House of Commons Hansard #87 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

Financial Literacy Leader Act
Government Orders

March 1st, 2012 / 5 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's comments which I found to be erudite, a word that maybe is known to members on the other side of the House.

As far as we can tell, this bill has not done the job that needs to be done for most Canadians. I am talking about Canadians who are not in the upper echelons of the 1%, shall we say. I am talking about people who may need some financial literacy but they are managing money that most of the people we represent could not dream of. The financial literacy that is necessary is not being provided.

There is no definition of what financial literacy is, for one thing. There is no indication of a mandate or what the goal of the individual would be. The person would spend a considerable sum of government money, we assume, because he or she is not going to work for nothing. The person would need an office and staff and may need some language training.

What is missing from this bill? What is it that we would be considering if we were to present this bill?

Financial Literacy Leader Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his question and comments. Actually, he has really hit the nail on the head. From the outset, this bill introduces a position that does not have a really defined objective. The so-called financial literacy leader has no goal to achieve and no obligation to be accountable.

Those are basic principles that should be in any bill worthy of the name. The fact that the government introduced this type of bill is simply a joke.

Of course, I would like to tell the hon. member that the New Democratic Party has no greater duty than to say that it agrees and that something of the kind can always be considered. However, before planning to create a new position, we would look at what is already in place. And let me point out that there is already an organization that takes care of financial literacy.

If we ever needed something else, we would set goals, but we would first look at what is already up and running, what are the strengths and weaknesses, in order to support what is being done right now. There are resources already available and the government chooses to ignore them.

Financial Literacy Leader Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have examined the bill several times. The only thing I see is that it will give one person a job, but it will not help people generally.

I would like to know if my colleague can see how this bill will help ordinary Canadians.

Financial Literacy Leader Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Nickel Belt, because that is a very pertinent question. He would not believe how pertinent it is.

In addition to creating a somewhat phoney position—perhaps my interpretation is a bit harsh; I will let God be the judge of that—I think the main objective of this bill is to serve the government's fondness for self-promotion. The bill is so devoid of any substance that, apart from forming the foundation of a marketing ploy, like other monumental projects the government has developed for its own self-glorification, I really do not see how this could help ordinary Canadians in any way. That is what is utterly shameful. The government is going to waste public money not only to create the position, but also, no doubt, to launch a multi-million dollar ad campaign to tell us how wonderful the government is for creating this position, which will basically be useless.

Financial Literacy Leader Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will start off by looking at the problems the national task force on financial literacy had from the very beginning.

First, it was headed by a former banker. I have nothing against bankers. My mother was a banker. She worked as a bank manager for the Bank of Montreal for over 35 years. She worked in human resources. I had an aunt who worked for the Bank of Montreal for the same period of time. My mom's friends worked for a bank. I am familiar with bankers and I have no problem with them.

The raison d'être of bankers is to market financial products. I know this because I lived in a banking family. Bankers sell financial products. There are certain marketing seasons when they sell RRSPs or different financial products. They have quotas. There are things that they have to sell. They are salespeople. That is their raison d'être. Often the financial products that they sell to consumers increase the profits of their institutions.

That is not a balanced way to start a group dedicated to the idea of financial literacy. It is similar to putting McDonald's in charge of nutrition policies. It is not a balanced way to do things.

Members know as well as I do that consumers sometimes get burned by financial products because they do not quite understand them. A case in point is the RESP.

I want to make a transparent declaration to the House. When I was in my early thirties and took out an RESP for my daughter, I did not quite understand what I was getting into. The marketing material made it look like I could squirrel away money for my daughter and by the time she was 18 there would be enough money for her university education. I was conscious of the fact that when she did reach university age it would be quite expensive to put her through post-secondary education with the rising costs of education and the rising costs of living. I was really scared and I wanted to find a financial product that would allow me to pay for her education without any worries.

What I did not know was that I could lose that money easily. Call me a fool, but I did not know that the RESP would lose so much money when the market took a dive. My mother the banker did not tell me that fact either until I had lost half the value during the downturn in 2008. There was $12,000 in that plan and it went down to about $5,000 or $6,000. I worked hard to put that money aside. I believed that I was doing the right thing. The bank told me I was doing the right thing. The government told me I was doing the right thing. I believed them.

What we need in terms of financial literacy is somebody who will tell the people of Canada the whole truth, not just the marketing truth.

The Minister of Finance denied that we were in a downturn until the very end of 2008, but I felt it much earlier. I remember the government initiatives to boost people's contributions to RESPs in 2006 and 2007. There was quite a marketing drive by the banks and government. They were telling people to put their money into RESPs so that their kids could go to school.

I am sure people will say that I was a fool not to know how it worked before I put my money in the RESP. With raising a child, working full-time, taking care of my family, I did not have the time to sit down and look at what the RESP was about. It was never taught to me in high school. It was never taught to me in university. I was to teach myself from the bank's own marketing products and from the government literature. None of those things told me that I could lose my money just like that.

I know I am not alone in that. I know there are plenty of Canadians out there who have gone through similar experiences to me. Therefore, as much as we might say that I am a fool, if I am a fool, thousands of Canadians are fools. They need help understanding these financial products.

Francophones may find it even more difficult to learn about these financial products through this group because bilingualism is not a requirement for the position of financial literacy leader. Obviously, what the government wants to do is create a single consumer protection agency. However, that is not really within the purview of this bill. Consumer protection is not really included in the bill.

Instead, I would like to talk about one of the greatest problems for Canadians: savings.

If we are looking at the issue of financial literacy, I must agree with my colleague in the third party who said that the financial leader of the government was not quite literate, because we have serious problems. One of those serious problems is the savings of Canadians and it is one of the things that is effecting the competitiveness of our economy.

The former governor of the Bank of Canada said, in a report quite a while ago, that Canadians needed to save more. He said that they needed to save between 10% and 21% of their pre-tax income each year and that they needed to save consistently for 35 years to have comfortable retirement incomes.

According to a report prepared by the C.D. Howe Institute, which is not exactly a socialist organization, people who earn between $42,000 a year and $150,000 a year need to save between 11% and 21%.

What I see in Bill C-28 is the creation of a group that will try to market financial products, like credit cards, RRSPs and RESPs, without fully explaining what those products do or explaining it in a way that will promote those products to promote the profits of those institutions and banks. I do not think that is the way to teach Canadians how to be financially literate. We need to find a way for Canadians to save more money.

The Conference Board of Canada, looking at the World Economic Forum's 2011 report on competitiveness, said that Canada's macroeconomic environment rankings were weak. It said that a number of fiscal pressures were restricting Canada's economy from achieving its full potential. For example, Canada ranked 80th in terms of its gross national savings as a percentage of GDP and a lowly 129th out of 142 countries in terms of its overall government debt levels as a percentage of GDP.

It is clear that we need to help Canadians become financially literate but that starts with telling them to save more and finding efficient ways for them to save without marketing these financial products to them. I do not think the task force would be able to sufficiently explain these financial products to Canadians when it is obvious that the composition of the board would be compromised in that it would not be necessary for the head of the task force to be bilingual.

I have problems with the bill. I do not think it would do what the government states it would do, which is increase financial literacy. We need to take a serious look at how we can actually improve the financial literacy of Canadians. Looking at the statistics, I can see that we have a long way to go.

Financial Literacy Leader Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague said something toward the end of his speech, which I hope I did not hear correctly. Was the member saying that the financial literacy leader and his or her office would be marketing and selling products to Canadians?

Clearly, that is ridiculous. That is not the job or the mandate of that person or that office. That is done by financial institutions, by people who have the expertise. He explained that he had some problems with his RESP, which is too bad, but, having been in the business for a number of years, a good financial advisor is essential.

Could the member clarify whether he thinks that this office would actually be marketing and selling products?

Financial Literacy Leader Act
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5:20 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, no. What I was implying was that, because of the composition of the working group being mostly former bankers, having their raison d'être for their careers the marketing of financial products, they would be amenable to not fully explaining these products.

I was not implying that they would be selling these products. However, they will have done that in their careers, that will be what they know and it will not be in their interests to steer Canadians away from products that might not give the results their former institutions promised in the past.

Financial Literacy Leader Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague from Vaudreuil—Soulanges for his excellent speech. During his speech he mentioned the word “fool” a couple of times. I certainly would not call him a fool but I would call this bill a foolish bill.

He also talked about poverty and about trying to save for RRSPs. I know that is very difficult. I know a lot of seniors are living in poverty right now because when they were raising their kids they could not put money aside for their retirement.

Would it not have been a better idea if the government had invested in the Canada-Quebec pension plan to help people, especially seniors, who are living in poverty?

Financial Literacy Leader Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do believe that if we were to invest more in our CPP and QPP, if we were to beef that up, Canadians would find more money at the end of their careers when they retire.

I mentioned that my mother worked for over 30 years for the Bank of Montreal and believed in all the financial products that she sold. She was quite a fan. However, in her retirement now, I am helping her out with the day to day, simply because she could not save enough money during her career, even with all the financial products that she used, for her retirement.

Financial Literacy Leader Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Vaudreuil-Soulanges for making his speech very relevant. I would also like to reassure him right away. Although he had an unfortunate experience with his RESP, he is not less intelligent than the average person. Mr. Rousseau, the former CEO of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and a former CEO of the Laurentian Bank, also admitted that he does not understand the ultra-sophisticated savings products that led to the 2008 crisis.

Now the government is introducing a defined contribution pension plan, which also has pitfalls similar to those of the product central to my colleague's unfortunate experience. What does he think of the government's ability to assess financial literacy? Is it qualified to do so?

Financial Literacy Leader Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the question. When I spoke candidly, I heard someone on the government side say that they could see why I had lost my money. That says a lot about the government's attitude. It is saying that if we lose our money and are poor, it is our own fault. The government will carry on with its agenda. It will make one group of people rich and not care about the rest. That is completely unacceptable. We must protect both the poor and the rich of this country.

Financial Literacy Leader Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue has six minutes remaining.

Financial Literacy Leader Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, we cannot talk about this bill without a clear understanding of what happened in the beginning. In budget 2009, the Minister of Finance created a national task force that was mandated to provide the minister with advice on the issue of financial literacy. So the group went to work. It was made up of various stakeholders from different sectors, including workers, volunteers and teachers, as well as people from the business and financial sectors.

The task force submitted a report containing 30 recommendations. One recommendation was to create the position of financial literacy leader. This bill completely disregards all the other recommendations. To me, that does not make any sense. The report gave 30 recommendations and the government adopted only one of them.

Furthermore, this bill could have described very concrete measures. For instance, one of the recommendations was this:

The task force recommends that the Government of Canada, as part of the 2011–12 renewal of its urban aboriginal strategy...make financial literacy training programs for young aboriginal Canadians eligible for funding.

This could have been a concrete recommendation in terms of financial literacy and it could have helped. We all know that aboriginal youth and aboriginal communities have problems stemming from poverty.

Often, one of the problems, when we talk about financial literacy, is that they do not understand the terms accurately. If someone needs to buy a car and does not understand the actual terms of their loan, they go into debt and go bankrupt. If they use a credit card to buy food, but they do not have a good grasp on financial literacy, they have the impression they are paying 10% interest when really it is 28%, because sometimes the advertising is hard to understand. I think help is not being given.

So this is a community that could have been targeted for this. The task force also recommended that the government of Canada provide recent immigrants with financial information and education services tailored to their needs, as part of the orientation services offered both abroad and in Canada by the Immigrant Settlement and Adaptation Program and the language instruction for newcomers to Canada. So this is another group that could have been targeted, but that has absolutely ignored. Those recommendations are not taken into account in the bill.

Some of these immigrants are coming from countries like Africa where, and I apologize for the expression, about 1% of the population has a credit card and a debit card and where bartering is still done with food and that sort of thing. They also use cash, but they still use the barter system. They find themselves in Canada, with a system that involves handling a mountain of paperwork and where they may not understand the language very well. They may not have a significant level of education, and they find themselves in this kind of system and having to manage to understand. They have to understand an income tax system, which is entirely new to them.

The government is choosing to target only the financial literacy leader, instead of applying a recommendation like that one, which could have been more concrete. I do not understand the priorities; it is impossible to understand. When they have 30 excellent recommendations and they choose not to pay attention to them, that seems to me to be rather unusual.

The possibility was also recommended of working side-by-side with provincial and territorial governments in order to provide teachers with the tools they need to teach financial literacy to children and to their students. If financial literacy is taught gradually and in a language that is familiar to children, teenagers, college and university students, there is a chance that they will understand it. That could, therefore, be the way forward. It could facilitate a beneficial exchange between provinces, so that teachers are able to teach the material and have the tools they need at their disposal, instead of having to invent them. That was another recommendation.

It was also recommended that employers be able to offer financial literacy training, so that their employees fully understand, for example, their pension programs and the importance of investing in an RRSP. But this recommendation has not been followed. That strikes me as incomprehensible. In my opinion, budgets and key recommendations should have been the focus of this bill.

Granted, the bill creates the position of financial literacy leader, but it is just as essential ti implement the key recommendations, and it is crucial, as of now, to take into account these recommendations, and that things do not drag on. Otherwise, the work of the task force will largely fall short of its objective.

In my opinion, this smacks of a lack of logic and a failure to adequately prioritize. Positions should not be created without prior knowledge of the objectives, without knowing how to proceed, and what the priorities are for implementation. There needs to be some direction when that kind of position is created, otherwise it is tantamount to sending a cheque to a senior official who is acting rudderlessly.

Financial Literacy Leader Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from December 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-312, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (democratic representation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.