moved that Bill C-8, an act to establish the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada and to amend certain acts in relation to financial institutions. be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, as everyone knows, Bill C-8 is a major bill, over 900 pages in length. It is, I believe, the biggest ever placed before the House. It is the outcome of a great deal of work and consultation in all sectors, including consumers and the members of the House of Commons. In fact, the latter had already seen this bill during the last parliament. At that time it was called Bill C-38.
With it, we aim to reform the strategic framework of the Canadian financial services sector, which comprises Canadian and foreign banks, trust companies, insurance companies, co-operative credit associations and other financial institutions. We have proposed a few minor changes to Bill C-38.
In essence this is the very same bill but with technical, grammatical and editorial improvements, as well as some clarifications where stakeholders identified points of confusion about the intent or application of the policies.
For example, the Canadian Bankers Association pointed out that under Bill C-38 it was unclear whether new financial sector holding companies could hold portfolio investments. The fact is that this is allowed and is now clearly stated. I thank the Canadian Bankers Association for its incredibly valuable input in the new bill, as well as that of all other industry and consumer driven stakeholder associations.
There can be no doubt that Canada's financial services sector is critical to us. It is critical as an industry, one of the truly great industries of the country, employing over 500,000 Canadians directly. It is highly export oriented, with more than 50% of the revenue from the insurers and the banks coming in from abroad. Most of the global taxes are paid in Canada, over 80%, and close to 90% of their global employees are in Canada. If we set out to devise through an industrial policy an industry that would be ideal for Canada, we could probably find none better than our financial services sector.
It is also important to us for the role it plays in our society and in our economy. After all, without financial intermediation, the capacity to deposit and withdraw funds, and to send funds around the world, where would we as individuals and our businesses be?
When we go abroad we find in many parts of the world that Canadian financial institutions are predominant in those foreign markets, giving a role of leadership not only to foreigners but also Canadians who want to do business in particular foreign jurisdictions. We have an important responsibility, therefore, to maintain the health and the vigour of this great industry.
Because they operate within a legislative framework determined by parliament it is essential that we have ongoing reviews of financial services legislation. This is probably the most extensive review that has ever been undertaken.
As a result of an extensive consultation going back to the MacKay task force which reported to parliament, the finance committee of the House and the Senate banking committee held extensive public hearings and reported back to us.
The minister then tabled before the House a white paper in June 1999, which again allowed for extensive consultation and input from all stakeholders. The bill was finally tabled last June as Bill C-38 and but for the election I am sure would have been law today. We are back to do the job, which is the culmination of all this great input.
There are four major themes in the bill. The first is encouraging the flexibility of our financial services both domestically and globally. To do so we have put in place a number of options and facilitating devices.
The first and probably most important is the holding company option. This means that our institutions will be able to compete in Canada with the foreign monolines such as credit card and lending companies that are coming here in an unregulated manner. We will give them that level playing field. It will also give them flexibility in the way they structure their Canadian and global operations.
The second point in terms of flexibility is that we are allowing a change in the ownership rules. This means that any shareholder, which under the current law would be limited to 10%, could go up to 20% of equity or 30% of non-voting shares. This is to give our institutions the flexibility to enter into strategic alliances and joint ventures with other institutions here and around the world.
The third area where we are helping them compete better is with respect to the merger review process. We have set out in the guidelines a process which must be followed for the major banks to enter into a merger.
This will offer certainty of process. At the same time it envisages hearings before both the Senate banking committee and the House of Commons finance committee. There is a great opportunity for public input because the final decision on mergers rests with the minister. He and Canadians must be convinced that any merger which takes place is in the best interest of all Canadians.
The second major thrust of the legislation is to encourage domestic competition in Canada. The reason for this is that we believe our customers are best served where there is vigorous competition in the marketplace.
How are we doing this? We want it to be easier for people to set up smaller banks or community based banks. This is why we are lowering the minimum capital that a bank must have or an institution must have from $10 million to $5 million. We think this will lead to new types of community banks.
We are also seeing under the evolution of this sector new banks associated with retailing institutions such as President's Choice Financial, a relationship between the Loblaws companies and CIBC which does their backroom work on a contract basis. This is a bank which now has over 400,000 customers and over $2 billion in assets.
Another way we are facilitating competition is with the new three tier size based ownership regime. If the equity is under $1 billion it can be wholly owned. Again this will help new banks to get established.
If the new size based ownership regime is between $1 billion and $5 billion, up to 65% of the shares can be owned or controlled by one shareholder and the rest must be the subject of a public float on the market. If the equity is over $5 billion, such as with our major banks and demutualized insurance companies, the rule is that these institutions should be widely held.
We are seeing new measures to encourage domestic competition with respect to credit unions, particularly those outside Quebec which do not have significant size and therefore economies of scale and are thus facing higher costs of operating and serving their customers who are also the owners of these unique community based institutions.
We have worked very closely with the credit union movement to help give them greater competitiveness. This is why, working with them, we have come up with an entity called a national service entity. This would allow them to combine to get economies of scale. It would enable them, for example, to issue a common credit card, and they could roll out new service offerings across provincial borders. This is a major step forward.
I will say a brief word about co-operative banks. This was a very important consideration brought forward by the MacKay committee and endorsed by the committees of the House and the other place. We have been working with the credit union movement to find out exactly what type of co-operative bank legislation should be brought forward. Unfortunately, the big group with whom we were working fell away from this project, but we have continued to study it and we will continue to study it, running on a parallel basis to Bill C-8. When the model is in place we will issue it and we will have extensive consultations, because we know there are provincial concerns and there are concerns within the credit union movement. We will subject that new measure to the same type of extensive input from the communities, the industries and the consumer groups, so that when we do come forward with the legislation it will meet the needs as expected.
A fourth way in which we are encouraging domestic competition here in Canada is through the entry of foreign banks via branches. This legislation was in place a couple of years ago, again as a result of extensive consultation, but we have enhanced it in this legislation to bring the foreign banking regime in Canada up to a level playing field with Canadian institutions, again requiring amendments in the legislation.
A fifth way in which we are encouraging domestic competition for the benefit of consumers is by opening up to the payment system the operations of life insurers, security dealers and money market mutual funds. This means that these new institutions would be able to have funds of a customer on hand and the customer would be able to exercise chequing privileges on that account, again enhancing competition.
The third major heading under this bill is the protection of customers. We think customers are best protected under any regime where there is maximum competition, so I have outlined what the government is doing in terms of enhancing competition. However, even with competition we have found in the past that there were those who remained unbanked; basic financial services were not available to them. This is why the government has taken measures under the heading of access. We are ensuring that Canadians have access to the financial services they need. We have introduced measures which would require the opening of accounts with a minimum amount of ID. Past credit or employment history, provided there is no fraud, would not be a bar to cashing government cheques.
As well, I have recently entered into a memorandum of understanding, a signed agreement, with eight of the large deposit taking institutions, which would make basic bank accounts available for Canadians. They are not all the same. This is not a cookie cutter, because we believe that competition will benefit consumers. However, each institution has come up with its own basic account with a minimum number of transactions, be they in person or via the Internet.
The costs are set forth and range among the five from $2.95 to $4 a month. We are making sure that those who can least afford it have access to the basic banking they need to get off welfare, to be able to deposit that cheque so it is safe and secure, and to pay their bills, including rent. This is important because, really, it is almost impossible to get off welfare if one does not have access to this type of basic banking.
As well, we have put in place rules for the closure of bank branches because that could be another way that access to basic services might be denied. We do not treat the banks as utilities; what we have said is that if they want to close a branch, that is their business decision. We are not going to force them to operate branches that are not profitable. That would undermine the strength of our financial services sector. However, what we have said is that they have to give notice. If the branch is in an urban area, they must give four months' notice so people can make alternative arrangements. If the branch is in a rural or less populated area, they must give six months' notice. This is so the community itself can find alternatives for the provision of these basic banking services.
Some of the alternatives will come from other institutions. With the closure of many branches in some of the western provinces, we have seen how provincial credit unions have come in and bought up those branches, at the same time ensuring ongoing employment to all of the employees who otherwise would have been affected. This is one of the virtues of giving notice. The federal government is also prepared to play a role in remote communities. Perhaps the post office could be the place people could look to for basic banking.
Another area where we have had the views and interests of consumers in mind is the financial consumer agency of Canada. Right now there are three federal departments in Ottawa that deal with enforcing our laws as they relate to consumers: Industry Canada, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions and the finance department itself. We are putting all of these operations under one roof. There will be savings in the costs of administration in so doing. It will be much more effective and efficient. We think this is a step forward for consumers.
We have had in place for a number of years the Canadian banking ombudsman. In this bill we are trying to expand the role of the Canadian banking ombudsman so that it covers all financial institutions. In an era of conglomeration where different types of financial institutions, such as banks, insurers and trust companies, are coming under the same ownership and the same roof, we think consumers would be better served if they could go to one dispute resolution centre for all their disputes regarding financial services, as opposed to having to find different ones depending upon what type of financial service they are having difficulties with. We also believe that the financial institutions sector will be better served by having this type of single dispute resolution centre.
Of course under the constitution we cannot mandate that entities which are not owned by banks have to come to this centre. That is why we have undertaken to work in very close co-operation with the joint forum of financial regulators from the provinces to find a way to bring together the disparate dispute resolution mechanisms aimed at helping consumers today. We welcome the efforts undertaken by Dina Palozzi of the Financial Services Commission of Ontario and Doug Hyndman from the British Columbia Securities Commission, who are heading up this task force which also has representation from the federal government.
The fourth major thrust of the bill is to ensure that on an ongoing basis we have responsible but responsive regulation of the sector. Of course safety and soundness have to be number one. That is why the bill has a number of measures which give enhanced powers to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions to intervene where there are difficulties, to remove directors if necessary and to impose fines where there is blatant disregard of our regulatory regime.
At the same time we want to ease the regulatory burden. This is why we are streamlining the approval system. Many approvals would be done on an exception basis: a request for an approval, if it goes to OSFI and is not denied within 30 days, would be deemed automatically passed.
It is critical as we go ahead that we have in place an evolving, dynamic regulatory regime, because we are seeing incredible changes with globalization, with exploding technology, with conglomeration and with consolidation, all of it taking place on a global basis. Our regulatory regime must be capable of keeping up with this. That is why in Bill C-8 we have reserved to the minister many areas of ministerial discretion. If it were there in black and white law, it would require an act of the House to change it. That is why we want, in many areas, to have this ministerial discretion.
As a minimum, within five years this law will sunset, again triggering, I hope, vigorous debate, with a telescope on the future looking at where the sector is heading, but because the changes in this industry and sector are so dynamic and so global, we cannot predict where they are going to be. We cannot predict what types of countermoves or accommodating moves we must make in order to ensure that we have a dynamic, competitive sector helping our consumers and competing globally. This is why we are committed as a government to reviewing the bill, not just five years from now but at any time sooner should it be necessary to do so, and then making the necessary changes.
In conclusion, I thank the stakeholders, the institutions, the financial sector, consumers' groups, members of this House and members of the other House. I particularly thank finance officials who have worked so assiduously on this, as well as those in OSFI and the other institutions, for bringing the bill to fruition in what I believe is a very responsible and critical way. Because the bill has had input from so many, I believe that it behooves us as parliamentarians to give it serious consideration. Because we have already had the input, I ask that it receive speedy passage. I would hope that it goes from this Chamber as quickly as possible into committee, where the real detailed work can be done and the witnesses can be heard.