Thank you, Chair.
This is, as I say, becoming a habit, but I am glad to be back among the financial champions in the House of Commons. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to appear once again before this committee.
Today we are talking about Bill S-5, the Financial System Review Act.
I have with me Jeremy Rudin, Jane Pearse, Eleanor Ryan, Leah Anderson, and Joe de Pencier from the Department of Finance. If you ask me any technical questions I will probably defer to them, because this is a rather technical bill, but it is nonetheless very important.
From the start I want to underline for the committee that while this legislation is important, it is mandatory, routine, and as I say, primarily technical. But it is important, in that it will ensure that we keep Canada's financial system safe and secure, a system all of our constituents depend on almost every day, be it making a bank deposit or applying for a loan to start a business.
Our financial sector plays an important role in financial stability, safeguarding savings and fuelling the growth that is essential to the success of our Canadian economy. It also represents about 7% of Canada's GDP, employing over 750,000 Canadians in good, well-paying jobs.
Before I start talking about some of the highlights of today's bill, I want to explain the background of why and how it came to be. The committee should know that every five years the government reviews all legislation governing federally regulated financial institutions. This is a long-established practice in Canada, with the last review being completed in 2007 in the 39th Parliament. Such mandatory five-year reviews are a big part of why Canada has a well-regulated financial system that is safe and secure. Indeed, earlier this year the independent Financial Stability Board praised this aspect of our system:
...review of all legislation to ensure that it is current, contributes to stability and growth of the financial sector and, by extension, allows Canada to remain a global leader in financial services.
I'll note that the present five-year review process formally began in September of 2010, when our government launched a broad public consultation process. During that consultation we heard from a wide range of Canadians on ways to help further strengthen Canada's financial system.
What's more, as we know, Bill S-5 has already been reviewed in the Senate and received extensive study by the Senate Standing Committee on Banking, Trade, and Commerce. As we know, the senators know a lot about money, so they would have scrutinized this very closely.
The committee engaged in a timely review of the bill, hearing from groups ranging from Credit Union Central of Canada, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association Inc., the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, as well as others. While noting Bill S-5's technical nature, the witnesses were very supportive of the bill overall. For instance, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association Inc. noted that “Bill S-5 represents a welcome fine tuning of the various financial institution statutes”.
Before highlighting some of the items in today's bill, let me mention that due to the legislated sunset date, it is essential that it be renewed by April 20, 2012 to allow Canada's financial institutions to continue to function. No pressure, Chair, but keep that in mind.
I will now take this opportunity to outline some of the measures contained in Bill S-5. Once more, while the majority of the bill is purely technical, its passage is nevertheless essential to guarantee that Canada's financial system remains stable and secure. That's why broadly, the bill will make changes to, first of all, update existing legislation to promote financial stability and to ensure that Canada's financial institutions continue to operate in a competitive, efficient, and stable environment; fine-tune the consumer protection framework to better protect Canadian consumers; and improve efficiency by reducing red tape and regulatory burden on those financial institutions.
More specifically, key measures contained in this act include reinstating the required approval of the Minister of Finance for select, extremely large foreign acquisitions by Canadian financial institutions; reducing the administrative red-tape burden for federally regulated insurance companies offering adjustable policies in foreign jurisdictions by removing duplicative disclosure requirements; promoting competition and innovation by enabling cooperative credit associations to provide technology services to a broader market; more than doubling the maximum fine that the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada can impose on financial institutions that violate consumer provisions, increasing that from $200,000 to $500,000; and also guaranteeing that all Canadians, especially those who are most vulnerable, have the right to cash any government cheque under $1,500 free of charge at any bank in Canada.
When we saw the failure of some of the world's most well-known banks, the recent global economic turbulence has made clear the importance of keeping Canada's financial systems safe and secure through the passage of the Financial System Review Act. Canadians recognize how much we have benefited from our prudent regulations and sound financial oversight in recent years. In fact, for the fourth year in a row Canada has been ranked number one by the World Economic Forum for having the soundest banks in the world.
Without a doubt, Canada's safe and secure financial system has served as a model for countries and is envied around the world. In fact, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron recently praised our system when he said:
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.
As well, the prominent Economist magazine made this proclamation:
Canada has had an easier time than most during the recent global recession, in part because of a conservative and well-regulated banking system.
Likewise, a recent report from the United States Congressional Research Service underlined how well our financial system is regarded and examined as a model for others to build on. I'm quoting directly from that report:
...Canada’s supervisory system and regulatory structure have proven less susceptible to the bank failures that have loomed in the United States and Europe and may offer insight for U.S. policymakers.
In conclusion, let me say that our government believes that modern and effective regulation is critical for an innovative and prosperous economy. What's more, we recognize that we must keep Canada's financial system secure so that it continues to be a fundamental source of strength for our economy. The measures contained in the Financial System Review Act will provide a framework that will benefit all members of the financial services sector, and also all Canadians.
The well-established practice of regular five-year reviews of the regulatory framework for financial institutions is a unique practice that sets Canada apart. It is a positive practice that has proven vital to the stability of this sector.
All Canadians know the importance of continually examining how we can better ensure the safety and soundness of our financial system for the benefit of all Canadians, and today's legislation does just that.
I encourage all members to support this important legislation.
On that note, I'll wrap up and would welcome any questions.