Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to continue my speech, which I began before question period today.
I also thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving us the privilege of debating the issue of agriculture. I commend the member from the Progressive Conservative Party for once again raising that issue. It is an issue which is very important to all of us who are representing ridings that have a fair number of farmers in them. We look forward to that debate tomorrow evening.
To continue with our debate on Bill C-8, the act to establish the financial consumer agency of Canada, before we were interrupted I was talking about some of the issues that are dealt with in the bill. As I indicated, we are mostly interested in supporting the bill. It is a bill that is long overdue. If anything, we should probably chastise the Liberal government for not acting more quickly.
One of the things in the bill that I consider to be very important is that it does provide for more competition. I have observed over the years that not only myself personally but many of my friends and, since I became a member of parliament, a number of my constituents, appreciate having a choice.
We have had quite a bit of discussion about airlines lately, about the fact that with less competition we seem to be getting lower service levels from Air Canada. It would be wonderful if we had a very strong, viable competitor, because that would mean we would then get better service as consumers.
The same thing is true in the banking industry. It has happened to me more than once in my life that I have been displeased with the way I was mistreated by the banks on certain particular issues. I had, in every instance, the option of saying to that bank “I am out of here, you are done” and saying that I was not accepting its low level of service and the way it treated me. I did that. I will not mention the specific banks. I have dealt with several. I have always appreciated the opportunity to go to a competitor.
It just so happens that I have now been a member of the credit union in my community for a large number of years. I should not use this venue to advertise for the credit unions, but I am glad that this legislation will provide a greater ability for credit unions to offer good competition to the banks. I have found the credit unions very responsive to the needs of their members. That is because instead of being owned by big investors somewhere, they are actually owned by the people who bank there. We have membership meetings. We have shareholders' meetings, and we can go to them, listen to the reports and put forward motions. We can make suggestions to the board of directors, which usually tries to respond to them. Sometimes, of course, they cannot because of various restrictions being put on them.
I like the fact that in Bill C-8 there is more opportunity for competition. The rules for starting up new banks have been made more favourable. The requirement that a group now needs to have only $5 billion capital in order to start up, as opposed to the previous $10 billion, is a good forward move. There is a reduction in the requirement to have 75% of the board of directors be Canadian. That is reduced to 66%. That is a good move because it permits people from other countries to participate as well in establishing competitive banks in this country. I believe that can only help our own domestic banks to provide better service.
There is also, of course, a better and a more transparent process for merging existing banks. We support in general the legislation that is being proposed on that account.
There is also an improvement to consumer protection in the bill. One of the things we struggle with as members of parliament is what happens when a constituent comes to our office with a complaint against a specific bank. There are some cases that are very difficult to deal with. There are some that are impossible as they are legal matters and we cannot deal with them. Sometimes we find that just being able to show support for the person to the bank or the banking ombudsman helps to get these problems solved.
The new legislation in Bill C-8 requires that all banks and financial institutions have in place complaint procedures. In other words, they cannot just do this on an ad hoc basis. They must actually come up with a formal procedure for dealing with complaints, which must be reported to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions and is subject to review.
There is a very good consumer protection change in the bill which has to do with the Canada deposit insurance. Until this bill is passed, banks are required to hold insurable deposits. That is now being changed so that the banks themselves will be insured institutions, so I believe that in general there is greater protection for consumers and for depositors.
There is also better access to the access to payments system. This is a great improvement. There are a lot of financial institutions that are not banks but transfer great amounts of money to Canadian citizens, for example, investment firms, life insurance firms and so on. With their ability to access the payments system there is better service for consumers at a lower cost, because it basically cuts out one of the middlemen in the transaction. Giving access to the insurance companies, trust companies and others means that they can actually set it up so that they can transfer money directly into recipients' accounts, on an annuity, for example, without having to go through the bank, thereby saving money. It should be a more reliable and efficient service. We support that move.
Insurance companies are a vital part of our financial base in the country. They are important. They are one of the pillars of the financial structure. I am sure that essentially everyone in the House and, I would hope, everyone listening on TV or hearing this later on, will take the time to make sure that they have insurance in place. It is a very important thing to protect families and others. Here again, Bill C-8 provides for a more equitable system for establishing new insurance companies. There are lower capital requirements, which hopefully will increase the amount of competition and thereby improve service for Canadians.
Finally, there are some other protections for consumers in the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.
All in all, this bill is worthy of our support. We should probably make sure that it gets to the finance committee as quickly as possible. Hopefully, interested people who have identified some amendments they would like to see included in this 900 page document will appear before the committee and show us, chapter and verse, what needs to be amended. We as a committee will then consider that and hopefully the outcome will be a new structuring of financial institutions in Canada, which will make them strong in the long run, give us great financial stability in the country and make us a major competitor in world markets.