House of Commons Hansard #100 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was banks.

Topics

Motion in Amendment
Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Aspin Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the third and final reading of the financial system review act, Bill S-5.

I will begin by saying that Bill S-5 is important to the strength of Canada's financial system and I will briefly describe how it came about.

Every five years, the government conducts a review of the policy framework governing federally regulated financial institutions. The previous legislation review was completed in 2007. The present five year review was launched in September 2010 when the finance minister invited Canadians to share their views on improving our financial system by way of an open consultation process. This five year review process helps guarantee Canada keeps its status as a global leader in financial services and it maintains the soundness of the sector.

A key priority for our Conservative government is ensuring Canadians keep on having a strong and secure financial system and one that serves as a model for countries around the globe. Today's bill would ensure that continues to be the case. In fact, the World Economic Forum recently ranked Canada as having the soundest banks in the world for the fourth year in a row. Both in Canada and internationally, this strength has been widely recognized by independent observers.

Peter Worthington, noted Toronto Sun columnist, declared:

Canada’s banking system is now widely recognized as arguably the world’s best. No Canadians fear for their deposits as many Americans do.

An Ottawa Citizen editorial reads:

Our banking and financial system is the envy of the world. While the great money edifices of countries such as the U.S., Britain and Switzerland cracked at the beginning of the recession, Canadian banks stood firm.

However, as I mentioned earlier, this recognition stretches well beyond Canada's shores, as it is repeated around the globe.

David Cameron, Britain's prime minister, has heralded our system by saying:

In the last few years, Canada has got every major decision right. Look at the facts. Not a single Canadian bank fell or faltered during the global banking crisis. ... Your economic leadership has helped the Canadian economy to weather the global storms far better than many of your international competitors.

The Irish Times has applauded it by saying:

Canada’s policy of fiscal discipline and strict banking supervision was a reason why it was one of the world’s strongest performers during the recession.

The Economist, the renowned magazine, has recently asserted that “Canada has had an easier time than most during the recently global recession, in part, because of a conservative and well-regulated banking system”.

The financial ratings agency Fitch, when reviewing Canada's top tier AAA credit rating, focused its assessment on the fact that “Canada's banks proved more resilient than many peers thanks to a conservative regulation and supervision environment.

I share and welcome that high praise.

Furthermore, the financial services sector has a significant role in the health of the Canadian economy. Not only does it represent 7% of Canada's GDP, it is also responsible for over 750,000 good, well-paying jobs. It also plays a distinctive, indispensable function in fuelling the growth, nurturing financial stability and safeguarding savings, all of which are necessary for the success of Canada's economy.

Today's bill would contribute to the continued strength of Canada's financial system. Indeed, the mandatory five year review that shaped today's bill is key to helping set apart Canada from almost all other countries. This practice makes certain that the laws governing our financial system are reviewed and updated on a regular basis, ensuring they are responsive to an ever-changing global marketplace.

In a similar vein, the global financial crisis of the past few years has underlined why a stable and well-functioning housing market is necessary for the financial system and overall economy.

While Canada's financial system remains sound, well-capitalized and less leveraged than its international counterparts, our government proactively acted to bolster the stability in our housing market by adjusting our mortgage insurance guarantee framework. This included reducing the maximum amortization period for government-backed insured mortgages with loan-to-value ratios greater than 80% from 35 years to 30 years.

As well, we withdrew government insurance from home equity lines of credit and lowered reduced borrowing limits in refinancing.

Independent observers and economists have roundly applauded such adjustments. For instance, a recent Waterloo Region Record editorial said, “The federal government has done the right thing in tightening up the rules for mortgages in this country”. A Calgary Herald editorial added, “...the right direction...it is good to see the government continue to be vigilant on this file”.

Without a doubt, our Conservative government is working hard renewing many key fundamentals of our financial system and strengthening it with new tools.

Through the financial system review act, we are modernizing, fine-tuning and harmonizing the existing framework to ensure it keeps the high level of performance. Canadians know and understand that the present framework that has made our financial system the soundest in the world functions well.

That is why the financial system review act seeks to build on, not rebuild, that solid foundation with a proposed legislative package that includes measures to: better focus financial institutions legislation to support financial stability and guarantee Canada's financial institutions keep operating in a competitive, effective and stable environment; fine-tune the consumer protection framework, including further improving the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada's powers; and reduce the administrative red tape on financial institutions to enhance efficiency and add regulatory flexibility.

Other measures contained in today's bill include: increasing the capability of regulators to effectively share information in a timely manner with international counterparts while respecting privacy laws; guaranteeing the right to cash government cheques under $1,500 free of charge at any bank in Canada to all Canadians; enabling co-operative credit associations to provide technology services to a broader market to promote competition and innovation; and much more.

I am happy to note that many public interest groups have given their strong endorsement of today's bill. For instance, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association declared:

It is important that legislation be periodically reviewed so that it keeps up with the changing environment.

The industry welcomes a number of measures outlined in...[the financial services review act].

Today's bill would strengthen stability in the financial sector, improve the consumer protection framework and modify the regulatory framework to new developments. It provides for a renewed structure that will benefit all Canadians.

We recognize that, to remain a global model of stability and ensure the soundness of the financial sector for all Canadians, routinely reviewing what regulatory changes are necessary to foster competitiveness is essential.

The financial system review act upholds the long-standing tradition of ensuring standard reviews of the regulatory framework for financial institutions to keep a stable and secure financial sector. For that reason, I urge all members to support for all Canadians today's bill and the continued safety and security of our shared financial system.

Motion in Amendment
Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, does the member share my concerns about what is happening with the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments, the organization that was set up to properly monitor the practices of the banks? It is an independent group as opposed to the banks themselves setting up dispute resolution mechanisms. This is an arm's-length body that would resolve disputes between consumers, be they individuals, companies or otherwise. Two of the major banks have pulled out, making this service ineffective, and it is now looking at closing its doors.

I wonder if he shares my concerns that now there will not be any independent dispute resolution body and that it will be left up to the banks to do as they wish.

Motion in Amendment
Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Aspin Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Madam Speaker, that certainly is one mechanism that could provide input, but speaking specifically to this particular bill, we would like to move ahead with this bill because we have gained in excess of 30 deputations on behalf of various groups in this review. This review, as members know, is mandatory and it takes place every five years. I am comfortable that the process in place will give us the fruitful requirements we need for regulation and to maintain the banking stability in Canada.

Motion in Amendment
Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Kenora
Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, earlier I had asked one of the opposition members a question about the authority to approve foreign acquisitions by banks being returned to the minister in this legislation. The global banking crisis has highlighted additional risk factors that support more oversight to keep our financial system secure and, therefore, this legislation will require ministerial approval when a federally regulated financial institution acquires a major foreign entity that significantly increases its assets by more than 10%. I wonder if the member could comment on the particular two criteria that the minister would consider.

Motion in Amendment
Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Aspin Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Madam Speaker, as the member indicated in his previous question, the legislation would improve the process of foreign acquisitions by banks.

In addition, this legislation would update financial institutions legislation, would fine-tune consumer protection and would improve efficiency by reducing the administrative burden. As a package, in addition to the function the member mentioned, this is a first-class package to keep Canada's banking system competitive and continue to attract jobs, like the more than 610,000 jobs, as we mentioned, in Canada.

Motion in Amendment
Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I want to be clear. This is report stage of the bill and not third reading as has been suggested by some members on the government side. We are now dealing with an amendment to the bill. It is a very wise and reasonable amendment introduced by my colleague, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, and I thank him for that.

The amendment to Bill S-5 would delete clause 212 with respect to paragraph 39.1. This clause would give statutory immunity to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions in respect to any civil proceedings. This is an important amendment to which we need to pay attention. The immunity resulting from the deletion of this clause would negatively impact the office of transparency and accountability to the Canadian public. We should all be concerned about that. Time lost as a result of frivolous claims, as the government has suggested, does not justify such a radical measure.

In the process of trying to remain transparent, open, reasonable and independent, we need to allow that there will be the odd complaint and submission that may not end up to see the light of day or may not have basis. However, every Canadian who deals with the banking system or any government supervised and regulated system or bureaucracy should have the opportunity to bring their concerns forward. It is not up to us to decide what complaint is illegitimate until we have the opportunity to give those concerns a thoughtful review through reasonable process. My concern is the government is applying immunity to this office and to the officer simply because there are not enough complaints to warrant the attention.

Finally, this immunity, as suggested, would at best amount to an abdication of the superintendent's responsibility and, at worse, to covering up serious errors that could have been avoided.

The point of the amendment is to deal with the question of transparency and accountability. I urge all members opposite to consider the value of ensuring we do not dismiss out of hand any concerns that may be brought forward by Canadians in relation to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.

My colleague, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster and finance critic for the opposition, sponsored this amendment. He also indicated early on, as we did at second reading debate, that the opposition would support Bill S-5. We have given it some serious consideration, we have examined it and there is nothing particularly untoward, although we think the amendment is needed to address a flaw that needs to be corrected.

We also introduced amendments at committee that we thought would add to the bill. My colleagues and I have spoken at second reading and at committee about the missed opportunity.

The law provided that we needed to have this review conducted by April 20 to comply with the Bank Act. We suggested on numerous occasions that this provided an opportunity for the government, if it were serious about important issues like consumer protection, to speak with Canadians about their concerns as they related to the Bank Act and to make changes that were necessary.

We brought up a number of things. Whether it is outrageously high interest rates charged on credit cards, or banking charges that continue to go up, or the various ways that within the system consumers are being nickel and dimed out of tens of thousands of dollars every year, there are ways for us in the House, through this review, to properly protect those consumers and ensure the financial institutions covered by the act are acting properly. Unfortunately, we missed that opportunity. I indicated to constituents who brought it to my attention that I was sorry the government missed this opportunity.

Also, I am disappointed that once again the government has not engaged in as fulsome a process of consultation as it could have. Frankly, the consultation was truncated. It was not transparent. The government did not hold public hearings. It was by invitation only. We heard the government had 30 representations. Some of those were not even made public, not even shared with us on the website. Some organizations voluntarily agreed that their submissions should be public and made them so, but the government held consultations that were kept private. That is unfortunate.

I do not think that is necessary. We can be much more forthcoming and trusting of Canadians. We can recognize that Canadians have a great deal to offer to discussions like this. We think to ourselves that the whole issue of financial institutions and the regulation of the banking system is technical and above the average Canadian's head.

If it had not been for Canadians understanding the consequences of the deregulation and of allowing foreign takeovers of the banking industry that was being proposed by the Martin government, if it were not for the outcry of Canadians, whom we in the NDP caucus and others try to represent in debate, we would have gone down a perilous track that would have seen us follow far too closely the problems we saw in 2008, and beyond, in the U.S., Iceland and in far too many European countries. There the banking systems have been deregulated. We have seen the kind of turmoil that has been created as a result of the lack of adequate oversight.

It is because I have that kind of confidence and faith in my constituents and Canadians to understand the value and technical nature of issues like this that I get perturbed by the government members or members of the third party who were once in government. They want to take credit for the nature of the banking system that has developed over the years. However, it was because of experience and the wishes of Canadians and their representatives in the House that it be strongly regulated and protected from the vagaries of global competition and foreign ownership and that it was in much more stable shape in 2008 and able to considerably weather the storm. Although let us not forget that the Government of Canada did spend $75 billion to buy mortgages that were threatened by Canada Mortgage and Housing.

We need to give Canadians more credit for their knowledge on issues as important as the Bank Act.

Motion in Amendment
Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Kenora
Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, I am going to keep chipping away at this idea of the authority of the minister under this version of the legislation to approve foreign acquisitions. We have heard from across the floor, in a number of debates here, about the importance of protecting against that. The criteria that the minister would include under these circumstances, and they are very hard-wired, would be the stability and best interests of the financial sector. As well, the timeline is hard-wired. It requires the minister's consideration in 30 days or it will be deemed approved. The minister has 30 days to deny or ask for an extension.

Does the member across the way think this is an appropriate authority under the legislation and that those timelines are reasonable?

Motion in Amendment
Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I am concerned about the added authority given to the minister in any regard. With respect to timelines, we have the timeline provided under the Bank Act that we need to conduct this review by April 20. The government took until this fall to bring the legislation through the back door, through the unelected Senate. It only came to this chamber a month ago for debate at second reading. Just in case the opposition identified concerns with the bill, the government would be able to stand and say that the opposition was playing games, that it needed to pass the legislation because it had a deadline.

Deadlines are important. We need to acknowledge that, especially in a matter as important as this. However, we still need to allow for proper time so there is appropriate consultation with Canadians and due process in the House.

Motion in Amendment
Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I hope the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour will bear with me because I had wanted to ask a question of the hon. member for Niagara West—Glanbrook.

He spoke in favour of the bill, and I think we all find the bill relatively acceptable. It certainly is more business housekeeping than anything very radical. However, he happened to mention that he supported the Minister of Finance in opposing the international financial transaction tax, a transaction tax that the Green Party supports very strongly. It is only 2¢ on every $1,000 of international derivatives trading, which brought the world nearly to ruin.

I would like the hon. member's thoughts and perhaps the official position of the New Democratic Party on the financial transaction tax.

Motion in Amendment
Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I share concerns over the government's opposition to this important measure.

However, I will raise another concern that has been brought up, and that is how government members have said that the bill is good because it removes regulation and red tape. Within days or weeks we are going to hear about the value of reducing regulation and red tape as it relates to environmental assessments and how good that is going to be for the country. When the government says removing that kind of regulatory control is good for the country, I think of that. When the government says something is good for us, it is generally just the opposite.

Motion in Amendment
Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

March 27th, 2012 / noon

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill S-5, the financial system review act, at third reading.

As members are aware, the recent financial crisis tested the skills of many: policy-makers, regulators, bankers and investors. However, it also served to demonstrate the overall soundness of our financial system.

It was no accident that Canada escaped the worst of the global financial crisis with no bank failures or forced bailouts by taxpayers. Our legislative framework was built to withstand such shocks with high prudential standards, excellent regulation supervision, a flexible monetary system and good mechanisms to ensure financial stability.

However, when faced with such unprecedented market volatility in 2008-09, our government went further by acting quickly to improve this excellent framework, boost financial stability and ensure access to credit during a liquidity crunch.

Bill S-5 will build on the existing strengths of Canada's financial system and fine-tune a framework that has proven to be both efficient and effective. In the words of Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association Inc., Bill S-5 represents a welcome fine-tuning of the various financial institution statutes.

How will Bill S-5 achieve this? The bill will improve the ability of regulators to share information efficiently with their international counterparts. This will help fulfill our G8 commitments at a time when financial institutions increasingly operate on a global scale. It will ensure effective supervision and regulation across the borders.

Bill S-5 also proposes to improve the consumer protection framework, including enhancing the supervisory powers of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, FCAC, and increasing the maximum fine that would be levelled by the FCAC for the violation of a consumer provision of its act to make it consistent with administrative monetary penalties levied by other regulatory agencies.

The FCAC is mandated with ensuring that the federally regulated financial institutions adhere to the consumer provisions of the legislation governing financial institutions and their public commitments.

The FCAC is also the government's lead agency on financial education and literacy, and has moved forward with an array of excellent incentives in recent years. The agency has developed innovative tools to help Canadians, such as a mortgage calculator that quickly determines mortgage payments and the potential savings resulting from early payments. It has also created innovative online information to help consumers shop for the most suitable credit card and banking packages for their needs.

Our government believes Canadian consumers deserve accessible and effective financial services that meet the needs of consumers and operate in the public interest. That is why in budget 2010 we announced we would take action to prohibit negative option billing and require timelier access to funds.

The regulations will come into force this August and will require federally regulated financial institutions to obtain consumers' express consent before providing a new optional product or service. This will allow Canadians to receive all required information on the optional product or service to help them make the financial decisions that are best for their circumstances.

The regulations will also reduce the maximum cheque hold period for retail depositors and small and medium size businesses, and will provide retail depositors faster access to the first $100 deposited by cheque. Shorter cheque hold periods and faster access to funds will benefit Canadians by enabling them to manage their personal finances more effectively. After all, well-served and confident consumers contribute to the well-functioning financial markets and the economy.

Indeed, in the words of a recent Globe and Mail editorial:

Of the many things that frustrate the retail customers of Canada's federally regulated banks, one of the most egregious has been the practice of putting a hold of as many as seven days on deposited cheques. Now, thanks to new measures recently...announced...that upsetting practice and others are coming to an end.

[T]he government has shown a commitment to its promise to improve banking regulations in Canadians' favour. This is welcome news.

Similarly, in 2009, as part of the measures to improve access to financing, the government announced that it would bring forward measures to help consumers of financial products, including launching a task force on financial literacy.

The task force on financial literacy was mandated to provide advice and recommendations to the Minister of Finance on a national strategy to strengthen the financial literacy of Canadians. In support of the recommendations of the task force on financial literacy and delivering on a commitment from budget 2011, the government introduced Bill C-28, the financial literacy leader act. Bill C-28, a piece of legislation which I urge all members of the House to support, would provide for the appointment of a financial literacy leader who would collaborate and coordinate with stakeholders to strengthen the financial literacy of Canadians.

Canada's national strategy on financial literacy will support the excellent efforts under way throughout the country and empower Canadians to act knowledgeably and with confidence in managing their personal financial affairs.

I would be remiss if I closed without quickly reviewing other important initiatives in Bill S-5. They include: updating financial institutions legislation to promote financial stability and ensure Canada's financial institutions continue to operate in a competitive, effective and stable environment; improving efficiency by reducing the administrative burden on financial institutions and adding regulatory flexibility; promoting competition and innovation by enabling co-operative credit associations to provide technology service to a broader market; and reducing the administrative burden for federally regulated insurance companies offering adjustable policies in foreign jurisdictions by removing duplicative disclosure requirements.

In summary, the financial system review act provides for a framework that will benefit all participants in the financial sector, financial institutions as well as all Canadians. It maintains the long-standing practice of ensuring regular reviews of the regulatory framework for financial institutions, a unique practice that sets Canada apart from almost every other country in the world.

In fact, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said it best:

In the last few years, Canada has got every major decision right. Look at the facts. Not a single Canadian bank fell or faltered during the global banking crisis.

He went on to say that our economic leadership has helped the Canadian economy to weather the global storms far better than many of our international competitors.

Clearly, this government recognizes that it must continually consider what regulatory changes are needed to ensure that the fundamentals of the Canadian economy remain sound, that consumers are well protected, and that Canada continues to be an attractive place to do business in today's competitive global economy. This is precisely what the government has done with this bill.

On that note, I urge members of the opposition to stand up and support the swift passage of Bill S-5. To vote against the bill would not just be a vote against the Canadian economy, but a vote against the Canadian consumer.

Motion in Amendment
Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his remarks and for participating in this debate. However, I am still somewhat skeptical about immunity for senior bureaucrats in matters as serious as finance. Canadian families are going deeper and deeper into debt. Any time there is any kind of fraud or thievery or anything like that in the financial sector, the middle class and families carrying the biggest debt loads are always the hardest hit.

Should senior bureaucrats in sectors like finance be given immunity? What does the member think?

Motion in Amendment
Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know of the member's passion for consumers, for citizens, for the middle class, as he said, for those who are sometimes more vulnerable.

That is what this bill is all about. The bill would strengthen the FCAC and its powers. The bill would continue to ensure that consumers are protected. The very things he talked about are the things this bill would make sure continued so that Canadians would have the safety and what they expect from a banking system that is second to none in the world.

Motion in Amendment
Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have heard a fair bit this morning about how this legislation would protect consumers. I am wondering if the member could speak to the banking system in a more general way with regard to not only the statutory review process but also the fine-tuning versus major overhaul we are talking about today. Why was it necessary? Why was it not a complete overhaul? Perhaps he could speak to the banking system as a whole and what makes it as strong as it is and our government's response to the global financial crisis.

Motion in Amendment
Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, there has been a lot of talk today about the fine work of the government and the regulatory systems in place. There is another element that has somewhat been left out. It is something I am very pleased with and maybe it is what the hon. member was alluding to, which is the fact that we have in place a system of banks and bankers that understand what it means when someone's money has been entrusted to them. In committee I have often referred to them as the line of Scottish bankers. I am of Dutch heritage and I understand that a bank knows that when it lends a dollar out, it is not the bank's money that it is spending. We have a good relationship in this country with banks and bankers. There is a good relationship with the government. Together we have managed to achieve what most other countries in the world have failed to achieve.