OTTAWA - Canadians are prepared to embrace the idea of a tax incentive for travelling within Canada, a new poll suggests.
A private member's bill tabled in the House of Commons by Liberal MP Massimo Pacetti proposes a tax credit for air, bus or train fares on non-business trips that cross at least three provincial borders.
Some 70 per cent of respondents to a recent Canadian Press-Harris/Decima poll expressed support for the idea. Regionally, almost eight in 10 respondents in Atlantic Canada liked it, with 75 per cent of those in British Columbia and Alberta in favour.
About four of every 10 people surveyed said they would be more likely to travel within Canada if the tax break was in place, the poll found.
"I think it's certainly well intentioned and I think we'd certainly like to see Canadians travelling in Canada as opposed to outside the country," said Kevin Desjardins, vice-president of strategy and public affairs for the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.
Pacetti's Discover Your Canada Act would allow an income tax deduction of 100 per cent of bus fares, 75 per cent on train tickets and 50 per cent for domestic flights, up to a maximum of $2,000.
As a private member's bill, the proposal is unlikely to become law, but Harris-Decima vice-president Patricia Thacker said a tax break of some kind could help reduce the country's big travel deficit.
That deficit — the difference between what travelling Canadians spend abroad and what foreign visitors spend here — hit $4.2 billion during the second quarter.
"Our survey results show that Canadians need just a small push to consider — or to reconsider — travelling within Canada," Thacker said.
"With Canada's international travel deficit on the rise, the magnitude of increased domestic travel spending cannot be ignored."
Chisholm Pothier, a spokesman for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, said the government has to consider the cost of such focused subsidies.
"In an era where governments are trying to get back to balanced budgets, fiscal responsibility suggests costly, new, novelty subsidies are not the best use of taxpayers dollars," Pothier wrote in an email.
Desjardins said domestic travel has been strong in recent years, but the proposed tax break could help if it got people to forgo travel abroad for travel at home.
"The question is whether or not you're converting Canadians travelling internationally into Canadians travelling domestically, which would be really the way that would reduce the travel deficit."
The survey findings suggest that such conversions are possible. About half the people contemplating travel to the United States for their next trip said they'd be more likely to travel in Canada if there was a tax credit attached.
The survey was part of an omnibus phone poll which surveyed just over 1,000 people during the first week of November. The survey carries a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.