House of Commons Hansard #91 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was deal.

Topics

The House resumed from May 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act (school authorities), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support Bill C-241 to reduce the cost of GST to our local schools in Canada. The federal government already provides a 68% rebate for the GST cost to schools. However, this bill would reduce the impact of the GST for the remaining 32%. All members of the House should be able to agree that the federal government should not be making money off of the back of our education system in Canada.

Canadian families understand how tight resources are at their local schools. For instance, look at the number of fundraisers that parents have to participate in on a yearly basis. In the history of Canada, parents have never been required to pay the number of fees that they are today, whether it is for pencils, craft materials, or surcharges for athletics, music, or shop classes. Parents know that there is simply not enough money to provide the quality of education that they desire for their children.

Using 2014-15 as a benchmark, this bill would save schools across Canada a total of $187 million, which is almost $200 million a year that would be reinvested into Canada's future generation. This works out to tens of thousands of dollars for each and every school across our country, which is why it is so perplexing that the Liberal government would oppose this bill.

Instead of giving hope to parents that the federal government could in some small way help their schools, the Liberals have said that they are in fact opposed. However, wait a minute, would this not mean that the Liberals are opposed to helping the middle class?

I am a little more than confused by the Liberal logic here. According to the parliamentary secretary, the Liberals will not be supporting this bill because it infringes, they say, on provincial jurisdiction, and that it would increase the amount of money available to public education in the provinces. However, what about imposing a carbon tax? If the Liberals were sincere about this new-found principle, they would not be imposing a carbon tax.

Furthermore, if the Liberals believed they should not meddle in provincial jurisdiction, we would not see the standoff between the provincial health ministers and the Minister of Health at the federal level with regard to the next health accord. Clearly, the argument that this is under provincial jurisdiction at this point is one of convenience and not one of principle.

I would submit that since this bill only affects the GST rebate, which in fact is a federal tax, this bill safely stays within the jurisdiction of the federal government. The real reason that the Liberals oppose this bill is that they broke the bank and they cannot afford this tax break to public schools, and hence this tax break to the middle class. It is hard to be a tax-and-spend government when elected on the heels of a Conservative government that cut taxes for families to the lowest rates in 50 years. I understand that.

What we have seen from the Liberals is absolutely unchecked spending. A $10-billion-a-year promised deficit has ballooned to a $30-billion-a-year actual deficit. A tax cut for the middle class that was supposed to be revenue neutral turned out to cost the federal government $1 billion per year, which in turn will be passed on to the taxpayer. The economy, despite budget 2016, continues to sputter, with dismal growth performance and plunging investor confidence.

I am generally a fairly optimistic person, but the Liberals are digging Canada into debt at levels we have not seen before, and it is the next generation who will be forced to repay it. The government is mortgaging the futures of our students, which this bill is attempting to help.

The Liberal government says it would be imprudent to make piecemeal changes to the GST because of their tax review. However, we all know that this review will not be looking to decrease taxes.

The Liberals are so far into the red that it would appear they have no choice but to look for hidden ways to raise taxes to pay for their out-of-control spending. We have already seen this with the increased payroll taxes that the Liberals have recently brought in. The expansion of the CPP will start taxing people at a higher rate in the very near future, but Canadians will not see the benefit of this for at least 40 years.

The Liberals cancelled the legislated tax cut to small businesses, thus breaking their campaign promise, while also promising to bring in a crippling carbon tax that will make small businesses even less competitive against the American market and result in many Canadians losing their jobs.

The government also cancelled a whole host of tax cuts for Canadian families, largely the middle class. These included cutting the children's fitness tax credit, the children's arts tax credit, the textbook tax credit, the education tax credit, and income splitting for families. That is a long list.

Who will pay for this reckless economic approach? Our students will pay for this approach. Our young people will pay. My generation will pay for this reckless spending approach.

Canada's demographic pressures are well understood. As the baby boomers retire and the size of families shrink, the ratio of Canadians who are working versus those who are not is approaching unsustainable levels. To put it simply, there are fewer people working compared to those collecting benefits than at any point in our history as a nation, and the trend is only getting worse. In 1990, there were five working Canadians per senior. In 2011, there were four working Canadians per senior. By 2030, there will be only two working Canadians for every senior. Why is this relevant? It is relevant because it means that the future government will have less ability to pay down debt because the taxes collected each year will be needed to pay rising expenses such as pensions and health care costs.

I support Bill C-241 because I believe that putting money in the pockets of our schools is more important than the wasteful spending we presently see from the Liberal government. Our schools need more funding, not a carbon tax that would increase the costs of our local schools as they are forced to pay more to run their buses, heat their schools, and purchase supplies. Our rural schools will pay the heaviest cost.

Teachers and other front-line educators tell us that students are losing the ability to learn experientially in our school programs, such as shop, band, and fine arts, because these programs are being shelved. In place of these creative programs that develop the skills that young people need to succeed in the skilled trades, these children are directed to study online, because the Internet is cheaper.

Why do we have such a shortage of skilled trades in Canada? It is because we have put our money behind convincing kids to get behind a screen instead of living life in the real world.

Who has the most to lose because of this? It is the vulnerable students among us. It is those who come largely from financially insecure homes. These students are the least likely to be able to afford the secondary fees for supplies to participate in these classes. At the end of the day, that is a national tragedy, because often it is these students who have the most to benefit from acquiring a skilled trade.

It is clear that schools in Canada could use this money that would be granted to them through a GST rebate.

Our students are our future. When parents give their children a hug before they get on the school bus or they get dropped off at school in the morning, those parents want to know that the government is doing everything in its power to benefit the future of their children. This legislation would help provide that support. This legislation is about our future generation. This legislation is about supporting Canada.

I ask all members of Parliament on this side of the House and across the aisle, especially those with kids, to think about their children and to consider the future of this great country. I ask them to support this piece of legislation.

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to participate in the debate on Bill C-241, an act to amend the Excise Tax Act (school authorities).

The bill would increase the goods and services tax rebate rate for school authorities from 68% to 100%.

We oppose this bill for a number of reasons, the main one being that it would result in federal interference in an area under provincial jurisdiction.

If we use this tool to give money to schools, that could be perceived as money given directly to provincial institutions. Why those institutions and not others? How would we decide to whom this change would apply and to whom it would not? I am not saying it must never be done, but it is important to have an organized approach to making these choices rather than doing it randomly.

Furthermore, this bill would be costly: an estimated $190 million in 2016 rising to $220 million by 2021. When the GST was introduced, measures were put in place to ensure equal treatment across the public sector, and that includes school boards. Making arbitrary, unfounded changes to the GST could have unexpected consequences for other levels of government with responsibilities related to primary and secondary school funding.

I would add that the bill is not in line with our government's primary objective, which is to grow the middle class and the economy. Our government has a much more all-encompassing program to stimulate the economy and improve the lives of middle-class Canadian families.

I would like to share some examples of measures in budget 2016 that are already proving their worth.

The government introduced the Canada child benefit, which, I would remind the House, is the most significant social policy innovation in a generation. This benefit is providing families with up to $6,400 per year for each child under the age of six, and up to $5,400 for each child aged six to seventeen. Middle-class Canadian families can use that money to invest in their children's education and well-being. The fact is that nine out of ten families will receive more in child benefits, including 4,000 families in my riding. I would also like to point out that the Canada child benefit is not taxable, which is quite significant.

Another very important measure introduced by our government is the middle-class tax cut, which has helped nearly nine million Canadians.

Our tax cut and Canada child benefit truly are measures that will help the middle class and those working hard to join it by enabling them to save money, invest more, and stimulate the economy right now.

We believe that a strong economy starts with a strong middle class that has access to high-quality jobs. The government introduced additional measures to support that in budget 2016, with a focus on young Canadians and the middle class, who all want to secure sustainable employment, and rightly so.

Everyone agrees that young Canadians need to be adequately prepared to enter the job market today and in the future, and for that they need to have access to education and training.

That is why the government changed the Canada student grants program by increasing the amounts for students from low- to middle-income families. This increase also applies to part-time students. We also expanded the program in order to make more students eligible for it.

We can see the results, as more than 350,000 students will receive more money for their education. In addition to scholarships, many students are eligible for Canada student loans, but sometimes they worry about not being able to pay them back. We are injecting $131.4 million over five years into the repayment assistance plan so that students are not required to start repaying their loans until they are earning at least $25,000 a year.

Theses measures reduce the financial burden on young graduates and offer the future members of the middle class the peace of mind they need to take some time to find a good job.

To help young Canadians find rewarding work early in their career, we are helping them acquire work experience. How are we doing that? The government is creating up to 35,000 additional jobs over each of the next three years through the Canada summer jobs program. This investment will ensure that at least twice as many job opportunities are supported under the program.

Budget 2016 is about the middle class and those working hard to join it. As I said earlier, it includes measures for young people, as we just saw, but also for pensioners, as I will demonstrate shortly.

The government worked with the provinces to strengthen the Canada pension plan, the CPP, so that young people can retire with dignity when the time comes. This collaboration with the provinces resulted in an agreement for a more generous pension plan for Canadians.

CPP benefits will increase from one-quarter to one-third of eligible earnings. The maximum income covered by the CPP will also increase by 14%. This new system will be phased in over seven years, starting on January 1, 2019, so that the short-term impact is minimal and gradual.

In closing, I would say that the government has a comprehensive policy for middle-class Canadian families. The government is supporting the middle class with tax cuts and the Canada child benefit; it has taken many steps to help Canadians access suitable training and find good jobs; and it is ensuring that Canadians will have more money when they retire.

These are just a few of the social policies that the government is implementing to grow the economy and the middle class. The intention behind Bill C-241 is good. However, the bill does not align with the policy of growing the middle class that is the basis for our efforts to build a Canada that can face all the challenges of this century.

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill C-241, sponsored by my colleague from Saskatoon—Grasswood. The bill would amend the Excise Tax Act to allow for a 100% rebate of the GST for school authorities. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Alex Atamanenko, the former MP for British Columbia Southern Interior, for his work on the bill's precursor, Bill C-259, in the 41st Parliament. I am very pleased to see the bill come back in this Parliament and am also proud to support a fellow member from the Saskatoon area.

The bill is about fairness. School authorities operate under provincial jurisdiction and are funded by provincial governments. Why should one level of government be taxing another level of government? At present, school authorities receive a 68% GST rebate, which means that they pay 32% of the GST on everything they buy. In Saskatchewan alone, that works out to be approximately $8 million that could be spent in classrooms.

Although education is a provincial responsibility, the federal government should not interfere with a province's ability to invest as much as possible in education. An extra $8 million would go a long way to improving and enhancing education services for kids in my province.

Health care is another provincial responsibility, but it receives a 100% GST rebate. Given the increasing pressures on school authorities, the time has come to afford them the same treatment.

It is perfectly logical that school authorities should not use taxpayer money to pay tax on products and services, since they are funded by the provinces. We in the NDP also believe that the federal government must maintain sufficient transfers to the provinces to better fund educational institutions.

The cost of providing educational opportunities for children in Canada is an expensive undertaking, and the level of investment in education is the subject of much debate.

Studies have looked at the level of investment required for education. One of the tools used is called the dependency ratio. It is the percentage generated by dividing the population of children under age 17 by the population of adults aged 18 to 64. In the last census, Saskatchewan had one of the highest dependency ratios, at 49.2%, and was well above the national average. Quebec had one of the lowest dependency ratios. Saskatchewan had the distinction of having one of the highest dependency ratios since 1989.

Research conducted by Saskatchewan school boards indicates that the province has more onerous needs, for both youth and older residents, than other provinces. I quote:

As a result of the age distribution of the population, Saskatchewan is facing needs beyond those of other provinces.... These needs will not disappear. This province has a larger proportion of young people of school age and a larger proportion of individuals over 65. In other words there are fewer people of working age to support those who are not working. There are fewer people to pay the taxes required for support of services such as education and health.

According to the same research, the realities that exist in my home province are the following: Saskatchewan has more young children per working-age person than any other province; Saskatchewan has more senior citizens per working-age person than any other province; the federal government is downloading spending on public programs and services, and this has an indirect effect on education; and Saskatchewan is spending a smaller proportion of total expenditures on education than previously while spending a larger proportion than ever before on servicing the debt.

Decreases in education funding have effects on programs for children. That is obvious. In Saskatchewan today, there are classrooms with 35 or more students.

Sadly, the provincial Sask Party government has only made things worse. More than 350 full-time educational assistant jobs were eliminated by this government. Students are not getting the one-on-one attention they need, and as I mentioned, too many classrooms have 35 kids or more. Some schools are crumbling and desperately need repairs, and classes have been forced into hallways, art supply closets, and even boot rooms. Despite years of windfall revenues, new schools that were desperately needed were not built. Now this government's only plan is to plow ahead with a privatized, rent-a-school P3 scheme that costs more and takes longer and hands control of our public assets over to corporations. For example, in Saskatchewan, an American corporation will be responsible for the maintenance of 18 schools.

In its 2014 budget, the Sask Party government in Saskatchewan cut the education capital budget by nearly 20%, taking $23.4 million away from school building and repair needs, despite the desperate need for more classrooms and smaller class sizes to relieve overcrowding.

When the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education delivered its $2.2-billion budget this year, 13 of the province's 28 school divisions were allocated less money than in the previous year. The ministry blamed teachers' salaries and left these individual school boards to make up the shortfall.

Charles Smith, an assistant professor with the Department of Political Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, said the government had effectively shifted its financial obligations onto school divisions. He said, "They're basically asking that institutions do the cuts that they don't want to do themselves. The school boards are left holding the shortfall that they had no hand in negotiating".

It is very clear that school authorities in Saskatchewan, and I am sure elsewhere, are facing huge challenges. An injection of funds via a 100% GST rebate would provide a much-needed boost for school authorities and the communities they serve. The extra money could be used to build and maintain schools, hire more teachers and educational assistants, address inequities in education for indigenous children, and give all kids the one-on-one attention they need and deserve.

How can we be sure that these extra revenues will be used for education? This year the Saskatchewan government retained the GST refund for the health regions, which was normally used as part of their operating revenues. This added insult to injury and put an even more onerous burden on local health authorities.

I began by saying that this bill is about fairness, and I would like to close by reminding my colleagues about the issue of tax fairness. Over the last decade, governments have increasingly shifted the tax burden away from corporations and onto individuals. Canada now has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the G7.

In 2014, for example, for the first time in Canada's history, more than half the federal government's revenue was shouldered by personal income taxes. If Canada's corporate tax rate was the same today as it was in 2000, we would be collecting an extra $20 billion a year in revenue, enough to fund a national child care program, free university tuition, or a children's dental care program. Instead, it has been cut in half since 2000.

What do corporations do with this money? Sadly, this money is not being reinvested in the way we hoped, in the economy, so not only have we lost out on revenue that could be used to provide services but there is also very little economic benefit derived from these corporate tax breaks. Statistics Canada data shows that Canada's corporate cash hoard is more than $626 billion. That is more than the federal debt and almost a third of Canada's GDP.

If the logic for these corporate tax cuts was to get the economy moving and working, it just is not working. It really is regular everyday Canadian taxpayers who are paying the price. The rest of us have had to make up the shortfall by paying more than our fair share. At the same time, local, municipal, health, and school authorities are being squeezed when governments download costs to an even lower level of government.

In the end, there is only one taxpayer, as our Conservative friends like to say, and in this instance, I would agree with them. We have to stop letting corporations off the hook. We have to stop offloading their fair share of taxes onto individual citizens, who not only pay more in taxes but also have to pay again in another way, by having fewer and fewer services delivered at the local level.

I have seen first hand the realities facing the local school authorities in my riding, and I believe that Bill C-241 would improve their budget situations. However, I would ask my hon. colleague if this bill would in any way mandate that the extra monies be put back into local school authorities or if provincial governments could simply withhold this money and use it any way they wanted.

I am also cognizant that the bill, if passed, would have cost implications for the federal government. According to the Library of Parliament's estimates, the real cost to the federal government of refunding the GST to school authorities was about $339 million in 2016, and then the changes put forward in Bill C-241 could represent additional costs in excess of $160 million annually.

The NDP would like to refer the bill to a House of Commons standing committee so that a thorough analysis could be conducted into the reality that school authorities are facing and the various measures the federal government could take to help them deliver a quality education to children everywhere.

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood, for his first private member's bill. It is an excellent bill. It is very fortunate to be picked early in the list of precedence for these bills. He has taken the opportunity to show us how the GST treatment is so unfair and illogical in many ways. What he has suggested is that we move from 68% to 100% on the GST rebate. In the province of British Columbia, which I represent, that would mean an additional $17 million that schools could put toward supplies.

Right now, the Liberals are against the bill. They recognize that there is an issue because they are bringing forward the school teachers' tax credit. On the one hand, they say there is no problem, but on the other hand, they feel they have to bring forward a tax credit for school teachers. It would make a whole lot more sense to me that if they want to support teachers and the school system, instead of bringing in a “boutique” tax credit—as they like to call them—for teachers, they should do something that would be eminently more logical and sensible and allow the schools to have additional resources. That could provide support for what has been identified as a problem.

I find it strange for them to argue against the bill. I find it foolhardy that they are going to vote against it. They should at least be taking the opportunity to send this piece of legislation to committee so that members could really look at it and we could hear how important it would be to the school boards across the country.

One of the first things I will talk about is whether it is interfering with provincial jurisdiction. Currently, the rebate is 68%, so if the government is giving a 68% rebate, moving it to 79%, 83%, or 100% would be part of the business of the federal government, namely, to determine what an appropriate rebate of the GST should be for our different organizations and sectors. To be frank, we have heard this from a number of different people who have stood up and said there is just one taxpayer. It just does not make a lot of sense for the federal government to collect tax that the provincial governments or municipalities are then just going to have to tax back to the same person.

I was responsible for a small rural community health care centre when the original GST came in. It really did have a profound affect on the budget and the budgetary process that I was involved with. We should not think that the GST and the GST rebate are insignificant. Certainly, the piece that many of us have not even talked about is the paperwork associated with applying for the rebate. They pay the GST, then I do not know how many people we have working in the Canada Revenue Agency crunching the numbers and then cutting the cheques. We have a pretty expensive system that has been established to deal with the GST and the GST rebates.

Mostly, what we have is a system that does not make a lot of sense. In 2004, it was a Liberal federal government that said it would go from 57% to 100% for municipalities. I would really like it if one of the Liberals would stand up and talk about the logic. Municipalities are at 100%. We have our health care organizations, which I believe are at 83%. We have our school system at 68%, and I believe there is a 1% difference between what our universities and colleges get.

Not only should we be supporting this private member's bill, but if it went to committee it would be an opportunity to hear more broadly from witnesses. The government might actually be able to use the information it gets at committee to rethink this whole policy around the rebate.

What we have here is an eminently logical, sensible private member's bill. We have one Canadian taxpayer and a government that, from all the debate I am hearing today, will be voting against it for no coherent reason. It's important to note that there is no coherence in its argument against at least sending this to second reading.

Our schools are under pressure. Obviously the Liberals do recognize that, because of their decision around the tax credit they are going to be giving to school teachers. What better way to support our school system. This is not about interfering in provincial jurisdiction. It is just about doing what they have done for municipalities. If I were going to do a private member's bill, I would suggest that the government do the same for our hospitals and our health care facilities.

I will make one final plea to my Liberal colleagues on the other side and say that when we have an opportunity to vote, I think their constituents would be very proud if they stood and supported this particular measure. Let us see what we can do to support our school system and look at creating some coherence around the GST rebate.

Again, I thank my colleague. We look forward to the vote. I will remain optimistic about seeing this move at least to the next step.

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak on this particular piece of legislation.

I have been listening to previous speakers from the opposition. I am bit surprised by their general attitude, with them, in some cases, promoting misinformation—

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order. The hon. parliamentary secretary may not realize that he has already had an opportunity to weigh in on this particular question before the House. The Standing Orders allow members to speak at least once on a bill at this particular stage of the debate. So we will not be able to carry on with his intervention here, unless the member is seeking unanimous consent. I am not seeing consent.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to this bill, which I have not had a chance to do yet, and again to congratulate my friend from Saskatoon—Grasswood for bringing forward this great piece of legislation.

In the House, we are always looking for ways that we can help education and our schools, which I hope we all believe is important. But sometimes we do not look for the ways we can help through simplification. This is what I particularly like about my friend's bill. He is not trying to add an additional tax credit here, but would in fact leverage the existing system. He is saying something sensible, that it does not make much sense for governments to try to collect substantial tax revenue from other levels of government.

What the bill before us today would do is to provide for an increased GST rebate back to school authorities. Right now it is at 68%. This bill would move it to 100%, given that schools are paying 100% GST. This would be useful for schools in my constituency and those across the country, because it would save their having to give money to the federal government that they would otherwise have to give. The bill would be a simplification, but it would also make a practical difference, no doubt about it. It would give money back to schools they could use to invest in vital things that are important to them, whether school supplies, infrastructure, additional services for students, or simply reducing the fees that parents have to pay, or freeing up resources that could be used, or other kinds of things at the school board level. There is a lot of value in that money going back to schools.

Deeper than that, though, we can ask what is the sense of the existing system in which we have different levels of government charging tax on each other. I will just say as well that we have a government that rather than reducing taxes on other levels of government actually wants to increase the taxes on other levels of government. We have the imposition of a carbon tax, with the federal government trying to require the provinces to impose that tax. In the case of many jurisdictions, that tax would affect other levels of government. It would affect school boards. The purpose of carbon taxation on other levels of government is supposedly to create an incentive for less use of carbon, but I have to say that in Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, the school buses are going to keep running regardless of the taxes levied. There is no logical way this would change behaviour. We cannot have children walking to school from acreages or, generally speaking, in a geographically larger community. There is just a disconnect in terms of practicality.

However, we are levying taxes on other levels of government that school boards are then paying to the federal government, at the same time as the federal government is transferring resources to the provinces and the provinces are transferring resources to school boards. Every time we have this back-and-forth transfer of resources, it imposes an administrative cost and burden. So we in the House should always look first for ways to get resources to that local level where the services are actually delivered.

In practice, it is our local communities and our school boards that are most likely to be interfacing with people in terms of the practical services they use on a day-to-day basis. We should be looking for ways of getting resources there. These are levels of government, by the way, that have far fewer taxing powers than the federal government or the provincial governments have. We can collect taxes in all sorts of different ways. Although our local governments are the level of government that people are most likely to interact with, these governments have much less ability to raise or control their own budgets. Yet we have this process by which the federal government, with the current GST rebate system, is taking money from those levels of government.

There are two things. It is about giving more authority, resources and ability to those local levels of government, in this case school boards. The same principle perhaps would apply to municipalities. However, it is also about simplification. It is about stepping back and looking at why we have this back-and-forth of money and looking at whether we can find ways of simplifying the transfer system.

Again, I want to congratulate my friend, the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood. This an excellent bill. It speaks to something we should be trying to do at a broader level, which is provide more support to our local communities, our school boards, and our municipalities, given how important they are, practically, in the lives of people in our constituencies. It is also about trying to do that in a more efficient way.

I am very pleased to support the bill. I am really surprised that we do not see support from government members. I would encourage them to talk to schools and parents within their communities, and be willing to step out from the line that perhaps is being directed. All of us have individual responsibilities to our constituents. We all have a responsibility to vote based upon what we think the people within our communities would like to see and what is in their best interest. That is our primary responsibility, not to some recommendation we might get.

These are private members' bills. Despite the direction we may see some in the government wanting the party to go, I hope government members will take a look at what is in the bill, at the value that it would have to people in their community, and that they be willing to step out beyond that line and say that it is good legislation, that they will support it even if that maybe not what those around them do.

Quite obviously this is a good bill. It is the kind of bill that all of those watching, whether they are parents, students, or people involved in local governments, would say that it makes sense, but that it does not make sense for the federal government to take money from school boards that they could use and go through this administrative process of back-and-forth.

The bill would significantly improve upon the current system. I am proud to support it on behalf of my constituents in Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan. I hope we will see other members line up behind it as well.

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2016 / 11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Mr. Speaker, this journey to get a 100% rebate back to school boards in Canada has been a passion of mine for nearly 10 years. I was a school member in Saskatchewan for nine and a half years.

School divisions in our country pay the GST. They are rebated 68%. That means they end up paying 32%. This is clearly a tax on a tax, federal to provincial and territorial authorities. It means $187 million that could be used in the classrooms is being taken away today.

I spent the good part of this summer going coast to coast. I talked with parents, educators, government officials, and most of all I talked with trustees. They all agreed that this bill should go to reading. I attended the Canadian School Boards Association's annual meeting in Winnipeg in July. Trustees from across the country lined up to support the bill. The rebate of $187 million to school authorities ends up to be less than 1% of the entire federal budget.

The Canadian School Boards Association's outgoing president Janet Ford said that it was illogical that school boards, as publicly funded taxpayer-funded institutions should be paying the goods and services tax.

The Canadian Teachers' Federation, which represents over 200,000 teachers, agrees that public services administered by school authorities that are publicly funded should not be taxed. That was signed by its president Heather Smith.

Don Morgan, who is the education minister in Saskatchewan, said that the introduction of the bill was timely as the reciprocal taxation agreement signed between the federal government and the province of Saskatchewan recently expired in December. This reciprocal fund included all government ministries, but did not include the public service organizations such as school divisions. This would be an opportune time to revisit this agreement. Don is pleased to provide his support for Bill C-241 as the education minister in the province of Saskatchewan.

Across our great land we have had dozens of letters supporting my private member's bill, from the Western Québec School Board, a great letter from the Ottawa-Carleton school district, the Toronto public schools, and the Seine River School Division in Manitoba, which would save $130,000 annually to be added back into its classrooms in Manitoba.

I will quote the board chair of the Calgary Board of Education, Joy Bowen-Eyre, who stated that $3.6 million would be returned to its division. That is equivalent to the entire operating costs of a large elementary school of 600 students.

From my city of Saskatoon, public school chair Ray Morrison said that an additional nine full-time teachers would be added with the $723,000 that would be returned through this rebate.

The Greater Saskatoon Catholic Board of Education and its chair Diane Boyko said that nine full-time teachers or 21 more educational assistants would be hired immediately if the division would receive the full GST rebate.

There is not one school board in my province that would not receive the benefit of my private member's bill.

On October 5 in the House, the Liberal MP for London North Centre stood up and said that it was an honour to rise and mark World Teachers' Day. The member commended the more than 40 members of the current Liberal caucus who were teachers. The member from London North Centre said, “We are a team committed to education and educators.”

I ask each and every member across the aisle, including the member for Papineau, who once was a teacher, to support my private member's bill. It was the Liberal government in 2004 that gave municipalities a 100% rebate in the GST. It went from 57% all the way to 100%. I ask the government to support Bill C-241, do the right thing, and refund the GST to school authorities like it did to municipalities across the country 12 years ago.

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, October 19, immediately before the time provided for private member's business.

Suspension of SittingExcise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 11:51 a.m., the House will stand suspended until the time for government orders.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:51 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)

Opposition Motion—Softwood Lumber AgreementBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

moved:

That, recognizing that the Prime Minister and the Minister of International Trade promised 400,000 Canadian forestry workers a framework agreement on softwood lumber exports with the Obama Administration by mid-June, 2016, recognizing the government’s failure to meet that deadline and their subsequent failure to negotiate a final agreement before the expiry of the last trade agreement on October 12, 2016, and given that many high-quality, well-paying jobs in the forestry sector are now at risk due to the government’s lack of action, the House call upon the government to stop delaying and take all necessary steps to prevent a trade war that will threaten the livelihood of Canadian workers and communities.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to stand today and move this motion forward. I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo. Of course, this is very near and dear to her heart and her riding.

There are over 650 communities that rely on mills to maintain their viability, and around 400,000 people work in those mills and the ancillary jobs that are supported by them. It is very important that we get this right.

There have been four separate trade wars since 1982, and that was mentioned in the reading of the motion. The longest period of calm we have had throughout this was the last decade of the former Conservative government, which I was happy to be a minister of. My good friends, the ministers of trade during that time, were able to negotiate 10 years of truce, 10 years of relative stability and predictability in the softwood lumber sector. Because of that, we saw our softwood lumber sector grow. We also saw the American sector maintain a stronger portion of their own domestic supply because of the stability of that sector, even though there was more Canadian product going in.

It is a complex agreement, to say the least, and I do not want to undersell it. It is made worse now by the obfuscation of the Liberal government of the day, in that it did not recognize this as an issue as far back as the mandate letter to the minister, the throne speech, its budgets, and so on, or how important this industry is. It is a multi-billion dollar industry across Canada that feeds into the GDP of this great country. It is part of the diversity that we have.

As I said, 650 communities are on edge now because of this impending fifth trade war. The problem is that once these start, they run on five-year cycles. The Americans will use these five years for litigation and all sorts of actions that will stop the flow of our product going south. There are four or five major industry groups that are both American and Canadian in content. They are very much integrated. Those are not the ones we are concerned about. They are very important, but it is the small and medium-sized enterprises that are going to get squeezed out if we do not get this deal right.

As I understand it, from the hearings we had at the trade committee, which I am happy to sit on, and from leaks that have happened through the American side, we are not getting anything out of the Canadian side. The provinces are kept in the dark as to where the federal government is at. Industry in Canada writ large is in the dark as to where the Government of Canada is at. The problem is that no one really knows what is being said or what is being done.

We are all led to believe that there is a brand new way of doing things with the Americans. Everybody was all aglow about the family reunion that the Prime Minister held in Washington. We were all on edge when the American president came and spoke to us here in the House. However, at no junction was softwood lumber ever made an issue of, even though it was coming to a conclusion last week.

We are now in that position where we are not negotiating from a level of strength. We are negotiating while trying to play catch-up with the Americans who hold all the cards at this point. Having said that, there are things that the minister and the Prime Minister could and should be doing. One of them, of course, is getting hold of the Liberals' buddy in Washington, the president, who is still the president in what is called a lame duck session. If he wants to make this a legacy, he certainly could but it is going to take a heavy push from this side of the border to make that happen. It is certainly a lot more important for us than it is for the Americans at this point.

The other thing is that the Liberals dropped the ball over this past year and did not really pick it up until probably July when people started putting pressure on them and asking what was happening. We asked questions back in late winter and early spring about where we were with this. The Liberals had the time to be on the ground. For the first 100 days, there were all these wonderful promises made as to what was going to happen. None of that has come to fruition, on any level, on any issue.

At the end of the day, the least the minister could be doing right now is securing the agreement that there will be no litigation from the American lumber side while we are negotiating. That is the very least she could be doing. I am hoping she is on the phone later today. Now that we have given her that idea, she should at least be securing that so that we do not, again, deal with this from a state of less strength than the Americans.

As I have said, this has been a problem for decades and will continue to be simply because of differences in the way we do things. What the Americans are calling us out on, and it is always this one issue, in layman's terms, is stumpage. This is what the province of record charges for the timber that is withdrawn, and it varies from province to province.

The Province of Quebec has made some significant changes in the way it does that in coming to grips with what the Americans are going to want to demand. There are also 30 mills right along the border in Quebec that use material from Maine, which comes up into those mills, is manufactured into softwood lumber framing materials, and goes back into the U.S. Therefore, Quebec has always had an exemption. There are two of those in Ontario, as well.

We have also had an exemption for Atlantic Canada because most of that is privately held lands and it does not really fit within the description of the trade war fight, but again, the government has not shown an ability to get that exemption for Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador.

There are a lot of irons in the fire, none of them warm at this point, other than the end we are trying to hang onto, which the Americans are handing us. At the end of the day, there is a lot of work to be done. I just do not see that happening. I know the work that we went through on country of origin labelling to get our beef and pork equal access into the U.S. It took a WTO challenge. We have been there before on softwood lumber as well and I will give the government of the day credit for that work, but when negotiating at the WTO, or NAFTA, or in the American courts, or however we decide to move forward, our industry is taking a hit. In those 650 mill towns, 400,000 workers are not going to have a happy Christmas and an early 2017.

It is up to the government to get to Washington. I know a lot of work was done with Ambassador Froman over the TPP. He is a tough negotiator, but the Americans need our product. They cannot supply their own domestic market, so they need Canadian product to do that. We have heard through some of our American connections and consumer groups working with us on country of origin labelling that the first foray of the Liberal government was to move from the 34% access we have now, which we have never used; we hit a peak of 28% to 30%. The first foray was to start at 26%, so they are taking 33% right off the table to begin with. That is a terrible negotiating ploy and if this is what it takes to say we are cozying up to the American president, then that is too high a cost. We have to realize that we need to negotiate a lot tougher than that, not just bend over and let the Americans run rampant on us on softwood lumber.

It is going to take some pretty severe work to get this turned around. The biggest thing that the minister is going to have to do right away is to make sure to take the litigation right off the table. That gives the Americans a hammer, not just a lever but a hammer. If there is no litigation in the works, then we can sit down and negotiate properly and get this done, much the same as other issues have been resolved.

Despite $30 billion of supposed stimulus spending the government has done in the first year, none of it has really driven any jobs. We have not seen any jobs increase across Canada at all, let alone that we are starting to see jobs lost in the oil patch, in the industry sector, and because we are not consummating the pending trade deals such as the TPP. We need to get serious about how we handle all of that work.

The opposition has put together a softwood lumber task force. We made the announcement this morning to look at how we move forward working with those contacts that we developed as we came to grips with country of origin labelling and had it finalized, and working with consumer groups, the construction association, the homebuilders association, the retailers, all of those people in the U.S. who want Canadian lumber. They want Canadian content because in the long term, it keeps their own industry honest. We also need to diversify our portfolio when it comes to softwood. That means taking up the advantages that we have in Japan, Korea, and China where they are starting to buy a lot of our product and make sure that we have that to use as a bit of a push-back on the Americans.

For a number of different industries we have too many eggs in that basket. We rely on the Americans for far more than we should and that is the whole nature of having diversity within our trade portfolio so that we make sure we have access to those other markets to keep the Americans honest.

We are asking the Liberal government to get serious about this file, become transparent, become accountable to the provincial ministers, to the small and medium-sized businesses. When we held the hearings that my colleagues and I have had with our provincial counterparts, they are not getting a lot of information, if any at all, to know what is being done and what they should be prepared for.

There is a tremendous amount of work to be done. I know the minister has travelled extensively. The parliamentary secretary has discussed this with a number of industries across the country as well, but the message is not getting through. The industries say they are being led down a dark alley they really do not want to go down, and that somehow we are dealing from a position of less than strength. We are asking for the government to take heed of the motion we are putting forward, help us pass this, and get serious about the softwood lumber file.

Opposition Motion—Softwood Lumber AgreementBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard—Verdun Québec

Liberal

David Lametti LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I rejoice in the fact that the party opposite seems to have discovered consultations as a method of moving forward. This is reassuring to the people on our side.

There were a number of different strategies raised in the hon. member's speech. Do we capitulate and just give the Americans what they want in order to get an agreement? Do we hold out and not have an agreement? I am not sure what the member would like us to do. There was a moment of startling honesty in his speech where he said there were trade tribunal rulings last time around that gave us leverage in negotiating with the Americans. Where does he want us to go? I am not clear.

Opposition Motion—Softwood Lumber AgreementBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, the underlying point today is that we want the Liberals to take this seriously. There are 650 communities across Canada and 400,000 workers, who are all concerned, and the anxiety level goes up the more that they see these deadlines pass. These deadlines were well known. We knew it was going to be October 12 for the end of that grace period. My good friend and colleague, the member for Abbotsford, was able to negotiate a two-year extension. As I said, we have had 10 years of relative calm in this.

He is right. There were WTO challenges. There have been NAFTA challenges. We have won the majority of those. It is a matter of again using that hammer on the Americans to make sure they know how serious we are on this issue. If we had not done a WTO challenge and just let the Americans keep pushing us around on the country-of-origin labelling, we would never have had a resolution.

I am asking the Liberals to take that under consideration and to start working with a lot of the groups in the U.S. who are on our side. We found that with the country-of-origin labelling. They took their own government to court because it was going to hurt their own enterprises. There are a tremendous number of allies out there, and the government is just not taking advantage of them.

Opposition Motion—Softwood Lumber AgreementBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Tracey Ramsey NDP Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster, for his work on this file, and for his work on the committee with me as well. We both have heard from many people at the committee who have a deep worry about what is going happen now.

The member mentioned 400,000 jobs. Unfortunately, we are already down to 260,000 jobs in this country. We have forestry workers who are deeply uncertain about whether they will have a job going forward because of the lack of action on this file. It is imperative that we get an agreement to address this insecurity.

However, my question for the member is, does he think that the government should develop a plan B to support the industry, such as the loan guarantees that they are calling for?

Opposition Motion—Softwood Lumber AgreementBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I do not think the government should take any agreement that is offered. Certainly the Americans are tough negotiators, and we have seen that on a number of different fronts. At the end of the day, they have to have an agreement of some sort in order to have predictability and stability and get those 400,000 people back on the job, and the 650 communities across Canada that rely on the income from those very well-paying jobs. That is what we need.

It is imperative that we get an agreement, but not just any agreement. It is imperative that we do it in the best interests of Canada. We hear through the back channels in the U.S. that the first offer from the Canadian side was to tuck tail and run. It was to go to 26% rather than the 34% that we had, which we never really made use of, but it was there. It is concerning, and the concern has reverberated through the industry and through the provincial ministers. They are concerned that they are going to face a lot of backlash, a lot of push-back, from these communities that will be without all of these high-paying jobs.

Opposition Motion—Softwood Lumber AgreementBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think we see a concerning trend in the government's relationship with the United States. It is prioritizing the glitz, the photo ops, rather than advancing Canada's interests. We saw this when the Prime Minister went to Washington. He chose to bring members of his family when he should have been bringing key government ministers responsible for important files that are in our interests.

I wonder if the member would talk specifically about the importance in our relationship with the Americans of making sure that our focus is on advancing Canada's national interest.

Opposition Motion—Softwood Lumber AgreementBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, that is the underlying factor. It is absolutely true. We have been led down the path, that there is somehow a new way of doing business with the Americans, that everything is sweetness and light. Yet, that is not how the Americans operate. Anyone buying into that, saying that the Americans are going to give us everything we need because there is this new bromance between the Prime Minister and the President, is naive and short-sighted, to say the least.