TAX NEWS - June 2010

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No 'hope in hell' for federal volunteer fire fighter tax credit

EAST HANTS: A local fire chief says he supports a federal Liberal initiative to introduce a $3,000 refundable tax credit for volunteer firefighters, but he isn't holding his breath.

Mac Noble, fire chief with Elmsdale Fire and Emergency Services, said the tax credit is a good idea. He said the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has been lobbying for a $1,000 refundable tax credit, but without much luck. Much of the trouble surrounds the terminology of what the word "volunteer" entails.

"I support the idea," Noble said. "Are we going to see it happen? I don't think there's a hope in hell."

The concept is part of the Liberal Rural Canada Matters policy, which is currently being unveiled in various parts of the country. It is based on the idea of bridging the gap between rural and urban centres.

The platform has already seen announcements on a National Food Policy and measures to attract medical professionals to under-serviced rural communities.

Noble said Brent Denny from Cape Breton Regional Fire Services and his fellow members on the CAFC have been battling with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government for a $1,000 tax credit. They have held meetings to discuss the tax credit.

In Canada, of the country's 5,000 fire departments, more than 90 per cent are volunteer fire departments.

Colchester-Cumberland-Musquodoboit Valley Conservative MP Scott Armstrong, during a recent sit down with The Weekly Press, explained he's spoken to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on a couple of occasions regarding the tax credit. It's an idea he said he's been pushing for the last several months.

"I think it's time to do something for volunteer fire fighters," Armstrong said. "The reason I think it's the right time to do it now is, simply, things have changed."

He said it's become difficult for small rural fire departments to attract volunteers.

"Because of people's lifestyles now with shift-work," he added, "it's increasingly difficult to attract volunteers. The second thing, because firefighters are now first responders, they're required to become level one firefighters."

That means they need to do about 340 hours of training, which they have to pay for out of their own pockets.

"We're asking these volunteers to put all this time, free time, in to getting this certification, where it's not their job," Armstrong said. "There has to be something where we give them a place to do that."

Armstrong agrees the tax credit should be in the Conservatives platform, which he said will be released soon.

"I think it's important the federal, and the provincial, governments have to do this," he said. "I don't think it's a should we do it - I think we must do it."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said many rural Canadians volunteer their time to serve their communities and they should have something there as a reward.

"We need to recognize the special level of service, risk and sacrifice made by volunteer firefighters," Ignatieff said in a press release. "They're ready to answer the call at all hours to help their neighbours in need."

Ignatieff said the incentive presents Canadians with a clear choice.

"The Liberal choice is to pay down the deficit and invest in priorities like rural emergency services," he added. "While Stephen Harper has chosen more tax cuts for corporations that our country and our families can't afford."

Noble wonders how a program would be run if the Liberals get into power. He feels it is an initiative aimed at getting the Liberals votes at the polls.

"How would such a tax credit program be administered?" Noble questioned. "I think it would fall back on to the fire chiefs and make more workload for us."

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