House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was banks.


Financial Consumer Agency Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I heard some applause. It is a very odd way to start a pre-election period to have one of my Liberal colleagues applaud my rising to speak. Should I assume that he will agree with everything I say about his government in the next few minutes?

I am pleased to rise and speak to this important bill. It is an important bill because we have been waiting for it for over seven years, and that things kept being postponed in recent years. I see the Secretary of State for International Financial Institutions, who was acting as chair of the Standing Committee on Finance at that point. He knows what I am talking about on the subject of delays. There was a delay of at least two years in the government's introduction of a bill on financial institutions.

Everyone here can testify to the Bloc Quebecois' interest in this amendment to the laws on financial institutions. Two and a half years ago, when Mr. McKay introduced his proposals, the Bloc Quebecois presented a submission to the Standing Committee on Finance. Rather than question witnesses, that time we had decided to contribute to the debate on the amendments to legislation on banks and financial institutions in general by presenting a submission in more or less the following vein.

When we look at the way things are changing on the international scene, the first thing we notice is that they are moving very quickly with what they call the globalization of markets, especially with the increased opening up of a number of western countries in the financial sector, and the fact that, in the electronic commerce sector, the establishment of virtual banks is allowed. Banks without a national base in certain countries serving a certain clientele are being allowed to open what are called virtual banks. They offer consumers financial products without an actual physical location for the delivery of such products.

International competition is heating up. Even the six largest banks in Canada are small compared to American or certain Asian, particularly Japanese, banks.

What is needed is a legislative environment conducive to increasing the ability of our financial institutions to hold their own against international competition as well as the competition that will inevitably begin to appear—and of which there are already signs—within the markets of Quebec and of Canada.

The Bloc Quebecois supports the spirit of the legislation and several of its provisions. The competitive environment calls out for a bill such as this, which amends the Bank Act and legislation governing financial institutions in general.

That having been said, there are a number of problems with this bill and we intend to move amendments at report stage. I hope that members on the other side will give these amendments their attention, will note that we are open to 90% of what is in the bill; there is perhaps 10% of it that falls short and could be improved.

First, and not least, it is clear from a reading of the many pages of this bill and its schedules, a weighty 900 pages or so, that far too much discretionary power rests in the hands of one man, the Minister of Finance.

Throughout the bill, whenever there are provisions concerning banks, insurance companies, trusts, anything to do with the financial sector, the minister always reserves the right to determine, based on criteria known to him alone, whether or not an operation is acceptable. He alone defines certain concepts such as low-fee retail deposit accounts.

We know that the Minister of Finance claims to be concerned about improving the access of the most disadvantaged in society to banking and other services, but he is still leaving himself room to define in future what would be best for the least well off, such as those living in certain poorer neighbourhoods in Montreal or other large cities, or certain remote, rural areas.

There are way too many areas where the Minister of Finance, alone, has a decision making power and a power of life or death over certain transactions for us to be pleased with this bill.

Generally speaking, we would have liked more clarity regarding the decision making process and also more specifics regarding certain concepts, such as the minimum fee deposits for the poor. This is our first general comment.

The second one concerns consumer protection. It goes without saying that we cannot be opposed to any measure seeking to increase consumer protection.

However, we are opposed to provisions that duplicate and overlap those that are already included in the Quebec consumer protection act. Incidentally, consumer protection is an exclusive provincial jurisdiction. While there may be cases of specific protection with regard to banks, which fall under federal jurisdiction, consumer protection or the protection of privacy is, generally speaking, a provincial jurisdiction.

Yet, the bill constantly refers to new federal government initiatives in an area which, in the case of Quebec, is well covered by very comprehensive provincial legislation. We can think, among others, of the consumer protection act, the privacy act, the insurance act, the trust companies act, the Quebec savings banks act and the credit and securities act, all of which include provisions to ensure consumer protection.

There comes a time when a consumer no longer knows which legislation to turn to. Does the matter come under the jurisdiction of the federal government? Does it involve the new consumer protection legislation contained in Bill C-38? Or is it the Quebec consumer protection legislation which applies in this particular case? In short, in some respects, instead of improving consumer protection, I would say that certain clauses of Bill C-38 only add confusion. A lesser understanding means, of necessity, lesser protection for the consumer.

Another case concerns the protection of another category of consumers to which I have already referred, namely the most disadvantaged consumers. The minister has taken the trouble to include in Bill C-38 the concept of the low-fee retail deposit account. He says that it has long been argued that there are certain areas of major cities such as Montreal, Quebec City, Vancouver and Toronto that are greatly disadvantaged. So much so that when people in financial difficulty, people with less money than the Minister of Finance, the banks, and their branches in particular, show discrimination toward them.

When we undertook the process of reviewing the financial institutions legislation, we often ran into cases of people who had been totally denied permission to open an account because they did not have a fixed income, had not worked for some time, or could not produce any identification, and so on.

Now the minister is introducing his concept of the low-fee retail deposit account, but does not tell us what this will mean. This is a lovely concept that may appeal to certain consumer associations, but where is the minister headed with this “low-fee retail deposit account?” Who will this “low-fee retail deposit account” be aimed at? What sort of fee will it entail? Will it really be available to those who, in the past, have had trouble getting quality services without being discriminated against?

Let us not forget that a bank operates in a competitive environment and that a bank is there to make profits. We are not, nor have we ever been, against profits. It must be borne in mind, however, that banks, like most financial institutions in Canada, are active in a very regulated, and therefore protected, environment. They are protected by a decision of parliament: the public decided that the regulatory framework for Canadian banks would be a protective one. We would not want to let our banks go like that.

In return, banks have a responsibility to the public, as do those holding voting shares. This concern with the responsibility of banks is absent from the bill. We are not looking for measures that would make it impossible for banks to make profits. But some effort is required, particularly since—as I mentioned—the banks are working within a regulatory framework decided by parliament. Within parliament, people elected by the public decided to protect the banking sector. I would say that the banks therefore have a certain duty to the community that is absent from the bill.

When it comes to a real social and community role for banks, or to put it another way, if the banks are going to remember what they owe us for bringing in tight regulations to protect them, we would have liked the Minister of Finance to pay attention to our proposals, including the one from the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, who introduced a bill on community reinvestment by banks.

He has been fighting this battle for a long time. He brought us in the Bloc Quebecois into the fray. We fight almost daily for community reinvestment in the most disadvantaged regions, the most remote regions in Quebec and in the rest of Canada, as well as in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Quebec and Canadian cities.

What does community reinvestment mean? It means—and it relates to a practice that has been in existence in the United States since the start of the 1970s—ensuring that certain banks are accountable to the community in specific regions or disadvantaged neighbourhoods in big Canadian cities. It involves, for example, evaluating in a given year all of the deposits taken in by these banks in neighbourhoods where in recent years a rate of unemployment higher than the national average has been observed. It involves noting the deposits made in these banks by both individuals and businesses and the loans and advances given out by the branch to the community, in a disadvantaged community in Montreal for example, just to see whether a discrepancy does not exist between what it takes out and what it injects back into the community through loans and advances.

If there is a discrepancy, that is, if the branch in one of Montreal's poorest neighbourhoods, for example, took in more in deposits than it gave out in loans to individuals and advances and loans to SMBs in the neighbourhood, it would be considered to be a problem and the banks could be asked to make an extra effort to contribute to the community.

The banks in this community reinvestment environment would be accountable to the local residents and to parliament. At some point, an accumulation of bad reports on the banks or financial institutions in certain poor neighbourhoods in the major cities or in certain remote regions would provide sufficient authority, I would say, to influence in general terms community reinvestment by the banks right across Canada.

From a local point of view, provisions for reinvestment in the community such as those in the bill introduced by my colleague, which we intend to introduce again through amendments to the banking bill, would also mean that representatives of the community could meet annually with managers of the bank branch in their neighbourhood or region to discuss the contribution it was making to the community, look for ways of improving things and identify mutually interesting projects that the community's deposits could be used to fund.

There have been a number of good results in the United States. It seems funny to be citing the United States as an example of progressive measures but, in the United States, making communities and banks accountable has meant that, at a certain point, the banks—and this is unusual, it is not often seen in Canada—became known for contributing to the advancement of communities.

In fact, at one point, in certain of the poorest regions of the United States, some of the most down and out were allowed to cash government cheques for free.

They went to those branches and there was no longer any charge for government cheques. For the most disadvantaged, the fees charged for banking services were very low or not levied at all for the most common services. The banks had been offering this since the early 1970s.

It was also agreed, after various discussions with the community, with representatives of bank branches in the United States, to freeze funds for a number of days or weeks. When we met with consumer protection representatives, they told us that funds had been frozen for more than a week.

In the United States, based on a concept called community reinvestment requiring the banks to be accountable to the community, this led to certain provisions, among them ones including those forbidding branches from freezing funds.

Based on this development of community reinvestment, some U.S. banks even decided to reduce to a minimum the mortgage charges to first-time property owners. This they did as a result of discussions with the community on the possibility of a two-way relationship between the least well-off in the area served by the bank and the bank, since it stood to gain in the long term from the improved financial position of the members of its community.

We would have liked to see the Minister of Finance take this type of novelty a little more seriously, not that it is really a novelty because it dates back to the 1970s in the United States. We would like him to lend an attentive ear to the arguments raised by my colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve and all the members of the Bloc Quebecois relating to the possibility of reinvesting in the community.

We are not asking the banks to take over from the government. After the carnage wrought on social programs by this Liberal government, I believe we might even have been entitled to call upon the banks to compensate for it, but we are not, despite the billions of dollars in profit the banks are raking in.

We are not against the banks making profits, as the banks' profits are also, to a certain extent, our profits. The trust funds, the pension funds of the people of Quebec and of Canada also make profits.

What we are saying instead is that the banks have the means of balancing out the deposits they receive with the reinvestment they can make in certain communities that are worse off than others.

There was another problem relating to the people who were the most disadvantaged and were living in the least advantaged areas of major cities, or in remote areas. The closure of branches of banks and financial institutions in general was, is and always will be the problem with this bill.

Some regions do not or no longer have access to quality banking services, because branches were closed. It was no longer profitable for major Canadian banks to provide remote communities with complete services, as can be found in major centres.

There are poor neighbourhoods in Montreal—earlier we mentioned Hochelaga—Maisonneuve—where one must look hard to find a bank branch that provides full services. There are no longer such branches. Why? Precisely because it was not profitable for the banks to provide these services.

Since the community groups that appeared before the committee raised this issue time and again, we expected the bill to include provisions to prevent, in certain communities, people from being treated like second class citizens, like nobodies, because they have less money than those living in neighbouring communities.

There is nothing in this bill to prevent branch closures in those areas where poverty is a more serious issue than in other neighbourhoods or other regions of Quebec and Canada.

The only measure included in this bill—and I doubt any consumer association will applaud this initiative—is a requirement to give a six month notice before closing a branch. But whether a branch closes immediately, or in two, three, four or six months, it will close at some point. Entire communities will get fewer and fewer services from Canadian financial institutions, particularly banks, because this bill includes no provision to protect them.

The appointment of an ombudsman is a step in the right direction, but it is clearly not enough. The bill should show that the Minister of Finance wants to prevent people from not having access to banking services and to the so-called new economy.

There is no political will in this bill, not even the desire to find ways to prevent the most disadvantaged in our society from being totally excluded from the financial sector and the banking services available elsewhere in Canada.

In addition to the issues for consumers, the bill contains an enormous problem. It concerns the ownership of Canada's major banks and major financial institutions.

I listened to the Secretary of State for Financial Institutions discussing the importance of the flexibility given the financial institutions to enable them to continue their activities, to meet their competition and to respond to the development of new markets.

There is, however, a difference between the flexibility found in certain aspects of the bill and the fact that some of our financial institutions and banks could literally be given to foreigners, for example, or to a single investor, who could wield either total or partial powers of life and death over these institutions or their administration.

We supported flexibility from the start. Indeed, when we tabled our brief with the Standing Committee on Finance over two years ago, we proposed a more flexible regulatory framework in fact, so that the small and medium banks could join with other financial institutions, something the existing legislative framework does not currently permit, but the bill would.

Therefore, a bank could join with a trust company, with an insurance company or with other stakeholders in the financial sector to create a sort of consortium, a firm that could meet the challenge of the major international institutions either in the Canadian market, because they will no doubt penetrate it, some of them already have—there is the MBNA, for example, and its virtual banks—or in international markets by ensuring that strategic alliances will give us significant blocks to meet the international competition there.

I have to hand it to the Secretary of State for Financial Institutions, he did a good job. I want to salute him in passing, because he chaired the Standing Committee on Finance for several years. He worked very hard on this bill and he delivered the goods when it comes to flexibility for financial institutions, strategic alliances and the right way of making them more competitive.

Where I part company with him and with the Minister of Finance, however, is when it comes to bank ownership. An individual's right to hold a certain percentage of shares varies with the size of these banks in Canada.

I still have a lot of trouble with this and I have had no answers to the many questions I asked the Minister of Finance in meetings of the Standing Committee on Finance or here, during oral question period.

I have had no answers as to the reason for such amendments. Why, for instance, when it comes to the largest bank in Canada, the Royal Bank, will an individual now be able to hold 20% of shares? It has gone from 10% to 20% of voting shares. Why is it that when it comes to the largest bank in Canada, it can now be 20%, but no more? The limit is set at 20%. Does anyone know why? The reason is that it is dangerous, according to the Minister of Finance and the secretary of state, his spokesperson.

It is dangerous because an individual holding too many shares in a bank could have unprecedented power over the policies of that bank. He could also create problems for market competitiveness. I will come back to this shortly.

This is the percentage for the largest bank in Canada—a maximum of 20%.

But when it comes to the largest bank in Quebec, the National Bank, whose capitalization is in the middle range, an individual may hold 65% of voting shares.

Why this distinction? I have asked this of the Minister of Finance. Why different treatment? When it is a matter of protecting a major Canadian bank, then the maximum is 20%, but when it is a matter of protecting the biggest Quebec bank, it can be up to 65% of voting shares. It was enough to have 50% plus 1; with 65%, I do not know if the constitutional debate has so obscured people's vision that it is no longer seen that a majority for a single share holder is over 50%, that is 50% plus 1. Now it has gone up to 65%. Even 50% plus 1 would have been too high anyway.

The principle of what is called diffuse bank ownership, i.e. allowing capital to be broadly distributed in the hands of a number of individuals, relates to several fundamental elements in the banking sector. First of all, its stability, and second the fact that it might be unwise for a single individual to have considerable power over the savings of individuals.

The fundamental aspect underlying this division of ownership is to avoid cases of unfair competition, which I shall explain. A rich industrialist in the manufacturing sector could buy up 65% of voting shares in a bank like the National Bank.

For those who are not familiar with it, the National Bank is the bank of small and medium sized businesses in Quebec. It is the one that makes the most loans to these businesses. The industrialist purchases 50% plus 1—no need of 65%—of the voting shares of the National Bank. That business person, who is involved in a given economic sector, could decide to refuse to lend money to someone who wants to borrow from the National Bank to invest in the same manufacturing sector in which the bank owner is involved.

Certain things were possible in the past, are possible today and will be possible in the future. In fact, this is why, in the past, a single individual could not hold more than 10% of the shares of a bank. Currently, we can see at shareholders' meetings that a person who holds 10% of the shares of a bank has a great influence on the direction in which it is going.

So, we have a situation where a business person involved in a given sector could refuse to grant a loan to someone who wants to borrow from his bank, because that person is in the same industrial sector. The business person would in effect get rid of a competitor because he controls the capital and has the power to decide whether the other business person who wants a loan will survive or not. Such situations could occur in the future.

There is also the possibility of takeovers by foreign interests. Under the provisions of this bill, what would prevent the Royal Bank from being the target of a takeover bid? Why should we, in Quebec, put up with the risk that a foreign investor could get 50% plus one of the shares of the National Bank, thus taking control of that institution, moving its head office and its decision making centre elsewhere, eliminating specialized jobs and adversely affecting Quebec's economy? We are not prepared to take such a risk and rather resent the situation.

This is why we are asking that there be no difference between the treatment given to major Canadian banks and to our largest bank in Quebec. If the percentage of voting shares that can be held by a single individual is increased from 10% to 20% in the case of major Canadian banks, the same change must be made for Quebec's largest bank.

Not only does it require an increase from 10% to 20%, as in the case of large banks, but if an individual had 10% of the voting shares and wanted to increase his share to 20%, he would be subject to what the minister calls at page 56 of the bill, in clauses 395 and 396, an “approval process”.

A set of criteria would determine whether the fact of increasing one's holdings by ten percentage points met the following criteria. I would add others, but I will begin by identifying those that are there. I would also have some questions for the Minister of Finance and his secretary of state on a provision that strikes me as a bit odd. There are no doubt answers, as the minister always has answers. They are not always the right ones, but we will not go into that.

The bill provides that any particular transaction aimed at, for example, increasing by 10% the shares held by an individual would be subject to a set of criteria. The minister identifies eight of them. The first involves the minister considering: a ) the nature and sufficiency of the financial resources of the applicant or applicants as a source of continuing financial support for the bank;

That is right. That is reasonable. They cannot have anyone holding shares do just anything and interrupt the continuing business of the bank. They will also consider: b ) the soundness and feasibility of the plans of the applicant or applicants for the future conduct and development of the business of the bank;

This applies to amalgamations, combinations and the like. Under the third criterion, the minister would consider: c ) the business record and experience of the applicant or applicants;

Other criteria are: d ) the character and integrity of the applicant or applicants or, if the applicant or any of the applicants is a body corporate, its reputation for being operated in a manner that is consistent with the standards of good character and integrity; e ) whether the bank will be operated responsibly by persons with the competence and experience suitable for involvement in the operation of a financial institution;

That is quite right. One must be very responsible, particularly with other people's money. Let us not forget that these are our deposits in all the major Canadian banks. f ) the impact of any integration of the businesses and operations of the applicant or applicants with those of the bank on the conduct of those businesses and operations;

This is the clause that covers the particular case I mentioned earlier. A business person buys the majority of shares in a bank and refuses to make a loan to a competitor in his industrial sector. The minister will take this into account. There is nothing wrong with that. g ) the opinion of the Superintendent regarding the extent to which the proposed corporate structure of the applicant or applicants and their affiliates may affect the supervision and regulation of the bank, having regard to

(i) the nature and extent of the proposed financial services activities to be carried out by the bank and its affiliates, and

(ii) the nature and degree of supervision and regulation applying to the proposed financial services activities to be carried out by the affiliates of the bank;

This is normal. They have to comply with certain rules. Rules are made to be complied with. So even without this criterion, should the superintendent decide that the applicant or applicants are not complying with the rules, the Minister of Finance will take this into account.

Finally, the same clause also includes the following provision: h ) the best interests of the financial system in Canada.

We would like to see the Minister of Finance add other criteria to the bill. We are going to move certain amendments to round them out. As members know, Quebec is now a distinct society. We are familiar with the historic words. The Prime Minister has already admitted that Quebec is a distinct society. The fact of the matter is that Quebec is indeed a distinct society financially. It has jurisdictions and institutions to which it is attached. The National Bank is an institution we wish to keep, particularly for its contribution to the economic and financial development of Quebec as a whole and of Montreal in particular as an international financial centre.

Incidentally, Quebec's minister of finance, Mr. Landry, wrote a letter to his federal counterpart on June 7 to express his concerns about the new legislation and to ask for safeguards regarding the public interest of Quebecers.

Four criteria should be added. That is not asking too much. We know that with the very specialized and competent human resources that are available in the House of Commons we can draft provisions covering these four additional criteria, which would apply strictly to Quebec, given the special nature of the National Bank.

First, Quebec's minister of finance is asking that we take into account the changes that affect the banks' current operations, including the services available in Quebec and in Canada, because the minister does not mention the services available in his criteria. Service to consumers does not seem to be his main concern.

In proposing an increase in the percentage of the voting shares of a Quebec or Canadian financial institution held by an individual, the government should take into account the impact of that change on the level of the portfolio.

The first additional criterion when the Minister of Finance decides whether or not he will accept that a shareholder can increase his share in a bank should be the impact of the change on the bank's current operations, including available services.

The second criterion that the Minister of Finance should add to the list that I mentioned earlier is the effect of the change on employment. That is important. Why is employment not considered in the criteria proposed to us by the Minister of Finance in clause 396?

Does this mean that employment is not important for the Liberals, for the Minister of Finance and for the Prime Minister? Not important to them? Minister Landry and the Bloc Quebecois are calling for an examination of the effects on employment of this additional participation relating to voting shares, both at headquarters and in the branches, including professional positions and those requiring specialized expertise.

It is important to maintain these specialized resources if we want to have financial strength for Quebec. These are not to be found on every street corner.

The third criterion is the effect of change on the economy and the technological development of Quebec. This too is important. On the Canadian level, this does not even appear to be the object of any specific criteria for the federal Minister of Finance. This is scandalous.

Finally, the effect of change in the financial sector of Quebec and the role of Montreal as a financial centre, particularly as far as keeping final decision-making centred in Montreal is concerned. These criteria must be maintained.

I wish to inform hon. members that the Bloc Quebecois will be presenting amendments for this purpose at the report stage, in order to ensure that this important bill is complete. With a bit of good will from the other side, that could be accomplished. We support this bill overall, but the three points to which I have referred are so problematical that they will force us to vote against it tomorrow morning.

Financial Consumer Agency Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Qu'Appelle, SK

Madam Speaker, I welcome you back for another continuation of this session of parliament.

We are starting this leg of this session of parliament with a very interesting bill before the House, Bill C-38. It is a bill to make a number of changes to the financial institutions in our country. It is a rather historic bill with some 900 pages. I understand it is the most voluminous bill we have ever dealt with in the history of this country, some 900 pages and the consequential changes which affect about 4,000 pages of existing legislation. In addition, there are many things in the bill that are left as orders in council and guidelines.

I do not think there is anyone in the House who can pretend that we have a good grasp of the overall impact of the bill. The minister, if he says he does, is very unique because the bureaucrats tell me that there is no one who has a total grasp of all aspects of the bill, including all the experts.

There are many experts of course who have expertise in various parts of the bill but no one can really tie it together in terms of all the consequences.

It is a very comprehensive bill. Where did it come from? In 1996 the government established a task force headed by Mr. Baillie, replaced later on by Mr. MacKay of Regina, to look at financial institutions and make recommendations to parliament and to the Minister of Finance to reform and change our financial institutions.

That task force went on from 1996 to 1998 at a cost of $3.5 million. It made a comprehensive and sweeping set of recommendations to the Parliament of Canada. The finance committee undertook hearings on the MacKay task force recommendations in October, November and December 1998, if I recall correctly. We also made our recommendations to parliament and to the Minister of Finance.

The Department of Finance issued a paper in June 1999 in which it made some comments and 57 recommendations arising out of the report. In the year 2000 we finally have before the House this very voluminous bill that makes all kinds of changes.

In a bill of this sort there are many positives and negatives. Our party will be voting against it on second reading and will continue to take that position unless a number of fairly sweeping changes are made to the bill.

Before I get into some of the negatives, I want to say that there are also a number of positives. The bill expands access to the payment system in the country. The payment system is there for the chartered banks. Bill C-38 will expand access to that system, in particular to the insurance companies, some of the brokerage houses and other financial institutions. We see this as a positive step in terms of competition in the financial industry. It is something that is supported by the insurance industry and others as well.

Another positive aspect of the bill is the expanded powers for our credit union movement. The credit union movement comes under provincial jurisdiction today. The legislation would allow them to have a national service entity where we could have easier transactions made from province to province. A member of parliament for example from Nova Scotia could go out to B.C. and do his banking in a credit union more easily than now because credit unions are currently regulated on a provincial basis and not on a federal basis.

There is also some talk about the possible creation of a credit union bank. This was a recommendation of the MacKay task force. It is not in this legislation, primarily because there is no consensus, as I understand it, in the credit union or co-operative movement on whether or not it is the right way to go. I think there is an openness in the House and in the government to the idea of a national credit union bank if indeed there is consensus evolving in the credit union movement and if the minister nods his approval to that. That would come some time in the weeks, months or years ahead. That is certainly a good possibility.

Under the current legislation a credit union could own a bank. For example, the Van City Credit Union could buy or operate a bank but the bank would have to be a subsidiary of the credit union and not owned directly by individual members of the credit union. This gets us into some of the detailed debating we will be having in the committee if the bill goes there in the next few days.

We support the idea of a financial services ombudsman. When it comes to the ombudsman it is a step in the right direction. We now have an ombudsman funded by individual banks and therefore there is a built-in conflict of interest in a real sense and in a perceived sense. The new financial ombudsman would not be a creation of the banks. It would have an independent board that is not drawn from the federal government or the banks. It would operate independently.

A concern I have about the ombudsman—and we will get to it in committee as well—is that I do not think it has enough power to enforce some of the findings that occur in terms of a levelling of fines and sanctions on banking institutions that may violate the rules and regulations pertaining to those institutions. We will be looking at more details from the minister at committee stage, but at least we have the establishment of a financial service institution which is a positive step in the right direction.

Let me reminisce. In 1989 an old friend of mine, the then member for Nickel Belt, John Rodriguez, introduced in the House a private member's bill to establish an office of the financial ombudsman or banking ombudsman that had sweeping powers to look out for consumers and to impose fines and sanctions on financial institutions that violated the rules and regulations. Some progress has been made, but hopefully we can strengthen it at committee stage.

Part of the bill that is going in a positive direction is some of the consumer protection agencies. They are very timid in my opinion. We now have the possibility of a lifeline account where some four to twelve transactions in a bank account are free of charge. If I understand correctly, it also says that no one can be denied a bank account as long as he or she has two pieces of identification and as long as there is no fraud. One cannot be denied a bank account whether the person is poor, unemployed or whatever. A lot of people now have difficulty establishing a bank account.

This is very vague in terms of what is actually in the legislation and of the details for individual banks. My understanding is that there will be negotiations between the new consumer agency and individual banks. There will be a memorandum of standing, an MOU, signed with each individual bank which might differ from bank to bank or financial institution to financial institution in terms of their obligations. The minister confirmed that as well. We want to scrutinize that carefully to make sure we can maybe strengthen it on behalf of consumers.

Another positive aspect in the legislation is something for which we have lobbied for a long time. It does not expand the power of banks to get into auto leasing or the sale of insurance. Members will recall a lobby a couple of years ago when this idea was floated, particularly by the MacKay report when it recommended that banks be allowed to sell insurance and get into the auto leasing business. There was quite a lobby in the country and we were all contacted. The influence of that lobby has paid off and that provision is not in the legislation today. That is a very positive step.

Those are some of the positive aspects of the bill. Some are not as strong as we had hoped, but at least they are steps in the right direction.

I come to some of the concerns. My major concern is the changing of the wide ownership rule. I am afraid this opens the door to more concentration of who owns the banking institutions and to foreign control and influence in our banking institutions. This has been a debate in cabinet. I would like to make sure that Canadians know this fairly radical change is being suggested.

Under the current legislation nobody can own more than 10% of the banking shares in any bank. All a wealthy individual can buy is 10% of the Royal Bank or 10% of the Bank of Montreal. This rule was brought in to parliament in the mid-1960s by the Pearson government when the Chase Manhattan Bank was in the process of trying to buy the Toronto-Dominion Bank. There was great concern about losing our financial institutions so the House of Commons brought in the 10% and 25% rule. No individual could have more than 10% of the shares in any bank and foreigners, put together, could not have more than 25% of the shares of a bank. The 25% rule went by the way with the signing of the free trade agreement with the United States. That has been gone now for a few years.

Today the 10% rule still applies. The government will raise the 10% to 20% for voting shares and the 10% to 30% for non-voting shares, opening the door for more concentration in the banking industry and for more billionaires or wealthy banks in the United States to buy huge chunks of Canadian banks and therefore have control over the Canadian banking industry. I do not think that is the way the Canadian people want to go.

Canadians are already concerned that we have given away too much of our national sovereignty. We have sold out too much of our country. We have erased too much of the border. I think Canadians are saying that we should not get rid of the 10% rule and should make sure Canadian banking institutions remain in the hands of Canadians and regulated by the Parliament of Canada on behalf of the Canadian people. I think that is the way we ought to go.

People are saying maybe we need this kind of change to compete in the world. Our banks are actually pretty large on the world scale. We have some of the largest banks in the world today, ranking 15th, 16th or 20th in terms of size. If our banks need to be bigger to compete in the world, for economy of scale, they could form a consortium. They would still have the same effect and efficiencies as if we were to change the rule in terms of amalgamating with other banks and ownership changes. We could do the same by consortium.

Another point I am concerned about is the ownership rule. The government has decided to categorize banks into three different categories: large, medium and small.

Financial Consumer Agency Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

An hon. member

Good idea.

Financial Consumer Agency Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Qu'Appelle, SK

It may be a good idea, but I have some questions about the rules pertaining to each of these three. A large bank is any bank with equity over $5 billion. That includes the big five Bank of Montreal, Royal Bank, TD Bank, Scotiabank and CIBC.

Then there is a mid-size bank with equity between $1 billion and $5 billion. My friend from the Bloc Quebecois was referring to this. That includes la Banque Nationale which is a fairly large bank based in the province of Quebec, the Banque Laurentienne and the Bank of Western Canada. The wide ownership rule does not apply to them. For them, only 35% of the equity or voting shares have to be widely held. In other words, an individual could purchase 65% of the shares of la Banque Nationale, the Banque Laurentienne or the Bank of Western Canada. That is a real concern in the province of Quebec and elsewhere. Why would we have different rules apply to these banks which are a bit smaller than those which apply to the Royal Bank, CIBC and Bank of Montreal?

The Chase Manhattan Bank or Citibank of New York could buy la Banque Nationale just like that. The headquarters would go out of Quebec and Canada and we would lose an important part of our banking industry. Why has the minister decided to have different rules and regulations for mid-size banks compared with big banks? Why can the minister himself change the rules? Why is parliament not supreme in changing those kinds of rules?

There is also a third category of bank called the small banks. They are banks with equity of under $1 billion. There are no restrictions at all on the ownership of small banks. The hon. member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys could start a bank. It could go up to $1 billion with no restriction on ownership. He could give it away as a gift to one of his friends in Finland or wherever he wants. There are no rules or restrictions at all. We could have the bank of Tim Hortons across the country. There could be the bank of Safeway or Loblaws. The bank of Tim Hortons could be the biggest bank if it keeps on going the way it is.

There are no rules or regulations. It is totally unrestricted with regard to ownership. We are asking why there is this great change and this great difference between small, medium and large banks. This is of particular interest in the province of Quebec with la Banque Nationale.

Outside the wide ownership rule a second concern I have with the legislation as written is that far too much power is being given to the Minister of Finance. I see the parliamentary secretary across the way shaking his head. We have seen a disturbing trend for the last 20 or 30 years. More and more power is taken from the Parliament of Canada which represents the people of the country and put in the hands of the Minister of Finance, other ministers and in effect in many cases in the hands of senior bureaucrats. The parliamentary secretary can confirm that the Minister of Finance can change some of these ownership rules with the stroke of a pen without going back to parliament.

In effect the minister has become a banking czar who can determine many things such as whether or not, for example, a merger will go ahead. In the legislation there is now a process for mergers, but it is only a process for mergers.

It is the minister himself or herself, whoever that minister may be, who will make a decision about mergers in the future, whether it is a good merger or a bad merger, according to the process that is set in place. Why should that not be parliament? Why should it not be the finance committee that recommends to parliament whether or not a merger is good or bad for the people of this country? Why not democratize this institution and make meaningful the role of a member of parliament elected by the people? Yet, this power is concentrated in the hands of the Minister of Finance concerning mergers, acquisitions, ownership rules and many other things. In this bill of 900 pages, the power is with the new banking czar, the Minister of Finance.

Some Liberals across the way say that we have a very competent Minister of Finance. Even if we concede that, and that is very questionable because no human being should have that power, he will not be the Minister of Finance for much longer. There will soon be somebody else.

Do we want to give this kind of power to the member for Wild Rose, for example, if he becomes Minister of Finance, or to the member for Brandon—Souris if he becomes the Minister of Finance? That is what is written in the legislation. This bill is saying to hand power over to the Minister of Finance to make important decisions over mergers, acquisitions, ownership rules, regulations and so on.

Even when it comes to the banking ombudsman, the guidelines are not written. There have been memoranda of understanding. There will be all kinds of rules and regulations that are still being debated and decided by the Minister of Finance and sometimes not even recommended by the cabinet of this country.

We are going in the wrong direction in terms of the lack of power in the House of Commons and about authority being taken out of the House of Commons and transferred to the Minister of Finance and transferred to bureaucrats, however competent they may be. That power should be here in the House because we are responsible to the people and we are accountable every three, four or five years to the people in our ridings. That is where the power should reside.

I mentioned the consumer agencies. I think that in principle many of these agencies are going in the right direction. I do not think they have enough power or legislative clout to adequately protect consumers. Many of the rules and regulations are still being decided in terms of guidelines and the memorandum of understanding.

I referred already to mergers to a certain extent. We have in the bill the guidelines and the process as to what must happen when a merger occurs. These guidelines are common sense guidelines in terms of a public debate. We need a process where the details are revealed as to why the parties want to merge and the like. It is the Minister of Finance who has the power. It would be similar to what happened in 1998-99 when the TD and the CIBC wanted to merge and when the Royal Bank and the Bank of Montreal wanted to merge. It was the Minister of Finance after pressure from the public, instigated primarily by our party and our friends on the progressive side of the Canadian population, who started to make this an issue across the country.

In my last minute, there is nothing here to establish a community reinvestment act. There is nothing here that will prevent bank branch closures except the notice in the cities of four months or a notice in the rural areas of six months, but there is no empowerment of the community that would prevent a closure if that bank branch were profitable, so again it is a Mickey Mouse approach.

The final point is that there is nothing here in terms of taxes on banks. We all heard the news a while back where the Minister of Finance, because of current changes in the tax system based on 1999 profit levels, was giving the banks an extra tax cut of $500 million a year. These are the most profitable companies in the country and yet they are getting big tax cuts.

Financial Consumer Agency Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I have a comment concerning Bill C-38. First, let me congratulate the minister as well as his department on introducing legislation which will ensure competition as well as choice for consumers of financial services in Canada.

My point focuses on some of the comments made by the minister which now exist in the proposal dealing with MacKay task force recommendation 22.

The MacKay task force stated that further legislation should permit co-operative banks and other financial institutions to be chartered as new institutions with ownership and governance to be based on co-operative principles, subject to compliance with applicable provincial legislation. Provincial credit union and credit union centrals should be able to continue as co-operative banks under the Bank Act.

The House committee on finance as well as the Senate banking committee have both agreed with the task force recommendations. I understand that the bill already provides some additional flexibility as well as scope for the credit unions. I was quite encouraged to hear the minister stating that the Department of Finance is committed to continuing to work with the credit unions and co-operatives, so they can pursue more the co-operative bank model.

I look forward to working with the minister and the finance committee to see that the co-operative movement gets involved with this legislation as it passes through the legislative process. It is my hope that they will take into consideration their comments and their input.

Financial Consumer Agency Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Qu'Appelle, SK

Madam Speaker, I am sorry, I missed the last comment of the member for Ottawa Centre.

Financial Consumer Agency Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2000 / 1:50 p.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my hon. colleague who as usual gave a very profound address in terms of the nature of this omnibus legislation. He pointed out the reasons why we are concerned about a number of features, one which makes the Minister of Finance virtually a banking and financial czar of the country. As capable as he may be, this obviously causes Canadians some concern.

I have a question for the member. A number of American states have legislation that would require a bank that takes in deposits from a particular region to reinvest in that particular zone. In other words, if we take money from a particular region or community, we are obligated to write loans to benefit the businesses or people of the particular area. It is called the community reinvestment act.

I know my friend across the way is aware of the act. It is something we have been pushing for. The member mentioned in his presentation that it is absent from this legislation. Can he see any reason why it is absent? If not, is it something that the government ought to consider amending or perhaps we can assist by presenting an amendment later in the process ourselves?

Financial Consumer Agency Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, rest assured there will be an amendment for a community reinvestment act. There is no reason why we could not do what a number of American states are doing and require a bank to invest a certain amount of their portfolio in the region or the state or the area from where they get their funds from the ordinary people, which would lead to economic development in the particular area. It is called the community reinvestment act.

I do not know why it has not been done before. Maybe it is because the banks are big contributors to the Liberal Party. They are putting a lot of money into its campaign fund. I also notice that it is not just the Liberal Party any more. I noticed that the new leader of the Alliance, that Fred Flintstone on rollerblades, is having a fundraiser in Toronto very soon. They are charging $25,000 a table. Those tables will be bought by wealthy bankers, wealthy business executives and CEOs. That shows that the Reform Party, now the Alliance, has lost touch with its grassroots.

It is for those reasons that we do not have a community reinvestment act. The bankers contribute to the funds of the Liberal Party, and now the Alliance Party. They try to govern in the interests of the big bankers and the wealthy in this country. Imagine that, $25,000 a table. I can hardly believe what I read this morning in the Globe and Mail .

Financial Consumer Agency Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I know you were paying attention to my colleague's remarks, but I think he erred when he said that the Canadian Alliance was actually having a fundraiser where people were paying $2,500 for a table. Surely he must be wrong.

Financial Consumer Agency Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Twenty-five thousand.

Financial Consumer Agency Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. What we will do is have statements by members as there is only a minute left. When the hon. member reviews Hansard he will see what was truly said. I think I have ruled on the point of order.

Journalist Michel AugerStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, journalist Michel Auger of the Journal de Montréal and the Journal de Québec was attacked last Thursday. Immediately expressions of sympathy poured out across Canada in reaction to the horror of this attempted murder of an honest worker concerned with keeping the public properly informed.

Michel Auger was the victim of an act that makes no sense in a democratic society where the public has a right to information, where law prevails in fact.

My remarks are directed primarily at Mr. Auger to let him know of our support and our hope for his speedy recovery.

We wish you a quick recovery, Mr. Auger, in the assurance that you will be able to return to the job that you love and do with such love, professionalism and diligence.

The Canadian public hopes you may recover your health quickly. Your colleagues have continued to express their support for you since the attempt took place. You must no doubt find this very moving.

In our own way, we in parliament offer the same support. We wish you back among us very soon.

Grain TransportationStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, in June of this year the government passed Bill C-34, the new grain transportation legislation.

Since it came into effect on August 1 our grain transportation system has begun to crumble. Rail cars are not being delivered promptly because the Canadian Wheat Board continues to control and dictate to farmers and companies where the rail cars will be delivered. This is costing farmers money as they incur increased storage costs and are trucking their grain further distances.

As part of the new legislation, the Canadian Wheat Board is to tender 25% of its annual capacity. The wheat board put out its initial tender asking for 250,000 tonnes of grain. It received contracts for only 7% of their proposal. This tendering system is not working because the wheat board has too much control over grain transportation. Tendering agreements will only work if there is a completely commercial and contract based system.

The government is completely responsible for the loss of $300 million to farmers because of this flawed transportation system. Farmers have lost $300 million and something needs to be done right now.

Battle Of BritainStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I rise today to recognize the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, three months that now military strategists and historians have defined as one of the most important turning points in the second world war.

Yesterday at the Air Force Association of Canada's anniversary ceremony here in Ottawa, my father-in-law, Peter O'Brian, provided his observations based on his role as a Spitfire pilot serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was among many Canadians who heroically helped fight this vital victory for freedom.

During World War II, Winston Churchill's valiant and inspirational speeches brought people together to fight a common cause. It was 60 years ago that during the Battle of Britain, Churchill left a moving motto for humanity “to value freedom far above their lives”. In Churchill's words “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

The 60th anniversary provides an opportunity to thank the 99 Canadian pilots who took part in this historic air defensive and particular the less than a dozen who are still with us again—

Battle Of BritainStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis.

Journalist Michel AugerStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am certain I speak for my colleagues from all the parties in the House in expressing my revulsion at the attempt against journalist Michel Auger of the Journal de Montréal , which nearly cost him his life.

Of the most basic individual rights in a society, we defend zealously the freedoms of expression and of opinion guaranteed by the charters of rights of both Canada and Quebec.

No society can function freely when random violence and threats to human life interfere with our most cherished human freedoms, especially the freedom of expression.

We congratulate Mr. Auger on his great courage in the face of the threats he has received over the years and wish him a speedy and full recovery.

Eric LamazeStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the story of Eric Lamaze is a story of success and accomplishment rather than failure. His first exposure to cocaine was as a fetus. His mother was a cocaine addict and he was effectively a street kid from the beginning of his life. He has no father; his mother does not even know who his father is.

While there have been a few bumps in the road, through determination and hard work Eric Lamaze has overcome his disability. All the medical experts agree that his success is a miracle.

There were catastrophic circumstances surrounding his latest infraction which was put before an independent adjudicator, Professor Ratushny. No party at the hearing disputed the catastrophic circumstances surrounding the infraction. No party disputed the overwhelming medical evidence. The legal process ran its course and Professor Ratushny has agreed on the basis of all the evidence that Mr. Lamaze was not responsible for the catastrophic circumstances that led to his latest infraction. It is therefore no surprise that Professor Ratushny has reinstated Mr. Lamaze effective immediately without conditions.

I call upon the Canadian olympic—

Eric LamazeStatements By Members

2 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

Simon WhitfieldStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Gary Lunn Reform Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I stand to salute a proud young Canadian.

With incredible determination and stamina, Simon Whitfield won Canada's first gold medal in the 2000 Olympics in Australia and the first ever Olympic medal in triathlon.

Only 25 years of age and ranked 13th in the world, Simon swam 1.5 kilometres, biked 40 kilometres and ran 10 kilometres to win Olympic gold. He was in 28th place after the swim, 27th after biking and 1st at the finish line. I was awestruck as I watched him turn the final corner and unleash incredible energy to sprint past his opponent as the finish line came into sight.

The only thing greater than the energy he found to sprint into first place was his love for Canada. Simon was overcome with emotion as our national anthem was played and our flag was raised to the top in his honour.

On behalf of all Canadians, I salute a great young athlete. Simon, we are all very proud of you.

Toronto GarbageStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is a move afoot to ship Toronto's garbage to the Adams mine in Kirkland Lake. This concerns me greatly, not only because the mine and I share a name.

Even if the mine is watertight, which it is not, this is no solution for urban garbage. The only way to deal with garbage is to reduce, reuse and recycle it. Dumping garbage is like scratching a festering sore; it makes the problem worse. Putting garbage out of sight and out of mind makes the real problem, the production of garbage, even more difficult to deal with. In this case the extraordinary cost of shipping garbage to northern Ontario makes things worse.

I urge Toronto and the government of Ontario to reconsider this decision at least until metro becomes a national and international leader in recycling.

Journalist Jean V. DufresneStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, with the death of Jean V. Dufresne, Quebec has just lost one of its greatest journalists after a remarkable 45 year professional career with several newspapers, as well as on radio and television.

Once Jean V. Dufresne had carried out a careful investigation and checked his facts, he provided his readers with articles written in a finely honed language, always beautifully expressed, in a French of as fine a quality as it is possible to have.

He was self-taught, with a passion fuelled by his great curiosity, which gave him a very broad knowledge in a great variety of areas. When another journalistic great, René Lévesque, was at the start of his political career in 1960, he recognized Dufresne's talent and sought him out as his private secretary.

It did not take Jean V. Dufresne long, however, to return to journalism and to his cherished freedom. What was most important to him was to serve the public, and the means he chose was the essential democratic function of understanding and passing on that understanding, of informing people.

My sincere condolences to his family and friends.

Commemorative StampStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, on May 16, 2000 I wrote to Hon. André Ouellet, P.C., Q.C. to request that Canada Post create a stamp in recognition of the Armenian community's 1,700th anniversary of Christianity as a state religion.

I am proud to inform the House that Canada Post has officially announced that the stamp will be issued in 2001 to mark this important milestone in the history of the Canadian Armenian community.

Canada is the first country to issue such a stamp highlighting our government's commitment to inclusiveness and multiculturalism.

I thank the many ministers, members of parliament and members of the Canadian Armenian community who expressed their support for this stamp initiative by writing to me and to Canada Post. The beautiful stamp illustrating traditional Armenian religious art will be enjoyed by everyone around the world.

Airline IndustryStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, today is day 47. On August 3, Air Canada CEO Robert Milton made a 180 day commitment to improve customer satisfaction as a result of his chaotic merger with Canadian Airlines. He certainly has his work cut out for him.

For air travellers this has been a summer of discontent plagued by repeated cancellations, numerous delays, lost luggage, a reduction in service and a threatened pilots strike. Even the transport minister and his luggage arrived at different destinations.

It takes more than a glossy public relations campaign to fix what is wrong with Canada's airline industry. While the Canadian Alliance encourages Mr. Milton's initiatives, we are steadfast in our commitment to competition and fair business practices. On that note, I encourage the Competition Bureau to resolve the allegations of predatory pricing and unfair competition against Air Canada.

I call on the transport committee to invite Mr. Milton to appear at the end of his 180 day campaign to present his progress to Canadians through their elective representatives. Then Canadians can present their verdict.

2000 Olympic GamesStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, together with all residents of my riding of Oak Ridges I want to wish all our athletes at the Olympic Games in Sydney good luck and best wishes for success.

I know that these members of our Olympic team will represent Canada and their hometowns with pride: Garret Pulle of Markham in the 4x100 metre freestyle; Rob Rusnov of Richmond Hill in archery; Carl Georgevski, an assistant coach in athletics; Tammy Sutton-Brown of Markham in basketball; John Pearce of Stouffville in the equestrian events of team and individual jumping, backed up by the efforts of Donna Peacock, a groom from Stouffville; Mathieu Turgeon of Unionville on the trampoline; and Colleen Smith of Markham in softball. I know they will be aiming for personal bests and giving their best efforts in the first games of the new millennium.

Australian athletes are certainly benefiting from performing in front of their home crowds. I hope we can look forward to the same benefit if Toronto succeeds in hosting the 2008 Olympic Games.

Fuel CostsStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Louise Hardy NDP Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, winter is coming and soaring fuel costs mean that Canadians spend more money on energy and transportation than on food and clothing combined. In northern Canada one community has been forced to lay off staff in order to pay for heating fuel. Transportation has always been expensive in the north but with rising fuel costs it will become impossible.

The Liberal government no longer regulates energy prices or even monitors gasoline prices. This allows unaccountable oil companies to set prices with no concern for the hardship they inflict. In an emergency resolution, the NDP federal council called on the Government of Canada to ensure that the cost of home heating, transportation and electricity remain affordable for all Canadians.

I would like to take a moment to welcome a page from the Yukon, Jamie Furniss. His mom phoned and asked us to welcome him.