevenness of demand for construction workers. Some regions of the country, such as Newfoundland and Labrador, are expected to face significant worker shortages until next year. Others, such as Ontario, will offer fewer work opportunities in the short term, but many more between 2015 and 2019. A third group, including Quebec, Nova Scotia and Alberta, will offer consistently high numbers throughout the forecast period.
With the demand for labour thus high in some parts of the country and lower in others, it would be in everyone's best interest to facilitate the mobility of unemployed workers from one part of the country to job openings in another.
This would be an easy problem to solve if construction jobs were permanent, but they are not. Construction is a transitory business. When a hospital, a mall or, for that matter, a Pan Am stadium is built, the job is done. Work can last for days, weeks or months, but the bottom line is that it is not permanent and no worker can fairly be expected to move his or her family to a new city every time the workplace changes, and therein lies the rub.
Under current rules, construction workers often incur large personal expenses to accept jobs in other parts of the province or country because neither their travel nor accommodation expenses are tax deductible under the Income Tax Act. As a result, these costs create a huge disincentive for workers to accept work in those parts of the country that are experiencing skills shortages.
Figures compiled on behalf of the building and construction trades department of the AFL-CIO suggest that the average mobile worker spends approximately $3,500 of his or her own money to temporarily relocate. That is a significant barrier to the appeal of working mobile. Without wanting to be too cute, I ask my hon. colleagues to imagine what would happen in this place if we told members tomorrow that they could no longer get financial assistance for their secondary residence here in Ottawa while they are here on the job, or for their travel for that matter.
If that is not enough to spur us on to creating fairness for the building trades, let me just remind members that this House already acknowledged that transitory workers merit financial support, and budget 2008 provided a tax break to truck drivers to assist with mobility challenges in that industry. I am calling on us to do the right thing here today and create a labour mobility tax credit for the building and construction industry too. Specifically, my bill would allow tradespersons and indentured apprentices to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable income, so they can secure and maintain employment at a construction site that is more than 80 kilometres from their home. Adopting this bill would remove one of the largest stated barriers to labour mobility in our country and would pave the road for workers to move freely between regions of the country where their skills are in demand. For me, this is absolutely the right thing to do, and I do not believe that this issue has to be partisan. In fact, I know it is not.
Let me remind members than in April 2008, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities supported my bill in intent if not by name. The two germane recommendations were numbers 1.6 and 1.7. Recommendation number 1.6 reads:
The Committee recommends that the federal government examine the moving expenses provision of the Income Tax Act with a view to extending this provision to individuals who must leave their principal residence to work on a temporary basis, provided their principal residence is retained.
Recommendation number 1.7 says:
The Committee recommends that the federal government provide funding to assist individuals who agree to relocate to enter employment in occupations experiencing skills shortages.
Both of those recommendations are spot-on.
Yes, these recommendations were adopted during a minority Parliament, so it may be assumed that the government members did not actually support them. However, let me provide further evidence to the contrary. Before the Standing Committee on Finance on November 19, 2012, the Conservative member for responded to a presentation by a representative of the building trades by saying, “...I've been advocating since 2005 for a tax credit on travel and mobility”.
Just a month later, another report by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities made this its 30th recommendation. It stated:
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada study the anticipated cost of introducing new fiscal measures that would help people who find jobs far away from where they live, for example a tax credit for travel and lodging if a person must work more than 80 kilometres from his or her residence, and that it study the potential impact of such measures on labour mobility and labour shortages.
This time, the government had the majority of members on the committee, so that recommendation would not have passed without the support of the Conservatives.
I want to publicly thank the Conservatives who were members of the committee at that time. They are the members for , , , and , and the member for , who is now Canada's . I know that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, in particular, understands this issue and has been advocating for it inside his own caucus. Also, I hope the Minister of Labour is using her new clout to assist his efforts in every possible way. Since she has repeatedly mentioned her own family roots in Alberta's construction industry, I trust that she understands what is at stake here.
Certainly, all of the opposition members on the committee got it right away. I was but one member of that committee, and I was proud to note that my NDP colleagues at HUMA, the members for , and , have always stood four-square behind the building trades in their communities and immediately expressed their support for my bill.
I am also cautiously optimistic that my Liberal colleague from will see fit to vote for it, although truthfully I am not sure which side he was on when the issue was being discussed when the Liberals were in government, during their 13 years in office. What I do know is that in opposition he has been nothing but supportive, and I want to thank him for that.
This issue does have broad-based support. What is stopping it from becoming law? At one point both the and the former Minister of Labour were concerned about how much my proposed tax credit would cost. They were not entirely convinced by the admittedly rough initial calculations, which showed that it would be revenue neutral, since the cost of the tax credit would be more than offset by savings in employment insurance payments that would no longer have to be made as unemployed Canadians went to work in other parts of the country.
However, the building trades took the minister's concern seriously and had the projections related to my bill audited by Hendry Warren. The audited numbers were given to every member of this House during the last building trades lobby day, and I trust that everyone will have familiarized themselves with the costing of my proposal. However, let us take a quick look at the numbers again just to make absolutely certain that we are all on the same page.
Hendry Warren estimated that there are 1.6 million construction workers in Canada. An estimated 10% of them travel each year. At an average cost of $3,500 per worker per year, a 15% tax credit would cost the government $525 per mobile worker per year, for a total cost of $84 million.
Working with the same number of 160,000 travelling skilled trades workers whose average weekly employment insurance benefit would be $393 per week for an average period of unemployment of four weeks if they were not working means that the government would pay $251 million in EI benefits per year. That means that the tax credit proposal in my bill would actually save the government $167 million per year.
Let me repeat that, Mr. Speaker, because these numbers will be germane in your consideration of whether my bill will ultimately require a royal recommendation. Far from being an expenditure, my bill would actually save the government $167 million each and every year, and that is just premised on savings on EI.
As the audited statement makes clear, when savings from all social programs are taken into account along with increased long-term income tax revenues from employment, the labour mobility tax credit is more likely to yield a return on the government's investment of nearly five to one. We would think the would be doing a happy dance at the prospect of such a windfall.
The bill really is a win, win, win. As I said at the outset, workers win because the travel and accommodation costs would no longer be a barrier to accepting decent jobs for decent wages in other regions of the country; employers win because they would have access to larger pools of qualified workers without needing to resort to the costly temporary foreign workers program; the government wins by having taken a concrete step toward addressing regional skilled labour shortages, all the while reducing dependence on costly social programs and actually boosting long-term income tax revenues. It does not get much better than that.
Let me conclude by bringing this discussion full circle. I want to end where I began.
Locally and nationally, the building and construction trades have lobbied for the bill for over 35 years. They represent an industry that is critical to our economy. In fact, construction is Canada's largest private sector industry. Its direct impact is immense. Construction accounts for 12% of Canada's GDP.
The industry has more than 260,000 businesses, employing more than a million Canadians. It is responsible for installing, repairing, and renovating more than $150 billion worth of infrastructure every single year. It is a threshold industry on which everything else is based.
In a very real sense, the building and construction trades have built our country. It is time for us to shore up their work. It is time for us to heed their call for action. It is time for us to provide them with a tax credit for travel and accommodation expenses when they accept work more than 80 kilometres away from their home. It is time to pass my bill.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in debate today on Bill , which is sponsored by the member for .
The bill proposes to allow tradespeople and apprentices to deduct from their taxable income travel and accommodation expenses that they incur in order to secure and maintain employment. These deductions would be subject to certain conditions.
I would like to focus on a few reasons why I oppose Bill .
First of all, our government is quite focused on providing support for employees and tradespeople across the country. Second, the bill would be ineffective and inequitable. It would be ineffective because there is no evidence that the proposal would increase the likelihood that tradespeople will travel more for work, and inequitable in that some tradespeople would receive tax relief for work-related travel while other workers would not.
Third, especially during a time of fiscal responsibility, the bill would be very costly and that cost would be significant at this time in our economy. The bill looks nice and has a nice sound to it. It is kind of like a chocolate cake with a lot of icing on it. We look at the icing on the chocolate cake and say it looks tasty, but it really is not good for us. There is no way to square that piece of cake to be good for us.
I will start by highlighting our government's role in supporting employees and tradespeople. I would like to say that the hon. member for did not support any of the legislation that we brought in to support employees and tradespeople. That needs to be noted during this debate. I mean, it is one thing to have a personal preference. It is one thing to have a party bias. I think we all have some party bias in this place. However, it is another thing to ignore good legislation simply because it is the government that brings it in.
Canada's strong economic performance during the global recession has been widely recognized around the world. Although it may not have gotten the same amount of press as other key initiatives, Canada's economic action plan provided key funding to several organizations to stimulate growth and jobs during the recent recession and helped tradespeople and other Canadians find jobs.
Our government knows that Canadian workers are among the best educated and the best trained in the world. However, Canada is facing a skilled labour shortage. In particular, persistent pockets of unfilled positions exist for some skilled tradespeople and professional occupations. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, for example, has identified Canada's skills shortage as the number one issue facing its membership.
Our government takes this issue seriously. To help Canadians connect with available jobs, in economic action plan 2013 we set out a three-point plan to address these challenges. First, economic action plan 2013 introduced the new Canada job grant, which would provide $15,000 or more per person, including the maximum federal contribution of $5,000, to be matched by the provinces, territories and employers, to ensure Canadians are getting the skills employers are seeking.
Second, the plan would create opportunities for apprentices by working with provinces and territories to examine the use of practical tests as a method of assessment and to harmonize requirements, and by introducing measures that would support the use of apprentices through federal construction and maintenance contracts, investments in affordable housing and infrastructure projects that receive federal funding. Finally, it would provide support to groups that are under-represented in the job market, such as persons with disabilities, youth, aboriginal peoples and newcomers, to help them find good jobs.
These are great initiatives that are directly helping to fill the labour shortages and connect Canadians with jobs. These are all measures that the opposition has voted against. If the member's bill attempts to focus on apprentices and tradespeople, let me highlight some of the measures our government has already taken to support these individuals.
Since 2006, our government has invested nearly $2.7 billion per year to support skills and training programs. We have supported tradespeople with the tradesperson's tools deduction and extended the fees eligible for the tuition tax credit to include those examinations required to be certified as a tradesperson in Canada, thereby encouraging more tradespeople to become red seal tradesmen. With a red seal, they can work anywhere in the country.
Our government has legislated measures such as the apprenticeship job creation tax credit, the apprenticeship incentive grant, and the apprenticeship completion grant. Tax credits already exist for employers and tradespersons, such as the Canada employment credit, the moving expenses deduction, and the special or remote work sites tax exemptions.
That is not all. We understand that education has a big part in this equation as well. We will promote education in fields where there is high demand for employees, including science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and skilled trades. We will help improve educational and labour market outcomes for aboriginal peoples by investing to improve the on-reserve income assistance program and by providing funding for post-secondary scholarships and bursaries.
We will continue to work with the provinces and territories and stakeholders to improve the foreign credential recognition process, thereby enhancing the integration of internationally trained individuals in the job market.
Put simply, our government remains focused on what matters to Canadians—jobs and economic growth and ensuring that Canada's economic advantage today will translate into the long-term prosperity of tomorrow.
Let me now address some of the specific concerns we have with the bill before us.
First, we believe that providing an income tax deduction for job-related travel and accommodation expenses, as proposed under Bill , would make it difficult to ensure that tax relief is not provided for personal expenses that reflect lifestyle decisions. Under the provisions of this bill, expenses incurred by eligible individuals who choose to live more than 80 kilometres from the workplace for personal reasons would quality for tax relief.
Second, the open-ended nature of the proposed deduction would make it vulnerable to unfair tax planning and abuse. For example, individuals could arrange their affairs to claim a recreational property, such as a cottage that is more than 80 kilometres from work, as their principal residence. They could then deduct the cost of maintaining their urban residence as an expense required to secure and maintain employment. That is a serious flaw with this piece of proposed legislation. This is not conductive to a fair tax system, especially as we have just been debating Bill , which emphasizes our government's commitment to a fair tax system for all Canadians.
Third, the bill would raise equity concerns, as eligible tradespersons and indentured apprentices would be able to reduce their tax liability when they incurred eligible travel and accommodation expenses whereas other workers who had to incur similar work-related travel expenses, such as nurses, would not receive tax assistance. This would result in individuals with a similar capacity to pay taxes having markedly different tax liabilities, due solely to occupational differences.
Fourth, it is not clear that the bill would increase travel by tradespersons and indentured apprentices. In fact, for individuals who would have incurred eligible travel and accommodation expenses in any case, the deduction would represent a windfall gain.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the cost of the proposal would be significant. Preliminary estimates suggest that providing tax assistance to tradespersons and indentured apprentices for travel and accommodation expenses would cost approximately $60 million per year at maturity. At a time when our government is committed to returning to balanced budgets and eliminating the deficit, this bill, which already raises some concerns, would be extremely costly to the government.
In addition, Bill would create pressure to extend tax relief in respect of other expenses or other types of employees, at a higher fiscal cost.
Make no mistake. Our government believes in tax relief for all Canadians. Canadians know that when it comes to tax reductions, this government has a long-standing record of significant achievements. By keeping taxes low, our government is allowing Canadians to keep more of their hard-earned money.
In conclusion, this bill is poorly targeted, would subsidize personal choices, and would open the door to unfair tax planning. It would also entail a cost of approximately $60 million per year. It would create pressure to extend tax relief to other work-related expenses at a higher fiscal cost. In addition, our government already provides tax relief and program support for tradespersons and apprentices and tax relief for employees who must incur travel-related expenses in the course of their employment.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity for questions and answers and I am sure the member would have provided some clarification on that $60 million. I suspect that is why he was up on his feet.
We had a Speaker's ruling just recently in which the Speaker indicated that we have to take all members as hon. members and believe that they are bringing truthful answers to the floor. We will leave the PMO out of this debate. I would assume that in all honesty this particular member did bring forward what he believes is the true figure, as I do believe the sponsor of the bill. I understand that from within the construction industry stakeholders group there was a study or some sort of a financial analysis that was conducted. There is no reason for us to believe that was not done properly. That is why I believe that there is merit in terms of us taking the bill to the next level.
We can all talk about the construction industry and the importance that industry plays in our country from coast to coast to coast. We can no doubt all talk about individual stories. My brother has been in the construction industry for 20-plus years. He has done work in British Columbia and Manitoba. He is currently in Saskatchewan. Sitting around the family reunion-type kitchen table there is always a discussion and he is always quite willing to share his thoughts and opinions about that particular industry with me.
I see, understand and appreciate the value of recognizing the importance of that industry and what it is that we can do to help facilitate some very serious issues. Those that I would highlight have been pointed out. Labour mobility is a big issue when it comes to the whole construction area. That is one of the reasons why I posed the question to the sponsor of the bill in regard to other jurisdictions. It is not only from one region of the country to another region. For example, we can have more labour shortages in some areas of a province than in other areas of that same province.
When I posed the question I was trying to get a better understanding as to whether there were other jurisdictions because I believe that is often quite helpful. A province does have the ability through provincial consideration to recognize and provide for tax deductions that would allow for the type of measures the member is hoping to achieve in the bill. Are there examples that could be given from other jurisdictions outside of Canada? I believe there is value in terms of us knowing this information once we go to the committee stage. That is the reason why I asked.
Those of us in the Liberal Party recognize the importance of labour mobility. Economies shift quite significantly in terms of activities. Just an hour or so ago we were talking about the economic activity out in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia. A lot of that is being driven through our natural resource industry and the demand that is there. In Manitoba we could talk about hydro development and the potential of the Limestone generating station or the future Conawapa, as well as some of the other major projects that are on the horizon, whether in Vancouver, out on the east coast or in central Canada. We all know and I suspect we can appreciate why that takes place. How are we able to best accommodate that?
Last year we talked about the foreign worker program. We have tens of thousands of foreign workers who come into Canada, in part, to meet that particular demand.
First and foremost, is the government doing its fair share in ensuring that our jobs are in fact being offered and made available to Canadians, and second, to what degree are we enabling individuals to get those jobs?
I could be corrected on this, but I believe just over 1.5 million people work directly within the construction industry. There is a percentage of those individual workers who have to, not necessarily out of choice in terms of their profession—if a plumber, for example, living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is offered the opportunity to work on a significant project in the province of Saskatchewan, whether it is Regina, Yorkton or wherever it might be, that plumber should be afforded the opportunity to take it. On the surface of the bill that is being proposed, there is a great deal of merit in allowing for or providing some form of tax deduction dealing with one's travel and accommodation. There is merit for that.
If we take the micro situation and apply it to the macro situation, one can get a better appreciation for why it is that we should be looking at this bill quite seriously. That is the reason why, as the Liberal Party has indicated, it is prepared to send it to committee. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered and I look forward to its ultimate passage, hopefully, even though I am somewhat doubtful, given the government members' position on it. We will have to wait and see when it ultimately comes to a vote.
Mr. Speaker, I stand in support of Bill an act to amend the Income Tax Act, travel and accommodation deduction for tradespersons. I want to thank the hon. member for for tabling the bill in the House of Commons. I want to thank the hon. member on behalf of untold thousands, tens of thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, Atlantic Canadians and Canadians in general who migrate for work across the country and around the world. I meet them at airports. I talk to them on airplanes. I knock on the doors of their families left behind.
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a history of working away from home. Our forefathers worked on the Grand Banks and off the Labrador coast for months on end. They lived on wooden walls, the sealing ships, for weeks, when they were in the fat, when the seal hunt was in its prime.
In my riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl, on the top of Signal Hill, at the entrance to St. John's harbour, is a peak that is known as Ladies Lookout. Ladies Lookout is the very point where women gathered for generations to look for their men returning from sea after days, weeks, months, and years. The wharf and lookout of yesterday is the airport of today.
So many Newfoundland and Labrador families live on a rotation: two weeks on, one week off; four weeks on, two weeks off. Long commutes and extended absences have been a way of life in Newfoundland and Labrador. However, the scale and intensity of the westward move to places like Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, and Lloydminster that began a few decades ago sets it apart from past experience. Let me quote from a recent article I read on the Newfoundland and Labrador migration: “Some call it a rite of passage. Some wives back home call it a fiscal blessing, but a blow to the heart”.
It is not just men who migrate for work; it is women too. It is our youth, our newly educated, bayman and townie alike. Leaving for work is a way of life, especially since the early 1990s when our fisheries collapsed. We have lost 90,000 people since then. One-sixth of our population left. They are gone. Untold thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians migrate for work on a weekly or monthly basis so that their families can live comfortably back home. It is how I grew up, personally, with my father away for six to nine months at a time. He worked on what was then known as the Distant Early Warning line across the north.
If one drives through the outports today in rural Newfoundland and Labrador one will see nice, new homes and nice vehicles. There is pride in property, but we've always seen that. My office has tried to research the amount of money that migrant Newfoundland and Labrador workers bring back with them. There are no accurate numbers, but I can say it is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It is in the billions of dollars. According to Statistics Canada, the number of workers commuting from Atlantic Canada to Alberta increased threefold between 2004 and 2008. The median earning for oil and gas workers in Alberta who live out of province was just under $60,000 in 2009.
Bill would impact thousands of Atlantic Canadians and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. The bill would allow tradespersons and apprentices to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable income. The bill would allow tradespeople to maintain employment on work sites that are more than 80 kilometres away. The bill would help migratory workers and migratory construction workers. There is no doubt that the bill would help workers in my riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl, in all of Newfoundland and Labrador and in Atlantic Canada.
Workers have to leave home. That is hard enough, but they should not have to foot the bill for travel and accommodation too. Under current rules, construction workers often incur large personal expenses to accept jobs in other parts of the province or country because neither travel nor accommodation expenses are tax deductible under the Income Tax Act. These costs create a huge disincentive for workers to accept work in other parts of the country that are experiencing skills shortages.
Figures suggest that the average mobile worker spends approximately $3,500 of his or her own money to temporarily relocate. That $3,500 is a significant barrier to the appeal of accepting jobs away from home. We have to make it easier and more enticing for skilled labourers in this country to fill labour shortages in other parts of the country.
How much will the bill cost? It is actually revenue neutral for the federal government, because the cost associated with the income tax cut is more than made up by savings in employment insurance. Instead of punishing Canadians who receive EI, we can start helping skilled labourers in this country by making it easier for them to accept work.
Let me throw out some numbers. There are an estimated 1.6 million construction workers in Canada, and 10% of them travel each year. At an average cost of $3,500 per worker, a 15% tax credit would cost the federal government $525 per mobile worker per year, for a total cost of $84 million. However, if the same number of 160,000 travelling skilled trades workers, which is 10% of 1.6 million, received average weekly employment insurance benefits of $393 per week, for an average period of unemployment of four weeks, the government would pay $250 million in EI benefits per year. That works out to $84 million from a tax cut versus $250 million in EI benefits. The tax credit proposed in the bill would result in net savings of more than $160 million a year.
The bill would not just help workers. The bill would help employers, because they would have larger pools of skilled workers across this country to draw from. They would not have to resort to hiring temporary foreign workers to get the jobs done.
The bill would also help Newfoundland and Labrador. We have huge projects on the horizon, such as Labrador's Muskrat Falls and offshore oil projects. We have had three new offshore oil discoveries within the past year off Newfoundland and Labrador.
Despite successive Conservative and Liberal governments making promises for years about helping migratory workers, there has been nothing done. In fact, this bill has been tabled in each Parliament since 2006. It was part of the New Democratic Party's platform in 2008 and 2011. Now we have the opportunity again to help migratory workers in this country.
The ask is simple. Allow our tradespeople and apprentices to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable incomes so that they can secure and maintain employment at a construction site that is more than 80 kilometres away from their homes. It is that simple.
People in this mobile workforce maintain homes and families in communities across Canada, in Atlantic Canada, and in Newfoundland and Labrador while using personal funds to maintain employment.
Included in the tax credit would be the cost of travel, meals, and accommodation, less any money paid by the employer for those purposes.
To conclude, the bill makes sense for workers. The bill makes sense for families. The bill makes sense for employers. The bill makes sense for industry. The bill makes sense for taxpayers. The bill makes sense, period.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity today to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Income Tax Act, to allow:
—tradespersons and indentured apprentices to deduct from their taxable income any travel and accommodation expenses that they have incurred in order to secure and maintain employment in a construction activity at a job site that is located at least 80 kilometres away from their ordinary place of residence.
While the hon. member's goal is worthy, to support tradespersons and indentured apprentices, her proposal contains a few flaws. Providing a deduction for job-related travel and accommodation expenses as proposed under Bill will make it difficult to ensure that tax relief is not provided for personal expenses solely reflecting lifestyle decisions.
Similarly, the open-ended nature of the proposed deduction raises serious concerns that could also make it vulnerable to abuse and unfair tax planning. For example, one can envision a situation where an individual can claim a residence, perhaps a cottage, more than 80 kilometres from work as their principal residence and then deduct those costs of maintaining their urban residence as an expense required to secure and maintain employment.
This bill would raise equality concerns as eligible tradespersons and indentured apprentices would be able to reduce their tax liability when they incurred eligible travel and accommodation expenses, whereas other workers who must incur similar work-related travel expenses, such as nurses, firefighters, correctional officers, would not receive that same tax assistance.
There is also a risk that this bill would simply result in a windfall gain to individuals who have incurred eligible travel expenses and accommodation in any case. Estimates suggest that providing tax assistance to tradespersons and apprentices for travel and accommodation could cost approximately $60 million every year at maturity. These costs are substantial. Our government is already on track to eliminate the deficit and remain squarely focused on this goal. Canadians expect us to be fiscally responsible at all times. Therefore, while our government is ensuring that we continue to support tradespersons and apprentices, this bill is not a measure that we can support.
Let me also suggest to the member opposite that tax changes should be undertaken through the budget process and not on an ad hoc basis. The budget process enables the government to fully consider trade-offs, balance priorities and undertake new fiscal commitments only to the extent that they are affordable. The hon. member should also be aware that Canada's tax system already provides a number of tax relief provisions for employees, including tradespersons who travel or relocate for their employment. For example, there is a moving expense deduction which recognizes costs incurred by workers who move their ordinary place of residence at least 40 kilometres closer to their place of business or employment in order to pursue employment or education opportunities.
There is a also a special and remote work sites tax provision that allows employers to provide board and lodging benefits to employees on a tax-free basis. Under this provision, where an employee is required to work at a remote location where only employer-provided accommodation is available, while continuing to pay expenses associated with his or her own home, amounts paid by the employer for room and board at the remote location are not included in the employee's income. The exemption recognizes in many instances employers need to provide these benefits in order to attract workers to a particular work site.
There is also a travel expense deduction which recognizes costs associated with business travel. The travel expense deduction allows employees who are ordinarily required to carry on the duties of employment away from the employer's place of business or in different locations to deduct travel expenses incurred, including 50% of their meal expenses when they are required by the employer to pay their expenses on their own. For example, an employee who must travel from his normal work site in Ottawa to Brampton or from Whitehorse to Carmacks in order to perform employment-related duties may claim a deduction for eligible travel and meal expenses to the extent that their employer does not already pay those expenses.
Similarly, self-employed individuals may deduct reasonable expenses incurred in connection with the generation of income from a business, including travel expenses such as lodging and, again, 50% of their meal costs while they are away from home.
Close to home for me, there is the northern residents deduction, which provides tax relief to individuals in northern and isolated communities to assist in drawing skilled labour to the North.
Finally, in 2006 our government introduced the Canada employment credit for all employees. In 2013, the Canada employment credit provides a tax credit of up to $1,117 on employment income. By increasing the amount of income that employed Canadians can earn without paying federal income tax, the employment credit recognizes that some of the income that individuals earn is used to pay for work-related expenses.
Our government is committed to lower taxes for all Canadians, tradespersons included. That is why, since coming into office in 2006, we have introduced broad-based tax relief such as lowering the GST from 7% to 5% and introducing the tax-free savings account.
In total, we have introduced more than 160 tax-relief measures, reducing taxes in every way that the Government of Canada collects them. Canadians at all income levels are benefiting from the personal income tax relief introduced by our government, with low- and middle-income Canadians receiving proportionally greater relief. Overall, personal income tax rates are now 11% lower with the tax relief provided by the government, and more than one million low-income Canadians have been removed entirely from our tax rolls.
Our strong record of tax relief is saving the typical Canadian family of four more than $3,200 each and every year. This is significant. It means that hard-working Canadians from coast to coast to coast have more money in their own pockets at the end of every year so they can decide how best to spend that money.
In addition, our government has been aggressive in closing tax loopholes used by a small group of taxpayers who have been trying to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Ensuring tax fairness keeps taxes low for all Canadians and their families.
To conclude, while we understand the objectives of the bill, it is flawed, and therefore we simply cannot support it.
The proposed deductions would be hard to monitor, would make it vulnerable to unfair tax planning, would be limited to amounts earned at the new work location in the year, and would cost approximately $60 million a year at maturity. Therefore, I urge all members to join me in opposing the bill before us for reasons I have mentioned.
Some questions about mobility rights and the importance of mobility across our country were discussed earlier. While we recognize that mobility is important, the one thing I have heard as the member of Parliament for Yukon as I have travelled across the North is people saying that they want Yukon people for Yukon jobs, northern people for northern jobs. I would say that the same thing is true for all regions in our country.
Proposing the bill without supporting the other important measures that our government has put in place in budget 2013 and previous budgets that would actually make it a reality for Yukon people to get Yukon jobs, northern people to get northern jobs, and regional people to get regional jobs so that mobility is not a requirement would be something the opposition should seriously take a look at.
I can point to examples like the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining in my home territory where we are trying to improve working conditions and take an unskilled labour force and move it into semi-skilled and highly skilled labour opportunities. The literacy investments that our government is making across the three territories to give people that first chance of success in their own home so they do not have to exercise those mobility rights is a critical measure.
I am surprised that the members of the opposition have not supported those measures, in particular the member for , who has voted against those critical measures each and every time we put them in place.