Today in the Legislature I rose to speak in support of Bill 29 – Property Taxation (Exemptions) Statutes Amendment Act, 2015.
Bill 29 ensures that there is consistent treatment across the province with respect to the way independent schools are subjected to municipal property taxation. Presently only the land immediately under a school building is exempt from municipal taxation. While most municipalities extend the exemption to the rest of the school property (playgrounds, playing fields etc.) there have been a few exceptions and some municipalities are contemplating the idea.
Below is the text of my speech at second reading.
A. Weaver: It gives me great pleasure to stand and speak in support of Bill 29, Property Taxation (Exemptions) Statutes Amendment Act. My riding is particularly interesting in that there are presently six…. Well, there are five high schools now, but after the election boundaries are redefined, there’ll be six high schools. Three of them are public schools, and three of them are independent schools. Oak Bay, Lambrick, Mount Doug — public schools. St. Michaels and Maria Montessori are presently in the riding and independent schools. Glenlyon Norfolk, soon to be in the riding, as well, is another independent school.
We have much to be proud of, of our education system in British Columbia. Despite what some might have said, Canada ranks at the very top, internationally, in the program for international student assessment scores, particularly in the area of sciences and reading. If we look at the 2012 science rankings, worldwide, No. 1 was Shanghai, China. No. 2, Hong Kong, China. No. 3, Singapore. No. 4, Japan. No. 5, Finland. And No. 6, British Columbia.
Now, when you compare that to 2003, in fact, two of those — Shanghai and Singapore — were not part of the 2003 assessment. So in essence, British Columbia would have been ranked No. 4, worldwide, in terms of science achievement, whereas in 2003, British Columbia was ranked No. 6. So we have much to be proud of in British Columbia with respect to our science education.
The same is true with our language arts. In 2003, No. 1 in the world was Finland. Alberta was No. 2, and British Columbia, No. 3. Since 2002, a number of other jurisdictions have participated in the international PISA. So we see Shanghai and Singapore moving up. British Columbia dropped to No. 6, which would have been fifth if you accounted other jurisdictions that weren’t there.
But what is really important to note is how it did relative to other provinces in Canada and the much-touted Finnish education system. I’ll come to Finland in a second, because in 2003, Finland ranked No. 1 in science, No. 3 in mathematics and No. 1 in reading. British Columbia was sixth in science, fifth in mathematics and third in reading.
Now, what’s indicative of a government that has somewhat lost touch with developing advancements in education, for reasons unknown to anybody, the B.C. government sent a young person to Finland to study the Finnish system. I understand that if you’re looking at the 2003 PISA assessments, you might want to understand the Finnish system. But in 2012, British Columbia was above Finland in mathematics, was above Finland in reading and was tied, statistically so, in science. There’s much to be proud of about our education system in British Columbia, and we do not need to study the Finnish system to find that out.
We are the top-ranked province in Canada, in terms of science education as well as reading, and yet that was not the case in 2003. Alberta was the top-ranked province in all three areas covered by PISA. But there is one area that B.C. does have some trouble with and I would argue that this has nothing to do with the quality of our teachers in British Columbia, but rather as the quality of the means and the ways they’re being trained to teach mathematics.
Mathematics is the one subject where B.C. has dropped, relative to other jurisdictions, in the move that has moved mathematics from learning the times tables by rote memorizing — learning by memorization, a critical aspect of learning mathematics — and moving into trying to understand what that means. You should know that seven times eight is 56, right off the bat. That’s a critical building block. But you shouldn’t necessarily have to know in grade 3 that….
M. Farnworth: Nine times seven?
A. Weaver: Sixty-three, and nine times nine is 81.
But today in school you’re not taught nine times seven is 63. You’re taught that nine times seven is ten times seven minus one times seven. Now, that’s an abstract idea that many people in elementary education simply can’t grasp. If you want to know why we’re going down in maths, you have only to look at the way our teachers are being trained in the universities, not the quality of the teachers themselves. Apart from mathematics, we rank at the very top internationally.
I will not listen to those who bemoan the state of our education system in B.C. We rank second to no other province in terms of quality, and we’re one of the top nations internationally and certainly the top nation in the western hemisphere.
What does that have to do with the bill? Well, it has to do with treating independent schools the same as public schools. Presently, the contents of this bill are actually in play in the Vancouver Charter already. The Vancouver Charter is quite specific in terms of what can or cannot be included in property taxation. This bill essentially says to the rest of the province that we’re going to be consistent. Whether you be in Victoria, Prince George, Kelowna, whether you be in Fernie, whether you be in Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert, schools will be treated one and the same in terms of their property taxation.
Many people often don’t realize that we’ve had independent schools in Canada since the 17th century when the first Catholic schools were established in Quebec. In many jurisdictions, we have publicly funded school boards that fall along denominational lines. In Ontario and Alberta, for example, we have Catholic school boards and we have non-Catholic school boards. They’re both public school systems that go back to Confederation days. Here in B.C., we would call Catholic schools independent schools, where in other provinces, they’re considered part of the public system.
We have other potential problems which exist presently. Let’s suppose right now that we have a Catholic school on church property. How does that fall within the property taxation realm? Is it a church? Is it an independent school? Is it in the Catholic school board? No. This needs to be cleared up. While this bill is very short in terms of length, it’s important in terms of substance, because it actually closes a lot of potential problems that could create a potpourri of odd property taxations across the province.
One of the things that I support in this bill is the fact that it does not apply to things like endowment lands, things like houses for staff, for example, if there may be some independent schools that provide housing for their teachers. There may be some other independent schools that have large endowment lands. These are not being covered under this legislation. It’s simply the school and that which is typically used in school.
There are benefits for that. A school in my riding, Glenlyon — well, soon to be my riding; half the school is in my riding — for example, has a lovely Astro Turf field that is used by the local community in partnership, the Bays United soccer community. They have a public relationship with the independent school, yet there is a potential — it’s not right now — for that to be taxed, even though the public is benefiting from this field that is used by all.
In summary, then, first off I would like to recognize that we do have an outstanding education system. It does not help our education system when we continue to bemoan the problems in it instead of celebrating the successes in it. Sure, there are problems in our education system. There are problems in everything around us. But we will not move this education system forward if all we do is fixate on the negative that’s in it.
Secondly, I think fairness is critical. This bill provides fairness, recognizing that there are other provinces where independent schools, like the Catholic system, are actually part of the public system, whereas in B.C. we’ve never had Catholic school boards. Finally, it does not exclude some of the extraneous properties attached with an independent school. Those will be subject to municipal taxes.
With that, I thank you for your time. I’m only sad that the new Minister of Education is no longer sitting beside me, but across the hall. I do appreciate your office, hon. Speaker, and of those House Leaders, in preparing me here in the Legislature for two upcoming by-elections so that my colleagues can sit beside me.
Second reading of Bill 29 approved unanimously on a division.