I would like to thank the members of this committee for the opportunity to speak today. I also thank you for your continued public service during these challenging times.
I am a financial adviser based in Calgary, and an advocate for financial literacy.
With respect to the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to thank the government for its quick action to help Canadians impacted by this crisis. I also have several comments and some suggestions.
The rules around the CERB program were initially confusing and live operators were difficult to reach for many Canadians, which caused more anxiety for individuals who were already suffering from increased stress. Some groups, such as students, were initially left without any direct assistance.
Many Canadians also fell through the cracks. For example, several people I know had their incomes dramatically reduced but were still earning $1,000 per month and therefore did not qualify for the program, but they did need assistance.
The CERB program also created some adverse incentives for workers in lower-paying jobs. I have heard several stories of individuals turning down jobs or not returning to work because they would rather remain on the CERB program.
Rather than rolling out support programs on a piecemeal basis, a better method would have been to immediately provide every Canadian over the age of 18 and workers under the age of 18 with a benefit of $2,000 per month on a taxable basis. This benefit could then have been clawed back based on income tax filings for the 2020 tax year, similar to the way it is done for the old age security program. Many accountants I have spoken to in my local community also expressed strong support for this concept.
In addition to this, in my opinion, the government was not adequately prepared with enough PPE for front-line health care workers and citizens. This should be strategically stockpiled in the future.
Some other missteps were the failure to act quickly on border crossings and ineffective, and in some cases absent, screening for travellers returning to the country, and also rapidly changing advice on whether civilians should or should not wear masks.
I would now like to turn to another area that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed, which is the critical need to enhance the financial literacy of Canadians. While I applaud the work that is being done by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, FCAC, more needs to be done, and the need is urgent.
So many Canadians make significant financial mistakes in many areas, including poor investment choices, taking on too much debt and not saving enough. In my opinion, at least 90% of these mistakes could easily be prevented with the right knowledge. This knowledge should be taught in high schools right across the country. Financial education need not be complicated. If our students can do high school math, they can certainly be successful in managing their finances and investments.
Several provinces have taken steps towards teaching financial literacy. I urge the federal government to work with the provinces to put in place a mandatory financial literacy curriculum for high schools in all provinces. Although educational curriculums may be under provincial jurisdiction, the federal government can help to push this agenda forward. If requested, I would be pleased to assist with this effort.
I want to emphasize that if students were armed with a good base of financial knowledge coming out of high school, they would be less likely to make critical financial mistakes, and over the long term we can improve retirement readiness for the next generation. This would ease the burden on government resources in the future.
Another area that should be reviewed is the financial advisory industry. The standard to become a financial adviser in this country must rise and drastically so. Today, becoming a licensed financial adviser and providing advice to Canadians requires a high school education and passing three multiple choice exams with a 60% passing score on each.
While there are many competent financial advisers in the country who do wonderful work, the low barrier to entry also allows natural salespeople to come into the industry and easily obtain required certifications, and Canadians can suffer the consequences, in many cases with high fees and poor advice.
My frustration with this situation and the lack of a clear road map for Canadians seeking financial advice led me to write and publish a book in 2017 entitled Your Money's Worth: The Essential Guide To Financial Advice for Canadians.
Today we're seeing the consequences of poor financial literacy. Many Canadians are without savings and a personal safety net. Too many are on the brink of personal bankruptcy. Even many Canadians who are earning higher incomes are on the financial edge. They did not save for a rainy day and now it is pouring. Many retirees have also suffered deep losses to their portfolios and are afraid of outliving their money.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the issue of financial literacy and there's much work to be done in this area on an urgent basis.
I would like to conclude by informing the committee that for many years, from my early childhood to my mid-thirties, I suffered from a severe stuttering disability which significantly impacted the quality of my life, including being unable to say my name, speak on the telephone, being challenged to find employment or order what I wanted at a restaurant. Stuttering is a condition for which there is no cure and it impacts 1% of Canadians. Thankfully it can be controlled with appropriate treatment.
In Canada we are fortunate to have the Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research, known as ISTAR, which is affiliated with the University of Alberta. It is a world-renowned treatment centre that has changed thousands of lives around the world. I would like to recognize and thank Deborah Kully and the late Dr. Einer Boberg for establishing this institute, as well as all ISTAR staff. Without their help, I would not have been able to appear before this committee.
If you come across people who do stutter, please ask them to consider seeking treatment at ISTAR.