March 23, 2011 – Yesterday’s federal budget was a big win for the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and its members; years of effort paid off with the promise of tax relief for volunteer firefighters.
The measure is modest – a $3,000 tax credit that will net volunteer firefighters who serve 200 or more hours annually a saving of about $450 a year. It will cost Ottawa only $15 million a year once it’s up and running, a pittance compared to other measures.
But for the CAFC, the tax credit is big victory and the timing is great.
The tax credit is exactly what the association asked for from Ottawa. It’s not a half measure and it is, perhaps, the first time the federal government has given anything to volunteer fire services.
Additionally, the news comes on the cusp of the annual spring and summer fire chiefs associations meetings. That works well for the CAFC, whose leadership can stand in front of these gatherings and point to a tangible result.
For better or worse, the CAFC is often regarded as a group that is more representative of full-time fire departments – a perception that hampers its ability to recruit from the larger core of Canada’s fire service, the volunteers.
More than 78 per cent of Canada’s 108,000 firefighters are volunteers and the CAFC hit a home run Tuesday on their behalf.
Given that the minority government may fall within days in a non-confidence vote that triggers a federal election, there’s a strong possibility that the tax credit may not be implemented for months. Or worse, that a new government – Conservative, Liberal, NDP, whatever – may reconsider the measure in a future budget.
That’s a battle for another day.
Today the CAFC and its members who lobbied MPs and cabinet can enjoy the victory, which is really a win for Canadians who will be better protected by volunteer fire services that will have an easier time attracting and retaining recruits.
With lessons learned about lobbying Ottawa now a part of the CAFC’s arsenal, it will be interesting to see what the association tackles next.
Tomorrow will be a tough day. Firefighters from across Ontario are expected to pour into Listowel Thursday morning for the 2 p.m. funeral service for Ray Walter and Kenneth Rae, who died March 17 while searching the interior of a dollar store. Firefighters will parade from the fire hall to the local arena for the service. Premier Dalton McGuinty will honour the fallen firefighters, as will we.
Those wishing to pay respects can sign a guest book/memorial for the fallen firefighters at www.northperthfireservice.ca