Friday, November 1, 2013

Tax breaks for migratory workers; why they make sense

I gave the following 10-minute speech on tax breaks for migratory workers on Thursday (Oct. 31st) in the House of Commons. 

Mr. Speaker, I stand in support of Bill C-201, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (travel and accommodation deduction for tradespersons). 

I want to thank the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain 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 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 live 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. 

It states: “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, baymen 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 gone 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 Stats Canada, the number of workers commuting from Atlantic Canada to Alberta increased three-fold between 2004 and 2008. 

The median earnings from oil and gas workers in Alberta who live out of province was just under $60,000 in 2009. 

Bill C-201 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 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 costs associated with the income tax cut is more than made up by the 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. 

That is for a total cost of $84 million. 

But working with the same number of 160,000 travelling skilled trades workers — that is 10% of 1.6 million — whose average weekly employment insurance benefits would be $393 per week for an average period of unemployment of four weeks means that the government would pay $250 million in EI benefits per year. 

That works out to $84 million in a tax cut, versus $250 million in EI benefits.

That means that the tax credit proposed in the bill would result in a net savings of more than $160 million a year, but the bill does 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, like Labrador's Muskrat Falls, like 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. 

There has been nothing done. 

In fact, this bill has been tabled in each Parliament since 2006 and has been a part of my party's platform, the New Democratic Party platform, in 2008 and in 2011. 

But 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 income so they can secure and maintain employment at a construction site that is more than 80 kilometres away from their home. 

It is that simple.

This mobile workforce maintains a home and family in communities across Canada, in Atlantic Canada, in Newfoundland and Labrador, while using personal funds to maintain employment.

Included in the tax credit would be the cost of travel, meals, and the cost of 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.

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