House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was banks.

Topics

Points of Orders
Routine Proceedings

1:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for St. Albert has raised a very substantive issue before the House. I know he would expect, as would all members expect, the Chair to consider it with the seriousness and thoughtfulness that it will require. The Chair will take this point of order under advisement and come back to the House at a later date.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

June 5th, 2003 / 1:40 p.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit surprised to be debating the issue of bank mergers, particularly when a very detailed report by the Standing Committee on Finance was finished in March 2003. Obviously my colleagues in the corner missed a lot of this review because they would not be raising an issue today which went through many months of detailed analysis.

We were charged by the Minister of Finance to look at the issue of public interest. Some of my colleagues believe that we cannot allow bank mergers. The fact is that Bill C-8, legislation which was before the House in 2001, allows for that.

The Minister of Finance asked us to look at the public interest. For the record I would like to make it very clear what it is he asked for. He asked that Canadians in all regions be able to have quality financial services, with special attention to the disabled, low income individuals and rural communities. He wanted us to look at the choice among financial service providers and the availability of financing for businesses, particularly small businesses and Canadians; creation of long term growth prospects for Canada; having more effective internationally competitive institutions; and adjustment and transition issues, including the treatment of employees. We took the minister's letter and evaluated the issue of public interest.

It is important for all Canadians to know that we have and will continue to have the strongest financial institutions, I would say, in the world. During the Great Depression of the 1930s the banks in the United States folded like cards. The banks in Canada did not. We did not have any bank failures.

The process began. The banks were brought before the standing committee. All sorts of interested stakeholders were brought before the standing committee to evaluate these issues. We did not take these issues lightly.

The review process is important. Obviously the banks may make a decision and it may be based on whether or not they feel they can be competitive internationally. They are going to make a business decision. It is up to us as parliamentarians to evaluate the public interest to see if it will be served and how best to respond.

We produced a report with 11 key recommendations. I would invite members of the New Democratic Party to read them sometime. They will find that the recommendations address the issues that were presented by the minister in his letter.

The discussions with the banks in terms of issues were wide ranging. Any proposal, if it were to come forth, would be reviewed by the Competition Bureau. The Competition Bureau is going to look at the issue of competition in areas across the country. The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions plays a key role. It analyzes any proposed merger with respect to the soundness and stability of the banking system. The Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce in the other place and the House of Commons finance committee were asked to look at the public interest.

The majority of the witnesses who came forward indicated very clearly that we have strong financial institutions. Some did not want to see any changes. Some of the members were suggesting earlier that some of the banks were closing in their ridings. I am sympathetic to that, but that is a decision the banks make and they would go ahead whether or not there are mergers. The decision to open branches in certain areas is based on the needs as perceived by those particular banks. Obviously there are procedures in place to deal with notification issues, et cetera.

The finance committee was charged with the responsibility of seeing how the public interest would be dealt with. Dealing with and defining the public interest in anything is very difficult. It depends upon whom we are talking about in the public. The various stakeholders range from bank presidents to interest groups to community organizations who are concerned, and legitimately so, about the state of financial institutions and the implications if there were to be mergers.

There have been no proposals presented, but we wanted to be proactive as a committee to make recommendations to the minister. There is a procedure, as members know. The minister is going to report later this month on the recommendations. What I find interesting is that the New Democratic Party would have us move concurrence when the fact is that we have asked the minister to respond to the report.

I want to know what the point is of producing a detailed and thoughtful report by parliamentarians on which the official opposition agreed, except for my friends in the corner who did not agree and that is their right, in which we asked the minister to respond. Now that the minister will be responding, the NDP want to jump the gun. That does not make any sense. Why would we spend all that time putting forth a detailed report, asking the minister to look at some very important recommendations which we believe will advance the public interest and are important to the public interest and will help in shaping the minister's response to the recommendations? No, the NDP would rather spend time in the House today talking about something with which we have dealt and are waiting for a response under the guidelines and the timelines granted to the committee and to the minister.

The minister will fulfill that timeline and in doing so, we will get a detailed response. If members in the House do not like the minister's response, they have every right to say so and they can respond accordingly. But to jump the gun, to jump the queue before the minister responds makes no sense.

If members of the New Democratic Party were to read the report in detail, they would realize, and in their own dissenting report they would at least be able to say that it has had a fair hearing before the minister. If they do not like the recommendations, so be it.

In my view, they would rather play politics here and waste the time of the House by talking about something because they do not want to talk about something else which is of importance to Canadians as well. We all know that, but this is the way this institution works.

Let us talk about some of the key issues in that report that we addressed to the minister.

The issue of access is important to Canadians whether they live in a big city, in rural Canada or remote places. My New Democratic friends would agree with that as well. The issue then becomes, what kind of services? Are we talking about full banking services?

Today in the age of technology we can go to ATM machines, but some ATM machines are not convenient for people because they may not have a full range of services. People may not be able to use a particular card or the machines may not have the kind of transactions that they would like. They may be okay to take the money out but they may not necessarily be good for bill payments and other things. That came out during the discussions. We talked about access issues, saying that there needs to be full service access, whether it is through bricks and mortar or machines. They have to provide access to Canadians wherever they live and it needs to be high quality.

Jobs are also important. People who live in a rural community where the only bank in that community has closed may want to take out a loan. What happens then? They knew the bank manager in their community but now they have to go 100 kilometres down the road to a bank where no one knows them. Those issues were brought to our attention and we responded.

The Bank of Montreal said that its strategic plan was to deal with small business loans. Its niche in the banking sector is small business. That is what it wants to deal with and it wants to expand on that market. It was not necessarily so for other banks, but they all look at the issue of how they can take care of their customers. Banks are no different from anything else. Obviously if they do not have customers, they are not going to have profits. If they do not have profits, they are not going to do very well. Naturally those were issues we wanted to deal with. As I said, that was an important issue.

We know that if any bank mergers were to occur, people in the big cities would be all right, primarily because of the concentration and number of financial services available in large cities, but that is not so in rural and remote communities. This was a very important point which we stressed in the report. Again I would suggest that my friends in the New Democratic Party may want to read it.

On the other hand, I know the NDP has talked about employment issues. We certainly tried to address some of the issues in the report, such as job protection for Canadians who work in these financial institutions, early retirement and what things can be done to make sure, through attrition or whatever it happens to be, that we do not have a great dislocation, particularly for people on the front lines.

One of the issues that the financial institutions talked about was the issue of competitiveness internationally. We have six very strong banks in this country and yet they have to compete on a global scale. What is the impact on a global scale? Is there a strong rationale to do so?

I said that we have very strong financial institutions in this country, and we do. In fact, we can be proud that they operate efficiently and that we have not had the collapses that we have seen in other jurisdictions.

The discussion of course is, on scale, on international competitiveness, which was one of the major issues the banks addressed. Another issue they addressed had to do with the whole issue of shareholder value. They also talked about the health of the financial service sector.

From our standpoint, obviously we are concerned about whether these institutions will be able to deliver in this market and what they may do elsewhere. We know, for example, that 50% of the Bank of Nova Scotia's profits comes from overseas, particularly in areas in the Caribbean. That is where it decided to focus its particular niche.

However we wanted to make sure that, in terms of addressing the minister's letter, we responded effectively, which is why the March report was presented.

Normally, when committees present their reports they wait to hear from the minister. Hopefully the ministers, when they read those reports, and I know they read them very carefully, will respond effectively to those 11 recommendations. I know the Minister of Finance is very much interested in what we have to say or he would not have asked us to undertake the issue of public interest.

The fact that we have done that and that we are now waiting for a response from the minister within the prescribed timeframe, it seems a bit strange that today we would try to, in my view, hijack the House by suggesting that we need to deal with an issue for which a report has already been presented, and trying to say that we are not getting a response. The fact is that we are doing it under the prescribed timetable that the committee works under and that the minister works under.

I can tell the House that the Minister of Finance will respond in a way in which he will look very carefully at the 11 recommendations because it is not only important to members of the House, it is important to every Canadian. Every Canadian has the right to know the approach the government will be taking. I can assure members that is one thing the Minister of Finance will do and he will be do it effectively .

It is also important to note that, as I said, we do not want to mix apples and oranges.

Bill C-8, as we know, was the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada Act . We know that under that legislation the issue of mergers was allowed. What the minister is trying to find out is how that can be further clarified in terms of the public interest, and therefore if banks wanted to merge tomorrow they could make a proposal.

The fact that they have not presented a proposal means that they are waiting. They are not jumping the gun. They are waiting to hear what the minister has to say. Only the NDP wants to jump the gun. However Canadians and the banks want to hear what the minister has to say, as do, I believe, all members in the House. When that comes down, I would then expect a full and thorough discussion, as it should be.

We listened to many witnesses who made very thoughtful and useful presentations to members of the Standing Committee on Finance. We were able to look at the issues very carefully and to dissect some of the key problems that people were seeing out there.

We were not just focusing on large urban communities but also on rural and northern communities to make sure that if we were going to do it we would do it right. If we are going to allow something, we want to do it right because 70% of the mergers generally across the globe fail and therefore we want to make sure that it is done right. The New Democratic Party wants to rush it but we do not. We want to make sure it is done right.

I hope those members will give the minister the ability to present his report and for us to be able to then respond. I have great faith in the fact that the Minister of Finance will do so in a very timely manner.

At this point, as we wind down to our question period, we are faced with the issue of what the guidelines are and what we want the minister to evaluate. He has 11 key recommendations that deal with the issues of access, competition and employment. Those are important issues and they need to be addressed under the timelines and guidelines set out by Parliament. Otherwise we will have a response that will not do justice to the committee report.

I congratulate all my colleagues who were on the committee and who spent long hours to make sure we heard from Canadians and various stakeholders in order to do our job effectively. The report, which the minister has been looking at, is one for which we are very pleased. I can tell the House that when the minister responds I expect we will be able to evaluate his response and say where it is that we agree. Hopefully, we will agree on everything, but if we do not, at least we will have had a fair hearing.

One of our responsibilities as parliamentarians is that we do not have to agree but we have to talk about the process, and nobody has complained about the process. I want to make it very clear that the process is important to us and to all Canadians.

I hope my New Democratic friends will read the recommendations, because clearly they must have missed them. They also must have missed their own minority report because obviously if they had read it they would know that they were asking the minister to respond, and that of course is what we are trying to do.

Juno Beach Centre
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Julian Reed Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, when the Juno Beach Centre opens this week, a bronze sculpture called “Remembrance and Renewal” will be the centrepiece of the courtyard leading into the centre.

It features five helmeted figures facing outward from a circle. Each figure represents a distinct emotion, such as leadership, vigour and alertness. Another looks sombre and reflective. A fourth figure advances while assisting a comrade.

It was sculpted by Colin Gibson and cast at Artcast Inc. foundry in Georgetown, in the riding I serve.

I would like to thank the sculptor and Artcast Inc. for their contribution to the Juno Beach Centre.

Above all, I would like to pay tribute to the veterans who stormed the beaches of the Normandy coast in 1944, for all the sacrifices they made.

We will remember them.

Aboriginal Affairs
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Pallister Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, we would not remodel our home if the foundation was rotten. That would be wasteful, foolish and illogical.

Yet that is exactly what the federal government is doing with Bill C-7, the $1 billion first nations governance act.

The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development said just a few days ago that all 634 Canadian chiefs were “self-serving bullies”. If he believes that assertion we would have to ask ourselves why he would then want to give those bullies much more power than they already have.

The bill would entrench the most expensive and least effective model of governance yet tried in first nations.

Meanwhile, the government is preoccupied with the dumb as a bag of hammers Bill C-24, the political financing act.

Rifts have developed. A legacy is at risk. However

the Liberals have resolved the issue by tapping the taxpayers for another $5 million, all because the bill would have an impact on just $1 million of Liberal fundraising.

Meanwhile, Canadian taxpayers are being charged a billion--

Aboriginal Affairs
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin.

Distinguished Service Award
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

Mr. Speaker, two days ago on June 3, former parliamentarian Aideen Nicholson was honoured by her peers. The Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians presented to Aideen the Distinguished Service Award in recognition of her service to Canada, to Parliament and to her former constituents of Trinity whom she so capably represented from 1974 to 1988.

Ms. Nicholson is now a northerner living in Elliot Lake, Ontario, in my riding of Algoma--Manitoulin. We feel blessed to have her living among us.

Aideen, in a fashion typical of her lifelong service to others, has jumped right into our community. It is clear that she has thrived in our wonderful social and natural environment having become a hospital trustee and a board member for the White Mountain Academy, the Women's Crisis Centre, St. Peter the Apostle Anglican Church and the list goes on.

During her parliamentary career, Aideen distinguished herself on both the government and opposition sides of the House as a committee chair and parliamentary secretary in numerous portfolios.

However, for all her accomplishments, we still like her best for her heart and her soul. I congratulate Aideen.

Middle East
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I invite my colleagues to join me in congratulating United States President George Bush for his efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.

As we are all aware, the conflict in the Middle East is an old and deep-rooted one. Yesterday, President George W. Bush attended what may very well become an historic meeting for peace by joining Mahmoud Abbas, the new Palestinian prime minister, and Israel's leader, Ariel Sharon, in the Jordanian city of Aqaba.

This meeting represents the first cautious steps taken along a road that is designed to lead to a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

I am sure the House shares my optimism toward this renewed effort to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. I join my colleagues in support for the U.S. president in building the confidence on both sides that is crucial to the success of achieving peace in this troubled region of the world.

Democratic Republic of Congo
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to sound the alarm, to warn against an impending genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo, such as occurred in Rwanda in 1994.

In one sense the unspeakable has already occurred. War in the Democratic Republic of Congo has lasted four years, involves six African states in Africa's world war and more than 3 million people have been killed. The “never again” rings hollow in the face of “yet again”, again and again.

What is needed, therefore, is a multi-layered diplomatic, defence, political and humanitarian intervention in which Canada can take the lead. In particular, the United Nations force, as authorized by the UN Security Council, is too limited both in numbers and mandate to do what is needed; stop the killing, end the flow of weapons and disarm the militias.

Canada should also seriously consider contributing a significant force to the UN position.

Political: Canada should join the U.S., European countries and South Africa to increase the pressure with respect to a political solution.

Humanitarian: A massive humanitarian relief effort is needed.

Most important, we need someone, some country, to sound the alarm, to place wake-up calls to the international community to ensure that “never again” means exactly that.

Agriculture
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, Canadian cattlemen and the cattle industry are facing the most devastating situation I have seen in my lifetime. Many are my friends and neighbours, and I know they ask for very little from the government. They ask only for the removal of unfair trade restrictions so they can have free and fair trade. They ask for lower taxes. They ask for unnecessary regulations to be removed so they can spend more time running their business.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association has been an incredibly responsible organization when it comes to representing the views of cattlemen. Last year when cattlemen faced the most serious drought in history, they asked for no special help at all. Now, in their time of need when cattlemen need action on the part of government to do what is necessary to ensure the border is reopened, what do they get? Very little.

What is the government's plan to deal with the crisis in the cattle industry? It does not have one.

In this time of need our cattlemen, who ask for so little, deserve an awful lot more from the government.

Juno Beach Centre
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Speller Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, tomorrow the Prime Minister and many Canadian vets are taking part in ceremonies to open the Juno Beach Centre in France.

As we watch the ceremonies unfold tomorrow and the Prime Minister honours the bravery and valour of all those who served in the second world war, all Canadians should be proud.

What the Prime Minister and my colleagues in the House should know though is that $7,000 of the millions it took to build this memorial was raised by the 2853 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps in Simcoe, Ontario. This is a group of 20 young individuals who went door to door around my riding explaining to people the need for such a memorial.

I want to show our appreciation here today in the House of Commons for the work that these 20 young individuals did. Also I hope my colleagues will join me tomorrow in celebrating the 59th anniversary of D-Day and to salute the efforts of over a million Canadians who served in the second world war.

World Environment Day
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois, I would like to point out that World Environment Day reminds us that water, land and air are not to be taken for granted.

Each and every one of us must do our share to protect our environment every day. Moreover, people should be able to expect that governments will take the necessary steps to protect our resources.

The UN sees this day as an excellent opportunity to ratify international conventions on the environment. Of course, there is the Kyoto protocol, which represents a step in the right direction when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. However, much work remains to be done, particularly on problems related to global warming, which may end up being 30% greater than forecast by UN experts.

In Quebec, there are the sites contaminated by the federal government, the St. Lawrence and lakes whose water levels are dropping, and the impact on the atmosphere.

Finally, I would like to remind members that our everyday actions, as individuals and as a government, will determine whether we succeed in protecting our environment, and as a result, our health.

Burma
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, in respect of Dr. Cynthia Maung, who joins us in Ottawa today, I stand before the House to bring to the attention of my fellow colleagues the shameful situation in Myanmar or as most people prefer to call it, Burma.

In 1948 Burma was one of Asia's most promising young democracies, buttressed by a growing free market and well educated population. Today it is Asia's most backward country. It is a police state, ruled by a medieval military dictatorship, plagued by five violent insurgencies. Consequently, the majority of its population languishes in abject poverty.

This past weekend, Burma's ruling junta attacked the convoy of Aung Sun Sue Chi, Nobel prize laureate and winner of Burma's last free election. Between 70 and 100 pro-democracy activists may well have been murdered. Aung Sun Sue Chi was arrested with 19 of her colleagues and has not been seen since. There are reports she has been seriously injured and there are rumours she may have been killed.

Enough is enough with this regime. It has pillaged Burma and its people for too long while playing the rest of us for fools. Canada has rightly cut off most of its ties with that government. Following this shameful display on the weekend, we and our allies must, with one voice, tell Burma's generals this will not stand.

Environment Week
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, like my colleague from the Bloc, we are glad to celebrate World Environment Day. Our environment is one of our greatest assets. It is our duty to be good stewards of our environment and to make certain that we do all we can to keep it healthy.

The government's report card would include many failures: smog days continue to grow in our cities; asthma cases rise yearly; boil water orders grow across Canada; no action on major transborder pollution issues which occur in southern Ontario and the Fraser Valley; invasive species increase in our great lakes; contaminated sites are not prioritized and no cleanup plan is in place; and sewage is dumped into our oceans in Victoria, Halifax and St. John's.

The Liberals, for all their talking about the importance of the environment, have done very little to help our environment. These issues are serious and must be dealt with soon. When our environment deteriorates, the health of our people deteriorate.

How much longer will the Liberals neglect our greatest asset? How much longer will they neglect what is good for the health of all Canadians?

Environment Week
Statements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, as we celebrate Environment Week, I am delighted to inform the House that the Halifax Regional Municipality has become a leader among Canada's large urban areas by adopting an advanced municipal solid waste management strategy that has significantly reduced the amount of waste that goes to landfill.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the municipality's landfill site have been reduced by approximately .5 megatonnes per year, or about 1.4 tonnes per resident, compared to 1995. These reductions are among many environmental benefits of a system that has helped achieved a 61.5% reduction in the amount of waste per person sent to landfill between 1989 and 2000.

I invite all members of the House to join me in congratulating the Halifax Regional Municipality for its significant contribution to combating climate change.