moved that Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act (school authorities), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to the merits of my first private member's bill.
Bill C-241 seeks to reimburse every school board across this country 100% of the goods and services tax, better known as GST.
I will give member's a little background on this.
Canadians pay for their schools either through municipal or provincial taxes. These schools are then charged 100% GST on almost everything they purchase and the services they require. They are subsequently reimbursed 68% of the GST after completing cumbersome and time-consuming paperwork quarterly. Quite simply, the GST is a tax on tax.
Nationally, for the fiscal year 2014-15, the 32% GST that was not refunded amounted to almost $187 million.
I want to give a shout-out today to Jalynn Middleton's grade 5 class at Buena Vista School in Saskatoon. They are following this bill with great interest, like thousands, and I mean thousands, of other students across this great nation. Not only is this an important bill, it is an educational component to the curriculum in this country. I also thank Jaelynne Cherwoniak, the teacher librarian at the school, for organizing a visit that was as educational for me as it was for the grade 5 class.
The Canadian School Boards Association unanimously supports this Bill C-241. Its president, Janet Foord, stated in a letter to the Prime Minister that:
This is not about the federal government spending money to school boards; it is about stopping the claw-back of the support provided through provincial grants and federal transfer payments. It is illogical that school boards, as publicly-funded - taxpayer-funded - institutions should be paying the Goods and Services Tax.
I served for many years on the Saskatoon Board of Education as a trustee, and also became an executive member of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association. I know first-hand what this money would mean to our schools in Saskatchewan. In fact, it would have amounted to over $8 million in 2014-15, shared among the 28 school divisions.
Let us listen then to what a number of school divisions have said about Bill C-241 in my province of Saskatchewan.
The Saskatoon Board of Education has expressed its full support for this bill, because in its fiscal year 2014-15, the division paid $2.2 million in GST. It received the rebate of $1.5 million, but the remaining $723,000 that was not refunded came out of the school division's reserve. I will add that nine full-time teachers could have been hired with this extra GST money.
Not only is the day-to-day learning affected, but so too are the extracurricular activities under pressure in this country. We are talking about band, art, drama, and sports. All of that helps to keep our children engaged in our school divisions.
At one time, the board put together $100,000 for new band instruments. This was well received in our community.
The Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools said that if the bill passes it would give our school division an additional “$677,000” annually “to increase supports to children in the classroom”. “...we could hire nine more teachers or [we would hire] 21 more educational assistants.”
The funds received through the 100% GST rebate could pay for increasing supports for English as an additional language for the new immigrants. As we all know, the federal government has a healthy immigration policy, but school divisions across this country need federal dollars to support our new Canadians.
I have shared with members the numbers that each province would get with this 32% GST rebate, so let me refresh their memories. The province of Ontario would receive $75 million; Quebec, $47 million; Alberta, $21 million; B.C., $17 million; Manitoba, nearly $9 million; Nova Scotia, $4 million, and I could go on.
Out of the 338 MPs here in the House, I know that many were former teachers, administrators, and trustees. I do not have to share what this extra money, money that is well deserved, could do in our classrooms.
The majority of provincial governments across this country have taken over the funding of school divisions. School boards can no longer raise their mill rate. They depend on the provincial governments for some of their funding.
Let me remind members that it was not that long ago that municipalities were also funded by taxpayers in a very similar situation. Before 2004, municipalities paid the GST in full and they received a 57% rebate. They ended up paying 43%.
In the budget of 2004 of former prime minister Paul Martin, and prepared by the current member for Regina—Wascana as the finance minister, they gave a full 100% GST rebate to the municipalities, an improvement from 57%.
Did I mention that there was a $7 billion in GST relief for municipalities over the last ten years? I do not have to tell the House that this has had a major positive impact on every community in this country.
This is the same property tax base that pays for school taxes. These are the same schools that face the same infrastructure problems and the same social challenges as municipalities, yet they have been paying 32% of the GST on everything they purchase or the services they use. Quite frankly, it is a tax on tax.
Here is another example from the province of British Columbia, which would have received an additional $17.5 million in the fiscal year 2014-15. It, like every other province and territory, struggles to provide an inclusive school system for all students, including those with special needs. This province's website says:
In order to provide an inclusive education system in which students with special needs are fully participating members of a community of learners, additional support may be required by means of additional staff, specialized learning materials, physical accommodations or equipment, and assessments to enable them to meet their educational and social needs.
That $17.5 million would go a long way in providing that much-needed additional support in the province of British Columbia.
When our Conservative government was in power, we reduced the GST from 7% to 6%, and eventually down to 5%, the current level. This was certainly a help to all school divisions in the country but, quite frankly, it was not enough. Our school authorities across the country need desperately to be reimbursed for the entire 100% of their GST.
After preparing this legislation, it was sent to as many school boards and associations as possible. Let me share with the House more of the responses.
From Manitoba, it reads:
I wish to indicate my [total] support for your Private Members' Bill, C-241 which seeks to have the GST paid by school authorities refunded from the Federal Government at 100% instead of the current 68%.
Our Kelsey School Division revenues are severely hampered due to its very low property assessment base, requiring a special needs tax levy that hinders greatly the local tax payers. The improvement of the GST [rebate, which is a tax on tax situation] would result in more direct funding [to] the education program needs of our school division.
It was signed by Vaughn Wadelius, who is the chair of of Kelsey School Division board of trustees, in The Pas, Manitoba.
Then we heard from Ken Cameron, president of the Manitoba School Boards Association, who said:
For many years, the Manitoba School Boards Association, acting both independently and in concert with the Canadian School Boards Association, has advocated for an increase in the GST rebate [to an annual increase in the revenue to be paid out to the school boards].
...the [additional] 32% rebate would equate to the annual increase in revenue of $8.7 million [spread out in the Manitoba school divisions]. That amount, in turn, would translate to salaries for an additional 100 teachers [in Manitoba], increased supports for our students who are at-risk....
This story, unfortunately, is not unique at all in this country.
The Calgary Board of Education also supports my bill. In 2014-15, they paid a total of $11 million in the goods and service tax, and they received the federal rebate, which back then was $7.6 million. The CBE was required to fund the remaining $3.6 million.
The Calgary Board of Education noted that they are constantly attempting to do more with less. Its core values are that the students come first. This continues to be the story in every school division in this country.
Jennifer Maccarone, who is the chairperson of Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board, totally supports this initiative. The Quebec English School Boards Association has sent its support through the Canadian School Boards Association.
From the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, its president Patrick Daly says that this GST rebate would fund critically important school programs in areas such as special education, and notes first nations, Métis, and Inuit curriculum development, something that is going on in all 10 provinces of this country and the territories.
Teachers from all over this country are very excited about this bill. Larry Mikulcik, who teaches in a small rural school, said:
...if the GST amount collected were to be fully refunded...the schools would benefit immensely. This would help to reduce the amount of time spent by schools...Student Leadership Councils, and School Community Councils in fundraising to support the extracurricular programs [in our schools].
It is the extracurricular programs that we see have engaged our students in this country. It puts them over the finish line. As a trustee for over 10 years, I saw that directly. If we can entice kids to stay in school with studies and extracurricular activities, we are all better off for it.
Finally, I want to thank my colleagues for their attention to Bill C-241, and the benefits it will bring our children, and even our grandchildren. I look forward to our continued conversation.