House of Commons Hansard #101 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was housing.

Topics

Financial System Review Act
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4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did not hear that direct comment in the media at the time. However, nothing here is invalidated, so I reject the premise of the hon. member's question. As I indicated in my speech, there are independent bodies that provide this advice.

We have consulted widely with Canadians as well as to what they want in this legislation, including all the credit unions and caisses populaires. Those independent factors and experts in the industry are available to us to refer to and to provide comment on this at any time.

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4:05 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to follow up on the point I made about the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments. There was an article in the Globe and Mail on March 27.

The organization was set up to provide independent complaint-handling dispute resolution on behalf of customers and clients of the banks. It was to be dealt with in an independent manner. It has been clearly stated that in fact the organization's effectiveness has been lost because two of the big banks are no longer participating. It is a problem when customers and consumers do not have the opportunity to receive an unbiased independent review of their particular complaints. The minister and parliamentary secretary said that they were going to do something about it, but nothing has transpired.

Why does the member think that an independent arbiter representing customers and consumers is not a good idea?

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4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, nobody has said that independence is not a good idea in the financial field. It is there and the ombudsman remains in his position. It is essentially the same question the member asked me a moment ago and the answer remains the same. There is independence in the structure. Consumers still have a right to redress and recourse, and that will be provided throughout the process.

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4:05 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to commence debate for the official opposition this afternoon on Bill S-5. Our finance critic will be participating in the debate later on.

At each stage of the bill it we have said that we will be supporting it. We tried to make some amendments at the committee stage. We thought they would make proper adjustments to the various changes that have been made. We thought they would add to the bill and would not in any way detract from it or cause any problems. We wanted to ensure that the scope of the minister's approval was properly reflected to represent the interests not just of the banking industry, but also took into consideration the concerns of the country's economy as a whole. Unfortunately, those amendments were not deemed to be acceptable and they were voted down.

Nonetheless, we recognize that this is an important process in respect of the Canadian financial system. Some would say it represents the strength of the financial system that we have built into the law a periodic review of the Bank Act every five years. The government will take time to go through this process and ensure that the people participating in financial services in the country are being properly represented and also ensure that the agents, the bankers, the operators, the financial institutions, are operating correctly.

There is no question of the strength of the Canadian banking system. Its ability to withstand the economic chaos which the United States, Iceland, Europe, and various countries within the global community experienced in 2008 was because of the fact that historically over generations this country has developed proper and standard regulation.

In the 1990s under the Liberals, there was an attempt to deregulate the financial industry, to open up our financial institutions to foreign control, but Canadians spoke up and said that was not the way they wanted to go forward. I was glad to see that happen.

It causes me some concern when I hear members opposite in the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party take credit for the state of Canada's financial system. They want to take credit for the fact that it is in good shape. I would suggest it is not the Conservatives and the Liberals alone, it is not the people in this House alone who have made the wise decisions. In large part, it is Canadians, the people who send us to this place who let us know how they think their financial system should be regulated, that they want less speculation and more control and more conservative management of the system. That is a good thing. That is something we should acknowledge and respect.

While this review is an important strength of the banking system, we think that this time around in particular, the government missed an opportunity to make some changes that were sorely needed. We have talked about the measures to reinforce demutualization regulation to prevent predatory practices, measures that could enhance the co-operative credit movement as financial institutions that prioritize serving their communities, as opposed to short-sighted speculation and exorbitant executive bonuses, and more comprehensive consumer protection measures.

For example, we look at the problems that are facing consumers as a result of exorbitant ATM fees and hidden fees in a whole myriad of banking services. We would like to see full and complete disclosure of fees that are charged to Canadians who use the banks and other financial institutions in this country. Unfortunately, the government decided not to do that. When members opposite get to their feet and speak to this legislation, it is too bad that all they want to do is boast and take credit for the strength of the financial system. All Canadians should be proud of Canada's financial system.

We have to pay close attention to ensure we do not go down the wrong road, that we do not miss things, that we do not disrupt the rules and regulations that are in place in order to provide protection and sound governance.

In that regard, the member who spoke earlier suggested that there was wide consultation with Canadians across the country. That could not be further from the truth. There were requests for participation and consultation. It was by invitation only. I believe that 32 submissions were made and that was it. Even all of those were not made public. As I said in debate at report stage, members talk about this being a technical bill and that we need to recognize it is too detailed for Canadians. That shows a level of disrespect for Canadians which they do not deserve. In Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, for example, there are a lot of constituents whom I have talked with about the need for consumer protection and for greater protection against demutualization. Constituents of mine and Canadians in general know a great deal about these issues. These issues are not too technical for them.

This bill and any review of financial institutions, of the Bank Act, would benefit greatly from a comprehensive, exhaustive consultation with ordinary Canadians. Maybe then members opposite would have a greater appreciation for the challenges and concerns Canadians are facing, and not just the executives of banks and financial institutions. Banks are making tens of billions of dollars in profits every year, and executives are making millions of dollars in annual salaries and bonuses, while consumers whenever they have contact with a financial institution, are being nickel-and-dimed at every opportunity. That causes some concern.

I think that if we had an open process that provided Canadians with the opportunity to share their opinions, knowledge, and experience with the members opposite, it would be of considerable value.

It was in that regard that I raised a couple of questions with the member who spoke before me, and have talked about this before. I am concerned about the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments, a voluntary organization established in 2002 as a result of discussions among government, industry and consumer groups to improve consumer protection and financial services. It was established as a result of section 455 of the Bank Act, which provides all sorts of opportunities to establish dispute resolution processes.

However, these processes are in the complete control of the financial institutions. The whole idea of the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments was to have a voluntary organization that was independent. It was set up as an independent service for conflict resolution, with the condition that all banks participate. It was set up to establish procedures for dealing with complaints made by persons who had requested or received products or services in Canada from a bank.

Through the Bank Act each institution has the opportunity to have that kind of service. While that is all good, what the banks, government and consumer groups have recognized is that it is not good enough. That is why the service I referred to was set up. Again, it is not mandatory but voluntary and, unfortunately, two of Canada's largest banks, RBC and TD, left that service.

When I raised questions with the banking association representative at committee, he told me that it was okay because each bank had its own service and own individuals responsible for dealing with complaints. I am not suggesting for a second that he was engaging in any kind of misrepresentation. It was just the situation, and I appreciate the fact that that it is what he said and what the banks are doing. Good for them. Unfortunately, it was determined back in the early 2000s that it was not good enough: Consumers and government recognized that there had to be something more, that there had to be an independent body.

I also raised this question at committee with the parliamentary secretary. I was told that the minister intended to bring forward and set up some other kind of independent service. The government has been saying that now for upwards of a year. Even the banks are wondering what the government will do in this regard.

It is all about independence, consumer representation, fairness, and ensuring that consumers have appropriate representation when dealing with the banks.

As I said, the financial institutions in this country operate within a regulatory framework that provides them with a great deal of protection against competition and their services being challenged and so on. Unfortunately, this approach does not provide consumers with the same level of support, frankly, that my colleagues and I on this side would like to see.

I recognize that the government has gone some distance in fulfilling its responsibility to conduct this review, but the way it did so was to wait until this fall. The government knew that the review was coming forward but waited until the fall to bring forward Bill S-5. It did not introduce it here in the elected chamber for debate and discussion, but in the Senate. That is not to say that senators have not provided some valuable input, but this is the elected chamber. This is where legislation should at least begin. We have been imbued with the concerns, the wishes and the advice of our constituents, and we bring that to bear in debate. We did not have the opportunity to do so.

In short, the bill was discussed, debated and went through some process within the Senate. We did not see it until, I believe, early this year. We have not had much time to deal with it. We know that it has to pass here by April 20 in accordance with the regulations.

If there had been matters that were particularly egregious and we had put up a stink or had wanted to engaged in lengthy debate on them, we would have been accused of putting the whole process in jeopardy as the deadline would be missed. The pressure would have been on.

As a result of the way it was introduced and the timelines used, we did not have the opportunity to have a fulsome discussion with Canadians and in the House on the amendments that we wanted to introduce. That is unfortunate. I believe that very much underlines the way the government tends to view this chamber and the democratic process. We see that here and we see it in committee, as the government is in a hurry. While it was only elected by 39% of the population, it feels that every Canadian out there believes, accepts and agrees with everything it says. The government will not tolerate any conflict, any discussion or opposition. That is unfortunate.

As we know, 60% of Canadians did not vote for the Conservatives. In much of what they told Canadians in the election, Conservatives assured Canadians, for example, that they would not attack their pensions, and yet they are now doing that. The government made commitments not to attack public services, but has been doing that since. The budget is coming down tomorrow and Canadians are going to see firsthand that what the government said to them to get elected was completely to the contrary of what it would do.

That is another slap in the face of democracy and the kind of issue we have been dealing with.

Financial System Review Act
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4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River, Post-Secondary Education; the hon. member for Manicouagan, Aboriginal Affairs; the hon. member for Windsor West, Canada-U.S. Relations.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie.

Financial System Review Act
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4:30 p.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his speech and his great work. It is a pleasure to have him on the finance committee, where he has been a very good addition to us as the deputy finance critic.

We have not had much time to look at this in the finance committee, and I deplore the fact that the government had really improvised with this.

What could the government have done better in protecting consumers from the banks?

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4:30 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member is a co-chair of the finance committee and our critic for national revenue. He has been doing an extraordinary job at staying focused and keeping all of us focused on these important issues.

I spoke earlier about the fact that I thought the government could do a lot more. We thought the government could do a lot more in providing for consumer protection in terms of ATM fees, full disclosure of bank charges, and making sure that the ombudsman and financial services organization was properly established. As I mentioned, according to the ombudsman, right now the organization is basically about to be disbanded because two of the big banks have pulled out.

Those are the kinds of consumer protections that I believe should have been dealt with in this bill.

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the member's remarks in the main, but he made a fairly major error when it came to talking about the previous Liberal government's position on the banks. He indicated that we wanted to deregulate the banks. We did not. In fact, we ensured that we did not.

I sat on a committee of Liberal backbenchers when the whole bank merger issue arose and when the banks themselves, the CEOs of the banks, wanted to expand into the U.S. and merge with a lot of the American banks, which would have caused us the same kind of turmoil that befell the Americans. Along with quite a number of other colleagues, I sat on that internal committee and we held hearings across the country. We met with the banks and made recommendations to Prime Minister Chrétien and Minister of Finance Martin. They accepted our recommendations and we did not allow the banks to deregulate. That is why we have the sound financial system we have today, which the Prime Minister tries to take credit for.

Therefore, I would like to correct the record in that regard for the member.

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4:30 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comment by the member for Malpeque. The point is that under a great deal of pressure from within and without, the government he refers to was forced to back off from that decision.

It was as a result of Canadians standing up and saying they did not want to go in that direction that the Liberal government finally came to its senses and recognized the right way to go. That is why I have concerns, whether it is the Liberals or the Conservatives who are trying to take credit for a system developed over generations as a result of Canadians saying we need to support these standards and ensure they stay in place.

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4:35 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the hon. member's speech, since his knowledge in this area far surpasses my own.

I agree with his criticism about the minimal amount of public consultation—the Conservatives could have easily done better than making a few telephone calls—and, after reading various documents, I would like to get his opinion.

I would like to make a comparison, even though sometimes comparisons can be clumsy. There was a time when the decision was made to separate church and state because these two entities should not sleep in the same bed. But, when I read that decisions on major foreign acquisitions will now be made based on ministerial approval rather than on approval by the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, it seems as though we are back to square one and that these two things should not sleep in the same bed either.

I would like the hon. member to clarify his position on that.

Financial System Review Act
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4:35 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely correct. It is a concern that my colleagues and I raised in committee and, likewise, in debate in the House. We told the minister, the parliamentary secretary and the members opposite that we were concerned with the level of involvement of the minister, that the final decision would be left with the minister with absolutely no constraints. We suggested, on a few occasions, that we needed to introduce, at the very least, more broad conditions that relate to the economy of this country and the circumstances facing Canadians that the minister would need to take into consideration when this decision was being made. Unfortunately, the government decided that the minister will be right and will have all the power in this respect.

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4:35 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, we are speaking in the context of the aftermath of the U.S. financial crisis and, in order to avoid what happened there, we need to avoid doing what the Americans did. They turned their mortgage system into a social program over a 30 year period, during which the government first invented sub-prime mortgages, encouraged banks to offer them, ensured those mortgages through Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and then, ultimately, compelled by force of law financial institutions to provide those sub-prime mortgages to literally millions of Americans who could never dream of repaying them. This represented a $4 trillion government invasion into the private sector that distorted the entire U.S. mortgage market and had the effect of lending millions of dollars to people, who could never repay the money, so they could live in homes they could never afford to buy.

I wonder if the hon. member would agree that we need to be vigilant to ensure that CMHC and other arms of the Government of Canada never grow into the enormous interventionist beast that the American government became, which brought about the U.S. financial collapse.

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4:35 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of things I would say in this respect. One is that the government does not seem to want to ever acknowledge that it spent $75 billion buying suspect mortgages from CMHC. We need to remember that the government also waded in when there was trouble. It was not as bad as it was in the United States but there were troubles here and the government has not acknowledged it.

Number two is in regard to CMHC. CMHC is an organization that has an opportunity to play a major role in the development of desperately needed social and affordable housing in this country and the government has not properly supported that organization, continues to turn its back on it and on Canadians from one end of this country to the other who cannot afford a decent place to live, and that is a shame.

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4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by providing some clarity on what is a bit confusing at times, I am sure, for many.

Whether it is members from the Conservative Party proclaiming that we have the best Minister of Finance in the world, implying that is the current Minister of Finance. I hear a member applauding but he might want to hold his applause for a little while on that particular point. Then we have the New Democrats who believe they can rewrite history, not by saying it once or twice but even going beyond that. The other day we heard a New Democrat saying that it was the New Democrats who saved the banking industry in Canada. They may be a little more generous by implying that there might have been some Canadians also involved.

However, I do think it is important to get the record as clear as possible so members can be a little more forthright about what history actually was back in the 1990s. At the time, I was a member of the Manitoba legislature and I recall the debate on deregulations versus having a regulated banking industry. I had met with TD Bank representatives at a special event where there was a discussion on it. Therefore, I am somewhat familiar with the issue and, like many Canadians, have followed it.

It is important to recognize that there was a great deal of pressure being applied around the world by the financial industry which wanted to see deregulation and many countries succumbed to that.

In Canada, Jean Chrétien, the prime minister at the time; the minister of finance, Paul Martin; and the cabinet were able to resist the pressure that many governments caved in to. They recognized the value of having a regulated financial industry with respect to the banking industry specifically.

Because of the efforts and actions of those two individuals in the cabinet at the time, we have what has been classified as one of the greatest and healthiest banking industries in the world. It had nothing to do with the current Minister of Finance or the Prime Minister.

The first major policy announcement from the government related to the banking industry was that we would allow for 40 year mortgages. The current Prime Minister and the current Minister of Finance can take full credit for that. We all know that turned out to be a dud of an idea. Not one Conservative member will now stand in his or her place and say that the Conservatives brought out the 40 year mortgage. The simple reason is that they recognize now that it was a bad idea to do that.

We have a Minister of Finance and a Prime Minister who like to travel the globe and assume credit for the health of the banking industry in Canada. However, I would suggest that the real credit should be going to Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, the member for Wascana and many other members who made up the cabinet back in the nineties and resisted the world pressure to deregulate.

What role did the New Democrats play in it? Some might argue that they played a bit of a role. I do not know what it is. I never detected any significant role. It was a Liberal majority government throughout that period and I believe there were 13 New Democratic members, although I could be wrong. However, I do not believe they played any role whatsoever in regard to protecting the banking industry, as much as they would like to claim that they did play a role.

Just the other day we heard New Democratic members of Parliament trying to take credit. However, that was the reality of history and I think it is important to accurately reflect why it is we have a relatively healthy banking industry, especially in comparison to other countries throughout the world.

This is not just something the Liberals recognize. Even the Conservatives, the New Democrats and, I would suggest, leaders around the world have recognized the valuable role that Canada has played in terms of demonstrating leadership on our financial industry as a whole. We should all be proud of that. There is no doubt whatsoever that through the process we have been able to generate the regulations because these ideas and needs of average Canadians come through our constituencies.

I would agree with one of the statements my colleague made, which is that Canadians as a whole understand and appreciate the importance of the industry.

In doing a bit of research, it was interesting to find out that it was Michael Quinn, a Canadian member of Parliament back in 1897, who came up with the idea that we needed to do something to protect consumers. Ever since then, and possibly even before then, governments have recognized the valuable role they play when it comes to monetary policy and the financial industry in our country. That particular member of Parliament, who happened to be from the province of Quebec, highlighted the importance of interest rates. He felt at the time that interest rates were too excessive, that individuals were being charged not 100% but close to 1,000% in some situations. He felt that it was unrealistic to put people who were in relatively poor economic situations and exploit them through high interest rates.

There has always been a high level of interest in the House of Commons in terms of protecting the consumer and in terms of the financial market as a whole. I will spend a little bit of time speaking to that because it is an important issue.

We talk about tomorrow, which is our budget day. Members should not kid themselves. Many people within the financial institutions or the hierarchy throughout the world will be watching the government to hear the types of expenditures, the sorts of revenues that will be generated and what the potential is for Canada into the future. Many individuals and stakeholders throughout the country, everyone from the consumer in Labrador to B.C. to Winnipeg and in our territories are very much interested in what sort of budget we will see presented. It will have a very significant impact on our financial institutions.

Here we have a bill that is designed to protect the integrity of that financial system but I will talk about how government has a direct impact. One thing that needs to be talked about is the government's own debt situation. It was not that long ago, almost six years ago, when the Prime Minister took office and he had some $13 billion-plus in surplus.

If we fast-forward six years, we find that the government has now exceeded $150 billion in terms of new debt. When a government takes that sort of action, many vested stakeholders throughout will stand up and take note, and it will have an impact.

On the macro scale, it does have an impact in the overall debt that we have as a nation. It is something of which we have to be aware. However, the government has not really done a good job on this, and the numbers speak for themselves.

There are other things that we look to the government to demonstrate leadership on because they have a direct impact in regard to our financial institutions. I will give a specific example. We talk about the retrofit program. In a retrofit program where government sees the value of getting people to invest in their homes, quite often that means government support goes toward it and also financial institutions will get directly involved in those types of programs. I bring this up because it is important for us to recognize that the role the government plays in our financial institutions is significant.

It is very important that when we have legislation such as this, we provide the opportunity for members of Parliament to have good thorough debate and provide the opportunity for a bill such as this to go to committee. Actually, this is the type of legislation in which we should be encouraging Canadians to directly get involved in because it affects each and every one of us. It affects our pocket. Therefore, Canadians have a vested interest.

We have to look at the process. What has the process been like for the Conservative government on Bill S-5? Members will notice it is called Bill S-5, as opposed to Bill C-5, meaning it had to go through the Senate. This is something the Prime Minister wanted to do. If it were Bill C-5, that would have implied it would come through the House of Commons.

Ever since the Prime Minister has been given a majority government, he feels he has the authority and mandate to ride roughshod over anything that happens inside the House. He has acquired, in the very short time since he had a majority government, record high introductions of time allocation to prevent members of Parliament from engaging in debate on legislation. The attitude or disregard for this fine and wonderful institution is amazing.

Through this institution, Canadians are afforded the opportunity to voice their concerns through their elected officials. However, day in and day out the Prime Minister seems to ignore the rights and what is important for members to truly engage on legislation that is brought forward and which we are asked to pass. The Prime Minister, for whatever reasons, and he will have to explain them at some point, chose to go through the Senate.

Then we have the issue of the Prime Minister being fully aware months ago of the need pass the bill by April 20. The Prime Minister, as he has done with other legislation, seems to drag his feet. After all, he believes that, through his majority government, he can push things through. Now we are in a situation in which there are some serious time concerns. As a result of those concerns, we will be unable to have the type of debate that is important.

In principle, the Liberal Party supports the bill and we have been very clear on that. We recognize the value of it, but many Canadians have issues about which they want their members of Parliament to speak. This would have been a wonderful opportunity to hear many of those contributions to debate.

As an example, it is estimated that the average Canadian now spends well over $120 or $130 annually on banking fees. There is a great deal of concern over whether there is anything the government can do to watch the whole ordeal, to have take some kind of action or have a plan to provide assurance to Canadians that it truly cares about that issue, that it wants to move toward more transparency on the whole issue of banking fees. What about issues such as interest rates?

Another important issue in my riding has been that of bank closures. In Winnipeg North, a number of banks have closed over the last number of years. It has had a very significant impact. For seniors who live on McGregor or on Selkirk in Winnipeg's north end and have had banks in their community close down, there is a real impact. Many of our senior population do not have Internet. They are not going to do banking on the Internet. They want to go to their local bank. It is great in many ways where we have had credit unions. Recently, Assiniboine Credit Union opened up, I believe on McGregor, to try to meet the demand that was created because of banks leaving.

These are real issues that affect Canadians. Whether the government is allowing for adequate and proper debate in the House or providing the opportunity in committee, we need to have this type of discussion so we can share some of the details of the issues that face us. We know there are explanations of how banks will try to justify the narrowing of the gap in interest rates between loans and deposits. That is one of the primary reasons why banks will say that they have to rely more on banking fees in order to cover costs. We are very much aware of that issue. However, I am also aware that banking profits are at all-time record highs and Canadians are aware of that fact. The government needs to develop a plan that ultimately will deal with the wide variety of issues within our financial markets.

Direct banking is one of them. We could talk about the financial institutions of our insurance companies. There is a wide spectrum of issues that are of critical importance. If we do not do it properly, then people are right to be concerned. Not long ago we witnessed the crashes that happened in the United States, in particular. A number of people virtually walked away from their homes. This crisis took place because banks closed down in countries throughout the world.

It is of the utmost importance that we have ongoing reviews. That is why the Liberal Party supports the principle of Bill S-5. We recognize the value of monitoring our financial markets and ensuring we have good, sound regulations. However, we also recognize the importance of Canadians and consumers and we want to see a government do more to address these issues. Whether it is credit card interest rates or the amount of banking fees, consumers want us to be talking about it this.

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March 28th, 2012 / 5 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, has said that household debt, which has reached a record high, is the biggest threat to our financial institutions. Consumer debt has reached a record level of 151% of disposable income. The NDP is very concerned about the lending practices of banks and other lending institutions when it comes to mortgages and home equity lines of credit. These practices are becoming increasingly risky.

Is the Liberal member also concerned about the Conservative government's lack of vision in this bill governing financial institutions? When it comes right down to it, Canadian and Quebec families are sinking further and further into debt.