If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a noise?
It’s the classic Zen question, and it is not necessarily meant to have an answer. However, allow us to update it for the 21st century. If the government provides a tax break for volunteers that almost nobody can actually claim, do the politicians still feel warm and fuzzy inside?
Perhaps it doesn’t have the same Zen flow as the tree question, but it’s one worth pondering as provincial and federal politicians released statements last week on their benevolence towards volunteer firefighters.
Here’s Newfoundland and Labrador’s federal cabinet representative Peter Penashue as quoted in a statement from his office:
“Our government recognizes how important this dedication is to the safety of neighbourhoods everywhere, especially in some of our more rural areas. That is why we are proud to have introduced the Volunteer Firefighter’s Tax Credit.”
At the provincial level, Finance Minister Tom Marshall was quoted in the house of assembly on this province’s tax credit for firefighters.
“This credit is in recognition of the work that these men and women perform in their spare time while putting the well-being of their communities ahead of their own interests,” said Minister Marshall.
However, as was already reported in by TC Media in 2011, volunteer firefighters in this province say the provincial and federal requirement of 200 volunteer hours to be eligible for these tax breaks is unrealistic in small-town and rural departments.
Burgeo-la Poile MHA Andrew Parsons said after talking to firefighters in his district, he found the 200-hour threshold “seemingly impossible” to meet. Even with meetings and training, it’s not a realistic number for the majority of rural firefighters. He would like to see the government start by lowering the required hours to 100.
Don’t expect that to happen in time for this year’s tax deadline.
Just how much is this tax credit actually worth to the volunteer who meets the requirements? According to the province’s release, “the non-refundable tax credit of $3,000 will be worth $231 to each volunteer firefighter who performs at least 200 hours of eligible firefighting services each taxation year.”
In other words, eligible firefighters will receive $1.15 per hour of volunteer service from the province – or not much more than the firefighters who will get no tax breaks for their time.
It’s a nice try by both levels of government, but they shouldn’t try to spin practically worthless tax breaks into a good news story.
These politicians may have been looking for thunderous applause with these announcements, but instead they may have discovered the answer to another old Zen question: what is the sound of one hand clapping?
The Gulf News