2020-11-04

Local fire officials encouraged by petition seeking boost in the federal tax exemption

by KEITH CORCORAN

Supporters of the local volunteer fire service are encouraged by an online petition aimed at Ottawa, which is calling for the existing federal tax exemption to be more than doubled.

The petition, which has the backing of west coast NDP MP Gord Johns, requests that the exemption to volunteer firefighters and search and rescue personnel is increased to $10,000 from $3,000.

The boost "would allow these essential volunteers to keep more of their hard-earned money, likely to be spent in the communities in which they live; and it would also help retain these volunteers in a time when volunteerism is decreasing," reads the petition's description.

Johns, who lives in British Columbia, is sponsoring the petition. It was initiated by Sean Wood, a businessman and former volunteer firefighter in the province, who happened to run against him under the Green Party banner.

The petition has garnered more than 1,000 signatures since it was posted in late October.

"I became friends with Sean during the election campaign and we have stayed in touch," Johns said in a news release. "I was delighted to hear from him about his idea to find a tangible way to help volunteer first responders particularly during this pandemic."

Meanwhile, the fire services coordinator for the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg (MODL) said anything governments can do to help is worth a try.

"I think it is a great idea as volunteer firefighters are getting older and younger members seem to be joining at reduced rates than in the past," Chris Kennedy said in an e-mail to LighthouseNOW.

"Younger members are needed to keep the volunteer force strong and lead it into the future. Some areas have the demographics to get younger people interested and the added income tax break incentive may get more people to volunteer."

The petition indicated volunteer firefighters account for more than 80 per cent of Canada's total firefighting essential first responders, and that about 8,000 essential search and rescue volunteers respond to thousands of incidents every year. Those volunteers can claim the federal $3,000 tax credit if 200 hours of volunteer services were completed in a calendar year.

"This works out to a mere $450 per year, which we allow these essential volunteers to keep of their own income from their regular jobs, $2.25 an hour," reads the petition introduction. "If they volunteer more than 200 hours, which many do, this tax credit becomes even less."

Bruce Blackwood, the fire service coordinator in the Municipality of Chester, said he hadn't yet reviewed the petition with the local volunteer emergency responders.

"We continue to work jointly with our local firefighters and the various fire services associations to assist them in their efforts to find solutions to improve recruitment and retention of volunteers," he advised LighthouseNOW by e-mail. " It is an important issue in Nova Scotia and across Canada."

Nova Scotia offers a $500 tax credit annually for eligible volunteer emergency service personnel, so long as he or she meets certain requirements, such as having been involved within six months of the taxation year, and participated in at least 20 per cent of calls, training sessions, and meetings.

"These essential volunteers not only put their lives on the line and give their time, training and efforts to Canadians, but they also allow cities and municipalities to keep property taxes lower than if paid services were required," reads the petition description.

South Shore-St. Margaret's MP Bernadette Jordan wouldn't confirm whether or not she supports the petition. In a statement provided to LighthouseNOW, she only mentions the Trudeau government's creation of a one-time tax-free direct payment to surviving family of first-response personnel who've died in the line of duty.

"Since day one our government has recognized the importance of our first responders, that's why we established the Community Heroes Benefit in Budget 2017," reads the statement. "We will continue to find ways to support this important community and the vital work that they do."

The online petition can be found at https://bit.ly/2HPatOg on the internet.

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