Madam Speaker, I too am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-38. In listening to the secretary of state's words one would think that the Liberal government had run quite a race since 1993 to get all these things done.
In reference to our banking industry and to choices for Canadian consumers of financial services, while the secretary of state talks of seven positive initiatives taken by the government in fact only two will have a direct result by way of possible increased competition and allowing our domestic banks to move into the 21st century and to catch up to what has already happened in many foreign countries.
Probably a majority of the House, and maybe even the secretary of state himself, does not know that Canada has lagged behind other countries including some of our major trading partners in modernizing our banking and financial structure.
The secretary of state may be quite proud of the legislation. There are some good things in it. For the most part we will support it, but I advise him to be cautious when talking about the speed of the race the Liberals have run since 1993 in getting our banking institutions up to par with the countries with which we do business. I am sure the secretary of state is having some second thoughts now that he reflects on that speed.
There are some parts of Bill C-38 that we certainly agree with and parts that we do not. There are even some parts missing which we will likely address with some amendments as the process moves along. With the secretary of state's encouraging words that we help him get speedy passage of the bill, I am sure the government will view the amendments that come from the Alliance Party in particular with an encouraging welcome attitude and will want to see those amendments become part of this great financial services bill.
Let us deal with some of the good things in the bill, which incidentally in many respects were spelled out for the government in the November 1998 banking report by the member for Prince George—Bulkley Valley acting as the official opposition critic for banks and financial institutions. In the 100 page report entitled “Competition: Choice You Can Bank On”, we clearly called for more competition and better service in banking. We also recommended that merger proposals be evaluated under individual merit and that mitigating factors be built into the proposals so that when the Minister of Finance and all those concerned looked at these proposals they would be able to say “Yes, this is a good proposal; it has merit. Let us approve it”, or “No, this one is not. Let us not approve it”. It would do away with the blanket approach to the determination of mergers.
We in the official opposition outlined a plan in 1998. The plan offered choice and competition in the financial sector. It provided an action plan for change that the government is just now beginning to follow to allow our domestic banks to compete more effectively in the global marketplace.
It is about time. The secretary of state knows, as does his government, that the ratings of our big five domestic banks have increasingly shrunk in the global scale. Major banks all around the world, with much more ease than we can imagine, have begun to amalgamate and merge and build their positions to even greater strength, therefore capitalizing on the opportunities in the global marketplace. Our banks, unable to merge, unable to build through acquisitions and other arrangements because of regulations, have had to sit by and watch these wonderful opportunities pass them by and be scooped up by the big world banks that have had the ability to strengthen to a size where they can take advantage of these opportunities.
Only now are our Canadian banks, our big five, going to be able to really look ahead. Madam Speaker, you have to understand, and I am sure you do, that banking institutions simply cannot work on short term planning. They need long terms, longer terms than can be imagined, longer term vision and longer term business plans. That is the nature of their business.
The government has been basically sitting on its hands since 1993. Our domestic banks were placed in the position that they simply did not know what lay ahead from the government in the regulatory field. They did not know what path the government was going to follow which would allow them to make plans 10, 15 and 20 years down the road.
It has not been a speedy process. We are now just getting to the point where Canadian banks can heave a sigh of relief and start to concentrate on some long term plans, to look at some opportunities in the global market. Our Canadian banks will now be able to compete as a result of many of the features of the bill. Let us not allow the secretary of state or the Liberal government to take any credit for the so-called haste with which they have dealt with this issue.
There are some other points we want to talk about. The banks have been calling for a provision that would allow them to break up some of their structure into holding companies so they could operate under a more flexible regulatory system. Finally the government will make those allowances. The banks can now start to make some progress on some of the plans they had put on hold because there was no direction from the government.
We are also happy to see the increased access to the Canadian payment system. It will allow life insurance companies and money market mutual fund security dealers to have increased access, to clear funds themselves without having to go through the banks.
There is something missing in the bill with respect to credit unions becoming more like national banks. I am surprised it is missing because the MacKay task force report recommended that the government consider allowing what it called co-operatively held banks in reference to credit unions. A co-operatively held bank that would evolve out of a credit union simply means that every member of that co-op, which would now be engaged in bank-like activities, would be a voting member of that banking structure. The government has not allowed that and we wonder why it has not. If the government were committed to offering more choices in banking services to Canadian consumers and small business enterprises, why would it not have made this provision?
We intend to introduce amendments during report stage that will give the government a chance to rectify that omission which it allowed to happen in preparing the bill. One thing we are not happy about is the omission of the provision for credit unions to become co-operatively held banking institutions.
We are also happy that the government in its wisdom has maintained a restriction on banks entering into the auto leasing and insurance business. We commend the government for that. At the same time we remind the government that in our 1998 report, of which I have a copy for the secretary of state but I am sure he must have read it in the preparation of Bill C-38, we too called for the government to hold the line on this. Auto leasing and insurance is a very competitive and vibrant business sector in Canada and we felt the choices offered to consumers were very wide and that it was operating very well.
We have a little trouble with the FCAC, the ombudsman office, the financial consumer agency of Canada. Trust the government to come up with a bureaucratic sounding title for what will be, from all looks at this thing, another bureaucracy within the government that will die a slow death because of the inefficiencies that generally evolve out of government bureaucracies.
This could have been quite simple. The government could have made a provision for the setting up of a very independent ombudsman's office for banking, one that would oversee the financial services sector. This office would report directly to parliament, to the elected representatives of the country. But no, the government chose to create the office with a commissioner who will be appointed by the Minister of Finance.
One would think that the Liberals would have run out of Liberal friends by now, but one more is coming down the tube and will be the FCAC commissioner. That office will report directly to the Minister of Finance. Anything that we get from that office will have first been vetted through the Minister of Finance. In other words, we will only hear what the Minister of Finance wants us to hear. We will not be permitted to question the commissioner ourselves. This is significant. It is so like the government to restrict access of the opposition parties to the agencies it creates because it does not fit in its agenda.
We are happy of the government's lowering of the capital requirement to establish small banks. We commend the government on that. We think we will see some movement in the setting up of regional and community banking services. We would like to think that the government will be encouraging more competition from these types of businesses. We support that.
We have a problem with the demands on the government that it must begin to or continue to operate money losing accounts for Canadians as individuals or small businesses. While the government may think that this is a good thing for political reasons, the fact is this is an intrusion on private business. The government is taking this a little bit too far.
How can the government say to a business that it must operate a segment of its business but it is not allowed to make money? In fact it will probably have to lose money, but the government has decided that the business must operate a section of the business on a money losing basis. This is what the government has done in the bill. It has said to the banks that no matter who comes in and asks for an account at the bank, the bank has to pretty much open an account for them. Whether that account is operated in a responsible fashion or not, the bank still has to provide access for that person to have an account at one of that bank's branches. The banks themselves will say that the government is telling them how to run their own businesses.
Bank closures have become a reality in this country. It is common knowledge that the banks for the most part are over infrastructured as far as branches go. In many cases banks are looking to close down this infrastructure because they are money losing branches and banks are simply not in the business of operating at a loss on behalf of their shareholders. As little red tape as possible is necessary to allow banks to make prudent business decisions.
The banks have recognized they have a corporate community role in many small towns across the country. They will not arbitrarily close branches. They will make provisions such as did the Bank of Montreal with the sale of some of its branches to the credit union people. This was a prudent business move. People did not lose their banking services. The name changed but the services are still there. This is just good business. I trust the government will allow the banks to make those decisions themselves as to how they want to structure their operations so that they can assure their shareholders that they will be able to do it by making money.
The secretary of state will get a chuckle out of this one. He may think that I have more guts than brains talking about this, but there is nothing in Bill C-38 that addresses the very real problem of the taxation regime in which the banks are forced to operate. The secretary of state knows that the banks, among all the corporations in Canada, are charged at more levels of tax than any other type of business in Canada. Even companies like Bombardier, SNC Lavalin and Magna International have less structures of tax than banks do.
One of the things the Canadian banks have been telling the government is that if it expects them, as domestic banks, to be able to compete in the global economy and take advantage of the opportunities, they need to be on a level playing field with other banks around the world. The government has yet to address the very real problem Canadian banks have in their global competition goals, which is the taxation regime that they must operate under in this country. We are surprised that the government has not addressed this in the same way that it has not addressed tax relief in so many other areas, whether it is personal income tax, corporate tax, fees, services or EI premiums.
This is not a government that is friendly to people who work hard to be successful and try to earn money. It is the first one in line to penalize success. It has been doing this to our banking institutions for years. It has acted as a disincentive for our Canadian banks which have to compete on an uneven tax playing field.
I will close by saying that we will be supporting the bill. We hope it passes in a timely fashion, as the Minister of Justice would like to pass some of her legislation in a timely fashion. We ask that the government look seriously at the amendments we will be putting forward. We hope that a spirit of co-operation will prevail as we discuss our needs and the government discusses its bill passing needs as far as its timelines.
Our party will be actively involved in the process of Bill C-38 as it moves along.