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Income Tax Act

Bill to Amend--Third Reading--Debate Adjourned

May 2, 2024


Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [ + ]

Moved third reading of Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction of travel expenses for tradespersons).

Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition)

Honourable senators, I would like to say a few words on this bill. First, I want to salute the contribution of our great member of the House of Commons Chris Lewis, Member of Parliament for Essex. Bill C-241 is a product of the great work of MP Chris Lewis.

Before getting into my speech, let me tell you a little story about Chris Lewis’s late mother. This is quite personal. She declared herself the leader of my cheerleading squad. She obviously had a different opinion of me than do a few members of this august chamber. She baked me cookies on a fairly regular basis and sent them to Ottawa with her son. It was really precious to have that. I have fond memories of that. I never met Chris’s mother in person, but she watched some of my rants on YouTube and on my Facebook page. I want to pay tribute to Chris’s mother who passed away — much too soon — a few months ago.

Honourable senators, Essex is one of those great regions of Canada where people work hard. They have been finding it more and more difficult under this inept government of Jagmeet Singh and Justin Trudeau. Food in Essex is costing more and more. Housing in Essex is costing more. People have to work harder, sometimes taking on two or three jobs at the same time just to feed themselves and their families. A poorer Canada — a poorer Essex — is all the result of Jagmeet Singh and Justin Trudeau.

Chris Lewis — more than anybody — knows his people. He is one of them. He has grown up there. He knows the people of Essex and the hardships they’re going through. Chris Lewis is a common sense Conservative who will fight hard for the people of Essex. He will fight hard for Canadians and for Canada because he believes in a better Canada. He believes that there is more than what we have now. He believes in what we used to have under a vibrant country before Justin Trudeau came to power. He wants to axe the tax. He wants to build more homes. He wants to fix the budget. And Chris wants to stop the crime.

It is in this context, colleagues, that Chris Lewis came up with the bill that we have in front of us today: Bill C-241. For those of you not familiar with the bill, let me read you the summary:

This enactment amends the Income Tax Act to allow tradespersons and indentured apprentices to deduct from their income amounts expended for travelling where they were employed in a construction activity at a job site that is located at least 120 km away from their ordinary place of residence.

It’s a common sense Conservative plan.

Simply said, the trades workers’ bill — Bill C-241 — is an act to amend the Income Tax Act, specifically to add a deduction. This would not be a tax credit but a deduction of travel expenses for tradespersons. Some people like to call it the “fair travelling tradesperson’s bill.”

It’s a very simple bill, colleagues, and I have a lot of sympathy for it. You all know that I’m a tradesperson. I have a Red Seal certificate. When I retire from the Senate in a year and a week from now, I might just strap on my tool belt and go do what I really enjoy doing: fixing people’s toilets — very similar to what I’ve been doing in the Senate for 16 years. Maybe I can continue. Even with this government, when they’re trying to not let people do the work that they’ve been trained to do, they can’t take that away from me.

This bill talks about three things. The bill reads:

. . . where the taxpayer was employed as a duly qualified tradesperson or an indentured apprentice in a construction activity at a job site that was located at least 120 km away from their ordinary place of residence, amounts expended by the taxpayer in the year for travelling to and from the job site, if the taxpayer:

(i) was required under the contract of employment to pay those expenses,

(ii) did not receive an allowance in respect of those expenses that is not included in computing the taxpayer’s income for the year, and

(iii) does not claim those expenses as an income deduction or a tax credit for the year under any other provision of this Act . . . .

To draft this bill, Chris Lewis spoke to a number of trade associations and trade unions, and he spoke to the managers and the workers. He did a thorough job of speaking to the people that this bill affects — the people who would benefit from this legislation.

By 2025, Ontario alone will need an additional 350,000 tradespeople to fill the current need, as is often the case. Tradespersons can be expected to travel long distances from one job to the next, far from home. With inflation at a 30-year high, and during the ongoing cost of living crisis, this bill is a common sense proposal for hard-working Canadians.

Colleagues, when it comes down to it, this legislation is basic fairness for tradespeople, and, in my opinion, this bill is, quite frankly, so simple. First and foremost, colleagues, I want to speak to and about building trades unions.

Canada’s Building Trades Unions, or CBTU, represents members who work in more than 60 different trades and occupations, and generate 6% of Canada’s GDP. Their industry maintains and repairs more than $2.2 trillion in assets. Their work is not just done on-site, but also in facilities that provide modules or other components that are incorporated into the larger structure they work on. Once those structures are built, they are employed in renovation, maintenance and repurposing.

Depending on private and public investments, at different times, certain regions will have more employment opportunities than others. These conditions lead to the necessity for skilled trades workers to temporarily relocate or travel long distances for a project to meet the needs of the market. As projects are completed, workers will then return to their permanent residence.

Colleagues, this is something I did on a regular basis when I was in the trade. I travelled hundreds of kilometres to go to the place of work. I left the office or I left my home very early in the morning, and I would travel for a few hours to go to a job site and do the work at that job site, and then travel home late in the evening, or maybe even spend the week on a job and come home on the weekend. My wife and I did a calculation one time after we had been married for about 10 years. I had spent about 5 of those 10 years away from home in the industry, working and making a living for my family. This is what tradespeople do every day of the week.

With families to support, temporary relocation costs can prove burdensome for workers, contributing to increased reliance on programs like Employment Insurance and exacerbating labour shortages in certain regions.

As the Canadian economy transitions to net zero, the federal government needs to implement travel supports for workers in the traditional oil and gas sector. In its current form, the Income Tax Act is an inequitable tax policy. This is a very important point, colleagues. Today, salespeople, professionals and Canadians in other industries can receive a tax deduction for their cost of travel, meals and accommodations when travelling for work. But this very same option is denied to skilled trades workers who work on job sites that are in different regions or different provinces from their primary residence.

Again, bear in mind, a Red Seal certificate allows you to travel from one province to another to work, and yet it prevents them and denies them from the tax deductions for their cost of travel.

The following example is an apprentice that Mr. Lewis talked about. His name is Theo. As a carpenter’s apprentice, Theo travelled from Windsor to Timmins to work on construction projects in remote parts of northern Ontario for several months. I have spent a lot of time in northern Ontario and know exactly where he went. He spent thousands of dollars on gas, food and hotels, and was not able to get any assistance for that. He also put thousands of kilometres on his car during that time, and it wore out and depreciated, which affected his ability to get ahead. He gave up a lot of time with family and friends in order to work.

There are a lot of work opportunities in remote parts of Canada, and a tax deduction on travel expenses would help apprentices like Theo travel to better work opportunities. Theo is hoping that the Senate of Canada will give him a hand up and help him by passing Bill C-241.

There is no reason not to adopt this bill right now — this evening — none.

Yesterday, May 1, was International Workers’ Day. What better gift could we possibly give tradespeople than to adopt Bill C-241 this evening?

Tomi Hulkkonen, President of the Essex and Kent Building Trades Council, said it best:

Canada provides excellent opportunities for construction workers on projects that are often far away from places they call home. Canada has been built by skilled trades people that have left families and communities to travel to opportunities to work on projects that may not be available close to home. . . .

Remember, colleagues, it is tradespeople and construction workers who have built our country, from coast to coast to coast, putting in hours and hours building our infrastructure.

Canada is experiencing record labour shortages, and it is crucial to remove the barriers to travel that currently exist for Canada’s assets with workforce mobility.

Tomi went on to say:

Please note that the Carpenter’s Union, Local 494, fully endorses this bill, as well as is willing and able to speak on this bill if asked if it goes to committee.

Tradespeople are not asking for a payday, handout or pay raise. All they are asking for is fairness. Our country can have the skilled workers needed. If the shackles regarding mobility can be released for Canadian skilled workers, their numbers will increase.

Colleagues, we’ve spoken about the price of fuel and the carbon tax. I pay around $1.60 for gas in Winnipeg, and the price is higher in most parts of the country; deputy leader, last week, I said $2 and some cents in British Columbia.

We know about the price of hotels; we are having a hard time meeting the targets we are afforded by the government for our own hotels right across the street.

Regarding the price of food and inflation — my wife and I have four boys, and not that many years ago, we paid in one month for groceries what my wife and I now need to pay for just the two of us. There is no end to the increases.

The inflation is all on the backs of the very tradespeople who have built and are building this country, and who will continue to be the builders of this country in the future. To put that extra burden on them is absolutely unfair, colleagues.

Bill C-241 is a fair bill that would leave money in the pockets of tradespeople and give back to the skilled trades that have been walked past and ignored for many years. These workers are expected to travel across our great country to build our bridges, roads and homes — which we all know we have a major shortage of in this country — and, indeed, to keep our electrical system moving.

The great thing about this bill is that it covers tradespeople from coast to coast to coast, from St. John’s in Newfoundland and across Canada. It would not just help one area but the entire country.

Colleagues, every one of your provinces, ridings and cities would benefit from this bill.

Bill C-241 received thorough study in two committees in the House and Senate and was adopted in both places without amendments. There were no amendments to the bill because it is such a simple one.

We continue to talk about the lack or shortage of homes across the country. We know the cost of a house is out of this world, but that is purely because we do not have enough.

My wife and I had a home built in Steinbach, Manitoba, two years ago. I couldn’t believe the cost of the house we have. We have a very simple two-bedroom house. It is unaffordable for most Canadians.

We are far past there being a stigma around the skilled trades. We now understand it is not only okay to be a plumber, boilermaker, iron maker or electric worker — thank goodness — but a fantastic living that brings home a lot of money and puts a ton of food on the table for Canadian families.

Now that we are past that, the next question is this: How do we get people to the jobs? How do we support those folks to get them to those jobs?

The point is that this is as simple as doing what every one of us talks about all the time: building our economy, building our infrastructure and being fair.

I realize there has been a tax deduction for mobility expenses by the government for $4,000. That’s a great start. However, a businessperson can jump on a plane in Windsor, fly back and forth to Calgary, Vancouver or St. John’s as many times as they want and write off the expenses — such as hotels, meals and travel — no problem. To suggest that a skilled tradesperson can write off only $4,000 of travel expenses, or maybe a couple of months’ worth of work, is putting a price on the heads of those in our skilled trades that is totally unacceptable and certainly does not go far enough.

Colleagues, in closing, this truly is a common-sense bill for the hard-working common people. Similar legislation was introduced in the past, and now is the time to finally get it done. Colleagues, let’s bring it home. Let’s expedite this process so we can get the proper folks to the proper places.

Colleagues, this is a common-sense bill for common-sense Canadians. Let’s help our tradespeople. Let’s give them the hand up that they want. They don’t want a handout; they want a hand up. They want to be able to claim the tax deduction that is rightfully theirs.

Therefore, colleagues, I would like to call the question on this bill this evening. Thank you.

Hon. Brent Cotter [ + ]

Will Senator Plett take a question?

Certainly.

Senator Cotter [ + ]

Senator Plett, let me begin by saying that I wholeheartedly support this bill for nearly all of the reasons you articulated, including the relative unfairness of tax deductions for hard-working Canadians trying to earn livings for their families. I think you would agree with me that it is a good thing tonight that we defeated the motions to adjourn so that this bill could get further consideration tonight. Indeed, as you yourself noted — though perhaps not the dates — the member of Parliament who introduced this bill did so in November 2021. Therefore, it has now been two and a half years of getting this bill across the finish line, and tonight is one more step forward.

I have only one little question for you, because you did identify the inequity in the bill. For example, in my case, occasionally people hire me to do professional work, and I travel by plane — as you identified — and I can write it off. It seems unfair that people who sometimes do more meaningful work than me are not advantaged in that same legitimate way. You described this as an inequity.

Would I be right in my understanding that this inequity existed prior to 2015 as well? I think it is a yes-or-no question, which you are good at asking, and I am trying it out on you.

Let me first of all say that because of my age, Senator Cotter, I am probably not practising to be the Leader of the Government in the Senate, because I have a feeling that Jagmeet Singh will support Trudeau beyond my retirement age. Therefore, I do not really need to practise the short answers because I will not be there to give them, as we have been hoping the Leader of the Government would.

Senator Cotter, I agree with you. It is a good thing that we got to this bill tonight, and that is why we refused when we were offered the agreement that we didn’t have a vote on the adjournment motion. We insisted on having a standing vote when we were offered to just accept adjourning without a vote about 15 minutes ago. I fully concur with you there. It was a good thing we did not do that. It allowed me this opportunity to say this.

Having said that, without question, Senator Cotter, this is an inequity that has been there for a long time. Before that, it was an inequity that was probably there when I was in the trades. That only provides more reason to move it forward as quickly as we can, and tonight would be a wonderful time.

Hon. Andrew Cardozo [ + ]

Senator Plett, I’m delighted to hear that the Conservative Party is in favour of this bill, because if I can add some more information to what Senator Cotter has said, in fact, the real credit goes back to the NDP and — I hate to tell you — the NDP-Liberals. You see, it was Chris Charlton, the former NDP Member of Parliament for Hamilton Mountain, who, during the Harper years, put forward a private member’s bill on this matter on two occasions, and the Harper government voted it down and did not allow it to go through. Historically, the Conservative government was against it.

The Liberals came into office with this push from the NDP —

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Question, question.

Senator Cardozo [ + ]

My question is this: Are you aware that it was an NDP-Liberal plan that put this together, with the Liberal government bringing it in a few years ago with the support of the NDP, with a level of $4,000. In fact, Canada’s Building Trades Unions, or CBTU, had asked for that level of $4,000.

That being said, I think my question is this: Are you prepared to accept the NDP-Liberal connection to this bill, and do you have any sense of how much this will cost the treasury when it is not limited to $4,000, and whether we should be concerned about that?

Somewhere in there, I read three or four questions. I am not regulated by time quite as much as you are with asking your question.

I have always worked on the premise, Senator Cardozo, that there is no end to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit. I have believed that most of my life. I am not here trying to defend what the Harper government did. I am here trying to advance good legislation.

I am wondering whether you are suggesting to me that because Stephen Harper opposed it, you need to oppose it. I would suggest — knowing you and knowing Stephen Harper — that you should be climbing all over this, saying this has to be good legislation if Stephen Harper opposed it. Yet you, here, seem to be reluctant to accept it because Stephen Harper didn’t accept it. That would mean that you are probably a bit of a Harperite. Let’s agree with what Stephen Harper did.

Stephen Harper has retired from this chamber for quite some time. Chris Lewis is a wonderful common-sense Conservative. I worked through the Senate bill that many senators here know about, which is the prompt payment legislation for contractors. I did that together, Senator Cardozo, with Member of Parliament Judy Sgro. We worked hand in glove because we saw a problem. It is a bill that I started with in the Harper government and didn’t get done in the Harper government, and we continued to work together into the Trudeau government. Eventually, the Trudeau government accepted it and put it in their budget bill because they could not allow a Conservative to get the credit for it. I was okay with that because I got my legislation that I thought was important.

Whether Stephen Harper and his government opposed this is entirely irrelevant. It is either good legislation, Senator Cardozo, or it is not good legislation. It has nothing to do with what previous governments said. To me, that is entirely irrelevant. We are not in a Stephen Harper government. We are in a Justin Trudeau government and soon — very soon — it will be a Pierre Poilievre government. Right now, Pierre Poilievre is supporting this. I’m supporting it.

Do I know the exact cost of this? No, but I know the exact benefits. That is what I’m concerned about, Senator Cardozo. That is what I care about. I care about the benefits to the tradespeople. There is no cost because the benefits will outweigh the costs. People will be able to put food on the table. These tradespeople will be able to put food on their tables, and they will be able to feed their youngsters. That is what I care about. That is what this bill will do.

Senator Cardozo [ + ]

Thank you. I won’t go into the words of mine that you twisted, only to say that I think the richness of this bill is that it is an NDP plus Liberal and now plus Conservative support for this bill. I think it is good to know the history. It is good to know that all parties have come onside. I have been working on it for years, even when the said government was against it. I am delighted to see this carry on, and I am glad to hear your support.

Thank you, Senator Cardozo, and I’m sure Chris Lewis would be more than happy to accept your endorsement and even say on his Facebook page that Senator Cardozo supported good, common-sense policies. He would maybe even leave out the word “Conservative” if that meant you would vote for it tonight.

Senator Cardozo [ + ]

I would love that. I would just add the name of Chris Charlton, the former NDP MP who really started this all. I think she deserves the most credit tonight.

Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond [ + ]

Would Senator Plett accept a question?

Senator Dalphond [ + ]

Senator Plett, you said this bill came out of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance unamended. I think that is very true.

Do you say that it is fully supported by the committee?

Senator Dalphond, today without — no, it was an in camera meeting, so I’d better be careful what I say.

Every so often, you see a report come out, and it says that it was adopted unanimously, which basically means nobody voted against it. That does not mean that there is unanimous support.

I’m saying that the bill came out of the committee unamended, so I have to believe that the committee supported the bill because it came out of there unamended.

Senator Dalphond [ + ]

My recollection is that there was an agreement that the bill would be debated at third reading, and there was not unanimity behind the bill. Are you aware of this?

Again, the bill was unamended, and we are now debating it. I am not sure where you are going. We are here. I would encourage you to get up on debate and debate the bill right now.

Hon. Bernadette Clement [ + ]

I move adjournment of the debate.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

It is moved by the Honourable Senator Clement, seconded by the Honourable Senator Petitclerc, that further debate be adjourned until the next sitting of the Senate.

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

All those in favour of the motion will please say “yea.”

Some Hon. Senators: Yea.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: All those opposed to the motion will please say “nay.”

Some Hon. Senators: Nay.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: In my opinion the “yeas” have it.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

I see two senators rising. Do we have an agreement on the length of a bell?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Now?

One hour. Not now, one hour.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

The vote will occur at 10:41 p.m.

Call in the senators.

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