Madam Speaker, since we are discussing education, I want to take a moment to congratulate Lindsay Stuart, an early childhood educator from Regina—Lewvan, who is now in Ottawa receiving a Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence.
I would also like to thank the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood for reviving a private member's bill that was presented in the last Parliament by Alex Atamanenko. Good ideas sometimes cross party lines and it is great to see a Conservative MP presenting a bill that was previously advanced by a former New Democratic MP.
I would like to make four points in this debate. The first one is about the value of education.
I think that the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood already spoke very eloquently on this point. I would note that education and a strong public school system provide a foundation for a much more prosperous and also a much more equitable society. I think that is a goal we should strongly support in this Parliament. How can the federal government support it? One thing it could be doing is investing in a child care and early learning system. The current federal government is failing to do that.
Another thing the federal government could do is transfer money to the provinces in support of post-secondary education. Unfortunately, what we saw in the recent budget was no increase in federal transfers to the provinces relative to the economy. In fact, by 2019-20, the current budget envisions transfers to the provinces that will be a billion dollars below what the previous Conservative budget had set for that fiscal year. Therefore, the government is actually cutting transfers to the provinces in support of public services like post-secondary education.
What about the K-to-12 system? As was pointed out by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, that is in provincial jurisdiction so the federal government cannot directly fund school boards. However, what the federal government can and should do is stop taxing school boards. This is a very straightforward proposal for the federal government to simply stop collecting GST from school boards. We believe that is a tangible thing that can be done to support K-to-12 education.
That is the first point in favour of the bill.
The second point that I want to talk about is fiscal federalism.
Before being elected I worked as an economist in the federal-provincial relations division of the federal Department of Finance. Therefore, I very much like to talk about fiscal federalism. I have not had too many opportunities in the House but I think it is a particularly important point, given that the government seems to be hanging its hat on this notion of provincial jurisdiction in today's debate.
A fundamental principle of fiscal federalism is that one order of government cannot tax another. For that reason, provincial crown corporations do not pay federal corporate income tax. Based on that same logic, municipalities do not pay GST. I would submit that if we are really serious about respecting provincial jurisdiction and really want to adhere to the principles of fiscal federalism, that is an argument in favour of the bill because it does not make sense for the federal government to be taxing school boards, which are part of provincial jurisdiction, in effect. I would say they are very much analogous to municipalities. It does not really matter whether it is the municipal government or a separate school authority that runs the schools, they should not be paying tax to the federal government.
The third point that I would like to touch on is that the federal government has indeed imposed some costs on school authorities by increasing the number of refugees coming to Canada. I want to stress that the NDP is absolutely in favour of extending a helping hand to people who are running for their lives. We certainly pushed hard to have refugees brought to Canada and brought out of the horrific circumstances that they were facing in Syria. However, the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood is absolutely right to point out that this does create a real cost for the school system, and it would make sense for the federal government to play some role in alleviating that cost.
Removing the GST from school boards is a straightforward way of achieving that goal. It probably does not compensate schools precisely for the amount they are spending on integrating refugees, but it is a simple thing the federal government could do to help school authorities who are trying to make do in spite of this additional cost.
Speaking of costs, that is the fourth point I want to make. The cost of this proposed bill is actually very reasonable. The member for Saskatoon—Grasswood talked about $187 million per year. Presumably the government is opposing the bill because it does not want to have to pay that cost, but I think we need to put it in context. The budget shows that annual revenues from the goods and services tax are about $33 billion. If we look at $187 million compared to $33 billion, we find it is only about 0.5% of GST revenues.
The cost of this private member's bill would be about half a per cent of all the money the GST currently brings in. It is a very affordable way of helping schools. At the same time, it would provide real dollars to schools and would make a real difference in terms of education and extracurricular activities, which were very well enumerated by the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood .
The final thought I would share is that all we are really voting on at second reading is whether or not to send the bill to committee. If members on the government side are seriously concerned about the potential cost or genuinely concerned that it might have some kind of implications for provincial jurisdiction, let us send the bill to the committee so we can have a proper study of those things. Those are not actually arguments to vote against the bill at this stage.
If we value education, if we believe that a strong public school system is necessary to build a more equitable and prosperous society, if we want to respect provincial jurisdiction and fiscal federalism by not having the federal government tax other levels of government, if we want to alleviate the cost on schools from integrating refugees, and if we want to have a further study of this excellent proposal at committee, I would urge all members of this House to vote in favour of the private member's bill of the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood.