Houston government open to extending under-30 tax rebate to ex-military

Premier Tim Houston at provincial cabinet on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

The Houston government says it is willing to consider extending a tax rebate that's aimed at Nova Scotians under age 30 working in high-demand jobs to former military members of any age.

The idea came up during a meeting of the veterans affairs committee earlier this week.

New democrat MLA Gary Burrill asked Ava Czapalay, the deputy minister of labour, skills and immigration, if the province had considered giving veterans who want new careers in a skilled trade the same tax break.

"Does it seem like an idea that has some things to commend it?" asked Burrill.

"Any and all suggestions are welcome, in terms of [providing incentives to] people to participate in the skilled trades," said Czapalay.

"I'll take this back and we'll get a response for you," he added, referring to the Department of Finance.

Low uptake so far

To date, the More Opportunities for Skilled Trades (MOST) program has only garnered lukewarm support and has cost a fraction of what the provincial government originally budgeted. When it was announced, the Department of Finance said 7,600 workers would be eligible for the rebate and the program would cost the province $21 million.

Those who qualify receive a rebate equivalent to the provincial portion of the income tax they pay on the first $50,000 they earn.

According to the latest figures from the province, so far 2,405 people have been approved for the 2022 tax year. They will receive a total of $7.8 million back from the province. The deadline to apply for the rebate is June 30.

Speaking to reporters following the meeting, retired Lt.-Cmdr. Dave Giannou said the tax break could help some of the people the organization he works for is trying to help move from military careers to civilian jobs.

"Absolutely a benefit," said Giannou, the Atlantic representative for Helmets to Hardhats, a non-profit group that connects former military members, their partners and dependents with training and jobs in the skilled trades.

"If you're making good money in the military after a 15-year career, you come out and you're starting as a first-year apprentice, you're not making the same dollars," said Giannou. "You still have mortgages, car payments, you're probably married, have kids, bills to pay.

"So if you can get a tax break, which puts more money back into your household to support your family, then yes, it's advantageous."

Dealing with regional wage gap

Giannou said the average age of veterans seeking advice from his organization was 33 years old, just above the MOST age restriction.

"When I saw the program, ages 30 and below, I thought what a shame," Giannou told the committee. "The benefit might incentivize the military member to go into the trades."

Brad Smith, executive director of the Mainland Nova Scotia Building Trades Council, one of the organizations that helps fund Helmets to Hardhats, also liked the idea.

He said it might help stem the flow of skilled workers taking their training west after they certify.

"We got a significant challenge because of what's paid in Nova Scotia versus what they can make out west," said Smith. "There's a reason why we have direct flights to Edmonton and Calgary and it's because of the amount of money people can make out west.

"So we have to do everything we can to make sure we're retaining our tradespeople here."