During the discussion of this measure before the committee rose last evening, Mr. Chairman, a good deal was said about the income tax provisions in so far as they affect men and women in our active service forces overseas. A number of hon. members expressed the opinion that members of our active service forces overseas should be exempt from the provisions of the Income
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Tax Act. In response to these suggestions it was explained that there were certain administrative difficulties; and it will be recalled that when this subject was brought up on an earlier occasion the Minister of National Defence pointed out the difference in dollars and cents that this exemption would result in as between a private in the ranks and a major general. Other considerations also have been put forward.
I suggest there are reasons why the recommendation that members of our armed forces on active service overseas should be exempt from the provisions of the Income Tax Act deserves further and favourable consideration by the Minister of Finance., It is not necessary to repeat the arguments that have been so well presented in favour of this exemption. However, it does seem necessary to refer to the fact that this was done during the last war. It is true there were administrative difficulties, as there would be today; but I submit that it is the duty of the government to decide what should be done and then take such steps as may be necessary to overcome any administrative difficulties.
This is something which particularly requires every effort on the part of the government, at a time when all Canadians are being asked to encourage enlistment in the armed forces. I submit the evidence is very strong that public opinion across Canada is overwhelmingly in favour of the suggestion that those who are offering life itself in the service of their country should be exempt from these taxes during their period of active service.
I recognize that hon. members should not regard as conclusive arguments the editorial point of view which may be expressed in newspapers across this country, important though that may be. But when there is a uniform request for this exemption, in very strong terms, on the editorial pages of the most responsible newspapers of Canada, we should recognize that it interprets public opinion without regard to political or other affiliations. Merely to look at some of the editorials which have taken a very strong stand on this matter one finds such words as "repugnant", "heartless", and terms of that kind used to describe the imposition of income tax on those on active service. I would refer to a statement such as this: "Imagine the public uproar if the defence minister ordered our soldiers in Korea to buy their own bullets". That statement, appearing in the Vancouver Sun, which is ordinarily very friendly to the government, merely indicates the sentiment being expressed from the Atlantic to the Pacific in regard to this tax.
Many anomalies can be suggested which indicate why such a tax would be most unfair. Let us consider, for instance, the case of a man killed in action-and unhappily we must recognize that we are called on to consider such cases; we are reminded of it from day to day by the casualty lists which indicate what Canada is suffering in a war, which is a very real war, being waged by the collective forces of the United Nations. Is the government going to make a claim against the estate of that man for arrears of income tax? Is the government going to pursue the ordinary course in regard to a debt of this kind? I am not raising this question for any other purpose than to illustrate one of the numerous difficulties that would arise and would have to be faced. I should think there would be a great reluctance to follow such a course. I am sure the Minister of Finance, a veteran himself, would be most reluctant to take such action. Then if that course is not right, the initial step should not be taken which would call for such action as an ultimate result.
I notice that a good deal of attention was paid to the fact that exemption from income tax would result in a substantial saving to a major general and a relatively small saving to other ranks. It may well be that there are discrepancies of the kind which require special consideration. I suggest, however, that that is no argument in itself. If it is right that the soldiers, sailors or airmen of the lowest non-commissioned rank should be exempt from this tax, the fact that someone else might be exempt in respect of a larger sum can surely be no conclusive argument against granting what would otherwise be regarded as a just allowance. As I recall the figure, it was estimated that for the lowest non-commissioned ranks the saving would be $6.85 per month. That, after all, does amount to some $80 in a year, which is not an insignificant figure in these days of rising costs of the necessities of life.
May I point out, Mr. Chairman, that on earlier occasions the government did not feel that this principle was so repugnant. It will be recalled that until comparatively recent times diplomatic and other representatives overseas in similar posts were exempted from income tax. As I understand it, that was done in recognition of the fact that those who served Canada outside of the country do not receive many of the conveniences, services, and amenities which are provided from the tax money which is paid. Furthermore, it was also a recognition of the fact that men and women who served Canada overseas are often called upon to bear dual expenses because of the necessity of maintaining a family or home in Canada, and also
other facilities of a similar kind overseas. Evidently the government decided that this was not a satisfactory method. The exemption was discontinued but in its place came the provision of generous living allowances and expense accounts, intended to recognize that in addition to the ordinary cost of carrying out services of that nature outside of Canada, there were also unusual expenses involved. Although the method is different, the government still recognizes that those who serve Canada outside of our national borders are faced with special expenses, quite apart from their daily living, that at least call for recognition. I submit that if it is appropriate that we should recognize our obligation to those who serve us in civilian capacities overseas, we certainly should recognize that same obligation to those who serve us overseas in uniform in a much more dangerous capacity.
Apart from the great danger, apart from the hardship and the separation from their families experienced by those on active service, which they willingly accept in offering their own services to their country, there nevertheless is the fact that those who go on active service outside of Canada in our armed forces do, for a considerable time, remove themselves from the opportunity to make use of the public services, the many public facilities and conveniences, which are available to the rest of us from the money paid in taxes to the government of Canada.
For that reason, in addition to the other reasons which have been so clearly stated, I believe that while men and women are on active service in our armed forces they should not be called upon to pay the full taxes required for all the services that they would ordinarily receive if they were in Canada. I believe the least that can be done for those who are making it possible for us to enjoy these services is to exempt them from those income taxes which bear particularly heavily on those who are receiving armed forces pay.
There are times when the government must follow a course which is not necessarily related to general public opinion if they believe that course to be more convenient and more satisfactory from the administrative point of view. I contend that in this case there are special reasons why the government should be very sensitive to public opinion as it has been expressed by the editorials in our newspapers-which often clearly
interpret public thinking-and by veterans organizations, municipal councils and other bodies which have taken a definite stand on this subject. We want everyone to feel that the utmost is being done to encourage young
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men and women to accept the great responsibility they assume in becoming members of the armed forces of Canada. With the opinion that has been expressed so clearly by these various organizations, by veterans bodies and by the press as interpreters of public opinion, I urge that the Minister of Finance reconsider this particular request and indicate to the house that there will be an exemption from income tax for all members of our armed forces serving overseas.
East night there was some suggestion that this subject should be discussed in detail, and that hon. members of this house should say how this should be done or what alternative should be offered. I would point out, Mr. Chairman, that at this time we are considering a motion which says that it is expedient that certain things be done. As I understand it, the real purpose of the debate on this motion, and other similar motions, is that members of the house may indicate what they think is expedient or is not expedient. Then if their arguments have been sufficiently convincing, the minister responsible for the legislation which will be subsequently introduced has an opportunity to amend it accordingly before it comes into this chamber.
The point I am making, and the point I urge with the utmost earnestness upon the Minister of Finance, is that he should agree that it is not expedient to impose an income tax on those who are assuming the great responsibility of preserving freedom for Canada by taking their place in the armed forces of this country on active service overseas.
Subtopic: INCOME TAX ACT