House of Commons Hansard #103 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was payday.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

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

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Citizenship and Immigration
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair has received a request for an emergency debate from the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas. I will hear his submissions on this matter now.

Citizenship and Immigration
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am requesting an emergency debate on the hunger strike that is currently happening at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre where Mohammad Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah and Hassan Almrei are on a hunger strike regarding the conditions of their detention at the holding centre. We need an emergency debate on this issue because I think the situation is a serious one. Their health condition is deteriorating day by day.

Medical evidence shows that serious health issues can be possible after a hunger strike of only 10 days and that after 49 days there is a significant risk of renal failure, heart failure, heart arrhythmia, severe hypotension and hypertension.

Mr. Speaker, you might also recall some of the famous hunger strikes of the early 1980s and especially those at the Maze prison in Belfast. Those hunger strikers actually passed away after hunger strikes of 45 to 61 days. We are certainly within a period of parameter where there is very serious concern about the health of the hunger strikers in Kingston.

Mr. Mahjoub is on day 74 of his hunger strike and Mr. Jaballah and Mr. Almrei are on day 63, putting them well beyond the parameters noted above.

There has been no resolution to the grievances raised by the men at Kingston and no ombudsperson is available to them. Unlike other prisoners in the Canadian penitentiary system who have access to an ombudsperson and unlike other prisoners in our provincial system who have access to provincial ombudspeople for their grievances in the prison system, the men being held at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre have no access to an independent grievance procedure or ombudsperson.

I also believe these men now risk dying in custody because of these very serious health issues that they face, given the length of their hunger strike and given the fact that there has been no movement to resolve the issues that they have been raising. Furthermore, I am concerned that they have never been charged or convicted of any crime and have no idea of the evidence against them.

Given the length of time that these hunger strikes have gone on and the serious consequences that stem from a hunger strike, when push comes to shove I think the House needs to put some attention toward this matter given that these men are being held in a federal facility at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre.

Speaker's Ruling
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair wishes to thank the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas for his very able submissions on this subject. Clearly the matter he raises is one of importance. It is a question of whether it constitutes an emergency within the meaning of the Standing Orders of the House.

I am not satisfied that at this time he has made a case that would justify setting a time for an emergency debate. Accordingly, I am declining his request at this time.

I appreciate the fact that in question period today he raised this issue. It became evident in the course of the debate that both he and the minister had visited the facility recently and are therefore cognizant of what is going on and have recognized the importance of the events that are unfolding at that centre at Millhaven Penitentiary.

I thank him for his submissions but I am declining the request for an emergency debate at this time.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal interest rate), be read the third time and passed.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, this is a day to celebrate. We have reached the end of a long hard process to get some justice in the area of fringe financial services. Today, we are debating the final stage of a bill that will bring us closer to moment when payday lenders are regulated across the country.

Getting here was no easy feat, but it happened after a great deal of work on the part of members of the House. It happened after enormous pressure from community groups across the country. It happened because we found a way to cooperate when push came to shove. I think that tells Canadians everything they need to know on how to make Parliament work, especially in a minority situation.

Here we are today with Bill C-26, at its final stage, that will give provinces a mechanism, a means by which they can regulate payday lenders without leaving it up to a system that has largely failed Canadians over the last decade or more.

With the bill, we have an ability to set aside the Criminal Code pertaining to what is an acceptable rate of interest, that being 60%, so provinces can put in place a regulatory framework to put an end to usurious rates and to lending practices that take advantage of the most vulnerable in our society.

This has come after considerable debate in the House and at the industry committee. General approval and support for the idea has come from all sides, except for the Bloc. Most of us are still trying to figure out the position of the Bloc on this important issue. We know the province of Quebec has a system that works, a system that deals with this matter on the basis of consumer protection. Members of the Bloc feel that the province of Quebec has dealt with the problem of those who prey on individuals through payday lending operations.

Therefore, the question for the House has to be this. Why can we not simply agree among ourselves to get this passed so that all provinces can have some way to protect consumers in the most expeditious way possible? To this day, we are still trying to understand why the Bloc chose to use some methods at committee and in the House to hold up the bill when, at the outset, there was almost unanimous support to have the bill, which is a one paragraph, proceed through all stages as quickly as possible so provinces, waiting with legislation, could do so.

In terms of the Quebec situation, we cannot figure out the reasons for the obstruction from the Bloc members, especially in the context of the Quebec media. Just in the last week or so, when my leader and our caucus spoke out vehemently against the use by banks of what we would consider exorbitant fees at ATM machines, the Quebec media responded and said that it was a silly issue. Le Droit suggested that there were things far worse than ATMs. I will read from Le Droit of January 30 of this year. It says:

Come to think of it, there are things worse than the fees charged for using ATMs...

The article goes on to say:

If he had really wanted to do something for the poor in Canada, the member for Toronto—Danforth would have targeted the some 1,300 financial service outlets such as Money Mart—the payday lenders—that lend small amounts of money to some two million Canadians annually, at such high rates that they are currently being sued in a class action in Ontario.

We have taken both issues very seriously. Obviously we feel there is a real need, and Canadians agree, to put some limits on the fees that banks can charge for accessing one's own money. We have spoken out about the exorbitant fees that Canadians are charged and we have asked the government to consider putting a lid on those charges or, in fact, to eliminate the charges we face to access our own money.

At the same, we have been fighting for years on the question of money marts, rent to owns, payday lenders and all fringe financial institutions. This has been a driving force of members in my caucus over the last four or five years.

I can go back to when we first started raising this years ago. We put forward motion after motion, asking the government to start to take action against payday lenders and those who preyed on people when they were most vulnerable. We worked long and hard to try to get the former government to recognize the need to take action.

I wrote to then minister of finance, now the House leader for the Liberal Party, to ask him to do what Manitoba and other provinces wanted, which was to have provisions to set aside the Criminal Code so provinces could finally take action to put a lid on these usurious fees and to try to deal with the vulnerabilities that people faced as a result of this explosion of alternative financial centres or alternative fringe financial centres in the absence of bank presence. We did not get very far with the previous government.

When the new government came in, we began the process all over again. It took a considerable period of time, but we finally are at the point where we have cooperated, one another in the House. We have developed legislation that would allow the job to be done. Is that not what matters? In the end it is not the politics and the games about how one can hold up the House for other purposes and who initiated what and how it came to be. It is about trying to get something done for Canadians.

This is an example of where the House is making a very significant initiative on the part of Canadians, many of whom are forced to deal with payday lenders and other fringe financial services.

I do not need to go over the statistics, we have had many of these during these debates. We know that just in a decade we have gone from zero payday lenders to over 1,300. We know the stories of people who have lost their life savings. They were in this vicious cycle of going to payday lenders, being taken advantage of and being trapped for the rest of their lives. Story after story portrays this tangled web of payday loans.

I will read one example that came from a number of years ago, back in 2004. It was reported by the Toronto Star. The article begins by saying, “Quick cash, creeping risk 'Pride was what I left behind'”. It says:

Kim Elliott's Friday payday loan ritual that began as soon as her 12-year-old son was off to school.

First stop was the bank to withdraw $700 from the freshly deposited $900 paycheque from her job as a front desk manager at a Windsor hotel.

A short drive away, $650 went to pay off a loan at Stop 'N' Cash, a payday lending store that offers high-interest, short-term loans. As soon as the teller had the cash in her hands, Elliott took out another loan, this time to pay off the interest on a loan at Cash Money, another payday loan store. The transaction was the same there—pay down, loan again, drive to the next lender.

Three hours and three to our loans later, the paycheque was gone. Elliott would then take out about $350 in her final loan of the day, this one to have money to get through the next two weeks.

Does that not say why this day is so important and why Bill C-26 has to be passed as quickly as possible?

It is especially relevant in areas where the banks have abandoned entire communities. Whether one is looking at the question of ATMs or the issue of money marts and payday lenders, the root of the problem is the same: big banks have abandoned communities.

For the purpose of the House's understanding of the issue, I will once again describe what happened in Winnipeg North, my constituency. In the old Winnipeg north end, over a period of half a dozen years, all bank branches closed their doors and left that entire community without access to bank branches.

Yes, there are outlying branches, but we are talking about a community that has a high proportion of senior citizens, a very high level of low income earners, many people with disabilities, people who do not have access to cars or family members to drive them or access to computers and sometimes even telephones to do their banking. What do they do? In the case of trying to get cash, they have to go to a private white label ATM machine and they get charged up to $6 to access maybe $20 or $30, whatever they can afford to take out of their accounts.

People in organizations, like the Bankers Association, and perhaps even some members in this place have suggested that the NDP is ridiculous for raising the question of ATMs and fees. When there is a situation like that, we are not talking about convenience. We are not talking about affluent people who should know better in terms of how much money they take out at one time. We are talking about people who do not have any other choice.

The same holds true when it comes to fringe financial services. The same holds true when it comes to payday lenders. When the banks left, they created prime conditions for money marts, rent to owns and payday lenders. Every aspect of the fringe financial service popped up. It took up the space and filled the vacuum.

People went to those places because they did not have any other choice. There was no place to do their banking. There was no place to access some short term cash without going to a place that charged exorbitant interest rates and all kinds of fees and additional arrangements on top of the 60% interest rate that is criminal.

Something had to be done. We needed a way to get this into the hands of consumer protection departments at the provincial level so regulatory schemes could be put in place to arrive at what would be a reasonable interest rate for these kinds of lending situations. That is exactly what this legislation aims to do and what provinces like Manitoba, which has been the pioneer in this field, aim to do. It is about putting in place a mechanism so one can assess what makes sense in terms of an interest rate.

No one is saying that we cannot look at this in terms of risk and not charge interest. We are talking about short term loans where there is some risk, so there has to be an interest rate structure that is reasonable and allows for people not to lose the shirts off their backs.

However, in that context, why should we allow people to charge a 1000% or $2000% interest rate? Is there not a limit? Is there not something government can do? Is this not the best way to do it, given the fact that we could not over the last number of years get the provinces to agree on one standard? We could not get the federal government to pull those ministers from the provincial and territorial governments together to arrive at one standard. It dragged on for too long, to the point where the provincial NDP government in Manitoba finally brought in legislation of its own that then began this ripple effect where other provinces followed suit.

As we speak today, the Manitoba NDP government and the New Brunswick government have legislation ready to go the minute Bill C-26 is receives royal assent. They are waiting desperately for immediate action by the House. I hope we can get there very quickly, finish this debate, have the vote, get it to the Senate and get it back here, with royal assent.

In the face of banks leaving communities like Winnipeg North, the community had to take charge of the situation. People in Manitoba and in my own community of Winnipeg North finally said that they had been hurt by the banks too many times. They could not seem to hold the banks to account. They could not make the banks come to them with their statements before they shut the doors. They could not seem to convince the banks that there was some merit in having access to personalized banking services in every community across the country.

After 10 bank closures and after trying everything possible, people in the community basically said that they were going to take matters into their own hands and work with the folks who really care about the community to make a difference. That is what happened. It was not necessarily with great help from government, although there was some financial support of course. It was not with the help of any of the banks, although the last bank to close its doors in Winnipeg did give some money for a pilot project to study an alternative financial community services arrangement. That bank did give its building to the community for $1. That has made a difference and we thank the CIBC for that, but the CIBC left a whole community. It abandoned a whole area. Small businesses, local community activists, organizations, many seniors and hard-working families were suddenly left without anything. I think the CIBC actually owed it to the community to do that.

I hope other banks who abandon us will look at that as an example of their responsibilities. I hope they will consider doing so before we have to go to the next step which is to try to bring in what is so workable in the United States, a community reinvestment act which forces banks to carry out their responsibilities to the community and to give something back for the loyalty of consumers over those years. Rather than go that route, I hope banks will start to realize that they have a responsibility to Canadians, to the consumers and clients who built up those banks over the years and made such huge profits for them that the banks owe something to those communities.

Today we have a chance to make up for the downfall, for the failings of a banking system that has ignored consumer concerns. Today we have an opportunity to protect consumers from exorbitant interest rates. Today we have a chance to say to communities that we believe that a community needs to have a say in its own destiny.

The whole origin of the project in Bill C-26 came not from government, although the Manitoba NDP government was vital and central to the whole evolution of this wonderful legislation, but it came from the community. It came from organizations that felt the impact of the banks abandoning them. It came from community activists and research groups who well documented every step of the way what was happening to our community. It is only right that we pay tribute to those studies which documented this problem.

I refer to the work of Jerry Buckland, who is with the Winnipeg Inner-City Research Alliance, and to Nancy Barbour, who came out of the community and worked on this research, who has since passed away, and to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude. They did the study, “The Rise of Fringe Financial Services in Winnipeg's North End”. They put together detailed studies on fringe banking in Winnipeg's North End. Going back to September 2005 there is the paper, “There Are No Banks Here” regarding financial and insurance exclusion in Winnipeg's north end.

The situation in Winnipeg's north end is not peculiar. Many older neighbourhoods, inner city communities and rural communities have gone through the same phenomenon where banks have abandoned the communities and gone to where they say it is more profitable. The banks have left people at the whim of payday lenders and to pay exorbitant fees at ATM machines.

Today we are taking a step to correct this. Today we are actually making a difference in terms of the lives of Canadians. I urge all members of Parliament from all sides and all walks of life to support this bill. Let us get it through the House as quickly as possible so that it can receive royal assent. Let us put into place legislation that makes a real difference for ordinary families.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to the hon. member for Winnipeg North, I wish to remind her that she is well aware of what is preventing Bloc Québécois members from supporting this bill. It is because the Quebec legislation is far better.

I remind hon. members that it is now my turn to speak and they should listen.

I also want to stress the centralizing attitude of both the New Democratic Party and the Conservative Party of Canada. I understand her decision to belong to a national party that feels compelled to support each province, even though it may be against its voters' best interests. The Bloc Québécois has the advantage of representing only the interests of Quebec.

So, the bill now before us goes against the interests of Quebec.

The hon. member talked about petty politics. She should look at herself, instead of accusing Bloc Québécois members of engaging in partisan rhetoric.

We had a fine example last weekend. Indeed, we saw two government ministers go so low as to betray their voters by signing a contract that deprives Quebec of huge revenues and that is evidence of yielding to Canada. Such is the vision of major national parties. This is why the Bloc Québécois will never support a bill that will downgrade what already exists in Quebec.

Remember during the election campaign, when the Conservatives were going on about being open and respectful. Today, we can only conclude that the Harper government is pursuing the federal objective of infringing on—

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Order, please. The hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou knows that other hon. members cannot be referred to by their surnames or given names, just by their title or the name of their riding.

So a word to the wise.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I just referred to the government by the name of its leader, but I meant the Conservative government, if you prefer that view of things.

So it arrogated unto itself the override power in section 347, which has now led to the Bloc Québécois opposing this bill.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I simply cannot understand the position taken by the Bloc member here in the House of Commons. It is a fact that this bill does not change a thing in the province of Quebec. If Quebec has effective laws for dealing with money mart-type problems, that is well and good. That is very good for Quebeckers. There is a problem, though, in the rest of Canada. It does not have a bill of this kind or a way of protecting the victims of payday lenders and money marts.

This bill is therefore an opportunity for all us to make a difference everywhere in Canada. This is not a jurisdictional problem. Nothing in this bill affects the ability of the Bloc members or the PQ or anyone else in Quebec to determine their future. This is really a bill that addresses the problems of people who have been victimized by money marts and payday lenders. That is all.

Why does the Bloc want to turn every bill into a jurisdictional debate, even when that is not the case?

Our support for this bill does not mean that we support the Conservative government in general, but we will work together with anyone in the House to make changes that are important for people everywhere in Canada. That is all.

The Bloc’s position simply does not make sense. I want to go back to the article written by Pierre Jury in Le Droit:

If he had really wanted to do something for poor people in this country—

I imagine that that is what the Bloc members in the House really want. They want to work on solving the problems of poor people. Consequently, as other people in Quebec say, if we are interested in changing the conditions that cause poverty in Canada, we must deal with the financial service operators that victimize people. They are like vultures. They are going to set ultra-high interest rates that push people into poverty.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member from the NDP and, as my colleague from the Bloc mentioned, with proposed clause 347 in the bill, the federal government could encroach on Quebec's jurisdiction. It could interfere with what we do. In Quebec, we have the Office de la protection du consommateur and it set the maximum interest rate at 35%.

What I do not understand in the position of my colleague from the NDP is that she compares that kind of loans to loans from automatic teller machines and to other kind of loans and she purports to defend the interests of the poorest in our society. However, the bill talks about interest rates of 60% over two weeks. That means that the person who borrows money could be charged up to 60% interest after two weeks and that would be legal according to the bill. Are you really asking for that? I cannot believe it. How can you say that and still claim that you defend the poorest in our society? Are there no other solutions?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I realize that the members from the Bloc do not understand the bill. The member said that we are in favour of the 60% interest rate mentioned in the bill. That is not the case. The situation is quite the opposite. We reject the idea that we should simply talk about a 60%interest rate.

We have said the opposite. We have said it does not work in the rest of Canada. Maybe there is a good system in Quebec, but it does not work in the rest of Canada because all of these payday lenders have managed to put together all kinds of other fees, so that 300%, 400% or 1,000% interest ends up being paid. There is no way around it because of the way this area is regulated.

This is not about kow-towing to the federal government. We are simply saying that we would like the federal government and the provinces, not Quebec because it has its own system, to agree that they will put aside the criminal rate of interest, which is 60%, when a province has a better system to manage this area.

It is as simple as that. That is the way things are. That is all. The issue is not one of restrictions, it is not about the weakness of provinces like Manitoba. The issue is an issue of fairness for all people throughout Canada.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Hubbard Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, with your permission and the consent of the House, I would like to share my time with the hon. member for Etobicoke North.

As I listen to the debate between the two parties, and we think of the bill, Bill C-26 is a very small bill. Most of the sections in it deal with the concept that the bill will only be effective in terms of trying to regulate the industry if the provinces request assistance. It is not something that is going to be driven by the federal government, but rather it is in response to concerns that the provinces have had that they are not able to regulate the same day or payday loan activity.

We have to assume that there are people out there who want to borrow money for a short period of time. This morning I was checking with one of those groups and I found that it seemed so simple. If one wants to borrow $500, the indication was that one would pay only 16¢ per day for each $100 borrowed, but there is also a $10 fee in order to register with the company.

It sounds like a very small amount of money to pay back, borrowing $500 for 10 days, but when we consider it in terms of the Criminal Code, that interest rate without the fee would be nearly 60%. I am concerned that if I were working for one of those companies today, listening to the debate in the House, it must be rather a slimy feeling they have about our attitudes about the type of activity that they have in those communities.

They are all pointed out as being terrible organizations and we see them as being people who are trying to rip off the poor. In fact, many of them do rip off the poor. I asked the parliamentary secretary this morning, in terms of the other fees that are associated with payday loans because those loans are often given to people who are very short of money, who do not have friends and who have no opportunity to borrow from a bank or from another financial institution.

I dealt with a case in my own riding on Friday of a person who applied for EI. He had been out of work. It took him a few days to get his record of employment from his employer and then he put his request in to draw his EI. After waiting nearly 30 days, his claim had still not been processed. I am glad to say we found out today that his claim has been processed, but an individual who has been without a paycheque for nearly five weeks is in need of money. He said that he had no money because he had medical needs in terms of prescriptions and on Friday afternoon he was very desperate. I would think that he might be a person who would go to a same day lender to get a short term loan until his first EI cheque arrived.

Other people in the country might be working for an employer and would have to wait two or three weeks to get their paycheques. If they could borrow the $500 and get it at a reasonable rate, then it would be a service that our banks and other financial institutions often do not offer.

We know that the sad cases that we hear of usually deal with other penalties that are associated with the initial loans. We know that the costs that they put in, in terms of administrative fees, in terms of whether or not one is able to pay the loan after the 10 or 14 days are up, cause heavy penalties that are built into the amount of money that has to be paid when the loan is up.

We find, as some speakers have indicated, that in many cases companies that are involved in these franchises are able to rollover those loans, to keep the person in a rut until that loan has become so great that it is almost impossible to pay back.

We are talking today about some form of consumer protection. We are trying to avoid the idea of predatory lenders. We have the old system of pawn shops. We have various other financial agencies that cost 30% to get money from them. We have credit cards which sometimes run as high as 28% and we try to regulate those in terms of our various regulations, policies and laws.

This particular bill, Bill C-26, goes to section 347 of the Criminal Code and with it we are placing those organizations not in terms of the financial arrangements that our country has within our finance but more importantly, within the Criminal Code. We are dealing with it in terms of people who would be assessed very heavy penalties, in fact penalties that would put them in the criminal group.

Why do we have it? We as Liberals want to say that we have this on the fast track. We have indicated to the Minister of Justice that there are six bills that he has before the House that we want to be sure that they proceed quickly.

I felt badly today that in terms of some time that we took after question period we dealt with a very difficult case of justice. Wilbert Coffin was a person from Quebec, a riding in fact just north of my own, and to think that we had to debate that issue and bring it in at the same time as we are bringing in another type of criminal activity which is actually causing people to pay too much interest and to cause them financial hardship.

I want to assure the House that as Liberals we strongly support the bill. We want to see that the provinces have the opportunity to bring in legislation that will enable them to effectively regulate not only the same day loans or the payday loans but hopefully to regulate a lot of those activities within our provinces and within our country that cause so much hardship to the people who are less able to afford it.

Being poor is a terrible thing in this country. I know as a party and as the House we all want to work to see that we can end poverty, but we also know that many people are poor on a weekly basis in terms of having some particular problem which causes them to get a same day loan.

As a party we support this venture. We want to see the bill become law as quickly as possible. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that our members on this side of the House will support the effort of the Minister of Justice and the minority Conservative government as they proceed with this piece of legislation.