Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity to be the first to speak today in favour of Bill C-52 regarding white collar crime recently introduced by the Minister of Justice.
I am a carpenter by trade and a union leader by occupation in the years before I was elected. Let me be the first to say here today that white collar crime is in fact very much a blue collar issue. Ordinary working Canadians should be very much concerned and consumed by the issue of white collar crime because if for no other reason we need to be able to trust the financial statements, companies, corporations and institutions where our pension plans, our workplace health and benefit plans, and in fact our savings are invested.
In recent years that confidence has been shattered to the core. Working people across North America are starting to wake up to the fact that what is happening around us today has put our retirement security in profound risk. Even playing by all the rules and following the recommendations of our financial investors and doing all the right things, like prioritizing our pension security in labour negotiations as opposed to a wage increase for today, all of that has been thrown into question. In fact, it has been more than thrown into question, it has been compromised and jeopardized to the degree that we are facing an income security crisis in our elder years.
It is very appropriate and timely that today's debate is about increasing the penalties for those who would put at risk the savings of the good working people of this country.
Let me begin by saying that what we are experiencing today is a predictable consequence of the frenzy throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to deregulate our financial institutions, to deregulate the marketplace, to get the heavy hand of government out of the way of the free market. That was the mantra throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
Now we are seeing the predictable consequences of what I call the Reaganomics, this international trend toward deregulation with Maggie Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney cutting, hacking and slashing all the oversight and regulatory regimes in our financial marketplace. At the same time, in concert with that, the financial community was putting in place the most incomprehensible financial instruments one could possibly imagine, increasingly complex.
Fewer and fewer young people were going into engineering school and more and more were going into financial engineering school so they could devise these incomprehensible financial instruments like derivatives, hedge funds, and God knows what, as a smokescreen for a level of malfeasance and conspiracy to defraud that has never been seen before in the history of mankind.
I am not overstating this. There was a conspiracy on Wall Street and Bay Street to cloud financial activity to such a degree that they could get away with murder. As soon as greed entered that formula, the consequences, I say, are predictable.
Woody Guthrie had a great line. He said, “some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen”. The fountain pen guys have been robbing us blind, fleecing us mercilessly, shamelessly, revelling in it, and building new financial instruments to rob us with.
There is a famous poem, Mr. Speaker, that you may be familiar with. The frustration that I am experiencing dates back many centuries. It reads:
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.
The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine.
The poor and wretched don't escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law.
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.
This is a poem from 1600 in medieval England that expressed the frustration of having a two-tiered judicial system where if people stole a loaf of bread they ended up in prison. My colleague from Edmonton is agreeing with me. But if people in fact stole the common from the goose, they were more likely to walk free.
It has been pretty common knowledge in Canada and in fact in North America until, hopefully, today that rich guys just do not go to jail. Rich guys might get caught up in some fraud or Ponzi scheme or financial scheme that defrauds seniors. They might get caught and they might get embarrassed or humiliated down at the country club, but they are not likely to go to prison.
If they did, they went to some country club where they played golf with their buddies. They were allowed to bring their horses to the prison so they could groom their horses in the private stables at the prison. They would not want to deprive a guy of being able to play polo, that would be cruel and unusual punishment to separate people from their polo ponies just because they are in prison. They are country club prisons.
That infuriates people. I know why they do not send rich guys to normal penitentiaries. It is because there is no room for them. Those jail cells are full of young aboriginal kids who stole the hub caps off of BMWs. They locked them up instead of the guys who own the BMWs and who might be guilty of a far greater crime in terms of this financial mischief that they have been up to.
When I began my comments by saying that we have to be able to trust the financial statements of the institutions where we invest our retirement savings, it is not just the people who deliberately defraud workers we need to be after. We need to look at a corporate accountability regime where the financial statements are easily understood, are transparent, and are without the glaring and ridiculous contradictions that exist.
Let me give an example where we could build off the spirit of this bill and improve the accountability regime of financial institutions. It is still permitted, believe it or not, that the auditor of a company does not have to be independent of the company. In fact, the auditor of a financial institution can provide the tax advice and other financial services to that business and then still be the auditor of that business.
How can individuals who design the income tax strategy for a big corporation be the auditors of those same books that they were in fact contracted to design? It is an inherent conflict of interest that we somehow tolerate when common sense itself would demand that we want the books audited by a fully, completely independent auditors so that the statements that they sign off on are free of any bias or prejudice about that company. That is just one example about how loosey-goosey and wild west our financial marketplace is in this country.
The NDP feels quite comfortable in supporting this bill about getting tough on crime in the white collar sense for a change. In fact, we welcome this shift on the part of the Conservative Party to look at some of the most heinous offences occurring in our system.
In actual fact, getting tough on crime, while we are not opposed to that idea, the Conservatives would have us believe that violent crimes, property crimes and other Criminal Code violations are on the increase when they are actually on the wane. Even in areas of high crime, like my own riding of Winnipeg Centre, the incidents of violent crime is actually on the decline. The incidents of white collar crime is on the increase.
Our attentions are well placed today when we decide to priorize and to look to what I see as a far greater offence in many ways and that is cheating working people out of large amounts of money.
Again, I have tried to sketch what I believe is some of the history and origins of the problem that we find ourselves in today. The rampant push for deregulation was proven to be misguided ideology. One of the reasons that our banking system survived the international economical downturn in a better way than a lot of other countries is that we did manage to thwart some of the deregulation that was being demanded in this country.
Ever since I have been a member of Parliament, there has been a push by the big banks to merge, to deregulate further, to model themselves actually very much after their counterparts in the United States. Thank God we did not because now people are looking to Canada with some well justified praise that we have weathered the financial economic crisis more capably and more ably than other countries.
Therefore, it was ideologically driven, that whole Reaganomics, Thatcherism and Mulroneyism that wanted to get government out of anything, let the free market prevail, laissez-faire capitalism, we will float all boats and so on. We now know that completely unregulated, laissez-faire capitalism leads to some people doing very well and the rest of us being left behind and very vulnerable to the lack of accountability that comes with either deregulating or hiding behind the facade of unreasonably complex financial vehicles constructed for the sole purpose of hiding the true activity that is going on behind the scenes.
I know, Mr. Speaker, you are a big fan of Michael Moore and I would like to believe that you would be a big fan of Michael Moore's latest movie. Interestingly enough, he challenges some of the basic tenets of capitalism as we know it today in his latest film. He stops Wall Street brokers coming out of their businesses where they sell financial instruments to well-meaning pensioners and so on and he asked them, “Just what is a derivative? Let's go for coffee. Can you explain to me the derivatives that you sell pension plan investors and hard-working people? Just what are some of the other complex financial instruments that your financial engineers have designed to show a profit where no such profit really exists to reap a profit on selling short or selling long on things that never existed, that are selling futures, et cetera.”
The whole system got so corrupted by greed that it bears no resemblance to actual wealth or the creation of wealth. It is not even backed up by any corresponding material, et cetera. We are trading trades. We are trading futures of trading. We are trading on the insurance that somebody bet on losing money on a hedge fund and so on. It no longer has any bearing whatsoever to producing a widget and selling interest in that company, and selling shares in that company which was a much purer form of the financial marketplace.
Those who would deliberately conspire to defraud pensioners and working people should be punished in a special way. It is easy to let anger overtake in a situation like this. I will not overstate the situation but I cannot say strongly enough how we need to be able to put--