Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told a Vancouver audience today that the announcement of a tax break for volunteer search and rescue workers in the 2014 budget was a way for the government to say thanks, especially in wake of the death of a respected Vancouver volunteer.
Tim Jones was a key figure in the development of North Shore Rescue, where Flaherty made an appearance Friday. He was joined by Conservative government whip John Duncan and search and rescue volunteers, as well as members of Jones's family.
Standing in front of a North Shore rescue vehicle, Flaherty said a tax break for search and rescue volunteers was the "number 1 request" from Progressive Conservative members of the caucus.
"We recognize that this is volunteer work, that you extend yourselves beyond your normal jobs, in order to risk your own safety” to help others, he said.
Building upon a 2011 budget measure for volunteer firefighters, this year's budget introduced a new search and rescue volunteers tax credit, available to those who perform at least 200 hours of service during a year. It offers a 15 per cent non-refundable tax credit in an amount of $3,000 for ground, air and marine search and rescue volunteers.
In a brief address to the audience, Curtis Jones said he was grateful for the gesture.
He said his father "advocated hard for search and rescue, especially volunteer search and rescue."
"Volunteers are the backbone of the search and rescue system," Jones said. He called the tax credit "an affirmation" of the work they do.
Tim Jones's 26-year career with the North Shore Rescue team was also acknowledged with a mention in the 2014 budget plan.
“It’s a big deal and it’s greatly appreciated,” Curtis Jones said.
Income-splitting issue follows Flaherty
Before getting to the meat of his remarks, Flaherty took in his British Columbia surroundings and joked that "it’s always good to get away from Ottawa."
But the finance minister couldn't escape questions from the media about income splitting, especially amid the brouhaha that erupted following his seemingly off-the-cuff remarks on Wednesday suggesting the government might back away from that election promise.
Flaherty was asked if there were any alternatives to the tax measure on the table, what the reason was for the change of heart on income splitting, and how the prime minister intends to move forward.
He neither endorsed nor renounced income splitting, instead reminding reporters that there will be a surplus next year and that the government's intention is for families to benefit from that surplus.
"The plan was always to reduce taxes for families — as we've done before — in order to lighten the burden on families in Canada. The form that takes will be determined over time." he said.
With regards to what the PM said, Flaherty remained tight-lipped.
"I don't talk about my conversations with the prime minister," he said. "But the prime minister certainly — I know this — agrees that we should reduce taxes on families to the extent we can.
"There are various ways of doing that."
Flaherty also addressed the criticism that income splitting would benefit single-income families over dual-income ones.
"You know, lots of the think-tanks and others talk about the demographic distribution and I'm sure that's something we will look at when we move forward into the next fiscal year."