Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, hon. colleagues.
I would like to specify right off the bat that my intervention will contain a question for the officials. Another question was for the government representative, but I believe she'll be leaving. If no parliamentary secretary is here, a Liberal elected official could perhaps answer them.
First of all, I'd like to provide a little context to members from outside Quebec. Thanks to visionaries like the late Lise Payette, who was a minister when René Lévesque was premier, Quebec has the best consumer protection framework in North America. The legislation is more specific than elsewhere. Because of our civil law tradition, we are used to prescribing and codifying everything. Above all, remedies are simple and free of charge for consumers. When important cases have to be dealt with by the courts, the Office de la protection du consommateur takes care of them on behalf of the aggrieved consumers.
The banks have never liked this Quebec difference. They argued for federal exclusivity to assert that they were above our laws. They argued for federal paramountcy in order to sweep away Quebec law. However, after losing their case before the Supreme Court in 2014, they came here to complain. This resulted in the Bill C-29, two years ago. The government affirmed the federal paramountcy of consumer protection for banks, but did not impose any real obligations on them. There was a huge outcry in Quebec. The government has backed down, which brings us today to Bill C-86, which is much more comprehensive than the bill introduced two years ago.
In contrast to Bill C-29 two years ago, Bill C-86 does not affirm federal paramountcy. The government's intention is clearly not to ignore the Civil Code of Quebec. Later, I would like to ask a question, both to the officials and to the parliamentary secretary, about the intent of the legislation and what is written in it. The intention is not to ignore the Civil Code of Quebec, the Consumer Protection Act, which follows from it, or the Office de la protection du consommateur, which applies the law and defends ordinary people.
Bill C-86 is indeed better designed than Bill C-29. While it imposes real obligations on banks, it has a major gap in terms of remedies. The only free recourse, the bank ombudsman, is neither really neutral nor decision-making. If the bank does not follow the recommendations of its ombudsman, what other recourse do consumers have? They may apply to the Federal Court, alone and at their own expense. If the case goes to the Supreme Court, it can cost up to $1 million. No one will go this far, alone in front of the bank's army of lawyers, to contest $50 in hidden fees. Expensive remedies like these are very ill-suited to an area such as consumer protection, where they are often small sums.
If the legislation specifies that Quebec law continues to apply, as the amendment suggests, consumers won't lose anything. If necessary, they may continue to file complaints with the agency if the bank does not comply with our legislation. The office may take the case at its own expense if it has to be brought before the courts.
In this regard, Bill C-86 creates uncertainty. As we know, the banks will continue to argue that they are above Quebec's laws. That's what they've always done. Since the new Bank Act will now contain a whole section on consumer protection, the Supreme Court may well agree with them. Quebeckers would then lose the free remedy they enjoy today and would have to rely on the very costly remedy provided by Bill C-86. It's a step back. I am sure that is not the government's intention. I would therefore like to ask the government's representative what the government's intention is in this bill.
The likely effect of Bill C-86 as drafted is problematic. Officials timidly confirmed a point at the technical briefing three weeks ago. I would like to ask them if Bill C-86 will set aside the Consumer Protection Act, as it relates to banks, or if it will create a vagueness that will lead to a lawsuit that would be settled before the Supreme Court?
That's why we're submitting our amendment. It states that the creation of these new federal obligations does not set aside provincial laws or prohibit enforcement actions, but rather assures us that Quebeckers will not lose out. I would really like to know if, in the case of federal banks, Bill C-86 sets aside the Consumer Protection Act.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.