Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak to Bill , the financial system review act at third reading. This bill would reinforce stability in Canada's financial sector, fine-tune the consumer protection framework and adjust the regulatory framework to new developments.
Since the onset of the global financial crisis of 2008, our government has remained committed to strengthening the framework overseeing the financial sector. Our focus has been to provide the best consumer protection environment possible, one in which there is competition, information is disclosed and consumers are able to make informed choices. Bill does just that.
Bill proposes to improve the consumer protection framework by enhancing the supervisory powers of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, FCAC. FCAC is mandated with ensuring that federally regulated financial institutions adhere to the consumer provisions of the legislation set out to govern them. In addition, FCAC is the government's lead agency on financial education and literacy. It has moved forward with an array of excellent initiatives in recent years. FCAC has developed innovative tools to help Canadian consumers, such as a mortgage calculator that quickly determines mortgage payments and the potential savings resulting from early payments.
FCAC has also been instrumental in leveraging and coordinating private sector and voluntary sector initiatives on financial literacy already under way across Canada. Financial literacy among Canadians will pay dividends for future generations. That is why, in budget 2009, we established the task force on financial literacy, to make recommendations on a cohesive national strategy to improve financial literacy in Canada.
The task force had 13 members drawn from the business and education sectors, community organizations and academia. The task force delivered its final report, “Canadians and Their Money: Building a brighter financial future”, on February 9, 2011. It outlined 30 recommendations to improve the financial literacy of Canadians. I am pleased to note that the proposed financial literacy leader legislation before Parliament now responds to a key task force recommendation for the need for dedicated leadership. That legislation, as the name suggests, would provide the framework for the appointment of a financial literacy leader. This financial literacy leader would be mandated to work with stakeholders to support financial literacy initiatives and would continue the progress achieved by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.
Informed consumers are the very foundation of a solid financial system. Indeed, a country's prosperity is ultimately the sum of the financial successes and related decisions of all its households. However, we have done more.
In 2009, our government acted to protect Canadians who use credit cards. We want to ensure that Canadians understand their obligations in advance of signing up for and using these purchasing instruments. To that end, the measures we introduced, which are in effect today, mandated clear and simple information on credit card application forms and contracts, and clear and timely advance notice of changes in rates and fees. This initiative provides Canadian consumers with precisely the kind of improved financial information that leads to better decision making.
Also, to protect consumers, in August 2010, we put into effect the code of conduct for the credit and debit card industry. The code was developed in consultation with small business. Under the code, merchants will be provided with clear information regarding fees and rates, given advance notice of any new fees and fee increases, able to cancel contracts without penalty should fees rise or new fees be introduced, and given new tools to promote competition and in particular the freedom to accept credit payments from a particular network without the obligation to accept debit payments and vice versa.
This code has been widely applauded, especially among small business. I will quote at length what the Canadian Federation of Independent Business had to say. It stated:
The Code of Conduct's biggest achievement has been to protect Canada's low-cost flat-fee debit system.... the Code's other big accomplishment is providing merchants with some power in their relationship with credit card companies, banks and card processing companies.
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.
I encourage all members to take the time to review the code and discover how it will contribute to a better system for both merchants and consumers. Before I conclude, let me very quickly highlight some of the other measures in today's legislation which, I believe, other speakers will address in greater detail.
Bill would update financial institution legislation to promote financial stability and ensure Canada's financial institutions continue to operate in a competitive, efficient and stable environment. It would improve the ability of regulators to share information officially with international counterparts. It would change the priority status of segregated fund policies in insolvency situations that would facilitate timely transfer, consistent with life and health insurance policies. It would clarify that Canadians are able to cash government cheques under $1,500 free of charge at any bank in Canada. It would promote competition and innovation by enabling co-operative credit associations to provide technology services to a broader market. It would amend the Payment Clearing and Settlement Act to remove the requirement that there must be at least one bank involved.
In all, the measures proposed by the bill would further strengthen our system by reinforcing stability in the financial sector, fine-tuning the consumer protection framework and adjusting the regulatory framework to adapt to new developments.
Canadians should be justifiably proud of our financial services sector. It employs over 750,000 in good, well-paying jobs. It represents about 7% of Canada's GDP. It is a world leader in the use of information technology.
Over the past four years, the World Economic Forum has ranked our banking system as the soundest in the world. Forbes magazine has ranked Canada number one in its annual review of the best countries to do business. Five Canadian financial institutions were named to Bloomberg's most recent list of the world's strongest banks, more than any other country.
Recently, a Financial Stability Board peer review praised the government's response to the global financial crisis. It highlighted the resilience of Canada's financial system, calling it a model for other countries. The FSB review said that “the strength of Canada's economy and its financial system meant that no Canadian financial institution failed or required government support in the form of a capital injection or debt guarantees during the global financial crisis.”
By updating the financial legislation framework, we would continue to ensure that Canada's financial institutions operate in a competitive, efficient and stable environment that would help Canada maintain its well-earned reputation as a global leader in financial services.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the time I was given to participate in today's debate and to recommend the timely passage of Bill .
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful to speak to the third reading stage of Bill .
I thank the hon. for his comments, especially those on financial literacy. They are a cornerstone for all Canadians to understand their institutions. This would help the jobs and economy of our country to continue to grow.
The bill is significant legislation because, although it is purely technical, it would guarantee the long-standing strength and security of Canada's financial institutions. Our government will make a series of changes to various legislation that govern Canada's financial system, including the Canadian Payments Act, about which I will speak in greater detail in just a few moments.
First, I want to emphasize for members of the House, and Canadians watching at home, that the Financial System Review Act is a mandatory and routine legislation. Canada's financial system is the safest and most secure in the world, and that is a direct result of mandatory five-year reviews. That kind of vigilance has been absolutely critical to maintaining our economic strength in our financial institutions. As the hon. member before me pointed out, much of the world has lauded that, understands that and has given Canada credit for it. Thanks to the greatest finance minister on the planet, the hon.—
An hon. member: Paul Martin
Mr. Ted Opitz: No, absolutely not.
However, that is why we have our system. In fact, it is a long-standing tradition in Canada to conduct mandatory five-year reviews of Canada's financial sector legislation. I should point out that this most recent review process was officially launched in September 2010, when our Conservative government launched the public consultation process open to all Canadians.
I am sure most members of the House are familiar with the World Economic Forum, which has ranked Canada as having the soundest banks in the world for four years running. What is more, Canada's safe and secure financial system is the envy of the world.
I will quote from the United States Congressional Research Service report which explains how Canadian banks offer a model to the United States and other countries on how to avoid a future financial market crisis. It states:
Canada’s financial system, in particular, garnered attention, because it seemed to be more resistant to the failures and bailouts that have marked banks in the United States and Europe...
As my hon. colleagues are no doubt aware, Canada's credit unions offer important and valuable services as part of our banking sector. Indeed, more than five million Canadians and business owners are the grassroots shareholders of co-operative financial services in Canada and one in three Canadians is a member of a credit union or caisse populaire.
In recent years, our Conservative government has demonstrated its commitment to credit unions by supporting a federal credit union charter to accommodate growth and expansion of the Canadian credit union system. These actions will ensure that those credit unions, which choose to pursue business ventures out of the province, will not be constrained by outdated rules on provincial incorporation. Furthermore, this will also give credit unions a means of diversifying sources of funding and spreading their geographic risk exposure. Similarly, in order to provide federal credit unions with a greater leverage of the Canadian Payments Association, today's legislation would amend the Canadian Payments Act so that credit unions would be classified under the co-operative class in the act instead of the bank class.
At the same time, credit unions will still employ the long-standing, well-understood and robust governance, liquidity, clearing and settlement frameworks in use today. While this may sound like nothing more than a technical change, it is nevertheless fundamentally important. This change would continue to promote a level playing field within the financial sector which would foster competition among players and would ensure a stronger, more stable overall system.
This is what the Credit Union Central of Canada, the national association for credit unions of Canada, had to say about this modification. It said:
—we want to note our support for the proposed amendments...Placing the federal credit union in the cooperatives class will preserve and strengthen the credit union system representation at the CPA. It will ensure that a federal credit union will be represented by a director, who speaks for the interests of cooperative financial institutions in CPA matters. A strong advocate at the CPA is important for the credit union system's ability to advocate on behalf of credit unions and to continue to operate payments facility efficiently and cost effectively, which has a direct impact on overall credit union system competitiveness.
I will remind everybody that CPA is the Canadian Payments Act.
I am certain all members of the House would be in agreement that a stronger credit union system can benefit all Canadians.
Finally, as I mentioned at the outset of my remarks, I would like to speak to a piece of the financial system review act that would make improvements to Canada's payments system, something Canadians deal with almost each and every day. Indeed, every year, Canadians make 24 billion payments, which in total are worth more than $44 trillion. These payments allow us to run our businesses, sustain our households and allow governments to fund essential programs.
Canadians use various payments instruments to purchase goods and services to make financial investments and to transfer funds from one person to another. These instruments include cash, cheques, debit and credit cards. With the exception of cash, payment instruments have typically necessitated a claim on a financial institution such as a bank, credit union or caisse populaire. Therefore, banks and credit unions must make arrangements to transfer funds among themselves, either on their own or on their customer's behalf.
A payments system is set on instruments, procedures and rules used to transfer these funds. In Canada our national systems for clearing and settlement of payments are run by the Canadian Payments Association, or the CPA, a not-for-profit organization of federally regulated financial institutions.
Our government knows that no modern economy can reliably function without a payments system that is sophisticated and secure. However, the payments landscape is changing. For example, experience in Canada and abroad since the 1990s demonstrates that clearing and settlement systems do not always include banks as direct participants. That is why Bill seeks to amend the Payment Clearing and Settlement Act to remove the requirement that there must be at least one bank involved in a payments transaction. These new rules will allow more flexibility in establishing systems to clear complex financial instruments like over the counter derivatives, or OTCs. This adjustment will permit the Bank of Canada to monitor payments that could pose systemic risks to the financial system.
Canada's leadership in reforming the global financial system through membership and international organizations, such as the G20, is well-known and a source of pride for Canadians. What Canadians may not know is that one important commitment we have made to our G20 partners is that all our OTCs will be cleared through central counter parties by 2012. This is an important step for the resilience and stability of our financial system.
To meet our G20 commitments, it is critical that Canadian prudential and market conduct regulators have the necessary authority, tools and information to regulate the Canadian OTC derivatives market on an ongoing basis. This means coordinating activities across current federal and provincial jurisdictions as well as with foreign regulators.
This is the kind of evolutionary change that demonstrates the importance of regular reviews in our legislative framework to maintain Canada's leadership in financial services. For these reasons, I urge the members to support passage of this largely technical but immensely important bill, which would help to ensure the continued functioning of Canada's payments system.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to commence debate for the official opposition this afternoon on Bill . Our finance critic will be participating in the debate later on.
At each stage of the bill it we have said that we will be supporting it. We tried to make some amendments at the committee stage. We thought they would make proper adjustments to the various changes that have been made. We thought they would add to the bill and would not in any way detract from it or cause any problems. We wanted to ensure that the scope of the minister's approval was properly reflected to represent the interests not just of the banking industry, but also took into consideration the concerns of the country's economy as a whole. Unfortunately, those amendments were not deemed to be acceptable and they were voted down.
Nonetheless, we recognize that this is an important process in respect of the Canadian financial system. Some would say it represents the strength of the financial system that we have built into the law a periodic review of the Bank Act every five years. The government will take time to go through this process and ensure that the people participating in financial services in the country are being properly represented and also ensure that the agents, the bankers, the operators, the financial institutions, are operating correctly.
There is no question of the strength of the Canadian banking system. Its ability to withstand the economic chaos which the United States, Iceland, Europe, and various countries within the global community experienced in 2008 was because of the fact that historically over generations this country has developed proper and standard regulation.
In the 1990s under the Liberals, there was an attempt to deregulate the financial industry, to open up our financial institutions to foreign control, but Canadians spoke up and said that was not the way they wanted to go forward. I was glad to see that happen.
It causes me some concern when I hear members opposite in the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party take credit for the state of Canada's financial system. They want to take credit for the fact that it is in good shape. I would suggest it is not the Conservatives and the Liberals alone, it is not the people in this House alone who have made the wise decisions. In large part, it is Canadians, the people who send us to this place who let us know how they think their financial system should be regulated, that they want less speculation and more control and more conservative management of the system. That is a good thing. That is something we should acknowledge and respect.
While this review is an important strength of the banking system, we think that this time around in particular, the government missed an opportunity to make some changes that were sorely needed. We have talked about the measures to reinforce demutualization regulation to prevent predatory practices, measures that could enhance the co-operative credit movement as financial institutions that prioritize serving their communities, as opposed to short-sighted speculation and exorbitant executive bonuses, and more comprehensive consumer protection measures.
For example, we look at the problems that are facing consumers as a result of exorbitant ATM fees and hidden fees in a whole myriad of banking services. We would like to see full and complete disclosure of fees that are charged to Canadians who use the banks and other financial institutions in this country. Unfortunately, the government decided not to do that. When members opposite get to their feet and speak to this legislation, it is too bad that all they want to do is boast and take credit for the strength of the financial system. All Canadians should be proud of Canada's financial system.
We have to pay close attention to ensure we do not go down the wrong road, that we do not miss things, that we do not disrupt the rules and regulations that are in place in order to provide protection and sound governance.
In that regard, the member who spoke earlier suggested that there was wide consultation with Canadians across the country. That could not be further from the truth. There were requests for participation and consultation. It was by invitation only. I believe that 32 submissions were made and that was it. Even all of those were not made public. As I said in debate at report stage, members talk about this being a technical bill and that we need to recognize it is too detailed for Canadians. That shows a level of disrespect for Canadians which they do not deserve. In Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, for example, there are a lot of constituents whom I have talked with about the need for consumer protection and for greater protection against demutualization. Constituents of mine and Canadians in general know a great deal about these issues. These issues are not too technical for them.
This bill and any review of financial institutions, of the Bank Act, would benefit greatly from a comprehensive, exhaustive consultation with ordinary Canadians. Maybe then members opposite would have a greater appreciation for the challenges and concerns Canadians are facing, and not just the executives of banks and financial institutions. Banks are making tens of billions of dollars in profits every year, and executives are making millions of dollars in annual salaries and bonuses, while consumers whenever they have contact with a financial institution, are being nickel-and-dimed at every opportunity. That causes some concern.
I think that if we had an open process that provided Canadians with the opportunity to share their opinions, knowledge, and experience with the members opposite, it would be of considerable value.
It was in that regard that I raised a couple of questions with the member who spoke before me, and have talked about this before. I am concerned about the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments, a voluntary organization established in 2002 as a result of discussions among government, industry and consumer groups to improve consumer protection and financial services. It was established as a result of section 455 of the Bank Act, which provides all sorts of opportunities to establish dispute resolution processes.
However, these processes are in the complete control of the financial institutions. The whole idea of the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments was to have a voluntary organization that was independent. It was set up as an independent service for conflict resolution, with the condition that all banks participate. It was set up to establish procedures for dealing with complaints made by persons who had requested or received products or services in Canada from a bank.
Through the Bank Act each institution has the opportunity to have that kind of service. While that is all good, what the banks, government and consumer groups have recognized is that it is not good enough. That is why the service I referred to was set up. Again, it is not mandatory but voluntary and, unfortunately, two of Canada's largest banks, RBC and TD, left that service.
When I raised questions with the banking association representative at committee, he told me that it was okay because each bank had its own service and own individuals responsible for dealing with complaints. I am not suggesting for a second that he was engaging in any kind of misrepresentation. It was just the situation, and I appreciate the fact that that it is what he said and what the banks are doing. Good for them. Unfortunately, it was determined back in the early 2000s that it was not good enough: Consumers and government recognized that there had to be something more, that there had to be an independent body.
I also raised this question at committee with the parliamentary secretary. I was told that the minister intended to bring forward and set up some other kind of independent service. The government has been saying that now for upwards of a year. Even the banks are wondering what the government will do in this regard.
It is all about independence, consumer representation, fairness, and ensuring that consumers have appropriate representation when dealing with the banks.
As I said, the financial institutions in this country operate within a regulatory framework that provides them with a great deal of protection against competition and their services being challenged and so on. Unfortunately, this approach does not provide consumers with the same level of support, frankly, that my colleagues and I on this side would like to see.
I recognize that the government has gone some distance in fulfilling its responsibility to conduct this review, but the way it did so was to wait until this fall. The government knew that the review was coming forward but waited until the fall to bring forward Bill . It did not introduce it here in the elected chamber for debate and discussion, but in the Senate. That is not to say that senators have not provided some valuable input, but this is the elected chamber. This is where legislation should at least begin. We have been imbued with the concerns, the wishes and the advice of our constituents, and we bring that to bear in debate. We did not have the opportunity to do so.
In short, the bill was discussed, debated and went through some process within the Senate. We did not see it until, I believe, early this year. We have not had much time to deal with it. We know that it has to pass here by April 20 in accordance with the regulations.
If there had been matters that were particularly egregious and we had put up a stink or had wanted to engaged in lengthy debate on them, we would have been accused of putting the whole process in jeopardy as the deadline would be missed. The pressure would have been on.
As a result of the way it was introduced and the timelines used, we did not have the opportunity to have a fulsome discussion with Canadians and in the House on the amendments that we wanted to introduce. That is unfortunate. I believe that very much underlines the way the government tends to view this chamber and the democratic process. We see that here and we see it in committee, as the government is in a hurry. While it was only elected by 39% of the population, it feels that every Canadian out there believes, accepts and agrees with everything it says. The government will not tolerate any conflict, any discussion or opposition. That is unfortunate.
As we know, 60% of Canadians did not vote for the Conservatives. In much of what they told Canadians in the election, Conservatives assured Canadians, for example, that they would not attack their pensions, and yet they are now doing that. The government made commitments not to attack public services, but has been doing that since. The budget is coming down tomorrow and Canadians are going to see firsthand that what the government said to them to get elected was completely to the contrary of what it would do.
That is another slap in the face of democracy and the kind of issue we have been dealing with.
Mr. Speaker, I will begin by providing some clarity on what is a bit confusing at times, I am sure, for many.
Whether it is members from the Conservative Party proclaiming that we have the best in the world, implying that is the current Minister of Finance. I hear a member applauding but he might want to hold his applause for a little while on that particular point. Then we have the New Democrats who believe they can rewrite history, not by saying it once or twice but even going beyond that. The other day we heard a New Democrat saying that it was the New Democrats who saved the banking industry in Canada. They may be a little more generous by implying that there might have been some Canadians also involved.
However, I do think it is important to get the record as clear as possible so members can be a little more forthright about what history actually was back in the 1990s. At the time, I was a member of the Manitoba legislature and I recall the debate on deregulations versus having a regulated banking industry. I had met with TD Bank representatives at a special event where there was a discussion on it. Therefore, I am somewhat familiar with the issue and, like many Canadians, have followed it.
It is important to recognize that there was a great deal of pressure being applied around the world by the financial industry which wanted to see deregulation and many countries succumbed to that.
In Canada, Jean Chrétien, the prime minister at the time; the minister of finance, Paul Martin; and the cabinet were able to resist the pressure that many governments caved in to. They recognized the value of having a regulated financial industry with respect to the banking industry specifically.
Because of the efforts and actions of those two individuals in the cabinet at the time, we have what has been classified as one of the greatest and healthiest banking industries in the world. It had nothing to do with the current or the .
The first major policy announcement from the government related to the banking industry was that we would allow for 40 year mortgages. The current and the current can take full credit for that. We all know that turned out to be a dud of an idea. Not one Conservative member will now stand in his or her place and say that the Conservatives brought out the 40 year mortgage. The simple reason is that they recognize now that it was a bad idea to do that.
We have a and a who like to travel the globe and assume credit for the health of the banking industry in Canada. However, I would suggest that the real credit should be going to Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, the member for and many other members who made up the cabinet back in the nineties and resisted the world pressure to deregulate.
What role did the New Democrats play in it? Some might argue that they played a bit of a role. I do not know what it is. I never detected any significant role. It was a Liberal majority government throughout that period and I believe there were 13 New Democratic members, although I could be wrong. However, I do not believe they played any role whatsoever in regard to protecting the banking industry, as much as they would like to claim that they did play a role.
Just the other day we heard New Democratic members of Parliament trying to take credit. However, that was the reality of history and I think it is important to accurately reflect why it is we have a relatively healthy banking industry, especially in comparison to other countries throughout the world.
This is not just something the Liberals recognize. Even the Conservatives, the New Democrats and, I would suggest, leaders around the world have recognized the valuable role that Canada has played in terms of demonstrating leadership on our financial industry as a whole. We should all be proud of that. There is no doubt whatsoever that through the process we have been able to generate the regulations because these ideas and needs of average Canadians come through our constituencies.
I would agree with one of the statements my colleague made, which is that Canadians as a whole understand and appreciate the importance of the industry.
In doing a bit of research, it was interesting to find out that it was Michael Quinn, a Canadian member of Parliament back in 1897, who came up with the idea that we needed to do something to protect consumers. Ever since then, and possibly even before then, governments have recognized the valuable role they play when it comes to monetary policy and the financial industry in our country. That particular member of Parliament, who happened to be from the province of Quebec, highlighted the importance of interest rates. He felt at the time that interest rates were too excessive, that individuals were being charged not 100% but close to 1,000% in some situations. He felt that it was unrealistic to put people who were in relatively poor economic situations and exploit them through high interest rates.
There has always been a high level of interest in the House of Commons in terms of protecting the consumer and in terms of the financial market as a whole. I will spend a little bit of time speaking to that because it is an important issue.
We talk about tomorrow, which is our budget day. Members should not kid themselves. Many people within the financial institutions or the hierarchy throughout the world will be watching the government to hear the types of expenditures, the sorts of revenues that will be generated and what the potential is for Canada into the future. Many individuals and stakeholders throughout the country, everyone from the consumer in Labrador to B.C. to Winnipeg and in our territories are very much interested in what sort of budget we will see presented. It will have a very significant impact on our financial institutions.
Here we have a bill that is designed to protect the integrity of that financial system but I will talk about how government has a direct impact. One thing that needs to be talked about is the government's own debt situation. It was not that long ago, almost six years ago, when the took office and he had some $13 billion-plus in surplus.
If we fast-forward six years, we find that the government has now exceeded $150 billion in terms of new debt. When a government takes that sort of action, many vested stakeholders throughout will stand up and take note, and it will have an impact.
On the macro scale, it does have an impact in the overall debt that we have as a nation. It is something of which we have to be aware. However, the government has not really done a good job on this, and the numbers speak for themselves.
There are other things that we look to the government to demonstrate leadership on because they have a direct impact in regard to our financial institutions. I will give a specific example. We talk about the retrofit program. In a retrofit program where government sees the value of getting people to invest in their homes, quite often that means government support goes toward it and also financial institutions will get directly involved in those types of programs. I bring this up because it is important for us to recognize that the role the government plays in our financial institutions is significant.
It is very important that when we have legislation such as this, we provide the opportunity for members of Parliament to have good thorough debate and provide the opportunity for a bill such as this to go to committee. Actually, this is the type of legislation in which we should be encouraging Canadians to directly get involved in because it affects each and every one of us. It affects our pocket. Therefore, Canadians have a vested interest.
We have to look at the process. What has the process been like for the Conservative government on Bill ? Members will notice it is called Bill S-5, as opposed to Bill C-5, meaning it had to go through the Senate. This is something the wanted to do. If it were Bill C-5, that would have implied it would come through the House of Commons.
Ever since the has been given a majority government, he feels he has the authority and mandate to ride roughshod over anything that happens inside the House. He has acquired, in the very short time since he had a majority government, record high introductions of time allocation to prevent members of Parliament from engaging in debate on legislation. The attitude or disregard for this fine and wonderful institution is amazing.
Through this institution, Canadians are afforded the opportunity to voice their concerns through their elected officials. However, day in and day out the seems to ignore the rights and what is important for members to truly engage on legislation that is brought forward and which we are asked to pass. The Prime Minister, for whatever reasons, and he will have to explain them at some point, chose to go through the Senate.
Then we have the issue of the being fully aware months ago of the need pass the bill by April 20. The Prime Minister, as he has done with other legislation, seems to drag his feet. After all, he believes that, through his majority government, he can push things through. Now we are in a situation in which there are some serious time concerns. As a result of those concerns, we will be unable to have the type of debate that is important.
In principle, the Liberal Party supports the bill and we have been very clear on that. We recognize the value of it, but many Canadians have issues about which they want their members of Parliament to speak. This would have been a wonderful opportunity to hear many of those contributions to debate.
As an example, it is estimated that the average Canadian now spends well over $120 or $130 annually on banking fees. There is a great deal of concern over whether there is anything the government can do to watch the whole ordeal, to have take some kind of action or have a plan to provide assurance to Canadians that it truly cares about that issue, that it wants to move toward more transparency on the whole issue of banking fees. What about issues such as interest rates?
Another important issue in my riding has been that of bank closures. In Winnipeg North, a number of banks have closed over the last number of years. It has had a very significant impact. For seniors who live on McGregor or on Selkirk in Winnipeg's north end and have had banks in their community close down, there is a real impact. Many of our senior population do not have Internet. They are not going to do banking on the Internet. They want to go to their local bank. It is great in many ways where we have had credit unions. Recently, Assiniboine Credit Union opened up, I believe on McGregor, to try to meet the demand that was created because of banks leaving.
These are real issues that affect Canadians. Whether the government is allowing for adequate and proper debate in the House or providing the opportunity in committee, we need to have this type of discussion so we can share some of the details of the issues that face us. We know there are explanations of how banks will try to justify the narrowing of the gap in interest rates between loans and deposits. That is one of the primary reasons why banks will say that they have to rely more on banking fees in order to cover costs. We are very much aware of that issue. However, I am also aware that banking profits are at all-time record highs and Canadians are aware of that fact. The government needs to develop a plan that ultimately will deal with the wide variety of issues within our financial markets.
Direct banking is one of them. We could talk about the financial institutions of our insurance companies. There is a wide spectrum of issues that are of critical importance. If we do not do it properly, then people are right to be concerned. Not long ago we witnessed the crashes that happened in the United States, in particular. A number of people virtually walked away from their homes. This crisis took place because banks closed down in countries throughout the world.
It is of the utmost importance that we have ongoing reviews. That is why the Liberal Party supports the principle of Bill . We recognize the value of monitoring our financial markets and ensuring we have good, sound regulations. However, we also recognize the importance of Canadians and consumers and we want to see a government do more to address these issues. Whether it is credit card interest rates or the amount of banking fees, consumers want us to be talking about it this.
Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak on Bill .
We have had some good debates today. At the finance committee, we had the chance to look at the bill. One of the first things that we realized was that we did not have much time to actually study the bill. As members know, the bill came from the Senate. Members know we are trying to abolish the Senate, but that is not the issue. The issue was the fact that the study was done very quickly. There were approximately 30 emails or briefs sent through the website. That was pretty much it.
We are talking about the bill, and how every five years we have to look at the financial institutions and banks. Within the last five years there was a global financial crisis. We have talked about sub-primes and paper-backed products. There was a crisis in the U.S. and there was a crisis here. There are some arguments about why we survived the crisis. As I mentioned, it was not because of the Conservatives. It was because of the previous government that had sound financial regulations.
My problem is that, within the last five years, we could have looked at what was happening in the U.S. and overseas, and at what is happening here. Instead, we have a small bill that looks at technical issues. However, there are issues that are taken care of, and that is why we will be supporting Bill .
What we are saying is that we missed an opportunity. What we do not like in the bill, and this was raised in committee, is the fact that we are giving all the power for approving the purchase of foreign banks by Canadians banks to the minister. The came to committee and explained the bill. The response was not good enough.
The way the system is working right now, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions looks at transactions and gives a recommendation on whether or not to approve the merger or acquisition. Now the minister will have the final say. Even in a case where the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions says that it is not good for Canadian institutions, the minister can say, “We do not mind. Just go ahead and move forward with that transaction.”
That is of concern for us, especially knowing that a lot of the ministers, as we see with the , have conflicts of interest. There may be a problem in terms of judgment. In this case, there may be some problems with the minister being too close to financial institutions. That is a big concern that we raised. Unfortunately the government did not answer it.