Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to private member's Bill C-306 which proposes to amend the Income Tax Act to provide an income tax credit for expenses incurred by individuals for public transportation.
As I understand the bill, eligible costs would include those incurred in travel by bus, subway, commuter train and light rail. To be eligible for a tax credit, individuals would need to submit supporting receipts indicating the amounts paid for use of an eligible public transportation system.
Let me start by emphasizing that the government supports encouraging more individuals to use public transportation systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, addressing the climate change challenge is one of the government's priorities and encouraging greater use of public transportation could certainly help us move toward this objective.
However, as stewards of the public purse, we, as members of Parliament, have a public responsibility to fulfill, the responsibility to ensure that the policies we put in place are in fact the best methods of achieving our goals. Although I agree with the intent of the bill, it is flawed. The consequences and the effects of the bill have not been considered and we should not be in the business of considering flawed legislation.
Regarding the specific option of a tax credit for public transportation costs, there are significant effectiveness and fairness considerations that need to be taken into full account before voting on the bill.
Let me take moment to explain some of the difficulties that the bill raises. As I stated, the bill is flawed and the thought process in presenting the bill has been insufficient.
Initial evidence has shown that a tax credit would have a limited impact on public transit usage. The federal government's transit pass pilot project has shown that only 10% of eligible participants actually took part and just over 5% of those participating were new to the system. Therefore, the pilot project attracted very few new users to the public transit system even with a financial incentive. This pilot project will be evaluated this fall and at the very least we should wait for the final analysis rather than drafting and passing legislation that is flawed.
We all know that the cost of public transit is one of many factors coming into play in an individual's transportation choice. Costs are weighed against other considerations such as accessibility, convenience, comfort and personal preference.
Ten thousand people leave the Niagara region and St. Catharines each and every day to work in the Hamilton and Toronto area. I would rather have infrastructure money to extend the GO Transit to Niagara Falls for the convenience of those people who would use and require such facilities. I am convinced that if there were $240 million to $300 million per year available, this would be a valuable thing to do.
In addition, for effectiveness we must also consider the fairness of introducing such a measure and the bill also fails on this ground. Indeed, the measure would mostly benefit individuals living in large urban centres with extensive public transit systems. Individuals living in small centres and rural Canada where accessible and convenient public transportation is not available would not benefit at all from this measure. Only three in ten of the communities in the Niagara region would benefit. What about the other seven?
The bill requires much more research. Nor would the measure benefit those Canadians who are already using more environmentally friendly modes of travel like walking and bicycling. For those people who have moved into an area and have the ability to walk or bicycle to work, would they get tax credits? These individuals also contribute to help achieve our environmental objectives and they would argue that they also deserve tax relief.
Modest income Canadians such as those receiving social assistance, the unemployed, seniors and students represent a good fraction of transit users, but would not fully benefit, if at all, from a tax credit as many of them do not pay income tax in the first place.
Moreover, there are other concerns about the bill as currently drafted. Let me elaborate. The bill appears designed to provide assistance for costs incurred for public transportation. However, the bill's definition of public transportation is very broad. It could potentially encompass costs incurred outside of Canada. I certainly hope that was not the member's intention.
Let me give some examples for illustration. For instance, based on the current wording, taxpayers could potentially claim a credit for vacation travel costs or travels by bus between cities. It could also cover the cost of local hop on and hop off tour buses. I know this was not the intention, but the bill needs a lot of work.
Imagine having taxpayers at large pay for others being able to claim their costs for having taken the London underground, for example, while on vacation. I know that was not the intent, but the legislation needs to be refined and worked over. Is it the hon. member's intention to cover these types of costs? I do not think so, but a lot of work needs to be done on the bill.
It is also important to remember that the government is pursuing a range of other initiatives which contribute toward better public transit and environmental goals. This includes initiatives such as infrastructure support, a new deal for cities and communities, and our climate change plan.
Since the mid-nineties, the federal government has invested $12 billion in infrastructure programs. A portion of this funding is going toward various transit projects. This includes funding for the Richmond airport; Vancouver rail transit lines; the GO Transit expansion to, hopefully, Niagara Falls some day; capital renewal at the Toronto Transit Commission; and light rail transit in Ottawa.
As well, the Minister of Finance announced in the 2005 budget a commitment of more than $5 billion over five years for environmentally sustainable municipal infrastructure, including public transit. This builds upon the federal government's commitment to deliver a full rebate of goods and services tax and the federal portion of the harmonized sales tax for municipalities. This will provide municipalities, including those seven that got left out in the Niagara region, with about $7 billion in new resources over the 10 years which they can use and they can choose to allocate toward transit priorities.
Last but not least, the federal government will be moving forward on climate change with a plan for honouring our Kyoto commitment which will guide the federal government's approach to reducing greenhouse gases. The 2005 budget targeted over $4 billion in investments over the next five years for key initiatives included in the plan. As a result, total federal spending in support of measures to address climate change has climbed to over $6 billion since 1997. The government is committed to do more as resources permit and as we learn from our investments in international experience.
I am sure all hon. members present today, like myself, would agree that increased use of public transportation systems can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the question is whether providing tax relief for public transportation costs would be effective toward achieving this goal. To this question, I trust that hon. members will agree that the answer is a resounding no.
I want to thank the member who brought forward the debate tonight because it is debates like these which make the House productive.