Financial System Review Act
An Act to amend the law governing financial institutions and to provide for related and consequential matters
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
- March 28, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
- Feb. 14, 2012 Passed That, in relation to Bill S-5, An Act to amend the law governing financial institutions and to provide for related and consequential matters, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.
Financial System Review Act
March 28th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON
moved that Bill S-5, An Act to amend the law governing financial institutions and to provide for related and consequential matters, be read the third time and passed.
Financial System Review Act
March 27th, 2012 / 5:10 p.m.
Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill S-5. I have been listening to the debate this afternoon and the comments of my colleagues. Although the NDP has been supporting the bill, we find that it has a very limited form and it misses a big opportunity to address a whole array of consumer issues and consumer protection for Canadians, which is unfortunate. However, that, unfortunately, is what we have come to know of the government.
It is rather surprising to know that the bill originated in the Senate. We would be interested to know why it started in the other place that is unelected. As members of the House of Commons are directly elected, it seems to us that it would only be legitimate that a bill would begin in the House of Commons, go to committee and follow the usual process. It is very concerning that the bill began in the Senate. We would have thought the government would have given respect to the House of Commons and given the bill first reading and second reading here.
The bill is being portrayed as a very technical bill and would change the Bank Act and 12 other acts, which is all the more reason to go through it carefully because often the devil is in the details. When we look at amending a large number of acts, some significant changes can take place. I have noted that when the bill went to committee, the committee only had three sessions, which was a very limited time review and very few witnesses were called.
I would put this in the context of a larger pattern that is emerging with the government, which is that if bills are introduced here on the floor of the House of Commons they are rushed through. We have seen time allocations, gag orders and closure to limit debate. Now we are seeing bills being introduced and debated in the Senate as opposed to the House of Commons and then dealt with in a very perfunctory and rapid manner at committee.
I would say that is not a good sign, especially for a bill of this nature. It reminds me of a budget bill where, because of the enormous amount of technical details, it is easy for important details to be overlooked.
The NDP has paid an enormous amount of attention to consumer protection. Jack Layton, our former leader, pressed this, and our consumer affairs critic, the member for Sudbury, has done an enormous amount of work in bringing forward in the House of Commons the issue of consumer protection and how people are being gouged and ripped off by financial institutions.
For example, last year the bank profits were a whopping $25.5 billion, which is astounding. The financial sector industry is not only healthy but incredibly profitable while, at the same time, many people are getting laid off.
This afternoon my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan did a brilliant job of pointing out how fewer and fewer people now qualify for employment insurance. I think she said that only 39% qualify. While the need for EI goes up and the qualification period goes down, the length of the waiting time is also going up to about four months.
I wanted to say that because it is part of the growing income inequality that we are seeing in our country. We are seeing more and more people working in part-time jobs, minimum wage jobs or getting laid off. They cannot qualify for EI because of the government's incredibly onerous limitations and restrictions. On the other side of the coin, so to speak, we see major financial institutions making an exorbitant amount of money. It does create a society where there is a widening gap between wealth and poverty. There is a growing gap in income inequality.
When we put into that picture the corporate tax cuts that have been granted, the billions of dollars that we have lost in public revenue that could be providing for public services, when we look at the budget that we know is coming on Thursday and our fears about that budget and its impact on ordinary people and their ability to access needed government services, it is a picture that is very disturbing. We look at Bill S-5 in that context.
I am very proud that we in the NDP stand on a principle and priority of protecting people, of protecting consumers and people's jobs, in saying that we do have to have an economic plan, a jobs plan, a financial plan, and fair and progressive taxation. This bill, which presents itself as a technical bill and brings forward some changes that I think are useful, is a massive lost opportunity overall to provide much better protection for consumers.
I know that most consumers feel completely powerless when it comes to dealing with financial institutions. I speak to people who have made complaints. They come to my riding office and we write letters to the banks on their behalf. We often will write to the ombudsperson of a bank or the banking system overall and put forward a person's complaint that in the overall scope of things is not massive, but for that individual the fact that they feel they have been ripped off or gouged or not listened to by the banking institution is something that I think really plays into the feeling of cynicism they have about the people who run financial institutions and make very powerful decisions.
I am very proud that we in the NDP have always made it a priority to stand up for consumer rights and protections. We do know that Canadians get gouged by service charges, user fees and abusive credit card rates. Again, this is something that the hon. member for Sudbury has raised so many times in this House.
The idea that there are voluntary systems in place is almost laughable. We have seen that with the drug shortages that we have been debating in this House. We had an emergency debate on those shortages two weeks ago. It is the same thing. When we have a very serious systemic problem, whether it is drug shortages because the marketplace is controlling what is going on or now when we see people being gouged by financial institutions, the response by the government has been to let the parties get together and to see what they will do on a voluntary level. That is just not good enough. Therefore, as a piecemeal approach, I do feel that the bill falls far short of what we actually need to do with consumer protection in this country.
This worries me. Just from reading the background on the bill, it is very clear that there was very little consultation done. I think there were about 30 submissions and they were mostly from associations or from a technical point of view. We have to ask why there was very little consultation done on this bill. Is it because the government knew that if it actually did engage in an adequate public consultation, it would be opening up a Pandora's box and getting a whole mass of feelings and complaints and frustrations from Canadians in response? It is very unfortunate there was not proper consultation done for this bill.
In wrapping up I would say that we support this bill for the limited progress it makes, but it is very disappointing that yet again the government has missed the mark and failed to take into account adequate protections for consumers in this case.
People will still be out there, left out in the marketplace, feeling like they do not have a voice. I hope they know that they do have a voice in the NDP and that we will continue raising these issues in Parliament to ensure there is proper regulation and protection and that the rights of consumers will be upheld.
Financial System Review Act
March 27th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.
Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC
Mr. Speaker, we are at this point today because we have to be, since the legislation requires a review every five years. That last time the financial system was reviewed was in 2007, so it is very appropriate that the members of the House are looking at this issue now.
Like most of my colleagues, the NDP will support this bill at second reading, partly because we would like the Standing Committee on Finance to examine the bill in detail, and partly because we do not have much choice. Indeed, we have very little time, because the bill must pass in April.
That said, this does not mean that we do not have some serious concerns about this bill. One concern is the government's haste to pass this bill so quickly. We believe that the process has been rushed. There was less than a month's notice and consultation was very quick. About 30 submissions were received, most of which were not even signed. Thus, public consultation was very limited.
It is too bad, because this bill, although a necessary part of the review of the financial system, also affects the wallets of Quebeckers and Canadians. We truly regret the government's haste. This is a serious process that should have been taken seriously. As far as we can tell, that has not been the case.
Another one of our concerns is the fact that this bill comes from the Senate. Why? Consultations and consideration could just as easily have begun here in the House of Commons, with a much more in-depth process. We would have had more time, instead of ending up in a situation where the bill is coming from the Senate and was studied there. This House is practically being asked to ratify a decision that was made in the Senate.
There is a big difference between the other place and here. We are elected parliamentarians with a mandate from the people, the same people whose wallets are affected by the proposed changes in this bill. Nonetheless, we, the elected parliamentarians, simply have to comment on a more thorough study that was initiated in the Senate.
This bill is important and it is really sad to see that the process has been taken so lightly.
A third concern is the government's right to veto substantial foreign acquisitions. Some of my colleagues raised this matter. There are two conditions: first, the acquiring bank must have equity of $2 billion or more; second, the value of the foreign entity’s consolidated assets, in combination with the value of the consolidated assets of the bank’s other foreign control acquisitions in the past 12 months, must exceed 10% of the value of the bank’s consolidated assets.
This process is officially a ministerial guarantee that Canada's banking and financial system will continue to be stable, even though some banks and institutions have a strong desire to expand their activities abroad. The rationale is that this requirement will prevent the purchase of an entity that does not have the same aversion to risk and that could jeopardize the stability of the system in the event of another crisis.
Some uncharitable souls might say that this government is trying to take credit for Canada's strong performance. What concerns me more is the provision whereby the government has 30 days to review a foreign acquisition and, if the time expires, the transaction is deemed to have been approved by the minister.
At the Standing Committee on Finance hearing on Bill S-5, my NDP colleagues tried to get answers about this provision, and the minister of state did not provide any reassurance. When asked by my colleague for Brossard—La Prairie, as well as the Liberal member for Kings—Hants, if the application would automatically be approved if the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions indicated that the proposed transaction was not to Canada's benefit and the 30 days elapsed, the deputy minister replied that that was correct.
Therein lies the loophole. If the minister wants to take credit for Canada's sound financial position, he must also guarantee that significant transactions abroad will benefit our country.
As my time is limited, I will now turn to what is missing from the bill. It is unfortunate, because we would have had the time to study the bill if the consultation process and the review here in the House had not been rushed. We would have liked to have seen some important items, which are not in the bill.
When this bill was announced the Minister of State for Finance said:
The most important thing to us is making sure that we protect ordinary Canadians, that their savings are protected, that there's credit available to them, that we have strong and stable banks. When Canadians need to borrow money, we have to have strong institutions for them. It is overall oversight, the final oversight, that is in the right place in the hands of the finance minister.
The problem is that the government is engaging in doublespeak. On one hand, it is doing a very good thing by expanding and enhancing the powers of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. However, on the other hand, the government does not seem to understand the importance of proper regulation to ensure that financial institutions take their share of responsibility for debt and financial literacy.
Credit must be given where credit is due: this government is doing a good thing for consumers by extending the definition of consumer protection provisions. A wider range of organizations will thus be subject to these provisions, including banking representatives and intermediaries.
However, the government is completely missing the mark when it comes to the more specific provisions on consumer rights. How can the government advocate for greater financial literacy—a task force, a motion and a bill—and then turn around and say something like this about personal and household debt:
I'm not the first one to make this statement and I won't be the last: interest rates have only one way to go, and that's up. Canadians need to recognize that whatever debt you take on now, please plan on the cost of carrying that debt increasing at some point. It may stay low for a long time; we don't know that. But the downside is much less than the upside possibilities.
It is important to understand that banking and financial regulation must serve two purposes: the expansion and development of the system and public protection. That is why rules must be implemented by a neutral and impartial third party.
In my opinion, there is a very good example of this problem, and that is the fact that the big banks are not required to participate in the system of the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments, the OBSI.
Only last year, the Toronto Dominion and Royal banks pulled out of OBSI system and chose to go with their own ombudsman system. Terry Campbell, president of the Canadian Bankers Association, stated on behalf of the association that this was a change in provider.
While revising the legislation, could the government not have taken advantage of the opportunity to develop a better system and require large federally regulated financial institutions to be governed by that system?
That question is worth asking. Instead of doing that, the minister told the committee that there will soon be regulations governing internal and external dispute resolution mechanisms.
The OBSI's 2011 annual report was released last week and received significant media coverage because of those two pullouts.
The report said that the move by TD Bank and Royal Bank to opt out of the process and instead hire their own independent firms to handle customer complaints lacks credibility:
The dispute-resolution process that consumers access needs to be credible, independent, and impartial—not beholden to any one stakeholder group.... Allowing banks to choose a dispute resolution provider gives all the power to the financial institution and none to the consumer.
This bill fails to address some crucial issues. I think that consumer rights is one of those issues, and this bill would have provided a perfect way to resolve consumer rights issues and remedy the excesses that were in large part responsible for the crisis in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
But that is not in this bill because the process was not taken seriously and was bungled. The process began in the other place, but it should have started here. Parliamentarians have been given very little time for discussion because the deadline to pass this bill and renew the Bank Act provisions is April 20.
We will therefore be supporting this bill on second reading, simply because we have no choice. We are living in a time of economic uncertainty, but that does not relieve the government of its responsibilities. The government should have used this process, which comes around every five years, to do a thorough review of financial legislation in order to protect consumers but also to protect the future of the economy. Unfortunately, there are many things missing.
Financial System Review Act
March 27th, 2012 / 4:40 p.m.
Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON
Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for the riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke and the beautiful upper Ottawa valley, it is my pleasure to have this opportunity to highlight some of the very important measures in the legislation before us today, Bill S-5, the financial system review act.
We are fortunate in Canada to live in a country with a stable democracy governed by a political party and a Prime Minister who have created a climate in which Canadian businesses can thrive, generating profits and jobs. We respect average Canadians who pay their taxes, work hard and play by the rules, something they expect leaders in public office to do. We are not afraid to stand up against big business or big labour when they break the rules or the laws. We take the time to communicate regularly and honestly with the people of Canada. We have a realistic and uplifting vision of the future of this country, one that respects those who present opposing positions, while at the same time ensuring that individual human beings are treated with dignity.
It is important to keep what we have, that which makes Canada the best place to live in the world today. That includes the public institutions which govern our society. We are fortunate in Canada to have a strong and safe banking system, a system that has been declared the safest banking system in the world for the past four years in a row by the World Economic Forum. The international Forbes magazine has ranked Canada number one in its annual review of best countries with which to do business. Five Canadian financial institutions were named in Bloomberg's most recent list of the world's strongest banks, more than any other country.
The measures in today's legislation would further ensure that our financial system remains a Canadian competitive advantage and that consumers receive the highest possible standard of service. Bill S-5 includes measures that would: improve efficiency by reducing the administrative burden on financial institutions and adding regulatory flexibility; expand the consumer protection framework, including enhancing the supervisory powers of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, or FCAC; and update financial institutions' legislation to promote financial stability and ensure Canada's financial institutions continue to operate in a competitive, efficient and stable environment.
The act would facilitate: clarifying that Canadians are able to cash government cheques under $1,500 free of charge at any bank in Canada; improving the ability of regulators to share information efficiently with international counterparts; reducing the administrative burden for federally regulated insurance companies offering adjustable policies in foreign jurisdictions by removing duplicative disclosure requirements; and promoting competition and innovation by enabling co-operative credit associations to provide technology services to a broader market.
As the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, a geographically large rural riding in eastern Ontario, one of the issues I deal with on a regular basis is the lack of service in rural areas. Several years ago I found it necessary to contact FCAC regarding the closure of a rural bank. The branch was in the community of Whitney, South Algonquin township, which is east of Algonquin Park.
The closing of the only financial branch in the area represented extreme hardship, particularly for residents without vehicles. Those with vehicles faced a 70 kilometre trip in all kinds of weather to Bancroft, where their accounts were to be transferred. Access to basic financial services is something that most Canadians take for granted. By working together in the community, we were able to come up with an acceptable alternative. A credit union set up a satellite branch in a local grocery store, a location that has better hours and a more accessible location than was previously the case. That arrangement is still working today.
I mention this as an example because the legislation before us today expands the supervisory powers of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. In my experience, I appreciated the ability to turn to the agency. I support that capacity and the continuing need to protect financial consumers in Canada.
The determination to continually strengthen our financial system has served this country well. It helps explain why our nation's economy has remained solid and sustainable under recent global stress. However, Canadian banks must also understand that they operate in a highly competitive environment and must be prepared to respond to the specific needs of Canadian consumers.
Our government is committed to ensuring that consumers are protected in their dealings with financial institutions. With the growing array of financial services offered to and used by consumers, making sure that Canadians have the tools and knowledge necessary to be confident in their financial decisions is a priority that we take seriously.
Earlier this month, for example, the Minister of State (Finance) announced that the government is moving forward with several measures to protect Canadian consumers and help them achieve greater control over their own finances. These measures, part of budget 2011, include a proposed ban on unsolicited credit card cheques and a new shorter cheque hold period, taking effect on August 1, 2012 and giving Canadians more timely access to their own money.
The fact is that credit card cheques are considered to be cash advances, which generally incur higher interest rates and fees and do not offer an interest-free grace period. The proposed legislation, the regulations banning the distribution of unsolicited credit card cheques, would amend the credit business practices regulation to require federal financial institutions to receive the express consent of borrowers before distributing credit card cheques. This would help to ensure that Canadians understand fully the terms and conditions of using these credit instruments and the obligations and implications entailed from both a payments and household budget perspective.
At the same time, a new code of conduct on mortgage prepayment information was also announced. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, or FCAC, has come out in support of these proposed changes, saying it welcomes the changes the government is proposing to the FCAC act. The changes are technical amendments or clarifications to existing provisions. FCAC would monitor adherence to the code and participating institutions would provide a link on their website to the agency. Lenders would make available a toll-free number so that borrowers could speak to staff members who are knowledgeable about mortgage pre-payments.
This improved disclosure would give Canadians important new details to help them make well informed financial decisions. Mortgage lenders would provide details on any obligations or penalties home buyers might incur when paying down their mortgages. That would include prepayment privileges, an explanation of the charges, a description of factors that could alter charges over time and customized information about the borrower's own mortgage. Most importantly, the code requires this information when consumers are making key decisions, such as at renewal and in annual statements. After all, if people do not understand the information provided to them by financial institutions, we can never accomplish our goal of empowering financial consumers. These regulations would not sit and gather dust on a shelf; instead, they would be overseen by the FCAC
Financial System Review Act
March 27th, 2012 / 4:25 p.m.
Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on her speech in which she talked about several very important planks that are contained in Bill S-5.
I would like her to expand on some of the consumer protections. We have done some work on expanding the transparency for consumers when they apply for and receive their credit cards, and several other measures to protect consumers. I wonder if she could expand on those aspects.
Financial System Review Act
March 27th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.
Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill S-5.
Today we have discussed many of the important features of Bill S-5, which will strengthen Canada's financial sector advantage. As many speakers before me have noted, this is a mandatory, routine bill. Moreover, it includes many technical or administrative amendments that can be somewhat classified as housekeeping. However, there are a few more substantive measures that address current, global and domestic trends that I would like to highlight today.
The financial crisis highlighted the importance of evaluating the overall size of financial institutions, their global linkages and the impact these factors had on financial stability and the best interests of Canada's financial system.
In response to lessons learned, today's legislation proposes to reinstate an existing ministerial approval for select foreign acquisitions of financial institutions.
While Canada's sound financial system is a model for countries around the world, and we want to ensure that it remains secure, the global banking crisis nevertheless highlighted additional risk factors that supported more oversight of large foreign acquisitions.
To provide historical background, prior to 1992, banks were prohibited from owning a foreign subsidiary. In 1992 the government of the day amended the legislation to allow federally-regulated financial institutions to own a foreign subsidiary or hold a substantial investment in a foreign institution with the approval of the minister.
In 2001 that requirement for ministerial approval and review by the Department of Finance was repealed and oversight was limited to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.
However, since 2001, the global banking crisis has highlighted additional risk factors that support the need for greater oversight to keep our financial system secure. As such, we are reinstating in today's bill some of those historical oversight provisions that were repealed in early 2001.
This bill would simply add ministerial approval if a federally-regulated financial institution acquired a major foreign entity which increased its assets by more than 10%. The criteria that the minister could consider are hard-wired in the legislation, those being the stability and best interests of the financial sector. The timeline for approval is also hard-wired. The legislation would require the minister's consideration in 30 days or it would be deemed approved. This would likely only apply rarely. In fact, since 2004, there have only been a small number of cases where this proposed legislation would have applied.
The reactions from academics, bankers and the Superintendent of Financial Institutions have been quite supportive of the provision. I would like to share some of their reactions with the House.
Michael King, finance professor of the Ivy School of Business stated:
This kind of a rule is actually one of the reasons why Canadian banks weathered the crisis so well over the years...Canadian banks have done well. And it’s helped the Canadian economy to have such stable banks.
Terry Campbell, president of the Canadian Bankers Association stated:
That power was given to OSFI, and now it is back with the Finance Minister to, in our view, give him a full suite of tools as part of his oversight of the financial system in Canada.
Julie Dickson, the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, stated:
—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.
Today's bill would help ensure that Canadians would continue to have a strong and secure financial system on which they could rely. Canadians are proud that, unlike Europe or the U.S., we did not have to nationalize or bailout banks with taxpayer money. Canada has shown the value of ensuring a well-regulated financial system. That is something that has been recognized around the world.
Canada was ranked as having the soundest banks in the world by the World Economic Forum.
The influential magazine The Economist has also proclaimed:
Canada has had an easier time than most during the recent global recession, in part because of a conservative and well-regulated banking system.
Canadians use financial services every day, be it by using their credit card, cashing a cheque, going to the bank, or signing a mortgage. I think members would agree that Canadians deserve to be treated fairly when using these products and to be provided with clear information before agreeing to use them.
Indeed, since being elected in 2006, our government has taken important steps to address consumer concerns and make financial services products more consumer friendly. Those measures have included: protecting consumers with new credit card rules, such as requiring consent for credit limit increases, a minimum 21-day grace period on new purchases, full disclosure for consumers, and limiting other anti-consumer business practices; bringing in a code of conduct for the credit and debit card industry to help small businesses dealing with unfair practices, as the code would help ensure fairness, encourage real choice and competition, and protect businesses from rising costs; and banning negative option billing for financial products. There is much more.
Our government agrees that making financial services products more consumer friendly is an important goal.
In this legislation, we are making a few important changes to federal financial institution statutes, including confirming that Canadians, including bank customers, are able to cash government cheques in amounts of less than $1,500 free of charge at any bank in Canada, and improving consumer protection by increasing the maximum administrative penalty that the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, FCAC, could levy from $200,000 to $500,000. This would also bring FCAC penalties in line with other financial regulatory authorities, like the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions and the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada.
This is in addition to consumer-friendly measures we announced in budget 2011, such as banning unsolicited credit card cheques, moving to protect consumers of prepaid cards, beginning to implement the task force on financial literacy's recommendations, starting with the creation of a financial literacy leader in the government. In fact, it was only last month that we introduced the financial literacy leader act to move forward on the financial literacy front.
I could go on to outline other very important components of the bill, but I will close by encouraging all members of the House to support this very important mandatory and routine legislation so as to ensure it is passed without delay so that we can continue to enjoy a strong, stable financial sector.
Financial System Review Act
March 27th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.
Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL
Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely correct. I have always been interesting in participating, especially for youth in my riding, in financial literacy. He points out some of the factors, like having an ombudsman, which is ideal in this case. There are so many instruments out there and so many ways to invest from our basement, or our living room or in front of our laptop that it now becomes overly cumbersome to know all the rules and regulations about this.
The debate to bring some of the elements of consumer protection into this are absolutely necessary. I do not know if this is where we go with this. Bill S-5 is to update the financial regulations in our country so they are in tune with other things.
I would agree with the member that we should have a larger debate on this. In my opinion, it should be focused on the protection of the consumer in light of the increasingly larger institutions out there.
Financial System Review Act
March 27th, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.
Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for this opportunity, albeit brief, here today.
I had a chance to go through the legislative summary for Bill S-5, and I must say that I am always very impressed by the lot over at the Library of Parliament. I want to thank them for their research and mention, for the record, Mark Mahabir and Adriane Yong who are both from the International Affairs, Trade and Finance Division, Parliamentary Information and Research Service. We do not always give them the credit they are due, and I hope this goes in just a small way toward acknowledging the work they do for us here in the House of Commons and the Senate as well.
The committee reported Bill S-5, an act to amend the law governing financial institutions and to provide for related and consequential matters from the Senate on December 15, 2011. There were no major amendments made in the Senate, but certainly it came with, as described here, observations.
The bill amends four primary statutes under which federally regulated financial institutions are governed. They would be the Bank Act, the Cooperative Credit Associations Act, the Insurance Companies Act and the Trust and Loan Companies Act. There are also major amendments to other provisions regarding the financial institutions of our country.
Bill S-5 contains various measures to update the law governing financial institutions, as I have mentioned. The shares of a Canadian financial institution being held by foreign financial institutions controlled by foreign governments is one of those and it is certainly a timely matter given the world of finance we are in. We experienced this several years ago when we slid into a recession initially sparked by some financial tools in the United States in many cases. Of course, that wreaked havoc around the globe for all financial institutions such as in Asia and the European Union, which is now suffering through this, and austerity measures have followed suit as a result of that.
This illustrates to us and the entire country that we are certainly intertwined with the rest of the world as far as financial institutions are concerned. When something causes headaches for people in one part of the world, those headaches will reverberate around every corner of the world, given the financial institutions and the technology we use to trade currently. It gives us an idea of how important this is when it comes to international institutions.
On the acquisition of foreign entities by Canadian financial institutions, as a matter of fact, we are now seeing financial institutions in this country, banks, for example, with bigger investments around the globe. We certainly see it in the United States currently with institutions such as Toronto Dominion and others, as well as in Europe and Asia. In a country the size of ours, it gives us an idea of how good we are and how large our financial institutions are, as we are able to be a major player around the globe.
On the widely held ownership threshold for banks, it was always a contentious issue. It certainly was contentious when I first came here in 2004-05 and it continues to be.
The authority of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions over certain types of transactions, the administration of unclaimed insurance deposit accounts by the CDIC and the Bank of Canada, the insolvency of financial institutions and the liability of the CDIC when acting as a receiver during receivership of insolvent financial institutions are also very important at this point. There is also the restructuring of insurance companies and the liability of officials and employees of the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions and the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.
When we look back, this bill really got its roots from Bill C-37, which was back in June 2006. There was a paper entitled “Financial Institutions Legislation Review: Proposals for an Effective and Efficient Financial Services Framework”. The legislative changes included greater disclosure for consumers in relation to investment products, very important, and complaint procedures, the introduction of electronic cheque imaging and clearing, and an increase in the widely held threshold for large banks from $5 billion to $8 billion in equity.
This reminds me of the legislation we dealt with not too long ago when we talked about copyright. We are seeing the proliferation of technology right now that allows us to transact around the world instantaneously. As a result, the legislation has to keep up with the changing technologies around the world in, as I mentioned, copyright, banking and financial institutions. It shows not only the speed and brevity by which financial transactions are able to go around the world, but it also gives us an idea that the scope has become much larger, as well as the depth of the banking institutions. Therefore, we have to look at this and update legislation, as we did with the copyright bill. It is somewhat of a new concept when we have to review it after four or five years. Nonetheless, it is a concept that is certainly necessary.
We are seeing that now with the sunset provision. The Bank Act, the Cooperative Credit Associations Act, the insurance companies and trust and loan companies contain a statutory sunset date set out some time ago. The legislative changes will include greater disclosure for consumers in relation to investment products and complaint procedures. We went through the updating measures that were contained in Bill C-37, which was introduced in the House on November 27, 2006. In order to have sufficient time, we went through this review, which went from the October 24, 2006 to April 24, 2007, to accommodate that.
That puts us in the place we are now as we go through the review once again, as it was introduced in the Senate as Bill S-5. It went through the three readings and the committee procedure and came back with some of those observations.
Clauses 53(2) and 53(3) require a Canadian bank to obtain approval from the Minister of Finance prior to acquiring control of a foreign entity, and this is important, if the bank has equity of $2 billion or more and the value of the foreign entity's consolidated assets in combination with the value of the consolidated assets of the bank's other foreign control acquisitions in the past 12 months exceed 10% of the value of the bank's consolidated assets prior to the preceding 12-month period. I hope everyone got that because there will be a test at the end of the speech, though probably not, as I excite the masses talking about financial institutions.
The minister, in contemplating the acquisition, can take into account all matters considered relevant in the circumstances, including the stability and best interests of Canada's financial system. We go back to Canada's financial system and the emphasis that we put on this to ensure it is suited for Canadians. We know that in the past we have faced this primarily from breakdowns in financial institutions around the globe. If one finds trouble or turbulent waters, that ripples throughout the global system. Therefore, we have to ensure our system is able to withstand some of the shocks that occur around the globe. The sunset clause is to renew the acts, as I mentioned earlier.
Let us take a look at Bill S-5. It does not represent a significant change in policy, per se. It is crucial that the existing sunset clauses are extended so Canada's statutes for financial institutions do not expire, which is around April 20. Bill S-5 is not what I would call an ambitious bill. It does not significantly change Canada's banking policy or address Canada's record levels of household debt. However, Canada's banking laws are set to expire.
There is one thing I can point out about the government. The Conservatives called on the previous Liberals to follow the U.S. example and deregulate the Canadian banking sector. I remember at the time there was quite a debate and there were certain stands that all members of the House took in 2003 to 2005. I am sure they wish they had them back in light of what has happened around the globe when financial institution measures such as these become critical and very important for us to consider.
Liberals will support Bill S-5 at report stage and third reading because of this. Again, I revert to what I said earlier. Given the intertwine nature of the financial institutions around the globe, it certainly falls upon us in the House to have this debate so we can ensure the regulations are updated in light of certain troubles around the world and certainly with the advent and proliferation of technology that allows us to pass our money around the world and invest.
Financial System Review Act
March 27th, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.
Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his speech today, which outlined several very important technical parts of Bill S-5.
The hon. member spoke about the bridge bank protection, which is provided by CDIC to financial institutions in trouble. He also spoke about the plank that allows ministers to approve any foreign company that wants to come in and take over a domestic financial institution.
I would like to ask the hon. member to comment specifically about something he spoke about in regard to consumer protection and the clearness, openness and transparency that is going to be required of credit card companies. I think that is a very important part of the bill, which protects consumers across Canada.
Financial System Review Act
March 27th, 2012 / 3:45 p.m.
Rod Bruinooge Winnipeg South, MB
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this important bill.
Today is a very opportune time to be actively pursuing the passage of Bill S-5, An Act to amend the law governing financial institutions and to provide for related and consequential matters.
Our government undertook a review of our financial sector and the legislation that governs it with the understanding that we live in an ever-changing world of evolving technology and financial sector innovation. The technical measures contained in this bill would ensure that Canada's financial sector regulatory framework stays ahead of the curve and accommodates these developments by mitigating risks, creating new opportunities and helping Canada's financial sector maintain its international reputation as a world leader in terms of its strengths and stability.
I am pleased to report to the House that this legislation was undertaken after a lengthy period of time of open consultation with Canadians from coast to coast to coast to ensure that Canada remains a global leader in financial services and maintains its sector advantage. This financial sector advantage is fundamental to Canada's remarkable economic performance throughout the global financial crisis of 2008. In our world-leading recovery from that episode in terms of jobs and growth, our advantage underpins this overall health that is found in our economy. That is why, in the wake of the financial crisis, our Conservative government took action to modernize the authorities of the Bank of Canada to support the stability of our financial system. This would allow the Bank of Canada to redistribute wealth and liquidity to financial institutions, buttressing them against the immediate aftershocks of the crisis and maintaining the vital flow of credit to Canadians and businesses during the so-called credit crunch.
While many foreign banks had difficulty raising capital on global financial markets during the crisis, Canada's financial system remains stable, well capitalized and underpinned by one of the most effective regulatory frameworks in the world.
Then, to further safeguard our financial system moving forward, we introduced measures in budget 2009 to strengthen the authorities of the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation. This enhancement would contribute to the financial stability and protect insured deposits by giving CDIC a great variety of tools to manage the resolution of a troubled financial institution. An important element of this change is that it would allow CDIC to establish a bridge institution, known in the trade as a bridge bank, to preserve the critical functions of a financial institution facing trouble and to help maintain overall financial stability.
Among other things, Bill S-5 is important because it includes a number of technical refinements to ensure the effective implementation of this bridge bank tool and it includes other measures that would contribute to financial stability.
We have seen all too clearly in recent years how heavily interconnected the structure of global finance has become, and this can pose unintended risks here at home, which is to say that bad or risky decisions can have repercussions that can travel right around the world and land back on our doorstep with a lot of unpleasant financial consequence in tow, and not just for the banks but for the people and businesses who depend on them. All governments have an obligation to weigh these risks. This is particularly important as Canadian banks expand into foreign markets and foreign players similarly enter the Canadian market. With Bill S-5, the Canadian government would have another tool at its disposal to take action when it considers these risks to be unacceptable.
In short, the bill would reinstate the requirement for significant foreign acquisitions of financial institutions to be approved by the Minister of Finance. Since 2004, there have only been four instances when this provision would have been applied. While this role would rarely be used, there is no doubt that this kind of oversight should be brought back.
Michael King, finance professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business, says:
This kind of a rule is actually one of the reasons why Canadian banks weathered the crisis so well over the years. ... Canadian banks have done well. And it’s helped the Canadian economy to have such stable banks.
Alec Bruce, noted Times-Transcript columnist, has reported that the finance minister has a point. “When our banks top up their foreign holdings in this environment they do, in fact...”, in essence, import many of the efforts they've made overseas and reject all of the contagion that comes overseas as well.
This also builds on recent stabilizing measures we have introduced to secure the financial sector. Budget 2011, for example, announced the government's intention to establish a legislative framework for covered bonds, which are debt instruments secured by high-quality assets such as residential mortgages. This will make it easier for Canadian financial institutions to access this low-cost source of funding and help create a robust market for covered bonds in Canada.
Consumer protection is another area where we have taken decisive action to strengthen Canada's financial sector. In 2009, for example, our Canadian government acted to protect Canadian credit card users. The measures we introduced mandated that the inclusion of clear and simple information on credit card application forms and contracts would be required, and also required clear and timely advance notice of changes in rates and fees from card providers.
We have also limited credit business practices that do not benefit consumers. For example, we require credit card insurers 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 require a minimum 21-day grace period on the billing period as well if the consumer has an outstanding balance that needs to be carried forward.
We have moved key information such as interest rates, grace periods and fees out of the fine print buried in credit card applications and contracts into a prominent summary box, so that consumers signing an application know exactly what kind of financial arrangement they are agreeing to. This measure also provides a clear picture of their debt load as they pay it off.
These initiatives are in effect today and are providing Canadian consumers with precisely the kind of financial information that leads to better decision making. These measures, like those in Bill S-5, reflect the understanding that every part of Canada's financial system must be resilient and strong for the benefit of individual consumers, businesses looking to raise capital, or the banks and other financial institutions that can help them realize their goals.
That is why Bill S-5 is focused on those areas that must be fine-tuned so Canadians can continue to rely on one of the world's best financial systems for years to come.
I would therefore encourage the hon. members of this House to support the timely passage of this bill and to join our government in its ongoing efforts to build and maintain Canada's financial sector advantage.