The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill S-5, An Act to amend the law governing financial institutions and to provide for related and consequential matters, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Hon. Scott Brison:
Mr. Speaker, the reality is that, in opposition, the Reform Party fought vigorously against the decision of the Chrétien government to maintain strong regulations around Canadian banks, the very regulations that kept Canadian banks from following the global trend and off the cliff like the lemmings in Europe, in the U.K. and in the U.S.
What did the Conservatives do in government in terms of the prudential management of banks? One of the first things the Minister of Finance did in 2006 in his first budget was to bring in 40 year mortgages with no down payments. This created the loosest approach to mortgage lending in the history of Canada.
Furthermore, in 2007, the Conservatives went further. Under the Liberal government, Canadians needed mortgage insurance if the down payment on their mortgage was less than 25%. In 2007, the Conservatives changed that and lowered the threshold to 20%.
Those were just some of the changes they made to create looser mortgages, looser regulations, which led to, among other things, what many economists are now referring to in Canada as a housing bubble, certainly a personal debt bubble. We have the highest level of personal debt in Canada today, which is $1.53 of personal debt for every dollar of annual income. That is the highest in our history and it is higher than that of our neighbours to the south in the U.S.
The February 4 edition of The Economist magazine states:
|| When the United States saw a vast housing bubble inflate and burst during the 2000s, many Canadians felt smug about the purported prudence of their financial and property markets.
It went further and cited the Prime Minister at that time boasting in 2010. It then states:
|| Today the consensus is growing on Bay Street... that [the Canadian Prime Minister] may have to eat his words.
The Economist then said that Canada's housing prices had doubled since 2002. This has coincided with a massive growth in our personal debt levels. We see a great increase in speculation in the housing markets, particularly in some hot markets, such as Toronto and Vancouver, among others, and we see this growth having occurred, in part, in a response to the deliberate decisions by the Minister of Finance to loosen up debt and mortgage regulations back around 2006 and 2007.
The government must be held to account for those decisions, which actually helped create what we hope is not a housing bubble that ends badly but is certainly a personal debt bubble that needs to be managed.
It is important to realize that the Conservative government cannot take credit for the prudential decisions made by the previous Liberal government, and that the current government must be held to account for some of the foolhardy decisions it made as a government to loosen banking regulations and to loosen mortgage rules early in its term.
I want to note a couple of other things about Bill S-5 because some of the changes would have an impact on Canada's incredibly strong banking sector and its role in the world. One change is requiring the minister, in order to approve foreign acquisitions by a Canadian entity, under certain circumstances, for instance if the foreign entity being acquired has equity of at least $2 billion and if the acquisition of the entity would increase the size of the Canadian entity by at least 10%.
Under those circumstances and conditions in this legislation, it would mean that the Bank Act would require the minister to approve the acquisitions of these foreign financial institutions by Canadian banks. That is a change. The previous rules simply required that the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, OSFI, would approve those within the public service, within the bureaucracy.
Recent deals that would have triggered this mechanism of ministerial approval would have been the Manulife John Hancock deal, the TD Commerce Bancorp deal, the BMO Marshall & Ilsley deal and Sun Life. There are other large acquisitions that have occurred in the last couple of years: Scotia Bank bought Banco Colpatria, Colombia's fifth largest bank, and it also bought the Royal Bank of Scotland's Colombia assets as well 20% of the Bank of Guangzhou.
I want to raise as a concern, that the government consider the politicization of these foreign investments by our Canadian banks and the potential risk to the capacity that we have in doing so. The fact is we now have some of the largest banks in the world that are world leaders in terms of governance and success. With the capacity to significantly increase Canada's influence in the world in terms of a very important financial services sector, this politicization could lead to some highly political and potentially bad decisions in the future which would limit the role of Canadian banks in the world.
I raise that as a concern and I look forward to questions from my colleagues.
Hon. John McCallum (Markham—Unionville, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will pursue some of the themes pursued by my colleague in a somewhat different way.
One of the things I have noticed in the debate today, and I have listened to Conservatives and New Democrats, is a kind of triumphalist tone, that everything about the Canadian banking system and the economy is not only wonderful, but every job created has to be because of the economic action plan and no job loss has anything to do with the policies of the government.
As my colleague pointed out, this is totally ridiculous. As he pointed out, do the Conservatives really believe they are responsible for the oil and minerals in the ground and the high commodity prices around the world today? Obviously not. Do the Conservatives really believe they are responsible for the strong fiscal position which they inherited and, in large measures, squandered? Evidently not.
The third area, which is where I will focus the rest of my remarks, is the banking system.
I believe I can speak about the banking system because I am a former banker. I was involved in the debate on the proposed bank mergers.
We can say that today's banking system is robust, but that this is not due to measures taken by the Conservative government or the Conservative Party. On the contrary, the banking system remains strong in spite of the Conservatives' actions.
I would like to talk about three areas that prove this point.
The first of these areas is the area of bank regulation. As we know, in the 1990s there was a strong trend toward bank deregulation in the United States. The Liberal government of the day, in the 1990s and early 2000s, resisted the temptation to go the route of deregulation. It may be true, as my colleague from Winnipeg Centre pointed out, that Tom d'Aquino wanted to go that route, but Tom d'Aquino was not the government. The government was a majority Liberal government and the Liberal government of the day decided not to go that route notwithstanding the statements by Tom d'Aquino or by certain Reform Party politicians.
That is the first point because there is a consensus view that the 2008-09 global financial crisis was in large measure the result of this deregulation, this idea that we now know to be false, that if we just allow the banks to regulate themselves, everything will be okay. Canada said no to that under the Liberals. The U.S. and the U.K. said, yes, and that is a big part of the explanation for why we are where we are.
The second area is bank mergers. I must admit that when I was the chief economist at the Royal Bank, I supported the proposed merger. I had to support the merger if I wanted to keep my job.
To be honest, I was also in favour of bank mergers because at that time, in the late 1990s, I had been persuaded that the benefits of bank mergers were greater than the costs. At that point, before I went into politics, I was aligned with the Reform Party, which was pushing for bank mergers with the banks and with Mr. Thomas d'Aquino who was also pushing for bank mergers. Perhaps he was not because he had to play both sides of the banking field. I do not remember that. In any event, that is how it was.
Then fast-forward 10 years and we have the global financial crisis. I realized at that point that I had been wrong. For Mr. Chrétien to say no to bank mergers was the right decision. I only realized that after the world financial crisis. When I think back to when I was at the Royal Bank, the mentality of the day within the bank was that it wanted to grow up fast, kick global butt and grow up to be like Citibank or Citigroup. We saw what happened to them. Having observed the financial crisis, I became completely converted to the view that Mr. Chrétien was right, that bank mergers were bad for Canada and it was in spite of the Reform Party, not because of it, that Canada said no to bank mergers.
If I can admit now that I was wrong and that the government was right about bank mergers, perhaps members representing the government could stand one day and make similar admissions, that they were wrong back then to advocate bank mergers and that what Mr. Chrétien did was the right decision.
Finally, I come to mortgages. We have a more modern and recent example of the current government's tendency to favour deregulation. What did it do in 2006, soon after being elected? Before it was elected, the rules for mortgages under Liberal governments were that they could be no longer than 25 years with a 5% down payment. What did the Conservatives do? They went from 25 years to 40 years with a zero down payment. Imagine, this is like U.S. sub-prime mortgages. That is what they did in 2006.
Essentially, it is like deregulating mortgages, just like they wanted to deregulate banking. Potentially, this is a very bad and risky decision. If we go back to 2006, we find that no less than 60% of first-time home buyers took advantage of these rules and had a 40-year mortgage. Now that we have this high level of debt, now that we have talk of the housing bubble possibly bursting, people who took out those 40-year mortgages with zero down payment, thanks to the actions of the current government in 2006, may be seriously at risk.
We do not know if this housing bubble will burst. We never know if a bubble will burst or whether it is even a bubble until after it has burst. No less a magazine than the The Economist has suggested that Canada is first among the countries eligible to experience that. It has pointed out that Vancouver has the highest housing prices-to-income-ratio of anywhere in the English speaking world.
Then, on the other hand, CMHC comes out with a rosy projection that housing prices will continue to rise over the next two years.
Therefore, we do not know whether this will come to pass, but based on our knowledge of history and what we see in other countries, that there is a risk. If it does come to pass, if the housing bubble does burst, if we see banks having major losses and Canadians suffering because of major foreclosures, then a part of the reason for this will have been that decision taken by the Conservative government in 2006 to allow 40-year mortgages with zero down payment. If that comes to pass, I think Canadians will legitimately lay part of the blame for that at the feet of the government.
In closing, I basically said that Canada is in a relatively strong position, but not a perfect one as they sometimes claim. This relatively strong position has nothing to do with the actions of this government and the Conservative Party. On the contrary, this success is the result of the actions taken by the Liberal governments in the 1990s. The actions of the Conservative government, particularly with regard to mortgages, have created more problems, not solved our problems.
Mr. Joe Preston (Elgin—Middlesex—London, CPC):
Madam Speaker, to you, my wife Geri, and all members, happy Valentine's Day.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the great member for Yukon.
I truly appreciate the opportunity to lend my voice to today's debate in favour of the timely passage of Bill S-5, also known as the financial system review act. While very technical, this is a critically important piece of legislation.
This bill is the right thing for Canadians and the right thing for Canada's economy. It builds upon and complements the range of initiatives our Conservative government has introduced and will continue to introduce to improve the security of our financial system and to strengthen consumer protection for Canadians.
Indeed, Bill S-5 supports those principles in many important areas, including modernizing, strengthening and clarifying the consumer provisions in the Bank Act, the Cooperative Credit Associations Act, the Insurance Companies Act, and the Trust and Loan Companies Act, as well as others.
Members can rest assured that our Conservative government understands the importance of protecting consumers and the importance of protecting the larger financial system. During the global financial crisis, we came to appreciate the very real consequences of poor financial sector regulations around the world, especially in the United States and in Europe.
In particular, we saw that the interconnected structure of global finance demands a comprehensive and effective regulatory regime able to prevent problems in one area from spilling over into others. We also saw that ignoring these problems may bring unpredictable and often catastrophic results to a country's economy.
For this reason, it is important to take into consideration the strength, effectiveness and security of the broader financial sector in the regulatory framework when we discuss the positive attributes of Bill S-5.
Our Conservative government recognizes the importance of a stable and well-functioning financial system to the overall Canadian economy. Indeed, Canada has received high praise for our well-regulated financial system during a time of global economic turmoil. Even the Toronto Star was forced to admit:
|| Canada has won international accolades after the World Economic Forum ranked its banking system as the soundest in the world....Canadian banks...have largely skirted the worst of the turmoil. Unlike in the United States and Europe, no banks collapsed or had to be rescued in Canada during this financial crisis.
The Irish Times declared:
|| Canada's policy of fiscal discipline and strict banking supervision was a reason why it was one of the world's strongest performers during the recession.
In my remarks, I would like to highlight the housing market in particular. The housing sector warrants particular attention in light of its role in the 2008 financial crisis and the ongoing pressures arising from the U.S. housing bubble that are still being felt by the American financial system and have slowed that country's economic recovery.
In order to protect our housing market from the worst excesses seen abroad, our Conservative government has acted repeatedly and decisively to ensure its stability, especially with regard to mortgage financing.
Mortgage financing plays a key role in providing a reliable source of funds for prospective Canadian homeowners. Prudent mortgage lending standards and mandatory mortgage insurance for high ratio loans allowed Canada to avoid the housing crisis that occurred in other countries, especially the United States.
Since 2008, our Conservative government has taken prudent and measured steps to ensure that this system remains stable over the long term while maintaining economic growth.
In July 2008, February 2010, and January 2011, we announced a series of sensible adjustments to the rules for government-backed insured mortgages. The measures include: reducing the maximum amortization period for new government-backed insured mortgages to 30 years; requiring a 5% minimum down payment, and a 20% down payment on non-owner occupied premises; lowering the maximum amount lenders can provide when refinancing insured mortgages to 85% of the value of the property; requiring buyers to meet a five year fixed rate mortgage standard; and withdrawing government insurance backing on home equity lines of credit.
These adjustments will significantly reduce the total interest payments Canadians make on their mortgages, promote long-term sustainable home ownership, and limit attempts by banks to repackage consumer debt into mortgages guaranteed by Canadian taxpayers. Taken together, they would go a long way toward strengthening the regulatory oversight of the mortgage insurance industry. Many of these improvements to the mortgage insurance guarantee framework have helped to encourage Canadians to use their homes as a way to save responsibly for their families and their futures.
This would help to ensure that Canada's housing market remains strong. It has been applauded by numerous commentators and economists. Credit Canada's executive director, Laurie Campbell, called the most recent moves a “step in the right direction because it means more money in consumers’ pockets ”.
An editorial in Waterloo's The Record added, “The federal government has done the right thing in tightening up the rules for mortgages in this country”.
In a similar vein, a recent Calgary Herald editorial applauded the government's proactive approach and added, “It's good to see the government continue to be vigilant on this file”.
Furthermore, as the Minister of Finance has said repeatedly, our government will continue to monitor the housing market very closely and take further action if it is necessary.
We all recognize there is always work to be done to ensure the continued stability of the Canadian financial system and that ongoing vigilance is vital. That is why we are pushing for the timely passage of the financial system review act. The bill would provide the framework that would benefit all participants in the financial services sector, not only financial institutions but, more importantly, everyday Canadians. It would maintain the long-standing practice of ensuring regular reviews of the regulatory framework for financial institutions, a unique practice that sets Canada apart from almost every other country in the world.
Bill S-5 would play a key role, together with other strong links we are forging in areas like mortgage insurance, in protecting consumers and building a more efficient, effective, sound and competitive financial system for all Canadians. Renewing the Canadian financial institution legislation on a regular basis has resulted in a robust and effective financial system that is aligned and responsive to developments in financial markets and the broader global economy.
In summary, I would encourage all members to join in our efforts to ensure the strength and stability of Canada's financial system and support the financial system review act.
Mr. Ryan Leef (Yukon, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased for the opportunity to speak at second reading of Bill S-5, the financial systems review act.
I want to begin by noting that this legislation is vital to the stability of Canada's financial sector, and explain how it came before the House today. Every five years the government reviews the policy framework that governs federally regulated financial institutions. The last review was completed in 2007.
Launched on September 20, 2010, the current five year review began with the Minister of Finance inviting Canadians to share their views on how to improve our financial system through an open consultation process. This process has helped to ensure that Canada remains a global leader in financial services. Making sure that Canadians continue to have a strong and secure financial system, one that has been a model for countries around the world during the recent global turmoil, is a key priority for our Conservative government.
This bill would help ensure that our system continues to be recognized.
For the fourth year in a row, Canada was ranked as having the soundest banks in the world by the World Economic Forum. This strength has been widely recognized by independent observers, both here and abroad. An Ottawa Citizen editorial acknowledged that, and I quote:
|| Our banking and financial system is the envy of the world. While the great money edifices of countries such as the U.S., Britain and Switzerland cracked at the beginning of the recession, Canada's banks stood firm.
In the Toronto Sun columnist Peter Worthington has said:
|| Canada's banking system is now widely recognized as arguably the world's best. No Canadians fear for their deposits as many Americans do.
We have also been recognized beyond our borders. Indeed, we have heard from voices around the world.
When it recently renewed Canada's top-tier, AAA credit rating, Fitch, the world renowned credit rating agency, pointed out:
|| Canada's banks proved more resilient than many peers thanks to a conservative regulation and supervision environment.
The influential Economist magazine recently stated that:
|| Canada has had an easier time than most during the recent global recession, in part because of a conservative and well-regulated banking system.
The Irish Times commented recently that:
|| Canada's policy of fiscal discipline and strict banking supervision was a reason why it was one of the world's strongest performers during the recession.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron praised our system:
|| In the last few years, Canada has got every major decision right. Look at the facts. Not a single Canadian bank fell or faltered during the global banking crisis...Your economic leadership has helped the Canadian economy to weather the global storms far better than many of your international competitors.
I echo that high praise.
Moreover, I would like to add that the financial services sector is a constant presence in the daily lives of Canadians. The industry employs over 750,000 people in good, well-paying jobs. It represents about 7% of Canada's GDP. The sector is a key pillar of our economy through its role in fostering financial stability, safeguarding savings and fuelling the growth that is essential to Canada's economic success.
Canada is set apart from almost every country in the world through the implementation and practice of the mandatory five year review that produced the bill we are discussing today. This practice ensures that the laws governing our financial institutions are updated and responsive to a constantly changing global marketplace.
I would also add that the recent financial crisis helped us recognize the importance of a stable and well-functioning housing market to the economy and the financial system. While our banks and financial institutions remained sound, well capitalized and less leveraged than their international counterparts during the crisis, in order to ensure stability in our housing market our government proactively moved three times to adjust our mortgage insurance guarantee framework.
These adjustments included reducing the maximum amortization period to 30 years from 35 years for government-backed insured mortgages with loan-to-value ratios of more than 80%. We also reduced borrowing limits in refinancing and withdrew government insurance from home equity lines of credit.
These adjustments have been applauded by observers and economists alike. TD Economics praised the changes highly, stating that “these policy changes were prudent and act to help limit risk in Canadian real estate”.
Our government is committed to renewing the key elements of our financial system and bolstering it with new tools. We are committed to fine-tuning, clarifying, harmonizing and modernizing the existing framework. We are doing just that through the financial systems review act.
Canadians recognize that the current framework functions well. Canada's financial system continues to be recognized as one of the soundest in the world. From that solid foundation, the proposed legislative package includes measures that would modernize financial institutions' legislation to encourage financial stability and ensure Canada's financial institutions continue to operate in a competitive, efficient and stable environment. Measures would fine-tune the consumer protection framework, including enhancing the supervisory powers of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada and improve efficiency by reducing the administrative burden on financial institutions and adding regulatory flexibility.
Other measures contained in this bill include: improving the ability of regulators to share information efficiently with international counterparts while respecting privacy laws; guaranteeing that all Canadians have the right to cash government cheques under $1,500 free of charge at any bank in Canada; and promoting competition and innovation by enabling cooperative credit associations to provide technology services to a broader market. The bill would reduce the administrative burden for federally regulated insurance companies offering adjustable policies in foreign jurisdictions by removing duplicative disclosure requirements.
I am happy to report that many public interest groups have shown strong support for today's bill. For example, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association proclaimed:
|| It is important that legislation be periodically reviewed so that it keeps up with the changing environment... The industry welcomes a number of measures outlined in [the financial system review act].
In summary, today's act would reinforce financial sector stability, fine-tune consumer protection provisions and adjust the regulatory framework so it can better adapt to new developments. It would provide for a framework that would benefit stakeholders in the financial services sector, financial institutions, as well as all Canadians who rely on our banking system daily. Our Conservative government recognizes that in order to remain an international leader in the area of financial sector stability, we must continually consider what regulatory changes are needed to foster competitiveness and to ensure the safety and soundness of our system.
Today's bill would maintain the long-standing practice of frequently reviewing the regulatory framework for financial institutions, ensuring that Canada remains the leader in this regard. I therefore urge all members to support the financial system review act, along with the sensible regulation of our banking system that has served us so well.
Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP):
Madam Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to enter this debate on this comprehensive and sweeping piece of legislation regarding our financial institutions, both their well-being and their duty and obligation to provide adequate service to Canadians.
I need to preface my remarks by noting that the bill is entitled Bill S-5, the S meaning that it does not originate in the House of Commons, the chamber of the duly elected representatives of the people. It has its origins in the other place, the Senate of Canada. As democrats, each and every one of us should take note, pause and reflect on the significance and meaning of the bill. More and more, we are finding bills originating in the Senate, when in fact all pieces of legislation should find their origins in the duly elected chamber of the House of Commons, not the unelected, undemocratic Senate. I profoundly resent this chamber being seized with a bill that has originated there. I will state that for the record.
The other thing comment I would say before discussing the substance of this legislation is the fact that once again we are faced with a debate on a bill with a gun to our heads, under pressure, under the time limitation placed on our democratic review, scrutiny, analysis, and due diligence of the bill, the very reason we were sent here as representatives of the people. We are being denied that right systematically once again by a government that introduces a closure motion almost on the same day it tables a piece of legislation. This is the 16th time in a row, in this short session of this 41st Parliament, that we are being denied our democratic right to give full study and examination of the bill and to have our comments within this place recorded in Hansard.
I do not want anyone in the country who has been observing the activities of our Canadian Parliament to think for one minute that these are normal circumstances. These are anything but normal. These are extraordinary. This is the most appalling abuse and undermining of the democratic process that anyone has ever seen.
I have been a member of Parliament for six terms. I have sat in majority and minority Liberal governments. I have sat in majority and minority Conservative governments. No one has ever seen anything like this before. This cannot be allowed to continue without condemning it in the strongest possible terms. I hope the people of Canada take note that the Conservative government of the day, and I do not say this lightly, is undermining the integrity of our parliamentary institutions by systematically denying the right of members of Parliament to study bills, per our constitutional parliamentary democracy. It offends the sensibilities of anyone who calls himself or herself a democrat to see this happening systematically.
While I am on the subject, I would also note that I just came from a committee meeting earlier today, where there has been a systematic denial of the public's right to know what its government is doing with its money, in its bills and policy development, by invoking the shroud of secrecy over the otherwise ordinary activities of parliamentary committees that have traditionally been held in public. The government has moved to put these in camera. For any ordinary Canadian watching, this means that the doors will be shut, everyone will be asked to leave, and there will be no cameras and no one will have any right to ever divulge what happened behind those closed doors. That is the in camera rule.
In times gone by, three or four years ago, it used to be the rare exception if the activities of a parliamentary committee were held in camera. It would be in matters of national security, or of profound commercial sensitivity where someone's right to privacy in a commercial setting would otherwise be violated.
Now in camera meetings are being used willy-nilly for any little issue that may be controversial or potentially embarrassing to the government. The government slams down the in-camera rule and shuts down the cameras, ironically. Everyone is kicked out of the room and no one in that meeting is ever allowed to divulge anything that happened behind those closed doors under the rule and penalty of the Speaker of the House of Commons. It is a very serious violation to contradict the in camera rule. There is no justification for this whatsoever. I cannot even divulge the matter we were discussing at today's in camera meeting, because it was in camera.
This has been a systematic undermining of the democratic procedures and the processes that have evolved over time to make our Westminster model of parliamentary democracy the best in the world. However, I caution the members across and anyone listening that our parliamentary democracy is a fragile construct. It exists only by virtue of both sides stipulating that they agree to abide by a set of rules that includes openness to the greatest possible, and respecting the role of the opposition to test the merits of the proposals put forward by the government before they are implemented into legislation.
Again, I caution the government of day. It may in fact be doing irreparable harm to our democratic institutions. I think that if it allows pendulum to swing too far this way, it will never get it back to the norm. The toothpaste might never go back into the tube; the genie might never go back into the bottle. The government has pushed the limits of the integrity of our system. It is like pulling a thread on a sweater: the whole sweater can unravel if we keep yanking on that thing. That is what the government is doing. It is testing not only our patience but also the integrity of our whole fragile, yet precious, parliamentary democracy.
I resent profoundly that we are facing closure once again on this bill for the 16th time since we returned to work after the parliamentary summer recess. It is an absurd situation that we find ourselves in. We are being systematically denied the ability to do our job as agents of the people who elected us here to provide scrutiny, oversight and due diligence and to hold the government to account. That is the very function of Parliament and it is what is being denied to us.
We are talking about banks. If there were any subject in the country that warranted a greater examination by the elected representatives of the people, it is the way banks are, or are not, serving the best interests of Canadians. It warrants enhanced scrutiny. It warrants not only a thorough examination but also a royal commission. The failure of banks to meet the needs of Canadians, and their gouging us in the process, is almost ridiculous. The biggest PR campaign in the country right now is not to sell cars, not to promote the oil sands, but the PR job of banks trying to peddle themselves to Canadians as warm, fuzzy and benign institutions that have our best interests at heart.
I challenge that. I would have welcomed the ability to challenge it in a much more thorough way as we go through the bill to amend the law governing the financial institutions of this country. I say this because in the riding of Winnipeg Centre, which I represent, chartered banks are closing like crazy. They are disappearing. They are going the way of the dodo bird. Whereas we used to have a bank, an accessible institution, on the street corner, they are all shutting down and are being merged into one conglomerate. There were 14 bank closures in my riding alone.
Do members know what is filling the void left behind? It is the fringe banking institutions, the Money Marts and payday loan outfits that are charging not the 60% that the usury laws of this country allow them to charge, but which should have been reviewed in this process, but 1,000% to 1,500%. The Government of Manitoba did an investigation and one example it found was a payday loan charging 10,000% interest.
Do members not think that warrants a bit of debate and analysis and scrutiny by the elected representatives of the people, the fact that people are being gouged because of the unwillingness of our chartered banks to live up to the terms and conditions of their charters to provide reasonable financial services to Canadians no matter where they live?
Because of their failure in that department, they have left a void that is being filled in by these predatory lenders. I do not know what can be done to make a 10,000% profit. Selling cocaine does not even give, I presume, a 10,000% profit. However, they are springing up like mushrooms all over the inner city and preying on poor people and gouging them in the most egregious way. The Parliament of Canada is silent on it because we are being denied the right to even do a thorough analysis of the job that financial institutions are doing to provide basic services.
We need to remind ourselves that we granted the chartered banks their charter and what comes with the charter is the exclusive monopoly for certain very lucrative financial transactions, the credit cards, cheque cashing and all of these things, that are enormously profitable. In exchange for the exclusive monopoly on these lucrative transactions, they were to provide at least the basics that financial consumers might need.
We in the NDP have been trying to rectify this for a decade or more, which is why these rare, once every five years, opportunities are so precious. Myself and the former leader of the NDP actually got some proxy shares and used to crash shareholder meetings of the big chartered banks. We would go to the Royal Bank shareholders meetings, as well as the Bank of Montreal, the Toronto Dominion Bank and the CIBC meetings. We would move motions at those shareholders meetings trying to bring these big institutions to account, to stop the gouging and to make them responsible.
Exactly. I see my colleague gets it. He seems as perturbed as I am about this situation.
I will give an example. This is quite an experience. Everybody here should do this. Members should go to a shareholders meeting of one of the chartered banks, such as the Royal Bank of Canada. My good friend, John Cleghorn, was the CEO of the Royal Bank. I had just enough proxy shares to move some motions. Nine motions were moved that year at the shareholders meeting of 1,500 people and I moved all nine of them. Everybody else just goes there to find out how much money they made. I went there to try to introduce some democratic reform to these appalling undemocratic organizations.
One of the motions I moved even my colleague from Nepean would enjoy. I moved a motion to limit the CEO's salary to 20 times that of the average employee. Now the average employee salary, if anyone did the math, is about $47,000 a year, and 20 times that is almost $1 million year, which is pretty good. Sadly, however, the motion was defeated.
Another motion, however, that we moved was for gender parity on the board of directors. This motion was what scared John Cleghorn. Matthew Barrett was not nearly as amused by all of this but John Cleghorn was a good sport. The motion for gender parity on the board of directors failed by this ratio, the exact same as the last Quebec referendum, 49.4% to 50.6%. We almost got it.
There is a lesson here. The shareholders' democratic movement should be inspired by this. A room of 1,500 people who did not come there to talk about amendments to democratic reform or corporate governance had an appetite for corporate governance. There was an interest.
Again, when we did the same thing with Matthew Barrett, he had a hissy fit and was openly wondering how Alexa McDonough ever got in there with any shares in his bank.
Other people are interested in this and, believe me, on behalf of those people who are being victimized by fringe banking in low income neighbourhoods like mine, we owe it to them to give a far more thorough analysis of our once in five year opportunity to amend the laws governing financial institutions and to provide for related and consequential manners. We should not be having it rammed down our throat by a bunch of unelected senators, hacks, flaks and bagmen in the Senate, many of them recently appointed by the government.
With all due respect for the Senate of Canada, it has no business introducing legislation for the House of Commons to have to deal with. It is supposed to be the other way around.
I have talked briefly about the importance of charter banks. I will talk at length, if given the opportunity, on the importance of charter banks and their obligation to provide basic financial services to ordinary Canadians. They have reneged on that deal systematically over the last many decades, to the point where they are now charging money at an ATM. First, they brought in ATMs, presumably to save money so they could lay off bank tellers. Finally, when they got people used to the idea that they had to use ATMs, they started introducing service fees. So they are not only saving a fortune and posting record profits every quarter, even through the economic downturn, but they are gouging ordinary Canadians for $1.50 each way to take $20 out of their bank account. I would like to see the percentage charge on that, extrapolated over the lending fees associated with the usury provisions. I think in the Criminal Code of Canada, if more than 60% is charged they are guilty of usury.
Therefore, how is it that the Money Marts, the payday lenders and the title loan lenders in my riding are charging 1,000%, 1,500% and, in this one egregious example, 10,000% interest and the government of the day and the enforcement agencies regarding financial institutions are silent on the matter? Clearly something is fundamentally wrong.
I have notes about Bill S-5 but many of the observations and points being made here are so narrow and specific that they miss the big picture. More often than not in this place we do not see the forest for the trees and the fact is that we are not being well served by our financial institutions. We are being gouged by our financial institutions. We should be screaming from the rooftops condemning the treatment of ordinary Canadians by the gouging that is going on.
I have talked about the shareholders' rights efforts that we used to make. We should probably mention that again but I want to talk about one other thing in the global picture of how we view the relationship we have with the financial institutions that seem to have such great influence over this country.
I hear time and time again the government side bragging that we have the best banking regime in the world, that it is due to the wizardry of our Minister of Finance and that somehow everything is rosy in this regard.
I want to remind anyone listening today that were it not for the Herculean efforts of the NDP, not five or seven years ago, the charter banks of Canada would have been allowed to merge into massive institutions, as they wanted to do. They were dying to merge. They were asking permission. They were knocking on the door. The John Manleys and the Paul Martins of the world were eager to receive the message. Do members know why they wanted to merge? It is because they wanted to play in the big leagues in the biggest game in town. The biggest game in town at that time was the sub-prime mortgage industry. Our banks were too small to play a meaningful, realistic role in that industry sector but they were dying to merge so they could dive in there and we would have been in just as much trouble as the big institutions in the United States, crashing and burning in this catastrophic notion of bundling the sub-prime mortgages and marketing them as a financial product.
Fortunately, we managed to prevail and block the urge to merge. I remember the national campaign was purge the urge to merge. It was Lorne Nystrom's campaign, the NDP finance critic of the day, criss-crossing the country. I see he is outside here today. We should recognize and pay tribute to Lorne Nystrom because we owe him a great debt of gratitude. He is a big businessman and he knows something of these things.
It is our job and our obligation to ensure the financial institutions meet the needs of Canadians, not to have it rammed down our throat in a bill put forward by the undemocratic, unelected Senate.
Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):
Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to speak to this bill, especially after my friend for Winnipeg Centre has just given an empty lecture. He is very well known for his flowery words. I was quite pleased to hear my friend from Cape Breton join him in trying to praise what they had been doing. However, if we really look at what has happened, it is no wonder they are a smaller party than before because those members were totally out of touch with Canadians. That is why they find themselves in that corner.
I will correct what the member for Winnipeg Centre has said. He has been using his flowery words and theatrics to say that the bill has come from the Senate and that it is not needed. He forgets why we are debating the bill. To be clear, it is because of the regulations and financial safeguards that the government introduced for the country's financial institutions that have allow them not to be affected as other global institutions have been. It was because of strong regulations.
We have a bill that looks at financial institutions. This bill is a common sense thing. That is what I want to say for the member for Winnipeg Centre who was debating the bill and talking about shareholders.
I will be sharing my time, Madam Speaker, with my colleague for Calgary Northeast
It is natural when we have an act that contains dynamic factors toward financial institutions, that we have a sunset clause so we can come back and review what has happened. Therefore, we would have the best institutions and be able to change to meet the demands of the day.
The previous member talked about being a shareholder. He should be doing very well if he is one. He wants to make money from his investments. Talking about making money and investing by the anti-trade and anti-business party called the NDP, Lorne Nystrom was a strong financial critic. I was in the opposition when he was here. Today he is a big businessman. I met him outside in the corridor and he is doing trade. By the way, we heard all about trade with China. Members can talk to him.
There was talk about going to Shanghai, doing business with China and profiting. This is something I would think should be alien to NDP members. However, when it is time to make money, those members are right there. As the member said, he went to a shareholder meeting of a bank. Then he stands in the House and calls them gougers and all kinds of names. He is as shameless as anyone else when it comes to making money. That he is a shareholder of a bank is even more surprising.
Coming back to the act, after every five years, it has to be reviewed. It has a five-year sunset clause. We can then put the latest changes and address what is happening in the economy for the benefit of Canadians.
I was listening to a member from Winnipeg talk about ATM fees. The ATMs are used by thousands and thousands of Canadians because it is a wise, cheap and convenient alternative to going to the bank tellers. That is why it is so popular. The member did not recognize that.
Coming back to this fact that this has been brought forward, it is because we are now coming to the end of the five year sunset clause. That is why we are debating it in the House. Whether it comes from the Senate or wherever it comes from, it is necessary and it is required by law for us to debate the bill. If we do not debate the bill and review the sunset clause, then the act would die and we would be unable to address the changes in the financial institutions. It is a requirement by law.
That is what we are talking about it, not about the NDP members crying about the Senate and everything else. Their argument is to abolish the Senate. It is a very great argument. I just love their argument. Why is there argument is wrong? Because they know under the Constitution it is not possible to do it. They know that very well. What is so great about a proposal which we know will never pass? That is the NDP, giving a proposal which will never pass.
If we look at other countries, Canada stands as a beacon of financial stability during the recession. We have heard about sub-prime mortgages and what has happened to the banks in America and in the European Union.
All the banks had to be saved, even the German banks, British banks and American banks. Did anything happen to the Canadian banks? No. Why? Not because of the party and not because it took credit, it is because we had sound financial regulations under which the Canadian banks worked. However, as things change, we want Canadian banks to going out and showing the Canadian strength, not what the member opposite calls about gouging and all these things.
If the Canadian banks are making profit in the world market, as the NDP's former finance critic is trying to do now with a business arrangement with China, what is wrong with that? As long as the Canadian banks are making money, they are paying their taxes and at the same time they are employing Canadians. That is a plus for Canada. There are jobs for Canadian. The NDP should understand that corporations make this happen.
We just heard from a member who talked about the teachers' pension plan and investments. Does the member think the teachers' pension plan will invest in a company that is losing? Absolutely not. How many pension plans of unions are invested in the banks, strong banks. We do not want weak banks in which to invest. Therefore, it is important that these financial institutions be accommodated.
The Liberal member mentioned 2008. The Liberals have their heads in the sand. In 2008 there was a recession. Did he not hear about the G20? It is a collective effort by the G20, which agreed to do the stimulus package so the world would not go into recession and that there would be jobs. Any time this government has presented anything, the opposition parties have opposed it. That is why the Liberal Party sitting at the corner.
At the end of the day, what happened? The Canadian economy withstood those shocks because of the sound financial input of this government.
The reduction of the GST, which was promised by the Liberals and has now been fulfilled by this government, gave extra money to companies to get across to consumers to spend money so the economy would move on, something the NDP members should learn and move on from the anti-trade and anti-business agenda so they can move forward.
We have an example with the 2008 recession. Where is Canada today, as it has been said by the Minister of Finance? I am really glad my friend from Winnipeg does not like the finance minister. If he did, I would be worried for the economy of Canada. It is his kind of business idea, so I am glad he made it very clear that he does not like the finance minister.
The Minister of Finance said that this government, since coming into power, and for my friend from Cape Breton—Canso, has created 600,000 full-time jobs for Canadians. Under your government, it would probably have been cutting transfers—
Mr. Devinder Shory (Calgary Northeast, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to address Bill S-5, the financial system review act. I would like to take a moment to say a few words about how this bill came to be before the House.
This bill is the outcome of the mandatory five year review of the framework that governs federally regulated financial institutions, which began in September 2010. Such regular reviews help to ensure that Canada remains a global leader in financial sector stability.
I would also note that this bill needs to be passed and its supporting legislation renewed by April 20, 2012 to allow financial institutions to carry on with their business and provide the services that Canadians depend on.
I was pleased to hear in some previous speeches in the House that members opposite are willing to send the bill to committee for further study. I hope they will support swift passage of the bill.
I want this piece of legislation, as technical as it is, to be understood by ordinary Canadians so they know how it affects them in real terms. Key measures in the bill are aimed at protecting consumers of financial services, building on important consumer protection actions our Conservative government has taken in recent years.
I will briefly explain the rationale for these initiatives while providing a bit of context. Throughout our time in office, our Conservative government has aggressively focused on helping Canadian consumers identify and take advantage of the best possible financial products and services for their needs. For example, in the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, we will further strengthen Canada's financial system by moving forward on the recommendations of the Task Force on Financial Literacy and announcing the government's intention to appoint a financial literacy leader. We will be enhancing consumer protection by banning unsolicited credit card cheques and developing measures related to network branded prepaid cards. In doing so, we are making a strong system even stronger.
Canada has many advantages that have mitigated the impact of ongoing global economic turbulence. For instance, Canada has a prudent and well-regulated banking system, ensuring that our lenders demonstrate responsibility and restraint. The result is Canada did not suffer a single bank failure or need to bail out any of its financial institutions.
As the Toronto Star said, “Unlike in the United States and Europe, no banks collapsed or had to be rescued in Canada during this financial crisis”. On the contrary, Canada's financial system remains strong, based on effective risk management and supported by a very effective regulatory and supervisory framework.
Some of the remarks I have heard in the House in relation to Bill S-5 allege that Canada's fortunate position during the global financial crisis was in spite of our Conservative government's policies, not because of them. What they say is that as Conservatives we tend to shy away from regulations in favour of competitive markets when it comes to the financial sector. Let me be clear on a couple of points.
First, it is true that we tend to favour less government intervention where possible, but we keep a close eye to ensure the system remains strong, thanks to the work of the hard-working, world's best finance minister that we have.
Second, our Conservative government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, recognized early on that prudent regulations and supervision were necessary in the financial sector. In fact, we witnessed that other nations had to massively intervene in their markets as a result of under-regulation, and effectively nationalized their financial institutions.
Let me be blunt. Canada has emerged from this financial crisis as the only true free market financial system in the world. Indeed, Canada's strong economic and fiscal fundamentals have been recognized internationally. Today our country has the world's soundest banking system, as ranked for the fourth year in a row by the World Economic Forum. In fact, our five Canadian financial institutions were recently named to Bloomberg's list of the world's strongest banks, more than any other country.
Before I focus on our Conservative government's commitment to consumer protection, I want to address another aspect of the bill.
Bill S-5 gives authority to the minister to approve the acquisition of major foreign entities by federally regulated financial institutions where that acquisition would increase that institution's assets by more than 10%. Some in this House during earlier debates have suggested this could politicize the process. In fact, this is a historical oversight provision that was repealed in 2001. We are merely restoring that authority. There is a good reason for that. We understand that a regulatory and oversight balance is necessary to keep our markets healthy.
Let us say, for example, that a Canadian bank or federally regulated institution acquires a foreign company that increases its assets by more than 10% and that foreign company then succumbs to poor conditions in its market, a collapse of that economy or sector of that economy. That would have a negative impact on a significant portion of a Canadian bank's holdings and our Canadian markets would be affected by extension. That is why we feel it is prudent to have these risky acquisitions reviewed before they go ahead, to ensure that they are in the public interest.
Julie Dickson, the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, had this to say about this decision:
|| It’s now being moved back to the Minister of Finance, and we fully support that decision. It makes sense for the Minister of Finance to ultimately have the ability to approve. It’s just going back to the way it used to be.
Alec Bruce, a noted Times & Transcript columnist, gave the following insight:
|| When our banks top up their foreign holdings in this environment they do, in fact, chance importing this contagion to these shores, and injecting it into the arteries of the country’s economy....It’s not too much to ask....
Let me reassure all members that this Conservative government has an ongoing commitment to ensure that consumers are protected in their dealings with our financial institutions. That is why our government has an entire agency working to protect and educate consumers of financial services. It is the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, FCAC. The agency does its part to help inform financial consumers in Canada by developing plain language educational material on a wide range of financial products and services. It has developed innovative approaches, such as a mortgage calculator that quickly determines mortgage payments and the potential savings resulting from pre-payments. It has also introduced online tools that help consumers shop for the most suitable credit card and banking package for their needs.
The agency has created two new tip sheets to help Canadian consumers looking for ways to save money. One is on choosing the right banking accounts and the other is on keeping service fees low. Recently the agency has been instrumental in lending its support to Financial Literacy Month, that being November, which featured 200 events and outreach initiatives across the country.
We have a steadfast commitment to improve the financial knowledge of Canadians and that commitment includes this bill. The proposed legislative package before us includes measures that would strengthen the consumer protection framework, including increasing the maximum fine the FCAC can levy for violations of a consumer provision from $200,000 to $500,000, and would guarantee that any Canadian has the right to cash government cheques up to $1,500 free of charge at any bank in Canada.
Our Conservative government believes that Canadian consumers deserve accessible and effective financial services that meet the needs of consumers and that operate in the public interest. By enacting the financial services review act, we would further ensure that our financial system remains a competitive Canadian advantage and that consumers receive the highest possible standard of service. It is the level of service that Canadians deserve and have come to expect.
I ask all members of the House to support Bill S-5 to ensure that our financial sector remains strong, stable, secure and a model for other countries to follow.
Mr. Mike Sullivan (York South—Weston, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill S-5, an act to amend the law governing financial institutions and to provide for related and consequential matters, and to express my disappointment about the inadequacies of this bill.
The member opposite suggested that somehow we were against this kind of thing. We are not against it: we are in fact disappointed that it does not go far enough. I think we have heard their mantra over and over again throughout this entire Parliament. We are disappointed that the government does not do enough, that it does not protect seniors and immigrants and does not protect the rights of ordinary Canadians.
Again we are faced with a bill that does not seem to go far enough. It is our hope that these inadequacies can be addressed at committee, as has been suggested. So far we have not had a good track record of changing bills at committee. Unfortunately the government does not like to listen to our advice, does not want to hear debate, and intends through the time allocation motion it introduced yesterday and passed today to have only one further day of debate before going to the standing committee, which will then have about five weeks to go through this very complicated bill.
I say “complicated” because the bill amends the Bank Act, the Cooperative Credit Associations Act, the Insurance Companies Act, the Trust and Loan Companies Act, the Bank of Canada Act, the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation Act, the Canadian Payments Act, the Winding-up and Restructuring Act, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions Act, the Payment Clearing and Settlement Act, and the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada Act. Why are we rushing?
This is a pretty important thing. I do not think there is a person in Canada whose relationship with banks and financial institutions is not somehow touched by this bill. There are few in my riding who do not have bank accounts, I will admit, but as the member for Winnipeg Centre reminded us, they are being served by other institutions that are gouging them, the payday loan companies that have sprung up like mushrooms to replace the banks that have left.
It is very unfortunate that we are not going to get enough time to debate this bill, because it is going to deprive Canadians of a really comprehensive and transparent review of our financial system, unlike the cursory and rushed treatment this bill unfortunately received in that other house, the Senate. We are talking about regulating this country's financial service industry, which employs thousands of Canadians and handles trillions of dollars in assets, and the Senate review of this legislation took three weeks from start to finish. The bill was introduced in the Senate on November 23 of last year and adopted at final reading on December 16.
Several questions arise from that. Why did it take so long to get here? We are in the middle of February and are now dealing with this in a rush because we have to meet a time allocation motion. It is almost three months since it was introduced and two months since it was passed in the Senate. Is the banking system therefore less important to Canadians than guns? Is the banking system less important than copyright legislation? Is the banking system less important than the Wheat Board? These are all things that went before it, and the banking system is thus apparently not seen as important, not as important to ordinary Canadians. We disagree.
Why the Senate? Is the government trying to make work over there in the other chamber? Is that really what is going on? To justify its position that the Senate is an effective place of sober second thought, does it have to find ways to introduce actual government bills in the Senate to give that chamber work to do?
If this is so urgent, why did the government wait so long even to introduce it in the Senate? The deadline has been known for years. The deadline was always going to be the middle of April of this year. Why has it taken so long? It baffles us.
We certainly have time to do this correctly, or we should have had the time to do this correctly. However, the government's mismanagement of this file, given that the five-year review was well known, has contributed to this rushed process whereby the government invokes closure for the umpteenth time and limits our job as parliamentarians to do a proper review of this important sector.
It is as if the government were governing on the back of a napkin. Every time we turn around, there is something that it has forgotten, something it has forgotten to do. This is another one. It forgot about this: “Oh, we better do it in a hurry. We have to get it through.”
We owe it to Canadians to address some of the real problems with the financial institutions, such as by protecting consumers from excessive user fees, not only ATM fees but also remittance fees on transfers that many new Canadians in the diaspora send to families they are supporting back home. Those remittance fees are huge and they are charged by banks and other financial corporations alike, and sometimes they amount to as much as 30%, 40% and even 50% of the money they send overseas.
Why do they have to send money overseas? It is because their families cannot be reunified here in Canada. We now have wait times of as long as 106 months between the time an application is made and a parent or a grandparent is permitted to come back to Canada, and it is as long as 33 months for spouses and children. All the while, the people here who have recently immigrated to Canada and are trying to reunite with their families are trying to support their family overseas by working in Canada and sending what little money they can. When the banks, the financial institutions, the payday lenders, whomever, take 30%, 40% or 50% of that money, it is a crime, and it is not something that the government has addressed.
We need to review the treatment of financial derivatives. Nothing in the legislation talks about that. It was speculation, as we saw in the United States, in particular, that provoked the financial crisis from which we are still recovering. These practices do not contribute to the economy but to the financial volatility that threatens to destabilize economies, and yet there is nothing in the bill to deal with that. The housing bubble in the U.S. created by those derivatives has caused ordinary citizens to lose billions of dollars in the value of their properties, in large measure as a result of banks and other institutions trading and speculating. Canadian banks were not immune from this: Canadian banks lost money on these derivatives.
We need to review mortgage lending practices, particularly in light of the comments made by Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, who said that record consumer debts are the greatest domestic threat to the country's financial institutions. Right now, consumer debt is 151% of disposable income, partly as a result of aggressive home equity loan marketing that has placed Canadians in vulnerable situations should interest rates rise. If interest rates rise, we are in for a huge collapse in our credit system in Canada. We do not want to see the disastrous practices witnessed in the United States' housing portfolio come here to Canada.
This is an inadequate measure, a missed opportunity to do better for Canadians. The consultation process has been pathetic, to say the least. Apparently, there were some consultations conducted by the government online. Some 30 people found out about it and submitted recommendations. The government cannot release the results of most of those to anyone because it forgot to get the required disclosures from those people for their information to be released. Therefore, we will never know what the feedback to the government was.
On our side, we will support the bill at second reading because we hope that the deficiencies in the bill can be corrected at committee. Some government members have actually said they want to listen and make amendments to the bill, where necessary, at committee. Thus far I cannot remember any bills coming to this House from committee with amendments. Maybe this will be the first. Who knows. I hope my colleagues on the government side will participate in the committee review of the bill in good faith to improve how our financial sector serves Canadians. This will be a challenge, given the time constraints imposed by the government today.
We owe Canadians this effort. I owe this to Canadians in my riding, as does every single member of Parliament here who represents all Canadians, all of whom will be touched by the measures that the government has put forward today in the bill.
Mr. Dean Allison (Niagara West—Glanbrook, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to speak in strong support of Bill S-5, the financial system review act.
In my time here today, I will focus on what our Conservative government has done to enhance protection for consumers of financial service products. This act builds on an already strong record of our government. From the outset, the government's approach to strengthening consumer protection has been straightforward. Canadians who use financial services are entitled to clear and simple information. They deserve to be treated in a fair and transparent manner.
Since forming government in 2006, our Conservative government has had a proven record of strengthening Canada's financial system. For instance, as part of Canada's economic action plan, we took action to better protect Canadians who use credit cards. We all agree that Canadians should not be forced to deal with hidden surprises on their credit card statements. That is why we took landmark action to force credit card providers to provide easily understandable information on credit card application forms and contracts and timely advance notice of changes in rates and fees. We also limited credit business practices that do not benefit consumers.
Specifically, we required credit card issuers to provide consumers with a minimum 21 day interest-free grace period on all new purchases when consumers pay their balance in full by the due date. We also required a minimum 21 day grace period on all new purchases in a billing period, even if the consumer had an outstanding balance. We moved key information, such as interest rates, grace periods and fees, out of the fine print buried in credit applications and contracts and into a prominent summary box so that consumers signing applications know exactly what kind of financial arrangements they are agreeing to without needing a magnifying glass and a legal dictionary. These pro-consumer measures are ensuring that Canadians have a clear picture of what they are signing up for and fully understand their rights and responsibilities.
It is little wonder that our government's measures have been so warmly received by consumer and other public interest groups. For instance, Casey Cosgrove, director of the Social and Enterprise Development Innovations' Canadian Centre for Financial Literacy praised them saying:
|| Understanding interest rates, fees and increases to monthly payments are key challenges many Canadians face when managing their credit cards. The measures announced by the government today will contribute to financial literacy by bringing clearer and more transparent information to consumers.
Additionally, Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers' Association of Canada, applauded the measures and said that all of the things in there “are actually just what we asked for”.
Laurie Campbell of Credit Canada also spoke highly of our actions. In particular, she highlighted the importance of the summary box I mentioned earlier. She stated:
|| The idea is that there will be a box somewhere on your statement, and it's going to show okay, this is how much you have outstanding, and this is your minimum payment on that amount outstanding... Any time we're trying to educate the public on how to manage their money better, on how to understand credit better, and how to minimize the amount of interest they're paying, it's a good thing. So this is a great step.
I am happy that our pro-consumer measures are in effect today. They provide Canadian consumers with precisely the kind of financial information that allows them to make the best choices to suit their needs. The reality is that there are more than 200 credit cards available on the market. While having so many choices ensures competition and varying interest rates, decisions about which card is best can be difficult without knowledge.
All consumers can only benefit by increasing their understanding of interest rates and the dangers of compound credit card interest. I am pleased to remind Canadians and members that important information on this very subject is available through the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada's website. The agency provides free comparison tables outlining the rates and features of numerous credit cards offered in Canada by a variety of issuers.
Our Conservative government has done more for small businesses and retailers who raised concerns about certain credit and debit card practices. Our Conservative government shared these concerns. One concern was the unpredictable costs associated with accepting credit and debit card payments, which prevented merchants from reasonably forecasting the monthly costs associated with accepting those payments.
That is why our Conservative government created the landmark code of conduct for the credit and debit card industry to better protect small businesses and retailers. Under the code, small businesses and retailers will be guaranteed clear information regarding fees and rates, as well as advance notice of any new fees and fee increases. They will be able to cancel contracts without penalty, should fees rise or new fees be introduced. There will be new tools to promote competition and the freedom to accept credit payments from a particular network without the obligation to accept debit payments and vice versa.
I am happy to report that small business has welcomed the measures laid out in the code of conduct.
Here is what the Canadian Federation of Independent Business had to say on the first anniversary of the code:
|| The Code's effectiveness has already been tested several times and CFIB is pleased to report that it has passed on every occasion. CFIB has used the Code to resolve issues on debit cards for e-commerce, disclosure of important merchant fee information, and exit penalties for fee changes in processing agreements. Merchants have new powers under the Code that have helped them achieve tangible results in their dealings with the industry. This simply wouldn't have happened without the Code.
Whether it is a question of saving for retirement, financing a new home or balancing the family cheque book, our government's commitment to improving the financial literacy of Canadians will do even more to ensure the integrity of our financial system. Canada has made the financial literacy of Canadians a priority. It has introduced legislation to create a financial literacy leader to improve financial literacy in Canada.
Bill S-5, the financial system review act, would build on the many pro-consumer measures we have introduced since 2006, including the three that I have already highlighted. The bill would more than double the maximum fine the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada could impose on financial institutions that violate a consumer provision, increasing it from $200,000 to $500,000. The bill would guarantee all Canadians, especially those who are most vulnerable, the right to cash any government cheque under $1,500 free of charge at any bank in Canada.
Informed consumers are the very foundation of a solid financial system. Canada's economic success is ultimately the sum of the financial success of all Canadians. That is why I am proud to support the financial system review act. It would further strengthen our Conservative government's commitment to this crucial objective.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is good to have you here as we enthusiastically finish this part of the House of Commons day. This is an interesting debate that we have had with regard to the banks.
The first thing we want to note is that the bill s not thorough enough in its current form. We will support it to get it to committee but we will be looking for amendments. A lot of things are missing in this, such as an opportunity to address some of the unfairness that is happening in the Canadian financial institutions. I think that is important to recognize because it is actually affecting how we compete as a country. It is not just the individual elements related to user fees, ATM fees, credit rates and all those different things. It is also about how the use of capital is not being spread across this country, and where the priorities of the government are.
I would note that this industry getting this attention right now is rather interesting, coming late in the day, given the amount of profits and excess bonus fees that have gone to CEOs and the institutions, as well as the record tax cuts they have had. It is quite significant because it affects other parts of the Canadian economy. We lose money through our coffers.
This also gives an indication of where the priorities of the government are. It clearly has been to give the banks the upper hand, not only at the consumer level but also an economic advantage versus other industries that are suffering.
I would point out that we have not seen an action plan, for example, in the manufacturing sector. One of the things that is really critical to note is that in 2005, when the government came to power, we had a $16 billion trade deficit when it came to exporting and importing manufactured goods. So, a $16 billion deficit already behind, and now it has climbed to $80 billion. It is because of a number of successive trade deals that have taken place that have cost Canadian manufacturing, and we have not addressed many of the significant issues.
It is unfortunate because, as we were seeing the record tax cuts happening, we were witnessing hundreds of thousands of Canadian jobs being lost across Ontario and Quebec, whether it be in the forestry sector, the auto industry or the textile industry. We saw those industries, which were not profitable because of the downturn that took place and the lack of government policies, actually subsidizing the profits in the corporate tax cuts going to banks and other institutions.
As the corporate tax cut rate was being lowered and lowered, if companies were not making a profit it did not matter. While they were witnessing their opportunities diminish, the banks were getting benefits.
It is interesting that the oil companies and the banks in particular would get corporate tax cut reductions. The way it works in the United States is that it taxes on worldwide corporate profits. Therefore, our tax dollars out of Ottawa that were going to these profitable institutions that were making record profits were actually being taxed in Washington. It was getting our money. We were basically sending cheques from Ottawa to Washington. That is a strange economic way to improve a country. It is a strange way to actually benefit, even when we had the challenge in the United States with buy America.
We need to wonder what the Americans think about us over here, as we are actually handing them cash and, in the meantime, they are telling us that we cannot be involved in the buy America plan despite signing the NAFTA.
I would remind members of something that is very important. In a previous debate in this House, a member actually thought that the auto pact was in existence right now and that it came about because of the NAFTA. No. After we signed the NAFTA , one of the repercussions was that Japan took us to the WTO and the WTO ruled against Canada. We lost the auto pact. We lost all those jobs. We went from number two in the world in automotive manufacturing to number eight now, which is unfortunate. Those are value-added jobs.
When we see what is happening here in this sector, we need to wonder why we did not get certain things into the actual study. Part of it is that there was very little consultation. We note that there were only 30 submissions and 27 respondents with regard to this issue because it was not really promoted. If it does not get out there, people do not notice it.
That was the same type of approach we saw when the government did the deal with regard to the Canada and U.S. enhancement of the border perimeter security stuff that was recently announced. It was thrown up on a web site but there was no dialogue with the people presenting evidence and no expanding of the discussion.
It is the same problem we have had from this initial response. Hopefully, we will see that at committee because that is very important. It all depends upon the committee as whether there will be fairness with regard to witnesses, whether they will be heard and whether it will be done out of camera.
For those who follow the things that are happening on Parliament Hill, again today many committees met in camera, which means in secrecy, in private. Only the members who were at that meeting or another subsequent member sworn in later can go back and listen to that testimony again and get that testimony. Everything that is discussed in camera, unfortunately, never becomes part of the public record. We hope there will not be people in camera as witnesses, which would be unfortunate. However, I do not think it will go that far. We would like to see enough witnesses to ensure we will have proper hearings and a proper analysis.
One of the things I want to touch on is a consumer aspect because I have done a lot of work in the past on consumer issues. It is a good example of what we have addressed with regard to the changing world and our banking industry and financial institutions and privacy. In the United States, the patriot act was enacted and it is structured in such a way that when it goes to a company and asks for information about a person who has done business with that company, the company must provide that information to the U.S. government services and law enforcement. That information is used for whatever purposes. People do not have any ability to know that is happening because it is against the law for that company to disclose it.
Why is that important here today? Many of our financial institutions have data assembled in the United States. Therefore, because they are assembled in the United States, like my CIBC Visa, my Visa is now vulnerable to the patriot act without my knowledge and CIBC does not even know. It is used for whatever purposes. That is a good example of why we need an international treaty on the use of information. I do not think it is fair for Canadians to have their documents spied upon by Americans without a warrant. The way the PIPEDA works in Canada is that a warrant is needed to get that information. There is a check and balance through our justice system here. They can go after the cases where they think there are significant issues to look at but at the same time there is e the balance in review so tat people are not just having fishing expeditions done on them.
Why is that important? We have seen cases in the past, such as the Maher Arar case. He was deported but we did not know what information was assembled about Maher Arar. Some of it could have been his financial records or information. However, we had a lead government agency in the United States and a lead government agency in Canada conspire against a Canadian citizen and send him to a known torture state. We do not know, because of the patriot act, how all that took place and what information, if there was, was actually used. I believe we need an international treaty with the United States on how to share and disclose information because it has never been addressed. That took place in 2004. Our Privacy Commissioner has raised it, as have a number of different other people. It is important to recognize that.
Another important issue is the credit card fees. With regard to the honorary system we have now, it is simply outlandish. We cannot have this proprietary notion and predatory rates on credit cards, especially some of those that are the third party lenders. It is very significant. Some of them are at 25% to 27% and that is just wrong and should not happen. Some of the user fees, whether it be ATM or credit cards, all those are affecting our economy because the banks have not been re-investing that capital back into Canada to the degree where that money, if we stretch somebody's budget, would pay the rent, buy some clothes or send our kids to school, and would expand our purchasing power. We could do so on a more even basis if we were to look at those things because there is an economic opportunity for all of us.