Friday, June 14, 2024

Bid to spice up volunteer firefighters tax break amid retention struggles

A tax credit score for volunteer firefighters at present stands at $3,000, however one volunteer says ‘any improve is appreciated’ to assist with prices comparable to car upkeep

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Alberta volunteer firefighter Alison Archambault calls it her “soul work.”

However that doesn’t imply some extra assist at tax time wouldn’t be welcome too.

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A tax credit score for volunteer firefighters at present stands at $3,000, however Archambault, a volunteer in Redwood Meadows exterior Calgary, mentioned “any improve is appreciated” to assist with prices comparable to car upkeep.

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“Volunteer hearth departments on the whole are having recruitment challenges and retention challenges and (an) improve within the tax writeoff is simply one other instrument to make being a volunteer firefighter extra engaging and staying a volunteer firefighter extra engaging,” mentioned Archambault, whose common job is in public relations.

Others agree, and a push is underway to boost the tax credit score after Canada’s worst wildfire season on document.

B.C. member of Parliament Gord Johns has been working with the Canadian Affiliation of Fireplace Chiefs to attempt to enhance the credit score for volunteer firefighters and search and rescue volunteers to $10,000.

A petition to the Home of Commons acquired greater than 16,000 signatures in assist of the rise, and Johns’ invoice to make the change handed its first studying in the home this month.

‘We depend on them’: Volunteer firefighters important, says MP

Johns mentioned emergency companies volunteers deserve a break from inflation and rising dwelling prices.

“They’re taking over extra paid work to maintain up with rising prices and so they simply can’t preserve volunteering at this scale,” he mentioned.

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“We depend on them. They save taxpayers cash. Retaining volunteer firefighters is a big problem with the rise in inflation and there’s been an enormous lower within the variety of volunteer firefighters within the nation.”

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He mentioned there are 20 volunteer hearth departments and search and rescue groups in his personal using of Courtenay-Alberni on Vancouver Island, and elevating the tax credit score can be “low-hanging fruit” at little price to public coffers.

“It’s definitely going to allow them to know that Canadians truly care and worth them and that they’re appreciated as a result of they’re saving all native governments throughout the nation cash and provincial governments cash,” he mentioned.

“Authorities must seize this second. It’s truly a really cheap solution to assist recruitment and present worth to these firefighters and search and rescue personnel, and so they deserve it. They’re placing their lives on the road for us.”

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‘Powerful yr’ in 2023, with 2024 anticipated to comply with swimsuit

Ken McMullen, president of the Canadian Affiliation of Fireplace Chiefs, mentioned 2023 was a really “robust yr” for volunteer firefighters, after “essentially the most excessive wildfire exercise ever.”

“We count on one other robust yr in 2024,” he mentioned.

McMullen mentioned there have been 156,000 volunteer firefighters in Canada in 2016, however that was all the way down to 126,000 in 2022.

Rising the tax credit score can be a small step in countering the downward pattern. “We imagine that it’ll preserve their morale up, which is required now greater than ever,” he mentioned.

Wildfire in Edison, Alberta in May 2023.
This hearth close to Edson, Alberta, was one of many first wildfires of the yr that led to obligatory evacuation orders for about 13,000 folks in early Might. Photograph by Alberta Wildfire

McMullen mentioned recruitment and retention might be dealing with stress due to the vary of dangers confronted by first responders, from accidents and elevated most cancers charges, to the psychological well being toll of dealing with emergency conditions.

There are additionally much less harmful choices for would-be volunteers, he mentioned, comparable to native sports activities groups or youth teams.

“Regardless of the case could also be, now we have seen a discount of people selecting to do the at-risk volunteering,” he mentioned.

Proposed tax break only one approach authorities can assist volunteers

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The proposed hike within the tax credit score is only one approach the federal government might enhance issues for volunteers, McMullen mentioned.

He mentioned he additionally hopes the federal authorities will restore a program that led to 2013 that allowed hearth departments to use for funding for specialised gear and coaching.

He mentioned the nation would additionally “enormously profit” if there was a nationwide hearth adviser, giving firefighters a voice on the federal stage just like the U.S. Fireplace Administration.

McMullen mentioned he and dozens of different chiefs have been in Ottawa this month to convey their message to policymakers.

NDP MP Johns mentioned there’s been a irritating lack of acknowledgment on the problem.

“Everyone’s linked in a rural neighborhood to the volunteer hearth division,” he mentioned. “If (the federal government) desires to begin exhibiting Canadians that they’re critical about listening to rural Canadian wants, that is one factor that they should do to really exhibit that they’re listening to rural Canada, and so they’re not doing that.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first printed Dec. 18, 2023.

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