House of Commons Hansard #133 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

October 6th, 2005 / 10:20 a.m.

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from October 5 consideration of the motion that Bill C-57, An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to financial institutions, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to continue the presentation I started yesterday. To quickly review, Bill C-57 is about the governance laws of banks, insurance companies, their holding companies, and credit unions. It is to provide a framework that they are going to be obligated to operate within. It also brings this in line with the Senate bill, Bill S-11, which was a standards update that occurred in 2001.

I am sure that Bill C-57 is going to give a lot of comfort to Canadians who invest and who have savings and business with financial institutions. I think this is a good bill. My party agrees with it, of course, because while the Liberals failed to mention this in their presentation, it is here because of the insistence of members of our finance group, the member for Medicine Hat, the member for Edmonton—Spruce Grove, the member for Peace River and the member for Portage—Lisgar and, of course, also the insistence of the chief member of the finance committee from the Bloc. They have insisted that the government not delay the introduction of this legislation to provide this framework and to update the governance regulations, basically so these institutions will have a clear understanding of where and how they are supposed to operate within these guidelines. I know that does give a level of comfort to Canadians.

As part of my presentation on the bill, I want to now move to what Paul Harvey might refer to as “the rest of the story”. Canadians who are watching the progression of this bill through House and who have read about it are no doubt, as I mentioned earlier, getting a great deal of comfort from knowing that the trust they have in their financial institutions is going to be even more secure and they are not going to be troubled by having another Enron or a WorldCom here in Canada. That is a good thing for Canadians, and I think all parliamentarians should take credit for getting the bill into the House.

The rest of the story is this. Let us imagine the average Canadian watching the progress of this piece of legislation about how these financial institutions are going to be governed and how they are doing their business. Let us imagine the questions they must have in their minds about how this Liberal government, which has shamelessly, over the last 12 years that I have been in the House and probably longer than that, been followed by scandal after scandal, by corruption after corruption, plagued by evidence and accusations and acts of patronage that are just beyond the comprehension of—

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10:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

On a point of order, the member for Mississauga South.

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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order on two matters. First of all, with regard to allegations of corruption of anyone, whether it be a member or any other organization, that is in a legal situation which has not been adjudicated, and to suggest such is just improper. Second, we are talking about Bill C-57. To deal with matters to do with political party performance is not relevant to the debate. I would ask the member to keep his comments relevant to Bill C-57.

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10:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

We take the comments of the member for Mississauga South. I would ask the member for Cariboo—Prince George to be as relevant as he possibly can in this debate.

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10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, as I say, in a courtroom I intend to show the relevance of my presentation to you, and you will find out how it unfolds. I can understand the member wanting to jump up and defend his government against, quite frankly, the indefensible.

What I was trying to point out is that Canadians have to form an opinion about everything we do in this chamber that affects them. They have formed an opinion about Bill C-57 and they like it. It gives them some security. Canadians will draw a comparison between Bill C-57 and how the government wants these financial institutions to operate, and they will draw a comparison between that and how Canadians want their government to operate.

The question they are asking themselves, I am sure, is the question of how this Liberal government can demand that financial institutions operate with honesty, transparency, full disclosure and accountability when the Government of Canada, those Liberals, fail to do that themselves. This is the question that Bill C-57 raises among Canadians. I am drawing that comparison to point out that a government is responsible not only for talking the talk but, in addition, for walking the walk. This government has not done it.

The member wants some examples. We can go right back to early in the first time I was in Parliament, to the infamous sale of the Grand-Mère Golf Club, when the Prime Minister himself was perceived to have been involved in a golf course and hotel that received government financing. We can go from there to the office building leases not too long ago, when the government leased an office building from a Liberal friend, it turned out, that it did not even move into for about a year.

There was the flagrant use of the Challenger jets, the sole sourcing of government contracts to Liberal friends, and the sponsorship scandal, when hundreds of millions of dollars went into the pockets and companies of Liberal friends. The list goes on and on. Now we have the famous David Dingwall case where, as an unregistered lobbyist, he received a success fee of $350,000 for successfully placing a request for several million dollars in government funding for the company he was representing, and he is not paying it back.

The relevance is this: Canadians are looking at Bill C-57 and saying, “That is really nice and it gives us some comfort, but why can the government not learn to live by its own rules?” Why has this Liberal government failed to be accountable? Why has it failed to be transparent? Why, in many cases, has it been involved in cover-ups? Why can the government itself not do all the things which Bill C-57 is designed to ensure that these financial institutions do? That is what Canadians are asking.

I am sure the word “hypocrisy” must be on the minds of Canadians as they listen to the presentations that have been made by the Liberal members throughout this debate. Canadians must be saying that it is all very nice and they like Bill C-57, but where is the accountability, the honesty, the set of strict guidelines, and the application of opportunities for redress to the government? Where is this within the government itself? Why can it flagrantly abuse the very rules that it is setting down for the financial institutions? Those are questions that average Canadians must be asking themselves.

It is very simple. This bill talks about the standards and duties and the ethics of the directors of financial institutions, including allowing for a due diligence defence and clarifying conflict of interest. There is a provision to make minutes of board meetings available to the public where conflicts are disclosed. Could these same rules not be applied to the cabinet of the government? The cabinet operates in much the same way, with much bigger numbers than financial institutions. Cabinet members handle a budget well over $100 billion a year, yet they are not expecting themselves to operate within the same guidelines that they want the financial institutions to operate within.

There are four simple rules which the government, and every government in the world, should operate by if they want to earn and maintain the confidence of Canadians: Do not lie. Do not cheat. Do not steal. Do not pay off their political friends with taxpayers' money. It is so simple, yet the Liberal government has a hard time grasping it.

I speak on behalf of so many Canadians who are asking themselves that if the government expects, and demands through law and legislation, that financial institutions and insurance companies operate within this very clear set of guidelines as far as their governance goes, why on earth can the government itself not adopt the same policy? That is the question. The Liberals have not done it. They have been wrought with scandal, rampant with corruption and rife with patronage payoffs. Canadians have had enough. When Canadians look at Bill C-57 they just roll their eyes and say, “what hypocrisy”.

We in the Conservative Party are always vigilant about how our financial institutions, insurance companies and credit unions handle the money of Canadians. We will always be vigilant in ensuring that the investments of Canadians are safe and sound, and that the companies that look after them are operating in an open, transparent and honest manner. At the same time, I would like to say on behalf of Canadians that it would be nice if the government could do the same.

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I will not disagree with the member on his point, as long as he understands that the member himself also has to meet the criteria that he has laid out. I think the member would agree. I would like to point out a couple of examples used by the member.

He said that an office building was leased and the building was not moved into for a year. He used that as an example of patent patronage.

The matter came before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. The building actually was built by the company to the specifications of Public Works and Government Services. It was delivered on time and on spec. The tenants scheduled by the government to move in required substantial changes to the building layout and to the preparations of it. It led to about a year's delay in their getting into the building.

The member is suggesting that since a person who was an officer of that company at the time subsequently became a senator it is a Liberal payoff.

Clearly, as was stated at committee, the company that built the building and is leasing it had absolutely nothing to do with the delay. That in fact was confirmed by the ethics officer of the Senate in a complete 20 page report which is available to the member as he knows.

He mentioned sole sourcing and that somehow sole sourcing without going to competitive bids is a nefarious activity.

Under Treasury Board guidelines sole sourcing is permitted in certain circumstances. For example it is permitted for contracts under $25,000, where there is only one possible supplier, and where there is an emergency and it has to be dealt with quickly. I believe there are a couple of other circumstances.

The member would like to throw around a lot of examples but I am really concerned why the member did not talk about the significance and importance of making the changes proposed in Bill C-57 to bring it into line with the Canada Business Corporations Act and the Insurance Companies Act. It is going to ensure that there is an efficient operation within the financial system and provides a better foundation for accountability, transparency and governance.

These are the important things that Canadians should be advised of on this matter. If the member wants to use examples, I understand the opposition will take every opportunity. It is the opposition's job to talk about other things, but I think it is important first of all to emphasize the priority, which is the importance of the financial sector to Canada's economy.

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10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, I did exactly that yesterday. I outlined the importance of the bill.

The member brought forward a couple of points that I would like to address in talking about the building that was not moved into for a year after it was built, although the lease was paid. That is not the fault of the builder. That is the fault of the government.

The other thing Canadians expect from good government is good business planning. If a government, with all the resources and all the expertise it says it has, cannot plan something as simple as a date to move into a building when it is ready, if there is a year delay because of bad business planning, that is really letting down Canadians. I think Canadians would expect more than that.

In talking about the efficient operation of banks and financial institutions, that is the very thing Canadians expect from a government as well, efficient operation. That has not happened with the Liberal government.

The sole sourcing issue is something we could probably debate all day. There could be example after example where it was probably close to rightly perceived that some of the sole sourcing examples may have been created so that they could happen. We will just leave it at that. I think the member knows what I am talking about.

In closing, Bill C-57 is a good bill. We have had a lot of input into the bill and we will certainly take credit for that. It gives the financial institutions some real guidelines to operate under. It lets them do some long term efficient business planning now, something the government apparently is incapable of.

What still remains in the minds of Canadians is if financial institutions are expected to operate under very strict governance guidelines, at the very least the government should practise what it preaches.

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10:35 a.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca
B.C.

Liberal

Keith Martin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, I could not agree with the member more in that a government should behave in a manner,and implement solutions that would ensure that the people's money, the taxpayers' money, is used in the most efficient and effective way possible and in the most transparent fashion. That is why, to set the record straight, this government has instituted a number of very important initiatives to do just that. I am quite proud of what has been done.

First, there is the expenditure review system that was put in place. Everybody who is watching today should please pay attention to this because it is a very exciting way in which we use the taxpayers' money, all of our money because we are all taxpayers. It ensures that every single minister looks at the expenditures and initiatives under his or her purview, takes those that are under-performing, the lowest 10%, and drives that money into the highest 10%, the most important initiatives that Canadians want.

Second, the Prime Minister and the ministers involved, the Minister of National Revenue and the Minister of Finance, instituted a comptroller system that ensures improved analysis and improved responsibility to the taxpayer and transparency in the way in which we spend the people's money.

Third, crown corporations were formerly at arm's-length from the gaze of the Auditor General and this House. This has been changed significantly by the President of the Treasury Board who has implemented 31 changes into law. This enables crown corporations to be subject to access to information and subject to the watchful gaze and the expertise of the Office of the Auditor General.

My colleague across the way should be talking about the facts, the exciting things that have been done. Certainly if he has solutions that would improve what already has been done, he should offer those solutions and challenge us all to do better.

Does the member not accept and applaud the initiatives that I have mentioned that this Liberal government has put forward? If he has other solutions that he could proffer that would make the way in which we spend taxpayers' money more useful, more effective and more transparent, we would like to know what they are.

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10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, I am well aware of what the member is talking about concerning the guidelines and the safety nets that the government has set out for itself in the operation of how it handles the taxpayers' money. On the surface that looks pretty good.

The difference between the government and the institutions that are going to be affected by Bill C-57 is that under this bill, when banks and financial institutions and insurance companies fail to abide by the rules of the game in their operation, they are subject to very heavy penalities because of the regulation. They are subject to being charged with criminal activity.

The government has made, and may continue to make, all the rules of operation of how it spends taxpayers' money that it wants and it all sounds good. The difference is when the Liberals do not live by the rules, when they break their own guidelines, when they break their own regulations, they set themselves up while they are in office as the judge and jury of their own misdeeds. We know what the outcome of that is, just about zero penality.

That is the difference between what the Liberal government does within the guidelines it sets and what happens when it breaks its own guidelines as opposed to the regulations laid out in Bill C-57. The member knows that very well.

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10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my Liberal colleague for his applause. But I would rather he held off until l am done with my presentation, in case he did not feel like applauding at all by then.

I also thank my colleague from Cariboo—Prince George for his excellent presentation. I will not repeat all the points he made about the government's mismanagement. He has covered the issue extensively. A government can hardly have the necessary credibility to impose new, stricter control rules on directors of public corporations when it is faced with all these scandals.

On the face of it, my colleagues and myself think that Bill C-57 is a good bill. It responds to a need. In 2001, if memory serves, this House passed Bill S-11, which dealt precisely with clarity and new rules for proper management and accountability by both shareholders and directors of public corporations.

At the time, we omitted to include certain financial institutions, such as banks, cooperative credit associations and insurance companies, as part of the federally chartered institutions. Now, Bill C-57 is completing the process by reforming the governance of federally chartered institutions. But it is not making any changes to monitoring rules.

I was listening to my hon. colleague from the Conservative Party who, together with other Conservative and Bloc members, has worked very hard on the Standing Committee on Finance to develop these new rules. I heard him suggest that this bill would shield us against Enron and WorldCom-type scandals. I do not think so, because the new rules govern the accountability of directors. No new rules were imposed to monitor the statements and corporations concerned. If there is one improvement that should be made following the work done at the finance committee, it is in that respect that it should be made. As far as we are concerned, we are not shielded in any way against Enron or WorldCom-type scandals.

The bill has its good points. It also relaxes the regulations on the exchange of information and on proxies, which is a very onerous procedure for banks, particularly cooperative credit associations and insurance companies. Furthermore, companies and shareholders are now allowed to do something they could not do before, which is communicate electronically and exchange information on the Internet. We must adapt to the new era of communication and this bill does just that.

The process by which information is disclosed to policyholders is also strengthened. I think this is a good thing. By doing so, we are making the underwriting of public companies more transparent.

The bill also attempts to increase director liability. We have questions about this. We will ask them during consideration in the Standing Committee on Finance and before the expert witnesses we intend to call. Since such bills are extremely technical, we need to call upon people in the field who worked under the old provisions and who may have an opinion about the new ones.

With regard to director liability, when such directors are taken to court, for example, there is a new defence. Previously, there was the defence of acting in good faith. A director was able to say, “Given what we were told, I made my decisions according to the information I had available”. Now, we want to adopt a new type of defence for directors, which is called due diligence.

We do not know just how far this new defence for directors can go. I think that it would be worthwhile to examine this issue in greater depth, particularly since there are strong hints of scandals every week. We saw it in Quebec, among other places, with the Norbourg affair. In order to protect shareholders, we need much more than a potentially meaningless concept, such as due diligence. We need directors who are liable and audit methods that prevent scandals similar to those we have seen in recent years and now.

These involve insider transactions, on which we can never be too vigilant or severe. This is a provision that could improve our control over such offences.

Then there is the matter of public holder requirement, which requires institutions with equity holdings between $1 billion and $5 billion to make at least 35% of their voting shares available for trading on the public stock exchange. We have a number of questions on exemptions from this provision as it relates to public financial institutions. Among other things, we are going to clarify the situation with the cooperatives, but it does seem a positive change.

If we have to work on this bill—as we will do with all possible seriousness in the Standing Committee on Finance—there are some questions we will assign importance to, including the need for clarifications on the amendments relating to insider trading. Will this really help to catch the guilty parties?

As well, we have some questions on the consequences of broadening the possible defences for directors, as I have said, under this new concept of due diligence rather than the former good faith. Not that the latter is being done away with, but due diligence is being added as a defence when directors come before the courts.

We also have some questions on the consequences of opening up the criteria for application for exemption from the requirement to float 35% of voting shares on a stock exchange. That was our objection four years ago in connection with Bill S-11 and it still is today: the bill gives no consideration whatsoever to small shareholders. We will try to improve this bill so that small shareholders have a say in decisions made by the directors and will be better treated than they are at present. It is, for instance, my intention to personally invite Mr. Michaud, dubbed “the Robin Hood of banking”, who is engaged in a pitched battle for those rights.

We are in favour of the bill in principle at second reading. We will be making some improvements and some clarifications during its examination in the Standing Committee on Finance.

Like my colleague from Cariboo—Prince George, when he said that, as a public administrator, the government should set itself strict guidelines on liability, I remembered a debate that we have been having since 1994 and that may well reach its apex in the coming weeks, during an extraordinary session of the Standing Committee on Finance. Furthermore, we will have a debate this evening on a motion by my colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier to abolish various corporate income tax regulations as they relate to the tax treaty with Barbados.

The state must be viewed as a big democratic company. This big democratic company has millions of shareholders: the taxpayers and citizens of Quebec and Canada. They are all shareholders in the state. If we draw a parallel between the public and democratic company called Canada and the regulations before us today, we see that some directors are not subject to the same rules that we want to impose upon the directors of crown corporations under Bill C-57. I am thinking, for example, of individuals who are in good position to apply double standards when it comes to calls for strict guidelines, liability, accountability, the elimination of conflicts of interest, and so forth. Some people who have worked for the Canadian state for a long time have used their status to get the governor in council and cabinet to amend tax laws and regulations so they can fill their pockets, as we say in Quebec. This was the case with the former finance minister and current Prime Minister.

I am often told, “Your approach is overly aggressive. You are always on the Prime Minister's back because of his shipping company, but it no longer belongs to him. It belongs to his children”. It is still a family business. And this is not aggression, but rather merely concern that all taxpayers be treated fairly.

What shareholders and company directors are being asked to do in this bill, the Prime Minister has not required of himself since 1994, not since he was named Minister of Finance and not since he became Prime Minister. He changed the rules of the game for international shipping corporations operating in international waters. The headquarters of Canada Steamship Lines International has been in Barbados since 1994, in other words since the tax regulations and related legislation were changed. At that time, an exception was made in the tax treaty with Barbados so that Canada Steamship Lines International would not have to pay taxes to Canada. The current Prime Minister changed the rules, taking advantage of his position as finance minister.

I would like to return to my example of Quebec, which is a large democratic corporation in which everyone is a shareholder. The Prime Minister has managed to save more than $100 million in taxes since 1998, thanks to provisions that he himself had passed. It was he who introduced Bill C-28 in 1998. And in 1994 there was the change to the tax regulations.

So he built a gilded cage for himself in order to fleece the shareholders in the democratic country of Canada. As a result, he has not paid more than $100 million in taxes since 1998. That hurts all the other shareholders, to draw a connection with Bill C-57. When they do not pay their taxes—he and other corporations that are structured similarly, that is to say, a consortium of shipping companies or other corporations headquartered in countries considered tax havens, especially Barbados—it is all the other shareholders who pay for the poorer returns of the democratic corporation known as Canada.

This evening we will have an opportunity to remind ourselves of this with the motion of my colleague from Portneuf. We are going to have a special session in November when we will fully expose the machinations of the current Prime Minister at the time he was Minister of Finance and built a gilded cage for himself. He made sure that Canada Steamship Lines and other similar companies, his friends, could take advantage of these tax loopholes. As a result, we are still paying taxes to Canada while he fleeced the Government of Canada out of about $100 million.

We are speaking about the responsibility of all citizens of this country. All the citizens are shareholders or company directors and should feel a certain amount of responsibility. For starters, when a person is Prime Minister and was finance minister for years, he or she should set an example. I think he set the wrong example. And we are going to prove it over the next few weeks.

I repeat that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill in principle. However, we are going to make some improvements to it. In regard to the other matter of the large democratic corporation in which we are all shareholders, we will be keeping an eye out and will shed light on the allegations that I have made.

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10:55 a.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to ask the hon. member from the Bloc Québécois a couple of questions, although my colleague, the finance critic in the New Democratic Party caucus will be speaking more broadly in the debate on Bill C-57, an act to amend certain acts in relation to financial institutions.

The couple of questions I want to put to the member arise out of some of the concerns I have about the gap between the rhetoric we have heard from Liberal members, the parliamentary secretary and the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, and the actions. The rhetoric that has accompanied the introduction of the bill is along the lines that this is about greater efficiency, more responsible use of taxpayer dollars, greater dollars and transparency and ensuring that every taxpayer dollar is protected. Yet when one looks at what we are dealing with, and this is the government's explanation and not some partisan twist on what we see before us, the act is about is making changes to the corporate government's framework of banks, insurance companies, et cetera to bring them into line with the changes to the Canada Business Corporations Act for business corporations. These changes were adopted in 2001.

When it comes to efficiency, if we are to believe that the bill before us is so incredibly important and great results will flow to taxpayers of Canada from it, one has to ask about the inefficiency of waiting four years before the bill was brought forward. No wonder we have some strains on the public purse, and that is even before we get to the Dingwalls and all the other things that are the subject of the Gomery inquiry, et cetera.

First, does the member share that concern? Does he not think there probably were other priorities for tax dollars, which apparently have not been protected during these four years while the government delayed?

Second, in the same sort of context of efficiency, of the government moving quickly to address these matters, one has to be concerned. The New Democratic Party very much shares a concern, and it is not just about our colleague from Ottawa Centre who was a major architect of the important work done.

The Canadian Democracy and Corporate Accountability Commission addressed many of the same kinds of issues, and it has been sitting gathering dust for a long time. The former New Democratic Party leader, who now sits in the House and provides very distinguished leadership, was the co-chair of that commission. Again, many of these recommendations have yet to be introduced which certainly raises in our mind concerns about how efficient and effective the government is in moving on these important issues. Could the member indicate if he shares some of those concerns?