Mr. François-Philippe Champagne (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to add my voice to all of the others and wish you a Merry Christmas and to thank you for enlightening us every day that we spend with you. I would also like to thank my amazing colleagues on this momentous day.
I think that the people who watch this debate will understand why this is so important on the last sitting day of the House before Christmas. We are doing something special for Canadians, and something they will remember.
My speech this afternoon might interest all parliamentarians because it is a speech in favour of the middle class, Canadian families, and people in every one of Canada's ridings who sent us here to Ottawa.
I am very pleased to be here to talk about Bill C-29, budget implementation act, 2016, No. 2. Before going over the many major benefits of this bill for Canadians across the country, I would just like to reiterate the government's commitment to strengthening the current protection system for consumers of financial products and services. We have talked about this at length and in this speech I want to clarify the government's position.
Part of our commitment is to ensure that there is a solid, effective, and consistent system in Canada that guarantees the highest protection standards for all consumers of financial services in the country, regardless of where they live in Canada and regardless of the bank they do business with.
As a member from Quebec, I would like to commend the extraordinary work of the 40 Liberal members of the government, who do a great job of championing Quebeckers and their position on this important issue. I thank them for that. They have done the work their constituents sent them here to Ottawa to do. They greatly contributed to ensuring that we consider every point of view that was expressed in this important file. I sincerely thank my colleagues.
As everyone knows, we have listened to our colleagues from Quebec and to Quebeckers, who told us how important it is for them to have a high level of protection in the banking sector, in Quebec and across the country. We have listened to the Quebeckers who sent us here, to the House. That is why the leader of the Senate, the hon. Senator Harder, has tabled an amendment that will remove from the bill the current provisions for the banking sector, namely the consumer protection measures, so that we can ask the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, the FCAC, to ensure that the federal protection system is as solid as any provincial protection system. That way we can see to it that our objective, the one we have had since the beginning, of having the highest overall level of protection for Canadians all over the country, can absolutely be achieved in a way that will meet our goals and ensure that Canadian consumers are protected.
What has driven us from the beginning is that, thanks to the work of all my colleagues, we succeed in putting in place the best possible system, in order to defend the higher interest of consumers.
Canadians deserve to have access to a consistent national banking system that is easy to understand, a banking system that has high consumer protection standards, is designed to meet the needs of consumers of financial products and services, and is applied in the same way regardless of where consumers may live.
We remain strongly committed to organizing and strengthening consumer protection measures, making access to basic banking services easier, and improving the rules surrounding current business practices governing the way that banks deal with their customers.
We must not forget the creation of new obligations for the banks to strengthen disclosure provisions, improve complaint processing, and reinforce governance and organizational accountability for consumer protection.
Our objective is simple. It is to make the consumer protection system easier to understand and to prevent consumers from having to consult several sets of rules that apply to the same financial products and services, whether they are doing business in person or online.
We want to increase the obligations imposed on banks and hold them accountable for improving outcomes for consumers and for treating those consumers fairly all across the country.
That is why we will be working together with stakeholders and the provinces to ensure that the framework is strengthened so as to meet the highest standards, as was our initial objective, and we are going to achieve this with the sole objective of protecting consumers all over the country.
Under the Constitution, the banks lie within federal jurisdiction, and that is how it has been in this country for 150 years. This responsibility includes that of ensuring that the banks are solid and that of establishing standards governing their operation to ensure they meet the needs of Canadians, of course.
To that end, we have to oversee the establishment of a rigorous system for protecting consumers of financial products and services that is applicable in the same way throughout the country. I know that this is an issue that the House fully understands. The proposed improvements would make it possible to employ a broader spectrum of personal identification documents to open an account or cash Government of Canada cheques, and this is one of the measures that affect the people who sent us here, to Ottawa.
I can say that this measure is going to benefit people in the regions north of my riding, including certain indigenous communities, because they are having difficulty accessing banking services and cashing federal government cheques. This system will give them easier access to certain banking services.
The rules we are introducing also add a new prohibition on imposing undue pressure on consumers, and apply cancellation periods to a wider range of products and services.
Summary information boxes would be mandatory for a larger number of banking products and services, and accountability would be improved, notably thanks to requirements for banks to report on measures taken to meet the challenges faced by the most vulnerable Canadians.
Improvements would also strengthen the current complaint management requirements, so as to require banks and external complaint processing bodies to report on the number and nature of complaints received. All of these measures would guarantee that the banks are answerable for their actions.
We know that consumers are better protected when rules and rights are clearly laid out for all stakeholders. Similarly, it is easier to ensure that banks are accountable when the rules to be followed are clear and exhaustive, when they are national in application and when compliance is ensured by a designated federal regulatory agency such as the FCAC.
Our government has promised to protect the interests of middle-class Canadians and those of persons working hard to join the middle class, and we will continue to do so, particularly with regard to the protection of consumers of financial products and services.
I would also like to note how the amended budget implementation act, 2016, No. 2 would continue to make a very substantial contribution to the achievement of our objective of growing the economy, to the benefit of families, workers, and the most vulnerable members of our society.
The strengthening of the middle class and the establishment of conditions conducive to sustainable economic growth are the main priorities of our government. Tax fairness is an important part of our commitments in this regard, as is the adoption of a tax system that functions as planned and contributes to fostering an economy that works for the entire population.
As there are only a few moments left in this momentous day, I invite all members to reflect about who sent them to Ottawa, whether they are young, old, workers, families, or the people working in their riding, because these people all sent us here with a mission, and that is to properly represent their interests.
Members will find in C-29, budget implementation act, 2016, No. 2, measures that will help the people who sent us to Ottawa. All members should vote for this bill as they will be voting to support the people who sent them here.
This is a momentous day for Canada, and everyone will remember the day when we rose to work for Canadians.
Mr. Gérard Deltell (Louis-Saint-Laurent, CPC):
Madam Speaker, on behalf of all of my colleagues, thank you for your good wishes. We also extend our best wishes to everyone who helps keep the House of Commons running smoothly.
As everyone knows, it gives me great pleasure to rise and speak in the House. Today especially, I am pleased to vote and speak in favour of the amendment presented by the Senate regarding Bill C-29. I do not like anything about this bill, but the proposed amendment is a fine moment for the House of Commons.
The politicking has been really obvious these past few days. Everyone is tugging on the blanket, saying that they are the ones who got things done. The reality is that all Canadians are the winners. Well done.
First, I want to commend the work of my colleague from Joliette, who on November 17, 2016, if I am not mistaken, was the first to raise the issue and bring the debate to parliamentary committee and to the House of Commons. I also want to commend my NDP colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques who is doing a great job, as well as the Chair for its co-operation.
I would also like to commend the government for finally listening to reason and making the right decision, after admittedly creating some unfortunate uncertainty. It is never easy in politics to backtrack, to take a step back and admit that the first step was not the right one and that we have to take another. The government did that, and that is good.
I also commend our Senate colleagues, Senator Carignan, leader of the official opposition, and Senator Pratte, a new independent senator, who also alerted the government to the problems related to consumer protection in Bill C-29.
In short, Bill C-29 contained what we would call a constitutional virus. There were several clauses, division 5 in its entirety, that directly affected consumer protection. From our perspective, that is a provincial jurisdiction.
There was input galore from the opposition parties here in the House, in the Senate, and also from the National Assembly, which, in a unanimous motion appealed to the government on this, on behalf of Quebec's justice minister and the member for the Outaouais region, and on behalf of the Premier of Quebec, who even warned the government that if by some misfortune this bill were passed, it was highly likely that the Government of Quebec would challenge it in court. Finally, each individual's efforts and sacrifice for the good of the many and this government's understanding, albeit a bit delayed, are why we are gathered here today.
Let me explain some of the history of this bill. We have to go back to 2012. At that time, the federal government tabled in the House of Commons a bill that covered and addressed a lot of issues about the banking system.
As members know, the banking system belongs to the federal government, but in 2012, this bill addressed some of the issues concerning consumer protection. Then, also in 2012, we were aware of that in the National Assembly. I am using the word “we” because I was there at the time. I was a member of the National Assembly. That may remind many colleagues of some bad memories.
However, I was one of those who voted for a unanimous resolution in the National Assembly, calling on the House of Commons, saying that consumer protection was a provincial jurisdiction, not a federal one.
In 2014, the Supreme Court, in the Marcotte decision, clearly identified that consumer protection was a provincial jurisdiction, not a federal one.
At the time, our government, having acknowledged the 2014 Supreme Court ruling, was preparing to make changes to prevent what has been happening over the past few weeks, and that is a law that allows the federal government to once again infringe on the provinces' jurisdiction.
Bill C-29 is the bill that will implement the Liberal's bad budget, which I will come back to later. Sadly, this bill contained what we call a constitutional virus, one that would have sent us straight for a brick wall. The only thing this bill would have accomplished is to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawyers who already knew it was a lost cause.
In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that consumer protection was an area of provincial jurisdiction, not federal. The federal government was trying to take it over with Bill C-29. We were headed for constitutional disaster. That was not a good thing because it would have cost money and taken time to get back to where we started.
As I was saying earlier, everyone's hard work and sacrifices on behalf of Canadians have made the government see reason. Bill C-29 contained a constitutional virus, but that is going to be remedied today, which is wonderful.
However, this is still a bad bill because it implements bad measures from the Liberal's bad budget. I would like to talk more about that.
I want to remind members that this budget provides for a $30-billion deficit, which is three times the amount promised by the Liberals. During the election, the Liberal Party promised that it would run small $10-billion deficits and that it would balance the budget at the end of three years. However, the reality is quite different. We are talking about a $30-billion deficit. When will the budget be balanced? It will only be balanced when the Conservatives return to power in three years.
Is this not the government that was boasting about taking a balanced approach, promising to change the tax code, promising that Canadians would be more fairly treated? Is the government aware that 65% of Canadians are not affected by the so-called tax cuts and that anyone earning $45,000 or less per year is not affected by the Liberal measures? Is the government aware that the people who will benefit the most from these supposed tax cuts are those earning between $144,000 and $199,000 per year? Are those people part of the middle class? No.
I confess that I am in conflict of interest on this. As a member, I am among Bill C-29's privileged few, which means that I will be paying less income tax. I do not feel that this is a good thing. The people who earn $44,000 are members of the middle class. Yet the government is granting them no tax cuts.
The government sees itself as a sort of noble Robin Hood figure, taking aim at the poor souls who have the misfortune of earning $200,000 a year. A word of caution, sometimes bowstrings can snap, as seems to have happened in this case. Those who are in greatest need are not affected by the proposed measures.
Time is passing, the last thing I want is to get carried away. That never happens to me. The holiday season is upon us, so let us play nice. The holidays are coming and we all realize that we are in politics for the benefit of future generations. As inheritors of our parents' legacy, we now work for our children's future.
I have been elected four times, and have served four terms as a member, whether of the National Assembly or the House of Commons. Tradition has it that I should appear at the ballot box accompanied by my parents and my children; that is part of my political commitment. I am there thanks to my parents and for my children.
In closing, then, allow me to salute those without whom I would not be here, namely my parents, who tomorrow, December 15, will be celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary.
We all get carried away sometimes. That said, it will now be my pleasure to take my colleagues’ questions.
Mr. Guy Caron (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I rise in the House for the last time in 2016, and I wish every member of the House, especially my colleagues who sit on the finance committee, happy holidays, merry Christmas and all the best for 2017. I hope everyone will use the next few weeks to get some rest.
My final thoughts will not be in praise of the government. Today the government indulged in some interesting revisionism regarding what happened over the last weeks. Clearly, the parliamentary secretary should go back to Hansard so see what answers he gave in the House and what was discussed in the finance committee. He would realize that no one on the government side, no one among the 40 Liberal MPs from Quebec, not a single Liberal member of the House uttered a single word on consumer protection jurisdiction. Until very recently, before the minister did an about-face, the answers we got—the last one just two days ago—were still about defending the government's decision to go ahead with division 5, the amendments to the Bank Act.
The government decided to delete the provisions, thanks to the efforts of all opposition parties. Like my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent, I, too, would commend the members of the Bloc Québécois, the Conservative Party and the NDP on all their work. I also commend the Senate, particularly independent senator André Pratte, who kept pressing the issue. Consumer associations that were invited to appear before the committee to share their concerns about consumer protection and federal interference also helped to make sure that the government backed down on this issue.
Why is it so important? If I am concerned, it is because the government does not seem to understand that the main issue is not the level of protection enjoyed by Canadian bank customers. The main issue is that consumer protection is a provincial jurisdiction. Given what we have just heard, the minister is clearly trying to find another way of imposing a consumer protection framework even if that is outside federal jurisdiction.
I am worried by the government’s interpretation of the famous Marcotte ruling. This was a class action against the Bank of Montreal. Mr. Marcotte went to court to challenge certain fees which he felt were far too high, in addition to being hidden. He went to court to complain about these fees. In the end, the Bank of Montreal and all the banks were saying that they did not need to comply with the Consumer Protection Act, because they operate under federal jurisdiction. The case went to the Supreme Court.
Contrary to what the government has persisted in saying, the Supreme Court did not ask the government for jurisdictional clarification. The Supreme Court established that the Bank Act was applicable, the Consumer Protection Act was applicable, and the two could coexist very well, since they were complementary. The Bank Act covers the operation of the various banking programs, and the Consumer Protection Act, self-evidently, covers consumer protection.
What the Marcotte ruling said was that the Consumer Protection Act was applicable. The Supreme Court never asked the government to look into the issue and assume control of the consumer protection issue, for Quebec or for the provinces generally.
Why is this a problem? Why was it a problem with regard to the jurisdiction from which we will shortly be withdrawing? The legislation created a conflict between the federal statute and the provincial statute. There is a principle called the principle of federal paramountcy, which holds that if two laws, one federal and one provincial, touch upon the same issue, the federal law will have primacy.
With regard to the Marcotte ruling, the Supreme Court said that there was no conflict, in spite of what the banks tried to make it say.
In trying to recover these powers, in trying to impose this, they created a conflict between the federal side and the Consumer Protection Act. Having created that conflict, they found themselves invoking federal paramountcy.
I would argue this is where the government’s argument failed. It is the same kind of argument the consumer protection agencies, in particular, were making, saying that the government was trying to interfere and create a problem where there was none. Obviously, the Chambre des notaires and the Barreau du Québec were saying the same thing.
That is why we are happy to see these clauses being withdrawn, indeed, to see the entire opposition in this House working in the same direction to encourage the Senate to take a look at this. Quebec, starting with the opposition in Quebec City and then the government, saw that there was a major problem, and asked the federal government to make some changes and remove these clauses. The various civil society groups did the same thing. Finally the government has listened to reason. We hope that it will learn a valuable lesson from what has happened when the time comes to make decisions which could effectively encroach upon provincial jurisdictions.
In that sense, I invite the Liberals to do some soul-searching over the holidays. We will have a few weeks to replenish ourselves. This is the perfect time to do it. I am truly very happy to have been able to play a small part in this decision. Once again, all of the opposition parties have been involved in this.
I will close by adding a few more words on Bill C-29, and perhaps replying to what has been said on the government side. They talk often of the 9 million Canadians who are going to benefit from the tax cuts. But they are always silent about the fact that 23 million Canadians, most of them earning less than $45,000, will benefit in no way from these cuts. I would prefer that they show a little more honesty. Certainly, there will be a tax reduction. They will increase taxes on the 1% richest people, but that money will not be given to the middle class as a whole. It will be given in large part to the 9% of people who are the richest. My colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent mentioned this: the people earning under $45,000 will receive nothing from the tax cut. Those earning between $45,000 and $90,000 will benefit a little from the tax reduction, but mostly it will be those earning over $90,000 and up to close to $200,000 who will benefit from it. Even those earning $210,000 per year will still enjoy a tax cut. But the people earning $45,000 will get nothing at all. That is one of the problems with the Liberal program. We tried to correct the situation by making it possible for people to get a tax reduction starting at $11,000, but the government would have nothing of it.
The second thing, also mentioned by my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent, is the fact that when the Canada child benefit program was set up, they forgot to index it. That is a major problem because the lack of indexing would have meant that the program would have been less advantageous for most families starting in 2022-2023. For this we can thank the parliamentary budget officer, who conducted a rigorous study on the subject. As if by chance, the afternoon after the report was published, the government finally said that it wanted to index the program and would do so starting in 2020-2021, that is, after the next federal election.
Can we really believe that this was part of the government’s plans? It never mentioned indexing when the program was announced, when it was set up. In the end, it took the publication of a report for them to realize that not indexing would mean that the government’s initiative was going to be less beneficial within six years. Even taking into account the amendments to Bill C-29, we are going to find ourselves in a situation where loss of purchasing power is going to come dangerously close to the level that families would have had with the old program.
So instead of congratulating ourselves on different initiatives—initiatives whose value or lack thereof we can debate, initiatives that are going to affect different groups of Canadians to different degrees—for 2017 I would like to wish the House debates that are more rigorous in terms of economic analysis. I am an economist by training, and I like rigour. There is always room for partisan viewpoints. That is normal: we function on the adversarial principle. It’s normal that we should have differing positions, but all the same, we ought to be more rigorous and disciplined in the exercise of our duties.
That is what I wish us all for 2017.
Mr. Gabriel Ste-Marie (Joliette, BQ):
You cannot imagine how pleased I am to speak to my own amendments to Bill C-29, Madam Speaker. In fact, the motion moved by the government repeats word-for-word the amendments that the Bloc Québécois presented to the finance committee. It is exactly the same as the amendments that we presented at report stage.
I am proud. I am proud of our work and of our people, who came together and mobilized. The experts, consumer advocates, the National Assembly, reporters, everyone stepped up. Today, we see that it is worth it to not give up. It is not always easy to swim against the current. However, in the end, standing firm pays off.
Speaking about standing firm, I would like to add that some members must not feel very proud today. I am referring to the 40 Liberal Quebec members who voted for Bill C-29 at second reading, who voted against our amendments not once but twice, in committee and in the House. They were the ones who always said that our criticisms were unfounded, that Bill C-29 was excellent, and that our amendments were ridiculous. No, those 40 MPs must not be proud.
Members have probably seen old RCA records, with the dog sitting next to a gramophone. That dog's name was Victor, and he was sitting there because he was listening to his master's voice. That is similar to what we have seen throughout the saga of Bill C-29: members from Quebec listening to their master's voice. Well, it looks like their master has abandoned them and even decided to support amendments made by the Bloc Québécois. Way to go Victor!
I will concede that this is not the first time Liberal members from Quebec are being pushed aside in favour of their Toronto master. Here is a quote from someone in my riding of Joliette. I challenge members to guess who it is. That little guy from Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez said:
|| Much more fundamental questions are raised by these events: Who should the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada listen to on decisions that strictly affect Quebec? Should he follow [Quebeckers] or his Toronto advisers who know nothing about the social and political realities of Quebec?
That little guy from Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez knew what he was talking about, and for good reason: he is former Quebec lieutenant for the Liberal Party and current mayor of Montreal Denis Coderre. Way to go Denis!
I may be proud, but I am not trying to gloat. In Canada, the battle is never truly won for Quebec. The Minister of Finance has already announced that there will be another episode of this bad TV series next year. He wants to come back with a bill that is not quite as flawed. He said that he wants to enhance the federal consumer protection framework and that, once he has done his homework, he is going to come back and try once again to put banks above Quebec's laws, which the banks hate. I wish him luck because it will not be easy.
In order to propose a bill that provides the same kind of protection that Quebeckers now enjoy, the government would have to draft nothing less than a federal version of the Civil Code. Here is another problem: either the future bill will not protect anyone because contract law does not fall under federal jurisdiction or it will be unconstitutional because contract law does not fall under federal jurisdiction. In short, the bill will either be ineffective or unconstitutional. That is quite the dilemma, and I say to him, “Good luck, Charlie Brown”.
The new year promises to be a busy one, and we are going to remain vigilant. For now, I will smile and thank everyone who took action against the rich bankers and their co-conspirators and sided with ordinary Canadians. I thank them and congratulate them.
I would like to wish everyone here a happy holiday season.
Madam Speaker, I greatly appreciate your best wishes for the holidays and the new year. I would also like to wish all members of the House, all employees, and their families and loved ones a merry Christmas and all the best in 2017. Madam Speaker, I would also like to wish you a merry Christmas.