Bill C-219 was introduced earlier this year by Wayne Easter, MP for Malpeque, to provide a tax credit for volunteer firefighters who are not paid but have performed a specific number of hours of service, signed off by their municipality. They would be allowed to deduct $1,000 annually from their taxable income if they performed at least 100 hours of volunteer service; $2,000 if they performed 200 hours or more. The Bill was recently passed by the standing committee on finance and will go to the House of Commons for third reading.
Current tax regulations are confusing and in some cases can cost a volunteer money at tax time for volunteering.
“In Alberta, approximately 77 per cent of the estimated 13,000 firefighters are volunteer and these firefighters provide protection to well over 90 per cent of Alberta communities,” said Brian McEvoy, president of the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association.
Volunteerism is a fundamental value across Canada and all such work is very important to our society. However, firefighting is essential to protect lives, homes and businesses. It is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit volunteers, as many, especially in smaller communities, are self employed, causing a negative impact on their businesses when they are called out for an emergency. Failure to provide incentives to promote recruitment may force small, cash-strapped municipalities to consider the difficult option of reducing fire service levels. “These are not service clubs but essential services to our communities. If no one shows up for an Elks meeting they reschedule the meeting. You can’t reschedule an emergency,” McEvoy said “This is why recruitment and retention was a focal point at our annual conference in Edmonton.”
In the majority of volunteer fire departments there is no payment of any kind to volunteer members, and departments often have to rely on local fundraising to provide much-needed basic equipment including proper gloves and firefighting protective clothing required by Alberta Occupational Health and Safety.
Volunteer firefighters have to meet, on their own time, all the training demanded by this dangerous business. Volunteer fire departments typically devote one evening per week to training and volunteers are obliged to attend a set percentage of these sessions to remain members of the fire department. Weekend training sessions are also held.
“Volunteer firefighters are one of the best deals available to municipalities, and the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association supports the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs in urging Members of Parliament and the Senate to give speedy passage to Bill C-219,” concluded McEvoy.