Mr. Speaker, I move that the 12th report of the Standing Committee on Finance, presented on Wednesday, November 1, be concurred in.
I am very pleased to have occasion to bring this important matter to the floor of the House of Commons, because there is an important decision pending for the Minister of Finance, which is whether to approve the RBC-HSBC merger. What we are debating today is a very concrete and simple recommendation of the finance committee of the House of Commons in its 12th report to the House. It was very clear that a majority of finance committee members do not support that merger going ahead.
There are at least a couple of main reasons why New Democrats are concerned about this merger going ahead. The first is that, as we know, right now Canadians are living through very difficult circumstances. Their household budgets are under severe stress because of rising interest rates and because of the rising costs of all sorts of necessities of life, whether that is housing, home heating or groceries. Every little thing right now means a lot to Canadians who are struggling to make ends meet.
We know that even before the pandemic, something like half of Canadian households were only $200 away from insolvency at the end of the month, and that has only gotten harder. We see the effects in our communities, whether that is the longer and longer lines at food banks for people struggling to feed their families or the fact that more and more folks are homeless and living on the street. I just had the opportunity to travel with the finance committee to many different cities across the country, and that was a common theme, no matter whether we were on the east coast or the west coast. There are tons of folks right now who are no longer housed, and the problem of homelessness is increasingly visible as more and more Canadians cannot make their rent payment at the end of the month or cannot make their mortgage payment and have nowhere to go.
Indeed, some Canadians who are gainfully employed cannot find a place to live that they can afford. It is no longer the case that it is just folks who are not able to get a job or who have a disability and are not able to work who are finding themselves homeless. We are also hearing from folks who do have a reasonable monthly income, what would have been considered reasonable just a few years ago, that they cannot afford a place to live. They have to figure out how to work a full day and go back somewhere to a tent or a spot they found under a building with a bit of shelter, feed themselves, go to sleep, wake up and look presentable in the morning to go back to work, which is certainly a real challenge and not one that I would wish on anyone. That is why we need a government that is going to act with a much stronger sense of urgency in respect of the housing crisis.
One of the other things Canadians have struggled with for a long time is the fees that banks impose to do business at their institutions: to hold deposits and write cheques, or, more and more, to withdraw from ATMs and do e-transfers. We know that in Canada, Canadians pay high fees for that. One of the reasons they pay high fees is that we do not have a competitive banking sector in Canada. We pretty much have five big banks with over 90% market share when it comes to banking in Canada. Think about that. That is not a lot of players in the market. In economics they call that an oligopoly, and while it may not be an oligopoly on paper, it is certainly an oligopoly in practice.
Now what we have is one of Canada's largest banks, RBC, proposing to eat up the seventh-largest bank in Canada. The difference between those two banks is considerable. HSBC is not a huge player, but it is a scrappy player. If we were to look up mortgage rates right now, I think it is offering mortgages at over 70 basis points lower than what RBC is offering them at. Historically, HSBC has offered mortgage rates that are considerably lower than those at RBC.
The government, in the fall economic statement, rightly announced something the New Democrats have been calling for: Folks with insured mortgages will be able to shop around and transfer their mortgage without having to undergo the stress test again. This is exactly the kind of move that Canadians would be looking to make. If they have a mortgage with RBC, they may well want to go to an institution like HSBC that is offering over half a percentage less in the rate for a mortgage. Clearing the way so they would not have to do a stress test is important, but it is not going to matter if HSBC gets gobbled up by RBC and then offers the same rate as RBC. That means Canadians will have won the right to transfer without having to undergo the stress test, but would no longer have somewhere to transfer to that is offering a better rate.
That is why New Democrats think it is important that the government say no to this merger to preserve one of the few players not in the big five in Canada, particularly when they have a track record of exactly the kind of effect we would hope to get from competition, which is competitive pricing on mortgage rates and other services. We know the big five have been relatively unchallenged, and Transcona went through this since I was elected. The TD branch on the corner of Regent and Bond shut down. There are not a lot of bank branches in my community anymore.
Thankfully, Manitoba has a strong credit union movement that I am very proud of. I am a proud member of a couple of credit unions. There are many in Manitoba. I know a former board member of one of those credit unions is in the House today. It is a wonderful thing. It is really only because of the credit unions in Manitoba that we continue to have local branch banking available in my community. The big banks have all but fled in an attempt to reduce costs. That leaves consumers wanting the kind of traditional relationship they had at a local branch, but they are unable to get it. Why is it that the big banks can get away with that? It is because they do not have sufficient competition.
As I said, I am glad I live in a province where the credit union movement is filling an important void with respect to banking services. I am also glad to say that I get my banking services at a credit union. That was in jeopardy not that long ago when the government was looking at changing the Bank Act to outlaw talking about banking at credit unions. I am glad that common sense prevailed and people can say they bank at a credit union. The banks did not get their way on that, just as I hope that the big banks are not going to get their way with this merger, because competition will provide lower rates for Canadians.
I do not want to mislead anyone. It is not that HSBC is some kind of second environmental coming or something, but it was the first bank to offer green bonds. It has made some pretty serious commitments and backed them up with investment plans to lower the emissions profile of its investments. That is exactly the kind of thing we need to start seeing in the financial sector if Canada is going to meet the legal climate commitments we have signed on to in the Paris Agreement and elsewhere.
RBC, on the other hand, is the bank that does the most fossil fuel-heavy investment in Canada today. It is an important player, for instance, in the government's TMX project and put up a lot of capital for that. It is very invested in growing fossil fuel infrastructure in Canada, despite the fact that the oil and gas sector in Canada is extracting more barrels of oil today than at any other point in our history, which is easy to forget in the kinds of debates we have about the oil and gas sector on the floor of this place.
For those who say that the industry is in distress or on the verge of extinction, let us take a deep breath and look at the facts. The fact is that the oil and gas industry in Canada is more prolific today than at any other point in our history. That does not necessarily mean that it is employing more people than it has ever employed, because as technology advances, jobs for workers and the profitability and productivity of the oil and gas industry are on separate paths.
The truth is that oil and gas companies are able to extract more and make more money than ever with fewer workers. The continued advancement and increase in extraction are no longer tied in the same way they used to be to the creation of jobs for people in Canada, which is not to say that there are not a lot of jobs in the oil and gas sector or that this is not important. It is to say that we need to find the right level of extraction that is sustainable for the planet and that provides a strong economic basis for Alberta and other parts of the country where that industry is really important.
All of that is to say that RBC is being driven to grow and grow, with no sense of sustainability or what would be a sustainable rate of extraction. Therefore, both on the environmental front and on the consumer protection front, there are strong reasons to oppose this merger. It is why opposition parties on the finance committee sent a very clear message by working together that this was not a good idea.
I do not know that the Conservatives would endorse some of the environmental concerns I have raised on the floor today. I wish they would. I think Canada would be a better place if we could talk more about these issues in a serious way and about how to get Canada's emissions under control. I know that is not a conversation we want to have, but I am glad we can at least agree on the need for more competition and financial services and what that would mean for Canadians. It is an important signal the government should not ignore that so many parties in this place, for their own reasons, do not think this merger is a good idea.
We are going to hear at some point from Conservatives on this matter, and Canadians should take what they have to say with a grain of salt. They talk a lot about the Competition Bureau these days and the importance of competitiveness. Of course, this merger was looked at by the Competition Bureau, but not under the new framework that is on its way both through Bill C-56, which just passed in committee last night and is going to make some important changes to the Competition Act, and through, if we look at the ways and means motion, the budget implementation act the government will be tabling presumably after a vote on the ways and means motion. More changes to the Competition Act are coming there.
This merger was not reviewed with any of the new powers that would be afforded to the Competition Bureau. It was reviewed under a regime at the Competition Bureau that even the federal government itself recognizes as being deficient.
We know in the past that, for instance, Conservatives have talked about wanting to have independent officers doing work without political interference. I have certainly heard that at committee. I am glad to hear that, but I remember them setting up the Parliamentary Budget Office under Stephen Harper in the early days. It was a good thing they did that when they did.
Then the Parliamentary Budget Officer started saying things they did not like, and shockingly, the campaign of character assassination began. Kevin Page, who was the Parliamentary Budget Officer, came under direct attack by the Harper government. It was not that great an outing for the Harper government after all. Conservatives did the right thing initially, but they could not stay the course because they cannot stand any criticism and react badly as soon as someone starts calling them out for things they would prefer to get away with.
Canadians should be taking some of the remarks the Conservatives are making today as an opposition party with a grain of salt when it comes to their desire for an independent Competition Bureau. I certainly hope that in the future, if we have a Conservative government, we will not see that government decide to attack the competition commissioner if he starts telling them things they do not want to hear. The whole point of having those independent offices is to be able to do that.
We saw it again with David Johnston, who is someone they held up at one point. They held him up to the point that they were willing to appoint him as Governor General of the country. Then, when he started saying and doing things they did not like, a campaign of character assassination began. That was unfortunate because it detracted from the important point, which was that, when it came to being a special rapporteur on foreign interference, that was not the right way to proceed. Making it about David Johnston detracted from the important point, which was that it was a bad process and what we really needed was a public inquiry.
I am proud to say that New Democrats stayed the course and finally put that process on track. I do not think the personal attacks against David Johnston were helpful in that regard because they detracted from the main issue. Conservatives were so concerned with attacking David Johnston that it took them a long time to work with us in the right way to get that process back on track.
This is just another example of Conservatives claiming they want certain people in positions of authority to be able to make pronouncements on what the government of the day is doing, but then as soon as those pronouncements are not in line with their partisan lines, all of a sudden it is a problem and an affront to democracy, and the character assassination begins.
It is important we take this moment when Conservatives are prepared to do the right thing. Those moments are few and far between. We should not waste the opportunity. The government itself should be listening and taking the opportunity to do the right thing and say no to a merger that would both set the private financial sector back in green financing, potentially, and maintain and reinforce the lack of competition that Canadians have already been suffering under for too long. They have had to pay some of the highest banking fees, even as those same banks reduce services in their communities and close local branches.
Those are some of the reasons we think it is really important that the government take this opportunity and not do what it did on the Rogers-Shaw deal, which was to ultimately cave to those big corporate interests. We talk a lot in here, rightly, about corporate-controlled Conservatives, but we should not forget that the Liberals do their fair share of corporate service here in this place. After all, that is the true coalition in Parliament: Liberals and Conservatives serving Canada's corporate sector.
We have a real opportunity here, one of those few and far between moments, when the Conservatives are prepared to do the right thing in opposition. Let us seize the day. With the Rogers-Shaw merger, and the minister likes to say he put conditions on it and everything else, some of the things we would expect to happen did happen.
Somebody from B.C. called me up and said that he had been a Shaw customer. When the merger happened, Rogers sent him a new SIM card, and he had to figure out how to put it in his phone and everything else. He had not done it yet. It took him a couple of months, as household administration sometimes does, and I am sure there are many Canadians listening who are sympathetic to the fact that sometimes it is hard to stay on top of all those things, particularly if there is a technological component one is not familiar with.
What happened is that, with this merger that was not going to have any negative consequences for Canadian consumers, he started getting a bill from Shaw because he had not changed the SIM card yet, and he was getting a bill from Rogers. He was getting two bills from the same company for one cellphone, if members can believe that. Unfortunately, I can because I know what it is like to deal with some of these big telecom companies and other corporate oligopolies, whatever the sector. The fact is that it is very hard to get justice as a consumer.
That has been true for Canadians in respect of the big five banks, and this merger is not going to help. It is going to take a smaller player out of the market that is doing its work to be scrappy and to offer competitive rates. That is not what Canadians need, especially not in a time of economic and financial strain.
What they need is more competition to be able to deliver lower prices and take a bit of that strain off their household budget, just as the government is bringing in new rules to make it easier to transfer one's mortgage. When one's term is up is not the time to take competitors out of the market that are offering lower rates. HSBC is one of those very banks, with its lower offering, that Canadians will be looking to in order to save money in their monthly household budget. Let us make sure those options are there, just as Canadians get the freedom to transfer their mortgage, without having to undergo another stress test.