Mr. Rob Moore (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, today it is my pleasure to rise in support of Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal interest rate). The bill has come to be described as the payday lending bill because the amendments that it proposes are targeted at the payday lending industry, an industry which has quickly established itself in Canada but which to date has operated in an essentially unregulated environment.
Bill C-26 proposes amendments to the Criminal Code which will assist in remedying this. The bill is about greater consumer protection for the estimated two million Canadians and their families who use the services of payday lenders on an annual basis. The bill reflects the government's continuing commitment and dedication to improving the lives of all Canadians.
I am proud to speak in strong support of Bill C-26 and I urge all hon. members to join with me to ensure its quick passage into law.
The payday lending industry is flourishing in Canada. The industry first originated in the United States before moving north to Canada in the mid-nineties. Since that time the industry has grown rapidly with an estimated 1,300 payday lending outlets operating across Canada. The industry's principal lobby group, the Canadian Payday Loan Association, notes that there are approximately two million payday loan transactions annually in Canada.
A report prepared by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in 2002 estimated that between 1 million and 1.4 million Canadians used the service of payday lenders, so the numbers appear to be going up. We also know that nearly $2 billion is borrowed through payday loan centres on an annual basis. These numbers frankly are astounding. Yet, what is most surprising is that the rapid growth of this industry has occurred in the absence of any industry specific regulatory framework. The absence of this framework has left consumers vulnerable to questionable business practices.
Some might ask why would any person choose to use the services of a payday loan centre if doing so puts the individual at risk of some unscrupulous lenders. The reasons are many. Some consumers use the services of the industry because it is a relatively easy, fast and anonymous way to borrow money. Others have suggested that the reason is that payday lenders offer convenience, including the extended hours of operation and the prevalence of such centres in communities across Canada.
This, combined with the fact that many small towns and cities across Canada are losing their local banking branches, makes the payday loan store an attractive way to access one's money. However, it is those consumers who have come to rely upon payday loans in order to pay their bills, to have enough money to put food on the table, and get by from paycheque to paycheque, who are the most vulnerable to abuse.
It is precisely these facts which place already vulnerable consumers into an even more vulnerable position as they may be willing to accept the terms of a loan without question or out of sheer necessity. That is why it is imperative that we move quickly and ensure that Bill C-26 becomes law.
A payday loan has really become a catchy moniker for what is otherwise a short term loan, often for a small amount, secured against proof of one's income. Most often it is demonstrated through proof of employment and hence the term payday loan. This need not be the case however. Other examples include pension income.
A typical payday loan is usually in the range of $300 and lasts for about 10 days. To qualify, in addition to demonstrating an income source, the consumer must have a bank account and provide a post-dated cheque for the amount of money borrowed, plus the associated fees and interest owed on the loan. These fees can include application fees, brokerage fees, administration fees or processing fees and so on.
We all know that payday lending is a very expensive way to borrow money. In some cases estimates for the interest rates charged when calculated on an annual basis reach into the thousands and even tens of thousands of per cent. With rates like that it is no wonder that the profits for payday lending companies continue to go up and the industry continues to thrive.
For better or for worse the reality for the payday lending industry in Canada appears to be right, but the reality for some of its consumers is less so. When consumers have difficulty paying back the loan, lenders may let one short term loan rollover into the next and so on. Debt load goes up, and the already struggling consumers find themselves in a position where the debt load is spiralling out of control.
When they are unable to pay back their loan, there have been concerns expressed with respect to the debt collection practices employed by certain segments of the industry. Oftentimes the borrower may have been unaware of the many terms and conditions associated with the lending agreement, those aspects of the loan that one could expect to find buried among the fine print.
This is confirmed by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in a report entitled “Fringe Lending and Alternative Banking: the Consumer Experience”, which notes that most consumers of alternative financial services such as payday lending are unaware of the cost of the services they use.
This government believes that consumers should be afforded effective consumer protection from this industry. That is why Bill C-26 is so important.
Many, including the provinces and territories as well as consumer advocacy groups, have said that section 347 of the Criminal Code remains a barrier to the effective regulation of the payday lending industry in Canada. The provinces and territories have said that they will not take steps to regulate the payday lending industry when section 347 makes such activity technically illegal.
Section 347 is the usury provision. It creates two specific offences: one, to enter into an agreement or arrangement to receive interest at an annual rate exceeding 60%; and two, to receive payment or partial payment of interest exceeding 60%.
While these provisions were enacted to combat the practice of loansharking, the reality is that they also apply to most lending arrangements in Canada, including payday lending. Bill C-26 therefore proposes to amend section 347 of the Criminal Code and thereby clear the way for the provinces and territories and provide the flexibility they need to regulate the payday lending industry.
The amendments proposed by Bill C-26 are not long and they are not complicated. Essentially they carve out a limited exemption from the applicability of section 347 for payday lenders in prescribed circumstances. By proceeding in this fashion and crafting a narrow exception rather than repealing section 347 in its entirety, Bill C-26 ensures that all Canadians will be afforded protection from the exploitative practices of loansharking while at the same time responding to the needs of the provinces and territories in relation to the payday lending industry.
The proposed exemption scheme would be established under a new section, proposed section 347.1. This new section prescribes the exact circumstances that would need to exist in order for a payday loan to be exempt from section 347.
First, Bill C-26 proposes to define a payday loan for the purposes of the exemption. This definition is important because it ensures that only a clearly defined class of lending arrangements will be eligible for being exempt. As such, “payday loan” is defined to mean as follows:
||--an advancement of money in exchange for a post-dated cheque, a pre-authorized debit or a future payment of a similar nature but not for any guarantee, suretyship, overdraft protection or security on property and not through a margin loan, pawnbroking, a line of credit or a credit card.
In my opinion this definition is appropriate. It appropriately captures the typical payday loan scenario that I described earlier and provides the precision necessary to specify which loans will be captured by the exemption and which ones, where the policy considerations are different, will not be eligible.
Bill C-26 proposes three requirements that must be present before a payday loan will be exempt from section 347. First is that the loan amount not exceed $1,500 and be for a term that is less than 62 days. As such, not all payday loans will be eligible for exemption, only those that fall within these further restrictions. These limits appropriately reflect the fact that payday loans are generally for a small sum over a short period of time.
Second, the payday lender must be licensed or otherwise authorized by the province in which it operates to enter into a payday lending arrangement. This is the crucial component of the amendments proposed by Bill C-26, because this requirement will ensure that for an exemption to apply there must first be laws in place to govern payday lending in the province in question. Ultimately, it will be up to the provinces and territories to decide whether and, in virtually all respects, the extent to which they will legislate.
The only requirement that Bill C-26 requires in relation to the provincial legislative framework for the exemption to apply is that there be a prescribed limit on the total cost of borrowing. This makes sense. This requirement will ensure consumers know exactly how much they are paying for accessing a payday loan.
Finally, Bill C-26 provides that if a province or territory wishes to regulate the payday lending industry in a manner which would exempt payday lenders from section 347 of the Criminal Code, then they will also be required to be designated by the federal government.
Not all provinces will wish to or need to do this. For example, in Quebec lending at more than 35% is prohibited, so there is no need for an exemption in that province. In other cases, the designation will be required.
Seeking this designation is very straightforward. For such a designation, a province would write to the federal Minister of Justice and indicate that it has legislative means in place that provide consumer protection measures for those who seek payday loans, including, as noted already, a limit on the total cost to consumers for payday borrowing.
Upon the province's indication that requirements for an exemption have been met, and upon the recommendation of the federal Minister of Industry, the Minister of Justice would then recommend to the governor in council that the exemption be made.
Importantly, this designation can be rescinded at any point at the federal level in those instances where the province no longer meets the requirements for the designation or where the rescission has been requested by the province. This is a pragmatic and sensible approach in a country as vast and diverse as ours. The decision on how to regulate the payday lending industry will be entirely up to the provinces.
Indeed, consumer protection measures fall within the constitutional competence of the provinces and territories. The provinces already have consumer protection legislation designed to address the specific concerns and realities of their jurisdictions and they are the best place to identify the components that are necessary to ensure effective consumer protection within their own jurisdiction.
The approach provided for in Bill C-26 complements this existing provincial legislative framework. I support this approach. It makes sense and will facilitate greater regulation of the payday lending industry across Canada.
Contrary to what some might say, Bill C-26 is neither encroaching upon provincial jurisdiction in relation to consumer protection measures nor necessitating that provincial governments seek a federal blessing or stamp of approval for its consumer protection measures.
In fact, Bill C-26 does quite the opposite. Bill C-26 would amend the Criminal Code to provide the provinces and territories with the flexibility they need, and indeed, the flexibility they have requested, to enact consumer protection measures within their jurisdiction to better regulate the payday lending industry.
As I mentioned, many jurisdictions have indicated that section 347 of the Criminal Code hampers their ability to enact consumer protection legislation within their own jurisdiction. By removing this barrier, Bill C-26 will facilitate greater regulation at the provincial level and meet the needs of consumers and the groups who have advocated on their behalf.
These proposed amendments are long overdue. As I noted earlier, the payday lending industry originated in the United States before spreading north into western Canada in the mid-1990s. In the United States, many state legislatures have taken the necessary steps to regulate this industry in order to protect their consumers from unscrupulous business practices.
To name only a few, California, Vermont, Michigan, Mississippi, New York and Virginia all have legislation in place to regulate the payday lending industry. While the exact content of the legislation varies from place to place, common features of payday lending legislation in the United States include limits on the amount of money that can be borrowed as well as the cost associated with the loan.
We see the same thing happening right here in Canada. Already, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have enacted legislation in their provinces to provide greater consumer protection for those who use the services of payday lenders. In Manitoba, for example, the Consumer Protection Amendment Act received royal assent on December 7 of last year. In Nova Scotia, the Consumer Protection Act was amended and received royal assent on November 23 of last year.
Both of these pieces of legislation are specifically designed to regulate the payday lending industry in those provinces. They include requirements for lenders and set out rights for the borrower, and both provide that a maximum will be set on the amount that can be charged for a payday loan. Both of these pieces of legislation are not yet in force and are in fact awaiting the passage of Bill C-26 before taking effect.
The governments of Manitoba and Nova Scotia are watching the progress of Bill C-26 because its passage will ultimately mean greater protection and greater regulation for the industry, which of course will be of benefit to consumers in those provinces. Other provinces have indicated they will follow suit.
With the passage of Bill C-26, the provinces and territories will have greater flexibility in addressing the payday lending industry within their own jurisdictions. The approach we are taking is the right one.
In closing, the protection of Canadian consumers is something on which we can all agree, and I believe that Bill C-26 will provide for this. I urge all hon. members to join me in supporting its quick passage into law.
Mr. Paul Crête (Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-26 is a blatant example of the Conservatives saying one thing, but doing something else. They claim to want to use a different approach with the provinces and to respect their jurisdictions, but in this case Quebec has had its own Consumer Protection Act for years, to deal with payday loans.
In fact, this industry barely exists in Quebec, because we have eliminated excessive rates. The annual interest rate must be indicated on loan contracts, and the courts have established that an annual interest rate above 35% is excessive. In other words, we already have the tools to legislate this area.
I realize that the other provinces want some legislation, but this is a matter of regulating commercial practices and comes under provincial jurisdiction.
Why did the federal government not simply say that, where relevant legislation exists, such legislation will apply?
The Consumer Protection Act has been in effect for over two decades and it is working very well in Quebec. In committee, we suggested that this be indicated in the legislation, but that proposal was rejected by the other three parties, which completely ignored the fact that Quebec's experience in this regard is conclusive.
Why does the federal government not accept that we simply indicate this in the act, instead of having the Prime Minister give his blessing and the governor in council decide whether or not the Quebec legislation is acceptable?
The government could simply have said that, if a province already has an act, that legislation will continue to apply, and where new legislation is passed, such legislation will have been determined by the provinces.
How do we explain this discrepancy between the Conservatives' rhetoric and the respect for provincial jurisdictions? In the case of payday loans, Quebec has long had in place a tool that is recognized as adequate and acceptable.
The Conservative government has decided to adopt the same attitude as its predecessor and as federal governments in general. This means that the federal government will impose the same measure across the country, without taking into consideration the initiatives implemented by various provinces.
Why does the Conservative government not show good faith for once and accept such an amendment, so that we have an act that will adequately serve Canada, while respecting the practice that has been in use for decades in Quebec?
Mr. Ken Boshcoff:
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in favour of the legislation before us, Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal interest rate).
The legislation seeks to amend section 347 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which criminalized the charging of usurious interest rates. Section 347 limits interest charges on loans to 60% per annum.
When it was enacted, section 347 contemplated larger long term loans. As such, this section of the Criminal Code requires the interest on a loan to be calculated annually, even if the loan is for a short term, such as only five days. Therefore, the interest is calculated by compounding daily over 365 days, even if the loan is only held for a few days. One hundred dollars lent for five days at a cost of $1 therefore amounts to 107% annual interest. This would be the equivalent of requiring hotels to post their annual room rates at $55,000 per year, rather than $150 per night. Similarly, this would be the same as requiring a car rental agency to post its rates at $13,000 a year rather than $35 per day. We use many such short terms devices in our daily lives and we calculate the services using short term pricing, not annual rate, a meal in a restaurant or a tax trip across town.
Payday loans are also a short term product, so annualized rates are the wrong measure of the products cost.
What is a payday loan? This is defined as an advancement of money in exchange for a post-dated cheque, a pre-authorized debit or a future payment of a similar nature, but not for any guarantee suretyship, overdraft protection or security on property and not through a margin loan, pawnbroking, line of credit or a credit card.
In order to qualify for a payday loan, the borrower generally must have identification, a personal chequing account and a pay stub or other proof of a regular income. Payday lenders typically extend credit based on a percentage of the borrowers net pay until his or her next payday. The borrower provides the lender with a post-dated cheque or authorized direct withdrawal for the value of the loan, plus any interest or fees charged.
Who uses payday loans? In early 2005 the Consumer Agency of Canada placed questions on the Canadian Ipsos Reid Express, a national omnibus poll of Canadian adults, about Canadians experiences with and motivations for using cheque cashing and payday loan services. The survey found that approximately 7% of survey respondents had used a cheque cashing or payday loan company. Cheque cashing was the most frequently used service at 57%, followed by payday loans at 25% and tax refund anticipation loans at 5%.
Certain respondents were more likely to have used these services, including men, those between the ages of 18 and 34, urban residents, residents of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, those with household incomes less than $30,000 and those with some post-secondary education. Some of the reasons cited included that it was faster, it was more efficient and they needed the money more immediately, that the hours were more convenient, that they were open later than other financial institutions and that they had previous credit card problems, no credit card or no chequing account.
Although I personally never needed to use a payday loan, I can imagine how the service could be very helpful. There are so many scenarios that would require such instantaneous access to cash such as car repairs on a long distance trip, provision of a rental deposit to secure that just right apartment, a sudden illness or death of a family member that requires an unexpected trip to another province.
For those who are living through the challenge of a previous bankruptcy, life is a cash only society, with no access to credit cards to help bridge the wait between paydays. Clearly, payday loans are a required services for many Canadians, but they need to be regulated to ensure that consumers are protected.
The Canadian Payday Loan Association indicates that the payday loan industry first emerged in Canada in the mid-1990s. As of 2004 there were nearly 1,200 outlets, and as the parliamentary secretary advised, there are more than 1,300 right now. In my riding of Thunder Bay--Rainy River, I have recently witnessed the opening of nearly half a dozen payday loan businesses where just 10 years ago there were virtually none.
Why are amendments needed?
As stated earlier, section 347 makes it a criminal offence to charge more than 60% per annum. Section 347 was initially introduced to combat the practice of loan sharking and its links to organized crime. It was not intended to be a consumer protection tool for economic price regulations.
If the rate of interest on a payday loan transaction is calculated according to the definitions and methods specified in the Criminal Code, some payday loan companies appear to be charging in excess of 1,200% per annum. However, it is clear that interest rates on such short term loans should not be calculated the same as those on long term loans. It is also clear at the same time that there is increased demand for payday loan services.
The problem arises because of shared federal-provincial jurisdiction. Financial institutions are regulated either federally or provincially and territorially, depending upon which order of government incorporated them. The federal government has jurisdiction over interest rates, but the day to day regulation and licensing of payday lenders most likely falls under provincial jurisdiction as part of the provinces' power over property and civil rights.
Because of this confusion in jurisdiction, payday lenders have been left essentially unregulated. Provinces are unable to regulate the price of a loan, since any attempt to do so would conflict with section 347 and could therefore be challenged. However, section 347 has not been used in a criminal context to curtail the activities of payday lenders because the consent of a provincial attorney general is required to prosecute an offence.
Provincial governments are wary to prosecute a payday lender for fear that the lack of a payday loan company alternative would result in consumers using illegal alternatives such as loan sharks. The payday lending sector is one of the only segments of Canada's financial services sector that remains unregulated.
All other countries that have experienced rapid growth in the industry, including the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, have rules in place to protect consumers. The United States, for example, has 22,000 retail store outlets. Forty states have put in place consumer protection rules. To date, no fewer than five provinces have openly called upon the federal government to change section 347 so that they can move ahead with provincial regulation of the industry.
If the payday loan industry is not regulated, its future may ultimately be determined by a number of class action lawsuits that are currently proceeding through Canadian courts. These lawsuits claim that consumers were charged fees in excess of the Criminal Code rate and seek to recover hundreds of millions of dollars worth of interest. Should these class action lawsuits succeed, they could potentially bankrupt the payday loan industry.
There have been significant federal-provincial-territorial consultations regarding regulation of the payday loan industry. Through this consultative process, they have all agreed that section 347 is an inappropriate control for payday loans and that it should be amended to enable provincial regulation of the industry.
In October 2005 the Liberal federal minister of justice acknowledged that section 347 does not make sense and should not apply to payday loan companies. The minister sought and obtained cabinet approval to amend section 347 accordingly.
I am very pleased to see that that Conservative government has chosen to follow through with the introduction of this legislation, which was developed through the hard work of the former Liberal ministers of justice and industry. The dropping of the writ and subsequent election are its own story.
What has been changed with Bill C-26?
The bill adds a definition of payday loan. This is an important addition because it provides a clear definition of a second kind of loan where previously there was no differentiation and all loans were treated equally.
Clause 2 introduces new subsection 347.1(2) which exempts a person who makes a payday loan from criminal prosecution, if the loan is for $1,500 or less and the term of the agreement--
Hon. Wayne Easter (Malpeque, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-26, an act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal interest rate).
The bill was reported back to the House from committee on December 13. It very seldom happens that a bill is reported back without amendments. That shows what can happen when there is strong cooperation between the parties. Actually this is one of six bills the official opposition has called upon the government to work with all parties to pass as soon as possible.
We believe with just a little more cooperation, especially from the government, that in addition to Bill C-26, the following bills could be reported back to the House: Bill C-9, which would restrict the use of conditional sentences; Bill C-18, which would strengthen the DNA data bank; Bill C-19, which would amend the Criminal Code on street racing; Bill C-23, which would amend the Criminal Code and criminal procedure in languages of the accused and sentencing, in other words, update Canada's Criminal Code; and Bill C-22, which would amend the Criminal Code with respect to age of protection, with the importance of protecting children. We believe with a little more cooperation from the government, we could in fact be getting those six bills approved in the House.
In summary, Bill C-26 amends the Criminal Code of Canada to exempt payday lenders who operate in provinces and territories having measures in place to protect borrowers from the application of section 347 of the Criminal Code of Canada, and require jurisdictions that regulate the industry to place limits on the cost to consumers of payday borrowing.
To a great extent a lot of work was done on this bill by previous ministers of industry and justice. A lot of work has gone on with the provinces and territories to get the kind of collaboration needed to put forward this bill in the House of Commons. I congratulate all the folks, including members of the government, who were involved in those discussions to get us where we are at today.
There is certainly a need to ensure consumers that usury interest rates are not allowed in this country. There is no question that there is a lot of authority in the Criminal Code of Canada under section 347 to lay criminal charges for usurious interest rates. Section 347 makes it a criminal offence to charge more than 60% per annum.
As we all know, some payday loan companies have charged far in excess of that rate. In fact, we have heard of outrageous interest charges, when compounded and fees are added, in excess of 1,200% per annum, yet no charges under section 347 to payday loan companies have been made.
Yes, the concern is there, but the payday loan business is a little more complicated jurisdictionally, and I would say on an individual need basis, more than meets the eye. Jurisdictionally payday loan operations are considered to be commercial businesses. They are not banks, although I think many people believe they are. As commercial businesses, to a great extent they fall under provincial jurisdiction.
My colleague, the MP for Scarborough—Rouge River, explained it. I want to quote from his remarks in the House because he gave best explanation on this point:
|| We are going to keep a Criminal Code provision, but we are going to allow an exemption for a lawful business that lends money using this payday loan mechanism. The exemption will be based on the premise that a province or a territory is regulating the commercial operation.
He went on to say:
|| Placing this amendment with section 347, will allow the provinces to assume their proper jurisdiction in the regulation of the commercial affairs of their citizens. However, at the same time, we maintain the criminal prohibition with the 60% per annum cap where there is no provincial regulation. We are assuming that a province will provide a form of regulation that will essentially keep the same level of protection the consumers have had up to now.
It is important to mention that because it explains the jurisdictional problem and the difference between the commercialization as a business.
Therefore, the bill does cover off the jurisdictional question under clause 2 by the person being licensed by the province to enter into the agreement, and second, the province has been designated by the governor in council or cabinet under the proposed new section 347.1.3.
On an individual need basis, it is obvious from the demand for transactions, estimated to be $1.3 billion or more, and in fact the parliamentary secretary said it is as high as $2 billion now, and also the increase of payday loan companies that are estimated to be over 1,300. It is obvious from these shocking figures that individual Canadians have an urgent need for short term cash for whatever reason.
Yes, I recognize the amounts are in the low hundreds of dollars, but the cost, as others have said before me, are very high.
Mr. Jenkin with the Department of Industry, who was a witness before committee, indicated:
|| It's a form of short-term lending through which the consumer typically borrows several hundred dollars for 10 days to two weeks. The borrowing costs are very high, as you probably know. They are usually in the range of, for example, $40 to $75 for a $300 loan for two weeks or less.
I must emphasize that while I support the bill as a way to improve the situation for people who are in need of immediate cash, I still am worried about the impact of the financial strain on individuals. There is no question in my mind that the individuals who are basically forced to use these services are the ones who can least afford to pay these high fees. Maybe they need the dollars to provide food, buy groceries for the family. Maybe they need the dollars for a medical bill or maybe they even need the dollars to pay the minimum payment on a high interest bearing credit card.
Whatever the reason, there is clearly a problem out there that needs to be addressed beyond this bill. I certainly would advise the government and others that we really need to be doing as a country, both at the provincial and federal level, some research into the social or economic reason why people think they are forced to go to these services for those kinds of money. They are the people who can least afford it and I believe that needs to be looks into and addressed.
The bottom line is that we are in favour of this bill. We do believe it is a step in the right direction However, there are other underlying causes that we need to recognize are out there in a social and economic sense and issues that really affect people in their daily lives that forces them to use these services. That is the worrisome point.
The bill is good but I believe the House and the government need to look at the underlying causes of the need to use these services more so.
Mr. Paul Crête (Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak to Bill C-26. After examining this bill in the parliamentary committee, I thought that it would be very favourably received since the Government of Quebec has had legislation for the last two decades that manages the payday loans issue through the Office de la protection du consommateur.
Quebeckers who are listening to the debate today must be wondering why this question has still not been resolved. They must be asking themselves, "Is there not legislation under which this issue could be dealt with?" The answer is no. In the rest of Canada, that is not the case.
I saw this in committee. The representatives of the three federalist parties joined together and systematically, and very firmly, opposed a slight amendment being made to provide that in the event that a province—such as Quebec—already had a law that addressed this issue adequately, no in-depth study would be done. The jurisdiction of the province would be respected. The provincial authorities have decided that this is the right approach. At that point, notice would simply be taken that the law and the mechanics were already in place. That is the law that would prevail.
The payday loans question is important because it often affects people with very low incomes or people who suddenly need financial loans. In the rest of Canada, a flourishing industry has developed that engages in all sorts of conduct. Some work according to all the rules, others less so. I perfectly understand that there would be a desire to deal with this issue. The Bloc has never objected to this kind of legislation being applied in the provinces where there is not already legislation in this area and where the provinces decide to apply it.
Our opposition to the bill arises out of the fact that there is already a law in Quebec. My colleague said earlier that he had a problem with the Bloc's approach and that he needed proof. This is not the Bloc's approach; it is Quebec's approach.
The present federalist liberal government in Quebec City is of the same view as the Bloc on this point. We have checked with the office of the minister. The office of the minister wanted Quebec to be able to say, by giving notice to the federal government, “We already have legislation that deals with the question of payday loans, and accordingly it is that legislation that will apply in Quebec.”
In actual fact, though, this is not the answer we received. The provincial government will have to submit its legislation to the federal government. There will be studies of the appropriateness of the bill and how we are dealing with this problem. Then it will be referred to the Governor in Council. It is quite a production.
Although this is a provincial jurisdiction, that is to say, an area that is Quebec’s responsibility, and although Quebec has had 20 years of experience and there are no problems with the application of the law, we still have to go and seek the blessing of our big brother in Ottawa.
It is totally incomprehensible that a Conservative government like this one, which claimed that it would show more respect for areas of provincial jurisdiction, would act in this way. There is even talk of a bill to provide a framework for the federal government’s spending power.
They say that Quebec is a nation. The Prime Minister himself introduced a motion in the House to this effect. But at the first opportunity, when they finally have a chance to show they are going to do things differently, the bulldozer is there ready to go. The steamroller is right there. They are going to standardize everything all across Canada.
The provinces will all be required to justify their legislation. Even 20 years of experience in this area does not matter. According to the federal government, that is not how these issues can be resolved.
It is important to know that under the practices developed in Quebec over the years, the maximum currently acceptable rate is 35%. That is very different from what is seen in the rest of Canada. Thanks to the Office de la protection du consommateur, the various roles are well defined and understood. We do not have any problems with this industry. To the extent that it exists, particular practices have been accepted and excesses are prohibited. Quebeckers are legally entitled to a maximum rate of about 35%.
People who want to make a pile of money in a hurry on the backs of those who are not very well off financially by providing these kinds of services have less incentive to try to do so.
The Criminal Code refers to a rate of 60%. Now, the government wants each province to pass legislation in this area if it sees fit, whereas Quebec has already done so.
The bill states that the federal government will designate provinces. It is therefore giving itself the right to veto the measures taken by a province that requests an exemption. A province cannot just send a letter to say that it already has legislation in place. A province that has legislation like what Quebec has had for 20 years must come, hat in hand, and ask for an exemption from a government that has been unable to solve this problem for 25 years. It is like saying, “We have a law. Will you let us enforce it?” This is typical of the federal government, especially senior bureaucrats, who want to have “One Canada, One Nation“ here in Ottawa.
The reality is quite a different matter. Obviously, jurisdictional legislation will not change the world, but this is an example of a situation where, in a year when the federal government recognized Quebec as a nation, it is also telling Quebec: “You are a nation, but when it comes to payday loans, we do not recognize what you are doing and we want the right to give our OK”. This is the federal government's double standard.
In its policy statements and in its day-to-day behaviour, the government is taking the old approach that Quebeckers have often criticized. We hope that payday loans can continue to be dealt with the way they have been by the Government of Quebec and that the federal government will end up giving its blessing very quickly. The fact remains that this is written in law. This is something that is inconsistent with sharing jurisdictions and does not respect the expertise developed over the years.
There is no doubt that in the rest of Canada it is important to have a way to deal with this situation. We know this by the letters received from people who tell us about what is going on in the rest of Canada. There truly are behaviours that need to be brought into line. There needs to be a framework. Quebec has had this framework for 20 years now. If the provinces want to see how it works, they can contact the Government of Quebec to see the method that was developed. If they want to use it, all the better. If they decide to do something else, that is their choice. There is no problem. We will respect their jurisdictions.
The position the Bloc Québécois is defending today is not one of “sovereignists”, it is the position of the Government of Quebec, the current federalist government and the previous governments of Quebec. It is governments and people who have witnessed the role of the Office de la protection du consommateur. These are people who represented very different opinions on a national level, people such as Ms. Bacon, who is in the other place, and Ms. Payette, who was a Quebec minister for the Parti Québécois. She brought about some significant changes in our society and continues to do so today through her writings. These were people with very different opinions, but they had a frame of reference at the Office de la protection du consommateur, which is an example and a very interesting model. Today, Quebec is getting a rather discouraging message from the federal government.
I was even more surprised by the attitude in committee. Tomorrow in the Committee on Industry, a report will be tabled on the manufacturing sector and, without revealing the content of the report, it will be quite unequivocal about the action that should be taken in this sector.
Now, when a question of jurisdiction arises and a tiny change is needed in our legislation to ensure that Quebec's areas of jurisdiction are being respected, the three federalist parties rise to say: “No, we cannot spend time on a small amendment. There is no satisfying Quebec on this. Quebec must conform to the same requirements as the others”. This is an example of what we have seen in the past, and there are many such examples. We did not think we would see it again here today in a bill such as the one now before us.
With respect to the payday loan industry, we are told that it arose in Canada mainly in the early 1990s. I believe the Office de la protection du consommateur was already regulating the loan sector to some extent. This is likely why Quebec did not experience any serious abuses in this industry.
Jurisdiction is shared to a certain degree, since Quebec and the provinces have responsibility for local trade and commerce and civil law. There is also shared jurisdiction over contracts and consumer protection.
The federal government estimates that this industry now comprises more than 1,300 points of sale. Their distribution is very uneven and Quebec has very few such businesses. In practice, anyone in Quebec who is listening to this debate likely believes that this issue has already been resolved and must be wondering why a new bill has been introduced on this topic. I would like to explain to them that the industry grew at very different rates in Quebec and in Canada.
Little is heard about this issue in Quebec, because it has been resolved for several years now, in fact, for decades. The new situation in the rest of Canada must be corrected. We agree with the substance of this bill. However, when it comes to respecting jurisdictions, the bill does not in any way meet Quebec's requirements.
When I was working in committee on this issue, thanks to the marvels of modern communication technology, I received notices from the Government of Quebec, calling for a debate to pass the proposed amendment.
Meanwhile, members of the various parties said that it was not an important issue. The deputy minister of the department, the senior public servant, had just told us that this would not have any implications for Quebec and that it was wrong to believe that federal approval would be required. Just then, I received a cabinet memo from the Quebec Minister of Justice on my Blackberry stating the exact opposite.
Such a striking example shows us that there are still too many things to be changed in this system for there to be true respect. If there is no respect for our jurisdiction in matters such as this one, which is very important, imagine what will happen with even more significant issues.
Individuals are forced to borrow money against their wages and have to deal with people who charge ridiculous rates. There must be oversight in this area.
On this matter I agree with my Liberal colleague from Prince Edward Island who spoke earlier. We must also examine the overall implications and what must be done. It is not true that the issue will be resolved by a mere rap on the knuckles of those who do wrong. An enforcement component must be put in place. However, there is also the question of the environment in which people work, as well as what is required of banking institutions.
My NDP colleague was saying that the banks have not done their job. I think there is some truth to that. In Quebec, we have the Desjardins movement. In recent years, profitability has been a major consideration, but it has nonetheless developed a means of helping individuals who are having a little more difficulty. This has prevented an unhealthy industry from emerging.
In my riding, credit unions have a special committee that looks at such issues when it is urgent. This has led to a more humane approach to these situations. This is what will have to be put in place by the provinces that need to develop legislation. With the bill before us, they will require federal government approval when they table their legislation. Perhaps this does not bother the other provinces and they agree with this way of doing things.
The government should have respected the fact that each province moves at its own pace. If the government truly respected jurisdiction in this matter, this bill would have contained an amendment making it possible for us to adopt it immediately. I sent amendments to each member of the committee. Making them would have indicated a change in attitude on the government's part toward recognizing Quebec's expertise in this matter, which is not currently the case. At the same time, the legislation would have been adopted faster so that the situation could be addressed appropriately in all Canadian provinces.
In light of these factors, I believe you will understand why the Bloc Québécois cannot vote for this bill in its current form: it does not respect Quebec's jurisdiction. There is still time for the federal government to amend the bill. We can easily reach a compromise. I would ask the government to check its source within the Quebec government because that government's position on this issue is the same as the Bloc Québécois'. The bill would be much more acceptable if it were amended to take into account Quebec's expertise and to respect its jurisdiction. It that were to happen, we would have the opportunity to adopt a functional bill as soon as possible, one that respects provincial jurisdiction and Quebec's jurisdiction in this matter and that recognizes the expertise we have developed.
Today, a quick look at every province reveals that there is one province where payday lending is not a problem: Quebec. The other provinces have a serious problem. That is clear from the members' eagerness to pass this bill even if it means encroaching on Quebec's jurisdiction in committee.
Today's debate in this House will make the public aware of this situation. Quebec is being treated like a child with respect to this practice. Quebec has the expertise, the jurisdiction and the power to implement its legislation, but the federal government is imposing its own way of dealing with the payday loan issue.
I hope that the members of this House will pay attention to what we are saying. I will be available to answer any questions and address any comments from colleagues who are not members of the committee but who would like to have a say in this matter.