Many volunteer firefighters in Canada won't be able to benefit fully from the new federal tax credit, says P.E.I. Senator Catherine Callbeck, but the government says the program has been well received.

Callbeck is calling on Ottawa to change the rules. During the election the federal Conservatives promised a $3,000 tax credit for volunteer fire fighters. To qualify they must spend at least 200 hours at fires and training.

Callbeck said finance officials testified before a Senate committee recently that less than half of Canada's volunteer firefighters will receive the full amount of the credit, and not just because of the hours they've worked. Many lose out because it's non-refundable money, so the credit can only be claimed against taxes owing.

"There are 85,000 Canadian volunteer firefighters and about 30,000 will get the credit," said Callbeck.

"That means there are 55,000 volunteer firefighter who put their lives on the line who can't take full advantage of this credit."

Callbeck wants the federal government to change that and make it a refundable credit. The federal government, however, has been moving away from refundable tax credits. According to Callbeck, no tax credits issued by the federal government since 2006 have been refundable.

Firefighter support

Mary Ann Dewey-Plante, press secretary for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, disputed there was a problem with the program.

"Unlike what the Liberal Senator claims, our tax credit is exactly what the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs asked for and what her previous Liberal government refused to do over thirteen long years," Dewey-Plante wrote in an email to CBC News Monday.

She noted Charlottetown Fire Chief Randy MacDonald has said it will not be difficult for volunteers to hit the 200-hour threshold.

The P.E.I. Firefighters Association estimates 80 per cent of the Island's fire fighters will qualify, but it's not clear how many would qualify for the entire amount.