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Ottawa announces tax credit for volunteers

March 22, 2011 Written by Laura King
March 22, 2011, Toronto - Just two days before thousands of firefighters are expected to attend a funeral for two of their colleagues killed in the line of duty, Ottawa has recognized the commitment of volunteer firefighters with a $3,000 tax credit outlined by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in Tuesday’s budget.

Volunteer firefighters across Canada who serve more than 200 hours a year will be eligible for the credit, which amounts to a saving of between about $450 and $750 for the average volunteer firefighter. The tax break would cost the government $5 million this year and $15 milion in subsequent years. (Details of the tax credit are available on the government of Canada budget website at http://www.budget.gc.ca/2011/plan/anx3a-eng.html#toc4 )

The tax credit is a much sought-after incentive that the CAFC says will help to encourage recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters.

The CAFC has been advocating for the tax credit for years and had the support of several MPs from all parties. The CAFC launched its givefirefighterscredit.com website in the fall to bolster public support for the tax credit through letters and postcards to MPs and an online petition.

With considerable buzz over the last week about the budget being defeated by the opposition, CAFC President Rob Simonds said Tuesday that the association urges all parties to support the Conservative government's initiatives and vote in favour of the budget.

"This is a crucial measure to ensure the retention and recruitment of volunteer firefighters, which will help keep Canadian communities safe," Simonds said.

"Canada's fire chiefs now call on all parties to pass the federal budget so that volunteer firefighters get some much needed help for the essential work they do."

The CAFC’s executive and directors are in Ottawa this week to meet with MPs and others about fire-service issues, including the tax credit. Some chiefs were in the public gallery in the House of Commons when the tax credit was announced this afternoon.

Provincial fire chiefs’ association presidents said Tuesday they are happy that Ottawa has recognized the importance of volunteer firefighters, particularly this week, when Ken Rea and Ray Walter will be remembered for their dedication to their communities and to the fire service. Rea and Walter, both volunteer firefighters, were killed fighting a fire in a dollar store in Listowell, Ont. last week.

“With municipalities having difficulties in recruiting and retaining volunteers, we hope that this will be a great asset to them,” said Tim Beckett, president of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs.

“It also helps recognize the hard work and the dedication that the volunteer firefighter does for his or her community. Many do not do it for money, but for the desire to serve the places they live. This is a good news story in a week that has had so much heartache in the fire community with the loss of two dedicated fire fighters in Listowell.”

Stephen Gamble, president of the Fire Chiefs Association of British Columbia said the tax credit will help chiefs of volunteer departments find and keep volunteers.

“The FCABC is pleased to hear the government is supporting the Canadian fire service both here in B.C. as well as across Canada,” Gamble said.

“Our members have consistently told us that they need help in the area of recruitment and retention and this federal support will go a long way in this endeavor.”

There are more than 6,000 volunteer firefighters in Newfoundland and Labrador. Vince Mackenzie, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services, said the tax credit will help his province's fire departments build a solid base for a stronger fire service.

"The NLAFS is very pleased that the government of Canada recognizes the service and valour of all the volunteer firefighters in Canada. This tax credit will assist those who serve with the personal costs associated with volunteering as firefighters."

Martin Bell, president of the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association praised the CAFC for its leadership on the tax-credit issue.

“The inclusion in today's budget of a $3,000 tax credit for volunteer firefighting personnel is wonderful news," said Bell. "The tax credit will contribute significantly to the capacity of volunteer fire departments to protect lives and property."

The federal tax credit could result in additional benefits for volunteer firefighters. The Prince Edward Island government in November called on Ottawa to approve the tax credit but Opposition Leader Olive Crane put forth a surprise amendment to the resolution, calling on the province to enact a provincial income tax credit for volunteer firefighters. The government side of the house spoke in favour of amendment and said it would consider a provincial tax credit for volunteer firefighters in its spring budget.

The CAFC says Canada’s volunteer firefighters give their communities an average of 443 hours of service – the equivalent of 60 work days – a year. More than 3,200 Canadian comminities are protected by volunter departments. More than 78 per cent of Canada’s 108,000 firefighters are volunteers.

Simonds told Fire Fighting in Canada after the association’s annual conference in Saint John in September that the CAFC recognizes how difficult it can be for chiefs to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters. The association embraced the tax credit issue after consulting chiefs of volunteer departments about solutions to the recruitment and retention conundrum.

“We recognize their challenges with respect to recruitment and retention and when we surveyed our members, in particular our volunteer chiefs, we were advised that securing tax relief would enable them to negate some of the recruitment and retention issues they currently have,” Simonds said.

In addition, Simonds said the CAFC is working hard to develop strong relationships with the government to advance fire-service issues.

“We feel we have a responsibility to government – in particular for federal issues – to be a friend to government and be able to advise and clarify what the issues of interest are to the Canadian fire service. So, we definitely have an advocacy role and that advocacy role includes articulating what those concerns are.”

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