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House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was banks.

Topics

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The matter raised by the right hon. member for Calgary Centre of course is one that occurs when two members rise at the same time seeking the floor and in fact the Chair recognizes one and then the appeal is made as the case is now.

However I am satisfied that when I originally asked to resume debate, that I had granted the floor to the hon. member for London West prior to the point of order raised regarding the question of how much time in was to be added, whether it was a few minutes or unlimited. The Chair feels it quite appropriate in giving the opportunity to the member for London West to make her intervention.

On a point of order, the right hon. member for Calgary Centre.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, with the greatest regret and respect, the hon. member for London West had not begun speaking. There was an intervention raised by the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot immediately. The Chair recognized the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot. In my view there had not been a decision made by the Chair.

Again, I am bound to follow the ruling of the Chair but there is clearly a right in the House to move the motion of the kind that I did when a place has not been ceded to a particular member of Parliament. I would hope that there might at least be the opportunity for the House to be heard on that matter in the normal way.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Respectfully to the right hon. member for Calgary Centre, the Chair has made a ruling, the Chair stands by its ruling and the floor goes to the hon. member for London West.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would be very interested in hearing from my colleagues on the finance committee and other colleagues in the House on this issue.

Like others, I was a little surprised today to see that we would be dealing with this matter. As chair of the finance committee and as one of my duties in the House, I know very well that all members of the finance committee asked that the government respond to their report “Large Bank Mergers in Canada: Safeguarding the Public Interest for Canadians and Canadian Businesses”. We tabled that in this chamber in early March and asked for a 90 day response from the government, which should be coming toward the end of June. We are awaiting that response at this point. Therefore, it is a bit unusual to move a motion for concurrence before the government has had a chance to respond.

It is quite a pleasure to talk to people in the House about the work of the committee on this issue. Many Canadians have not had the chance to hear from some of the hon. members, my colleagues. All parties did very good work on this study. All 18 of the members from the committee, from all five elected parties in the House, worked very hard and diligently throughout this many month process.

Not only did the members work hard but we were assisted by three parliamentary researchers and our clerks, both procedural and legislative. We posted all our testimony, which was done throughout the hearings for Canadians, on our finance committee website, as well as the report in a bilingual manner.

How did the report come into being? In October of 2002 the Minister of Finance and the Secretary of State for International Financial Institutions wrote to both the Senate Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance asking for their views on the major considerations that should apply in determining the public interest with respect to large bank mergers. After we had done previous legislation in this area, some merger review guidelines were issued, applicable to proposed mergers of Canadian banks, those with more than $5 billion in equity.

Some stakeholders had suggested, apparently, that the public interest test needed greater clarity. There were four specific areas that the letter asked us to address: first, the access of Canadians in all regions to convenient and quality financial services, with special attention to the disabled, low income individuals and rural communities; second, the choice among financial service providers and the availability of financing for businesses, particularly for small businesses and Canadians in general; third, the creation of long term growth prospects for Canada through more effective Canadian based internationally competitive institutions; and fourth, any adjustment or transition issues, including the treatment of employees. These were pretty important areas for us to dialogue about.

When the letter was received, fortunately the committee was involved in our prebudget consultation process. Consequently, even though we chose our witnesses in early December, after tabling our prebudget report, we had one piece of legislation with which to deal.

Thus we started listening to witnesses and we heard a wide variety of witnesses. In fact we heard 46 individuals who represented 29 organizations by the time the committee concluded its hearings in early February. Also, we received briefs from an additional 21 groups or individuals. That testimony covered a range from one extreme to the other, and there are parties in the House that do represent one extreme to the other.

For me as chair, the pleasure at the end of the report is seeing the degree of consensus with four of the House parties. This is something not very common and certainly something that was achieved only by taking the time to discuss, throw out ideas and figure out what were the really important areas on which the committee should focus. In fact during the study of the merger guidelines and public interest, we came to conclude that OSFI and the competition bureau, which also had roles in this process, were very competent in these roles, in the committee's opinion, and that we should not tread into those areas that were already covered by these institutions.

Our 11 recommendations mainly focused on the gap between where these various bodies would make their report to the Minister of Finance.

The report was fully endorsed by the official opposition, the Canadian Alliance Party, and we worked very well together in committee to get to the interests of Canadians as opposed to the partisan interests of the parties, and I respect that.

The supplementary opinions were provided by the Bloc Quebecois and the Progressive Conservative Party. Again, I was very impressed how these members worked to get the agreement on the main body of the report with a couple of pages of supplementary on additional points that those two parties wished to push for discussion.

The party bringing this debate today is the New Democratic Party. It is the only party submitting the lone dissenting opinion, as is its right. It represents some people and a percentage of Canadians who hold a different view. That is fine in a democracy and that is fine to debate in a chamber of this nature where we are free to debate.

However four out of five parties in the House reaching a consensus on the main points of the body was important. If we had not taken the time, we would have potentially had more dissenting or supplementary reports.

We began our work with the premise that the reality of mergers by large Canadian banks, and I quote here, “are legitimate business strategies for growth and success”. We examined not whether large bank mergers should or should not be allowed, but rather the public interest aspect and consideration that should exist with respect to mergers by large banks in Canada.

As my colleagues have stated, although most of the committee's recommendations focused on the issues of access and long term growth for Canada, the committee did make recommendations concerning the process itself.

I would like to state that members of the committee, as a whole, believe that regulation of the banking sector is both appropriate and necessary. However we did caution that it must be the correct level and type of regulation. As we developed recommendations, we were very mindful in our discussions of the need to avoid being overly prescriptive. That is why I believe in the end, as the recommendations were reached, we did not have numbers or percentages, but came to the conclusion that this might constrain the business plans of any banks, and who would know which institutions would choose to move forward together in their plans or their ideas. We wanted to provide guidance but without a micromanaging constraint.

We highlighted those areas of concern, those areas that we thought the Canadian public and the engines of our growth, the small businesses in Canada, may be particularly concerned with, whether they were concerned from their own capital needs priority, or the needs of employees or the needs of the people accessing full service banking in their location. At the end of the day, when we made our recommendations, we did not add any new tests. We did not create a new stepladder. We came out saying that we wanted to allow flexibility and, as I say, ensure that the public interest was the theme.

Right now merger proposals by large Canadian banks continue to be subject to a three level review that currently exists. We know the Competition Bureau and the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions are there to do their work. Their report at the end of the day goes to the finance minister. Right now the guidelines allow for both the Senate and the House to have a committee review, although In report that was tabled in the other place, the members of its committee decided that if their wishes were followed, they would not want to be part of a further review process.

The minister comes back on behalf of the government to tell us his choice for a process. After that, we know that information: whether the Senate will stay out of this process or whether it will step back into it. That will be quite interesting.

We were concerned that Canadians and Canadian businesses would have access to reasonably priced services in all regions of Canada, to a range of service providers offering a range of services, and to employment transition measures and high quality jobs. These are all very important areas that have to be addressed. If a bank wishes to merge, the reality of these issues will be there for consideration.

The committee in its recommendation said that a merger applicant should be able to provide at least an equivalent level and range of services to all Canadians before and after a merger. We put some caveats on this having regard to the effects of technological change and changing consumer requirements over the years.

However technology will not do it for full service banking for probably another decade. Therefore, although many of us use the technology, it is not accessible to everybody at this point in time and we are in a transition time.

We have to realize that sometimes the results of a competition analysis says that in any given merger there would have to be divestiture. Obviously the legal requirements that are needed have to be understood. Sometimes there will not be that complete equivalency if somebody has to divest part of their business operations.

We asked in our recommendation to be advised how the merger applicants would demonstrate to us the manner in which the merged entity would increase access to capital for such businesses, the small enterprises in this land. At the end of the day maybe their answer will be that they will not do that. That would then be part of the assessment for whoever was doing the assessment. What we asked for was not necessarily the guarantees but the information.

We believe that retail financial services at comparable or lower prices on balance in a transition period of perhaps up to three years should be available. We again tried not to be overly prescriptive but to signal this area of concern so that banks would know the areas of discomfort. Again, we are not micro-managing. We know in the past that the competition bureau has assessed some situations where services and the hours of operation have increased but in some situations individual prices rose. It is an on balance assessment.

We were concerned, as a committee, about rural and remote areas of the country. We received evidence that credit unions and medium sized financial institutions could fill the gaps, especially if a bank had closed the branch. The reality is that banks are closing branches throughout the country. I believe almost 1,000 bank branches have been closed in the last little while, and that is without a merger situation. Hon. members should remember that banks have the right to close branches as long as they follow the rules and give the appropriate notices.

However what we were asking for in our recommendation was that the merger applicants outline the manner in which the merged entity would ensure service to the rural and remote communities where they were providing financial services at the time of a merger application. Some people, the media in particular I might add, thought that meant guarantees. I am not sure if that was what the committee was looking toward. I think it was looking for information. For all the committee knows, in certain situations there could be a credit union, an ATM or a full service automatic situation coming in, or a part number of days of the week full service banking would be provided to an area.

It was a very dynamic situation inside the committee. We know there are domestic and foreign based medium sized banks anxious to grow in the country. We know some of the players have an interest in purchasing branches that might be divested as a result of a merger by large Canadian banks.

We also heard that they were still encountering barriers. Some of our recommendations, especially with respect to credit unions, addressed that where it was within the federal jurisdiction, because credit unions, for instance, are primarily a provincial regulation, we should remove the barriers that we could at this level.

There was also a belief that some of these growths or the emergence of credit unions or other international banks would become more prevalent with or without the merger process. A big concern was access or employment transition measures. It was a concern, not only to the members of the committee and members from all the parties, but also to many of our witnesses.

Since one of the usual consequences flowing from most merger and acquisition activities, regardless of the sector, is job loss, as job duplications are rationalized or eliminated, one of our recommendations was, to the greatest extent possible, that job losses should be minimized, that training, relocation and out-placement counselling should be provided, that employment reductions be accommodated mainly through attrition and early retirement incentives and, where it came down to an involuntary job loss, that compensation in such an event should be consistent with that provided by other financial service providers in similar circumstances.

For instance, we would not want to see the hollowing out of all those thousands of jobs even in downtown Toronto. I know there is sometimes no love for downtown Toronto but in reality there are thousands of employees affected, not only in the rural and remote areas, but also in our large urban centres, especially where the financial services sector is prevalent.

We must also be concerned that high quality jobs remain in the country. As a committee we discussed in our report that Canada's large banks must make every effort to ensure that employment growth occurs and that this growth involves a creation of jobs for Canadians with desirable compensation packages, and that they optimize their head office and executive activities and high quality employment opportunities in Canada. I must say that the committee members on the whole did not think this would be difficult for these entities to do.

The second part of the report very much talked about the long term growth for Canada. Comments were made about issues of international competitiveness, shareholder value and the health of the financial services sector. I think it should be stated and restated that Canada enjoys a healthy financial services sector, one that we know from the testimony of our large banks that they wish to grow by making inroads into international markets.

The committee made some comments about how a merger situation would benefit the domestic market at the same time as enhancing international competitiveness. This would be different depending on the merger applicants who came at the appropriate time and over time. It would be different if we were talking about a first merger or a second merger scenario. Who knows? I certainly do not. I do not have any special knowledge of what the future holds in this area. All I know is that we discussed in very great detail and very comprehensively those concerns of financial success by our financial services sector, if only for the benefit of all the shareholders, tens of thousands of Canadians who, through their pension plans or ownership of shares, want to ensure that the country's financial services are successful.

We were aided again by OSFI, the Competition Bureau, an oversight by the finance minister at the end of the day, who in the current guidelines would have to have the final decision in this situation.

I might add that when this report was prepared cross pillar mergers were not being talked about in the media. We were not asked to study it. The committee chose its witnesses for their expertise on the study that we were doing and on which we have confined our recommendations.

However that is not to say that at some future date people who have an interest in this may or may not do it. What I am saying is that this report does not deal with it and I know the report in the other place does not deal with it.

However I want to thank all members from all parties. It was a pleasure to be the chair and to have these members work so hard to do their work in a co-operative way. We do not always agree on every issue but we are respectful in the finance committee. As a chair, the level of consensus, four out of five parties agreeing to the main precincts of the report, is testimony to all our efforts cooperatively.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member a question about the report on bank mergers. Over 10 million individual Canadians own shares in various banks across the whole country. I have heard a number of colleagues, although I do not sit on the committee, express concerns with the quality of this report.

If the committee members were so interested in individual Canadians, could the member tell us why this report does absolutely nothing to address the 10 million Canadian shareholders who own shares in the various Canadian banks?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I advise my colleague to read the report and maybe he will find his answers. The report does talk about shareholder value.

As he knows, one of the vice-chairs was, not supplemental, but in full concurrence with the body of the report. Perhaps he could have that discussion with his own colleague in his own party.

I also would like to say that 30 million people live in this country and not everyone owns a bank share.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the chairperson of the finance committee a question pertaining to the committee report since it touches on an issue that is very close to the people in my constituency of Winnipeg North Centre. My riding has been hit with 10 bank branch closures since 1995. In fact, a few short weeks ago my constituency received notice from the very last bank in the entire north end of Winnipeg that it was closing its doors on August 22. Needless to say, this has left an entire community high and dry without access to personalized financial banking services. This is an area with a high population of seniors. Many people live on subsistence level wages and in poverty. These people need to be able to walk to a bank or to access public transportation to get to a bank and they need personalized services.

It is absolutely clear that the banks have been busy closing branches as they set the stage for the government to allow for mergers.

This is an issue that is directly related to the finance committee's report and one that demands government response. The new provisions under the Bank Act, which are supposed to protect consumers, are meaningless. They are a toothless wonder. All they do is require banks to give four months notice. There is nothing that compels a bank to consult with the community.

The CIBC, which will be closing the last bank in Winnipeg's north end, did not consult with the community. It did not have the nerve, the gall, the will, the belief to actually pick up the phone, talk to local businesses, local agencies and resident associations to find out what the impact would be. It will simply pick up and leave town, leaving the community high and dry.

Someone has to stand up to this kind of unilateral arbitrary action. I would suggest that it is the Government of Canada that ought to call the banks to account and ought to require some investment in our communities after 100 years of loyalty. The CIBC has been in my community of Winnipeg for 100 years. The people in my community have been loyal customers of that bank. They have helped the bank achieve its level of profitability. What happens at the end of the day when the profits are not big enough for the bank? It simply pulls up, leaves town and forgets the community. That has to stop.

I would ask the member, the chairperson of the finance committee, how her report and her government's actions address that critical situation.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to welcome the member as the newest member of our finance committee. I am sure over time there will be great contributions from the member. At the same time I thank the outgoing member, who brought forward this motion today, for his work over the years on the finance committee.

In reality the member has answered her own question. Banks have the ability to close branches separate and apart from the merger situation. We were looking at those sections to make sure that we were not contravening the existing law as we came to make our recommendations. There are provisions for closures, as the member knows. I mentioned that in my own remarks.

The report was about the procedures, the situation and the public interest on a merger situation. There are laws in place. The member has outlined what is happening in the country. We said in the report that when we have mergers, we are concerned. That is why we have a recommendation specifically on that point saying that merger applicants outline the manner in which the merged entity would ensure service to rural and remote communities where they are providing financial services at the time of the merger application. It is legal for a bank at this point to do that. Whether it is in the best interest of the community is an issue with the bank.

I think it is part of our jobs as representatives in each of our communities to have those discussions. That has gone on. I have been involved in certain discussions when it has affected my community. I will continue to be involved when it is appropriate to make sure that Canadians get the services.

There is a concern in the government. I am not speaking on behalf of the government but I am speaking on behalf of the committee which showed that it had concern specifically for this interest.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the response of the chairperson of the finance committee. I realize that she cannot speak for the government and may feel that she in her own right is working the same way I am working, on behalf of constituents who have been disenfranchised from banking services.

However, it was that government that introduced changes to the Bank Act. It was that government that promised to address the concerns of consumers. Yet at every step of the way, the government has refused serious propositions, amendments and suggestions to make the Bank Act reflect those concerns and give it the teeth it needs to deal with this kind of arbitrary, unilateral action on the part of the big banks.

The big banks fall under the jurisdiction of the government. They have obligations that other institutions and corporations do not have. The government should have and does have the ability to call those banks to task. We believe it has that ability now. It would have been better if the Bank Act had some tougher aspects, if the financial consumer agency had some teeth to force the banks to consult with the public before closing a bank, even if it is the last bank in a community.

I would suggest that the government resisted those amendments. Now it refuses to stand up to the big banks to say that there must be some accountability and some reinvestment in the communities that have been loyal.

What are the member's intentions to ensure that the government takes those kinds of necessary steps, holds the banks to account and helps communities have reasonable access to personalized banking services?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is a divergence of opinion in the country on what is reasonable. Over time that also will change as the demographics of the country change, as the needs of consumers change and as we get more technology.

We have to realize that the report talked about a merger process. The report was focused on what was the public impact, what was the public interest. We will leave it to those very competent agencies out there to protect the prudential issues, to make sure that we have safe banking. Thankfully we do not see banks in this country falling down and disappearing. We have very good quality banks and we want them in the communities. I understand the member's point.

I am looking forward, as are other members in the House, to the government's response to the report. I hope that we will get that in the 90-day period requested, which should come toward the end of June.

PrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Bonwick Liberal Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, what I am rising on today, with somewhat of a heavy heart, is a question of privilege on which I would ask you to rule.

After a two year review of the state of the Canadian broadcasting industry, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage has just finalized a report that will be presented to the House shortly. At the conclusion of our hearings, I determined that although I agreed with much of the report and certainly recognized the incredible efforts on behalf of the members of that committee, there were a few specific areas that I felt needed to be expanded upon.

Despite my efforts at committee to incorporate those perspectives within the report, I was not successful. Having spent a year and a half sitting at that table, I felt it was important that those views, which I have collected by way of witnesses and people who have met with me, be presented as part of the overall report. I therefore explored what other options were available to me.

I was informed that as a parliamentarian and a member of the committee, I was entitled to submit a supplementary opinion if I wished to do so. I did. I did so in such a way that I believe it was actually complementary to the committee report. It expanded on some of the issues.

From a timeline perspective, the committee determined that the last day to file the supplementary opinions was on May 12, 2003. Due to extenuating circumstances, two of the opposition parties informed the clerk that they were having challenges finishing their supplementary dissenting opinions by the May 12 deadline and asked if they could explore an extension of time. The clerk, as I understand it, then contacted the printing department, because timeliness is an issue here, to find out if there would be an opportunity to extend the time and not impact the production timelines of the report itself. It is my understanding that she was informed that May 16 would be an acceptable date.

The clerk then informed members of the committee that the date was going to be extended until May 16. Therefore, like my colleagues in the opposition, I worked under the timelines provided by the clerk of the committee. I met those timelines. My report is recognized by the clerk of the committee as being received on May 16 at approximately 10:45 a.m., not indifferent to the opposition reports.

The chair realized that the extension had been granted by the clerk without the authority of the committee and, after hearing that I was putting forward a supplementary opinion, recognized that the clerk did not have the authority to grant that extension without the consent or support of the committee and asked the opposition members to bring forward a notice of motion to extend, sort of retroactively if I may, the filing dates.

It is going to take me a couple of minutes and I apologize, but this is absolutely critical for Parliament. This hits on the very basic rights and privileges as a parliamentarian.

The chair then realized that the clerk did not have the authority and asked for a retroactive notice of motion to come from the opposition members to extend the date by four days. They did so. Sadly enough, I was notified, and in fairness to the chair due to challenges of him travelling and leaving messages on my cell phone, I was notified 24 hours before the committee was meeting, so clearly it would be difficult to give 48 hours notice.

I asked for unanimous consent to present my supplementary motion along with the two from the opposition and was not successful in securing that. I then notified the clerk in writing on Tuesday that it was my intention to bring forward a motion on Thursday, being this morning, asking that my report be included in the same way as the opposition members' reports were included. Sadly enough, although I cannot give details of an in camera meeting, obviously by virtue of the fact that I am here, I was not successful in securing the support.

The reason I ran for Parliament, the reason people have fought and died for this country, is so that we can express our opinions. Just because some people at committee failed to agree with those opinions, or think I am going beyond my purview as a member of the governing party or the Liberals, too bad.

Mr. Speaker, what I am asking you to do, not only on behalf of myself and the 300 other people who sit in the House, but on behalf of 30-odd million Canadians, is to protect my rights as a parliamentarian, give me the same rights as those people across the aisle have. To do otherwise, in my opinion, would be nothing more than putting a gag order on backbench Liberal members of Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for your timely and wise ruling on this issue. I certainly ask for your positive consideration. To do otherwise, would be, in my opinion, a slight on democracy.

PrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, my qualifications for rising on this point of order are that, first, along with my colleague who just spoke I am deputy chair of the committee; second, I am the chief opposition critic; and third, I was one of the people, along with a member from the Bloc Québécois, who put in a minority opinion.

First, we must clear up the issue of timing. The original agreement, as determined by the committee, was that I and my colleague from the Bloc Québécois were to submit minority reports on May 12. My colleague is correct in his account of what took place. We ended up having to extend the deadline to May 16 and indeed, on Tuesday of this week, we came forward and had a retroactive motion that the reports that were submitted on May 16 would qualify. That was agreed to by a full quorum of the committee.

At that particular time I can confirm that the member who just spoke had asked for unanimous consent to put his motion, which I understand was hobbled because of the communication problem. He then came to the committee today with an identical motion. But to be clear, the issue of the dates of May 12 to May 16 is actually irrelevant.

It is unusual of course for a member of the governing party, who has worked very hard along with the rest of us on this committee, to come forward with this report, and that a member of the governing party would want to put in a supplementary opinion to add to the report. On pages 882 and 883 Marleau and Montpetit states:

A committee report reflects the opinion of the committee and not that of the individual members. Members of the committee who disagree with the decision of the majority may not present a separate report. There is no provision in the Standing Orders or the practices of the House for presenting minority reports. Where one or several members of a standing committee are in disagreement with the committee's report or wish to make supplementary comments, the committee may decide to append such opinions to the report, after the signature of the Chair. Dissenting or supplementary opinions may be presented by any member of a committee. Although committees have the power to append these opinions to their reports, they are not obliged to do so. In agreeing to append a dissenting or supplementary opinion, the committee will often specify the maximum length of the text, the deadline for submission to the clerk and whether it is to be submitted in one or both official languages.

With respect to the last sentence in that paragraph, “In agreeing to append a dissenting or supplementary opinion, the committee will often specify the maximum length of the text,...” the member of the Bloc and I both entered into discussions with the committee and the chair. I could be wrong but I believe it was not in camera. I believe it was an open committee, and that is verifiable through the minutes. We had a discussion that we would be putting in supplementary reports and we also had an actual negotiation as to how many pages each report would be.

In following the process that is set out in Marleau and Montpetit there is no obligation on the part of the committee to append an opinion. Members may choose to append an opinion depending on the decision of the committee. Because the vote this morning was in camera, obviously we can only report the fact that the committee, with full quorum, declined to append this member's dissenting opinion.

What has happened here is, if we refer to the phrase “after the signature of the Chair”, that the committee has made a decision. Whether it is fair or unfair is for the public at large to decide and certainly for this member to make his case to the public. Nonetheless, the committee has made its decision and it is within its right to make that decision.

PrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Chair will listen very briefly, but I do not want to get into a debate. The hon. member for Simcoe--Grey.

PrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Bonwick Liberal Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, under no circumstances am I debating the hon. member's position. In fact, I agree wholeheartedly with almost his entire remarks.

In my humble opinion, as a member of the House of Commons, a majority of members of a committee are the protectors of my rights. A majority of the members of a committee should not be able to restrict my access anymore so than they should be able to restrict theirs. Mr. Speaker, if you create one rule everybody must abide by it. You cannot be selective in saying that we will accept opposition reports, but we will not accept reports submitted by members of the governing party.

Mr. Speaker, you are the protector of my rights as a parliamentarian. You are the protector of my privileges, and not simply mine, but the hundred and twenty odd thousand people back in my riding, and for that matter, the 30 million Canadians in our country. I believe most of them would be insulted if I cannot be treated by the same rules and conditions as people across the floor.

PrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I want to thank the hon. member for Simcoe--Grey for raising his point of order and for the participation of the hon. member for Kootenay--Columbia.

I believe the essence of the interventions bring us back to the fundamental principle regarding committees being masters of their own proceedings. Just to repeat some of the quotes brought forward by the hon. member for Kootenay--Columbia from Marleau and Montpetit on pages 882 and 883, under the title of “Committees” and the sub-heading “Substantive Reports”, it states:

Where one or several members of a standing committee are in disagreement with the committee's report or wish to make supplementary comments, the committee may decide to append such opinions to the report after the signature of the Chair. Dissenting or supplementary opinions may be presented by any member of a committee. Although committees have the power to append these opinions to their reports, they are not obliged to do so.

I take with great seriousness the matters raised by the hon. member for Simcoe--Grey. On the procedural side, our rules are clear with regard to the issue he raises. However, by appealing to the Chair to protect the rights of members, we must remind ourselves, as the hon. Speaker himself has reminded us from time to time, the Chair is the servant of the House and of its members.

As far as protecting those rights, they are enshrined in our rules, procedures, precedents, and so on. To expect the Chair to do anything else but to serve the House and its members within those precedents, rules, and regulations is asking for something that is very different from the customs of the House.

Consequently, I must rule that this is not a point of order and we will now proceed back to the business of the day.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Prince George—Bulkley Valley.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dick Harris Canadian Alliance Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to clear the air because there have been some anti-bank rants by the member for Winnipeg North Centre and other NDP members.

The issue of bank mergers and how to facilitate them, if at all, was given to the finance committee to discuss and come up with a set of recommendations. That mandate was very clear.

The finance committee did meet. We had extensive discussions with witnesses who appeared before us, including the heads of the major banks in this country. They explained their position as to why banks might want to merge in this country. They explained how their position in the global marketplace was shrinking insofar as financial institutions.

The banks clearly said to the committee that they wanted the committee to lay out a path for them, so that they could have the ability to present their proposals. Once they presented their proposals they would expect that the committee and the finance minister would look at them and tell them yes or no whether they could have a merger.

The finance committee came up with a number of recommendations that for the most part were what the banks were looking for. There was a dissenting opinion filed by the NDP. There was also a supplementary opinion filed by the member for Kings—Hants on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party. However, overall there was a broad consensus that the committee had for the most part achieved its mandate in coming up with 11 recommendations for the Minister of Finance to respond to.

I have said in the House that we trusted the minister to respond within the time period. As a matter of fact, I have stated in the House that it would be far better for everyone concerned if the minister could respond sooner than the maximum of 90 days that was requested of him. I agree with the member for Kings—Hants who had asked for an earlier response as well. Another point the member for Kings--Hants made was to take politics out of this decision.

This is unlike 1998 when the issue of mergers first appeared and the decision to not even allow the banks to make merger proposals was made by the former finance minister, who at that time, in the view of most people who were looking at this issue, made a purely political decision in saying that there will be no bank merger proposals received by that finance minister and the Liberal government. That was a most disturbing way to respond to the banking community in our country, on purely political grounds.

It has been five years since that merger situation first appeared. The government has had a lot of time to respond to the whole issue of mergers. The finance committee has now presented 11 recommendations. We on this side of the House and in this party implore the finance minister to recognize the seriousness of this issue. We ask that he respond as quickly as possible and even before the 90 day period is up because it is a most important issue.

The banks have a number of recommendations. They understand what the committee said. They will ensure, to the best of their ability, that when they make their proposals, those proposals will respond in an acceptable manner to the recommendations put forward.

We do not know if a merger will be put forward, but if one does come forward, if it passes by the Competition Bureau and by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions and if it meets the criteria and the wishes expressed in the recommendations, I hope the Minister of Finance will look at its substance and its merits. If it meets the guidelines of the public interest, I hope he will put aside the political reasons the government used back in 1998 and deal with the proposal on its merits.

It is absolutely critical that politics play no part in however the minister may respond to the recommendations in this report or to the bank merger proposals themselves should they be presented.

There is not much sense in responding to a lot of rhetoric presented by the fifty party in the House, both in committee and in the House today. The facts are clear. The recommendations are out, we are waiting for the minister to respond, and I hope he responds as soon as possible.

Banks have a clear understanding of the recommendations. They will make their proposals if they wish on an application to merge. That is when we can debate the merits of the proposals. It is as simple as that. Anything said now is a bit ahead of time because we are waiting for the minister to respond to the report. We also want to see if there are any banks that do want to make merger proposals.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, under the unanimous consent received earlier this day, I would now like to present the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs concerning Bill C-24.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Peterborough is correct in reminding the Chair and others that this is consistent with an earlier agreement made by the House this morning.

Points of OrdersRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with regard to the payment by the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency of ex gratia payments for the heating fuel rebates, and specifically the ongoing payments that are being made under a program that we all thought had been brought to a conclusion.

As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada paid out over $1.4 billion in heating fuel rebates that the government said were urgently needed in January of 2001. To obtain the spending authority to make such payments, a Governor General's special warrant was granted because Parliament had been dissolved for the general election of November 2000 and had not yet been recalled. Unfortunately, payments are still being made even though that spending authority under the special warrant lapsed at the end of the 2000-01 fiscal year pursuant to section 30(2) of the Financial Administration Act.

I believe, Mr. Speaker, that you will find from the evidence I provide today that the Government of Canada does not have the authority to continue providing heating fuel rebates since its authority has lapsed. As Marleau and Montpetit state at page 697:

No tax may be imposed, or money spent, without the consent of Parliament.

Marleau and Montpetit also state at page 704:

--appropriations are always made with a time limit; the spending authorization provided under an appropriation act expires at the end of the fiscal year to which the Act applies.

Bill C-20 of the first session of the 37th Parliament states that it was “An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31, 2001”.

Section 3 of the act deals with the confirmation of the payments for special warrants for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2001, and states:

The payment from and out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the sum of $3,509,910,912 for the purposes set out in the schedules to the special warrants signed by the Governor General pursuant to section 30 of the Financial Administration Act and orders of the Governor in Council of December 13, 2000...January 9, 2001...and January 23, 2001...and published in No. 52 of Volume 134, and Nos. 4 and 6 of Volume 135 of Part I of the Canada Gazette dated December 23, 2000, January 27, 2001 and February 10, 2001, respectively, is hereby confirmed.

I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the point that these warrants are for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2001 and Bill C-20 was for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2001. However the spending under this program continues.

Beauchesne's sixth edition makes a number of references to the expiration of spending authority, specifically citations 933 and 934. I made reference to these citations and citation 968 on June 8, 1999 at page 16053 of the Debates when I raised a point of order regarding the title of a supply bill and its reference to two fiscal years.

As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, while the government has the authority to make ex gratia payments, Parliament has to appropriate the funds for them. During Parliament's dissolution when there is no opportunity for appropriation for a payment that is urgently needed for the public good, Parliament has authorized the use of the Governor General's special warrants which must be confirmed in a supply bill placed before Parliament, which was in this Bill C-20 that I referred to earlier.

A brief history of the situation regarding the heating fuel rebate payments under the Governor General's special warrants is on pages 9 to 13 of chapter 13 of the 2001 report of the Auditor General of Canada, and I quote selectively. It states:

In the October 2000 Economic Statement, the government announced that it wanted to provide some relief for increased heating expenses. It proposed that those eligible to receive the January 2001 payment of the goods and services tax credit would also receive the relief for heating expenses. The amount of the relief would be $125 for individuals or $250 for families. The total estimated cost was $1.345 billion. On 19 October 2000, the House of Commons approved a Notice of Ways and Means motion that included the government's proposal.

It goes on to state:

On 22 October 2000, Parliament was dissolved for the general election. Legislation to authorize the payments had not been introduced before Parliament was dissolved...

On 12 December 2000, the Governor in Council approved an order-in-council to authorize payments for increased heating expenses. The recipients of the payments would be those eligible to receive the January 2001 payment of the goods and services tax credit...

On 9 January 2001, the Governor in Council directed that a special warrant be prepared to authorize the payment of $1.294 billion for relief for heating expenses. On 23 January 2001, the Governor in Council directed that another special warrant be prepared to authorize the payment of a further $227 million for the same purpose...

On 31 January 2001, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency started mailing cheques to about 8.6 million recipients. The total cost of the relief for the year ended 31 March 2001 was $1.459 billion. The payments were charged to the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency's operating expenditures vote and are included in Other Transfer Payments in the Public Accounts of Canada...

It goes on to state, “The special warrants were reported to Parliament on 12 February 2001 in a document entitled “Statement on Governor General's Special Warrants”.

That is the end of the selective quotes from the Auditor General's report.

On page 30 of that statement on Governor General's special warrants, there is an amount under vote 1 for Canada Customs and Revenue Agency of $1,706,171,342 of which $1,521,819,000 was available to the government under the heating fuel rebate program. According to the Public Accounts of Canada at year ended March 31, 2001, the government had spent $1.459 billion, leaving a balance of $62,819,000 authorized but unspent.

As you will agree however, Mr. Speaker, there was no authority for the government to carry that amount forward to a subsequent year, and that is the point which I am arguing.

In Marleau and Montpetit at page 747 there is a short dissertation on the use of Governor General's special warrants. I know, Mr. Speaker, of your particular interest in the use of Governor General's special warrants. On page 747 of Marleau and Montpetit, it summarizes section 30(1) of the Financial Administration Act, and states:

In a very special circumstance, the Financial Administration Act allows the Governor in Council... to issue a Special Warrant...provided that the following conditions are met:

Parliament is dissolved;

A Minister has reported that an expenditure is urgently required for the public good; and

The President of the Treasury Board has reported that there is no appropriation for the payment.

In short, all three principles must be present for a special warrant to be issued.

Therefore, I was very interested when I received a letter as chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts from Mr. Richard Neville, the Deputy Comptroller General of Canada, dated April 23, 2003, which states, among other things:

I am seeking the endorsement of the Public Accounts Committee for the following waivers to the publication of details related to ex gratia payments.

He goes on to say:

As the heating fuel rebate was based on the eligibility for the GST tax credit, additional payments will be made as periodic re-assessments for GST tax credit eligibility occur.

However that authority has long since expired for these payments.

Mr. Neville appeared as a witness before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts on May 12 to formally ask for a publication waiver in the Public Accounts of Canada for the fiscal year 2002-03 for a variety of items, including the heating fuel rebate. At the meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, Mr. Neville stated that for the fiscal year 2002-03, the amount paid out for heating fuel rebates totalled $13,086,165 and he indicated that the government would be paying out additional rebates for the fiscal year 2003-04.

I therefore went back to the previous year to see if there had been a request to the public accounts committee from Mr. Neville on this issue, requesting a publication waiver for heating fuel rebates. Mr. Neville in a letter dated May 14, 2002 to the public accounts committee stated:

We seek your continued support for the publication waiver of names associated with the residual payments of these two programs over the life of the programs.

He was referring to the heating fuel rebate and to a special benefit program for the merchant navy veterans.

I had no idea that when we were talking about what I thought were a few residual payments, we were talking about 277,000 claims for a total of $42.2 million in the fiscal year 2000-01, all paid out without authority. This is scandalous.

I mentioned earlier that there was an amount of $62.8 million that had been confirmed under Bill C-20 but unspent, but the authority to spend that money lapsed on March 31, 2001. The heating fuel rebate program is not a statutory program. There is no legislation which states that the payments for the heating fuel rebate must continue ad infinitum because the warrant was issued since the government had determined there was an emergency and Parliament was not sitting. There has been ample opportunity for the government to make a new request for supply and the emergency has long since passed.

Treasury Board seemed to believe that the passage of a special warrant allows the government to pay money year after year for a program that was supposed to be a one time occurrence and urgently required for the public good.

Moneys appropriated by Parliament may be only spent in the year in which they are appropriated. Speaker Parent in his ruling of June 8, 1999 at pages 16065-6 of Hansard clearly stated:

The House is quite aware of the concept of the fiscal year which runs from April to March, and the concept of the yearly appropriation bill which must be based on the estimates for a fiscal year and which must be adopted by parliament to cover the government's expenses for that fiscal year. We are very familiar with these notions of fiscal year and annual appropriations, which are the cornerstones of our parliamentary financial process.

Indeed, Speaker Parent took exception to the title of the appropriations act in Bill C-86 which referred to two fiscal years. He qualified the reference as “not needed” and “misleading”. This is also referenced in Marleau and Montpetit at page 741, footnote 268.

Mr. Speaker, I therefore ask that you reduce Canada Customs and Revenue Agency's vote 1 by $55,296,790 in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2004 to reflect the situation, unless the government apologizes for this affront to the House and rectifies the situation.

The House and its Speaker have expressed dismay several times in the past when it has been determined that the House has not been properly informed. This situation is another blatant attempt by the government to bypass Parliament, ignore Parliament's express rule that (a) money cannot be spent without Parliament's approval, and (b) money is granted for only one year.

In order to maintain the dignity of the House, I ask that you rule in favour of my point of order and reduce the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency's vote by $55,296,790, reflecting that $42,210,625 spent without authority in 2000-01 and the $13,086,165 spent in 2001-02.

In addition to this, Mr. Neville advised the Standing Committee on Public Accounts that he anticipated additional payments during this fiscal year ending March 31, 2004. I therefore ask that you order the government to cease all further payments under the heating fuel rebate program until the proper parliamentary authority has been sought and given.

Points of OrdersRoutine Proceedings

1:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for St. Albert has raised a very substantive issue before the House. I know he would expect, as would all members expect, the Chair to consider it with the seriousness and thoughtfulness that it will require. The Chair will take this point of order under advisement and come back to the House at a later date.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 5th, 2003 / 1:40 p.m.

Oak Ridges Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit surprised to be debating the issue of bank mergers, particularly when a very detailed report by the Standing Committee on Finance was finished in March 2003. Obviously my colleagues in the corner missed a lot of this review because they would not be raising an issue today which went through many months of detailed analysis.

We were charged by the Minister of Finance to look at the issue of public interest. Some of my colleagues believe that we cannot allow bank mergers. The fact is that Bill C-8, legislation which was before the House in 2001, allows for that.

The Minister of Finance asked us to look at the public interest. For the record I would like to make it very clear what it is he asked for. He asked that Canadians in all regions be able to have quality financial services, with special attention to the disabled, low income individuals and rural communities. He wanted us to look at the choice among financial service providers and the availability of financing for businesses, particularly small businesses and Canadians; creation of long term growth prospects for Canada; having more effective internationally competitive institutions; and adjustment and transition issues, including the treatment of employees. We took the minister's letter and evaluated the issue of public interest.

It is important for all Canadians to know that we have and will continue to have the strongest financial institutions, I would say, in the world. During the Great Depression of the 1930s the banks in the United States folded like cards. The banks in Canada did not. We did not have any bank failures.

The process began. The banks were brought before the standing committee. All sorts of interested stakeholders were brought before the standing committee to evaluate these issues. We did not take these issues lightly.

The review process is important. Obviously the banks may make a decision and it may be based on whether or not they feel they can be competitive internationally. They are going to make a business decision. It is up to us as parliamentarians to evaluate the public interest to see if it will be served and how best to respond.

We produced a report with 11 key recommendations. I would invite members of the New Democratic Party to read them sometime. They will find that the recommendations address the issues that were presented by the minister in his letter.

The discussions with the banks in terms of issues were wide ranging. Any proposal, if it were to come forth, would be reviewed by the Competition Bureau. The Competition Bureau is going to look at the issue of competition in areas across the country. The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions plays a key role. It analyzes any proposed merger with respect to the soundness and stability of the banking system. The Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce in the other place and the House of Commons finance committee were asked to look at the public interest.

The majority of the witnesses who came forward indicated very clearly that we have strong financial institutions. Some did not want to see any changes. Some of the members were suggesting earlier that some of the banks were closing in their ridings. I am sympathetic to that, but that is a decision the banks make and they would go ahead whether or not there are mergers. The decision to open branches in certain areas is based on the needs as perceived by those particular banks. Obviously there are procedures in place to deal with notification issues, et cetera.

The finance committee was charged with the responsibility of seeing how the public interest would be dealt with. Dealing with and defining the public interest in anything is very difficult. It depends upon whom we are talking about in the public. The various stakeholders range from bank presidents to interest groups to community organizations who are concerned, and legitimately so, about the state of financial institutions and the implications if there were to be mergers.

There have been no proposals presented, but we wanted to be proactive as a committee to make recommendations to the minister. There is a procedure, as members know. The minister is going to report later this month on the recommendations. What I find interesting is that the New Democratic Party would have us move concurrence when the fact is that we have asked the minister to respond to the report.

I want to know what the point is of producing a detailed and thoughtful report by parliamentarians on which the official opposition agreed, except for my friends in the corner who did not agree and that is their right, in which we asked the minister to respond. Now that the minister will be responding, the NDP want to jump the gun. That does not make any sense. Why would we spend all that time putting forth a detailed report, asking the minister to look at some very important recommendations which we believe will advance the public interest and are important to the public interest and will help in shaping the minister's response to the recommendations? No, the NDP would rather spend time in the House today talking about something with which we have dealt and are waiting for a response under the guidelines and the timelines granted to the committee and to the minister.

The minister will fulfill that timeline and in doing so, we will get a detailed response. If members in the House do not like the minister's response, they have every right to say so and they can respond accordingly. But to jump the gun, to jump the queue before the minister responds makes no sense.

If members of the New Democratic Party were to read the report in detail, they would realize, and in their own dissenting report they would at least be able to say that it has had a fair hearing before the minister. If they do not like the recommendations, so be it.

In my view, they would rather play politics here and waste the time of the House by talking about something because they do not want to talk about something else which is of importance to Canadians as well. We all know that, but this is the way this institution works.

Let us talk about some of the key issues in that report that we addressed to the minister.

The issue of access is important to Canadians whether they live in a big city, in rural Canada or remote places. My New Democratic friends would agree with that as well. The issue then becomes, what kind of services? Are we talking about full banking services?

Today in the age of technology we can go to ATM machines, but some ATM machines are not convenient for people because they may not have a full range of services. People may not be able to use a particular card or the machines may not have the kind of transactions that they would like. They may be okay to take the money out but they may not necessarily be good for bill payments and other things. That came out during the discussions. We talked about access issues, saying that there needs to be full service access, whether it is through bricks and mortar or machines. They have to provide access to Canadians wherever they live and it needs to be high quality.

Jobs are also important. People who live in a rural community where the only bank in that community has closed may want to take out a loan. What happens then? They knew the bank manager in their community but now they have to go 100 kilometres down the road to a bank where no one knows them. Those issues were brought to our attention and we responded.

The Bank of Montreal said that its strategic plan was to deal with small business loans. Its niche in the banking sector is small business. That is what it wants to deal with and it wants to expand on that market. It was not necessarily so for other banks, but they all look at the issue of how they can take care of their customers. Banks are no different from anything else. Obviously if they do not have customers, they are not going to have profits. If they do not have profits, they are not going to do very well. Naturally those were issues we wanted to deal with. As I said, that was an important issue.

We know that if any bank mergers were to occur, people in the big cities would be all right, primarily because of the concentration and number of financial services available in large cities, but that is not so in rural and remote communities. This was a very important point which we stressed in the report. Again I would suggest that my friends in the New Democratic Party may want to read it.

On the other hand, I know the NDP has talked about employment issues. We certainly tried to address some of the issues in the report, such as job protection for Canadians who work in these financial institutions, early retirement and what things can be done to make sure, through attrition or whatever it happens to be, that we do not have a great dislocation, particularly for people on the front lines.

One of the issues that the financial institutions talked about was the issue of competitiveness internationally. We have six very strong banks in this country and yet they have to compete on a global scale. What is the impact on a global scale? Is there a strong rationale to do so?

I said that we have very strong financial institutions in this country, and we do. In fact, we can be proud that they operate efficiently and that we have not had the collapses that we have seen in other jurisdictions.

The discussion of course is, on scale, on international competitiveness, which was one of the major issues the banks addressed. Another issue they addressed had to do with the whole issue of shareholder value. They also talked about the health of the financial service sector.

From our standpoint, obviously we are concerned about whether these institutions will be able to deliver in this market and what they may do elsewhere. We know, for example, that 50% of the Bank of Nova Scotia's profits comes from overseas, particularly in areas in the Caribbean. That is where it decided to focus its particular niche.

However we wanted to make sure that, in terms of addressing the minister's letter, we responded effectively, which is why the March report was presented.

Normally, when committees present their reports they wait to hear from the minister. Hopefully the ministers, when they read those reports, and I know they read them very carefully, will respond effectively to those 11 recommendations. I know the Minister of Finance is very much interested in what we have to say or he would not have asked us to undertake the issue of public interest.

The fact that we have done that and that we are now waiting for a response from the minister within the prescribed timeframe, it seems a bit strange that today we would try to, in my view, hijack the House by suggesting that we need to deal with an issue for which a report has already been presented, and trying to say that we are not getting a response. The fact is that we are doing it under the prescribed timetable that the committee works under and that the minister works under.

I can tell the House that the Minister of Finance will respond in a way in which he will look very carefully at the 11 recommendations because it is not only important to members of the House, it is important to every Canadian. Every Canadian has the right to know the approach the government will be taking. I can assure members that is one thing the Minister of Finance will do and he will be do it effectively .

It is also important to note that, as I said, we do not want to mix apples and oranges.

Bill C-8, as we know, was the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada Act . We know that under that legislation the issue of mergers was allowed. What the minister is trying to find out is how that can be further clarified in terms of the public interest, and therefore if banks wanted to merge tomorrow they could make a proposal.

The fact that they have not presented a proposal means that they are waiting. They are not jumping the gun. They are waiting to hear what the minister has to say. Only the NDP wants to jump the gun. However Canadians and the banks want to hear what the minister has to say, as do, I believe, all members in the House. When that comes down, I would then expect a full and thorough discussion, as it should be.

We listened to many witnesses who made very thoughtful and useful presentations to members of the Standing Committee on Finance. We were able to look at the issues very carefully and to dissect some of the key problems that people were seeing out there.

We were not just focusing on large urban communities but also on rural and northern communities to make sure that if we were going to do it we would do it right. If we are going to allow something, we want to do it right because 70% of the mergers generally across the globe fail and therefore we want to make sure that it is done right. The New Democratic Party wants to rush it but we do not. We want to make sure it is done right.

I hope those members will give the minister the ability to present his report and for us to be able to then respond. I have great faith in the fact that the Minister of Finance will do so in a very timely manner.

At this point, as we wind down to our question period, we are faced with the issue of what the guidelines are and what we want the minister to evaluate. He has 11 key recommendations that deal with the issues of access, competition and employment. Those are important issues and they need to be addressed under the timelines and guidelines set out by Parliament. Otherwise we will have a response that will not do justice to the committee report.

I congratulate all my colleagues who were on the committee and who spent long hours to make sure we heard from Canadians and various stakeholders in order to do our job effectively. The report, which the minister has been looking at, is one for which we are very pleased. I can tell the House that when the minister responds I expect we will be able to evaluate his response and say where it is that we agree. Hopefully, we will agree on everything, but if we do not, at least we will have had a fair hearing.

One of our responsibilities as parliamentarians is that we do not have to agree but we have to talk about the process, and nobody has complained about the process. I want to make it very clear that the process is important to us and to all Canadians.

I hope my New Democratic friends will read the recommendations, because clearly they must have missed them. They also must have missed their own minority report because obviously if they had read it they would know that they were asking the minister to respond, and that of course is what we are trying to do.

Juno Beach CentreStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Julian Reed Liberal Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, when the Juno Beach Centre opens this week, a bronze sculpture called “Remembrance and Renewal” will be the centrepiece of the courtyard leading into the centre.

It features five helmeted figures facing outward from a circle. Each figure represents a distinct emotion, such as leadership, vigour and alertness. Another looks sombre and reflective. A fourth figure advances while assisting a comrade.

It was sculpted by Colin Gibson and cast at Artcast Inc. foundry in Georgetown, in the riding I serve.

I would like to thank the sculptor and Artcast Inc. for their contribution to the Juno Beach Centre.

Above all, I would like to pay tribute to the veterans who stormed the beaches of the Normandy coast in 1944, for all the sacrifices they made.

We will remember them.

Aboriginal AffairsStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Pallister Canadian Alliance Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, we would not remodel our home if the foundation was rotten. That would be wasteful, foolish and illogical.

Yet that is exactly what the federal government is doing with Bill C-7, the $1 billion first nations governance act.

The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development said just a few days ago that all 634 Canadian chiefs were “self-serving bullies”. If he believes that assertion we would have to ask ourselves why he would then want to give those bullies much more power than they already have.

The bill would entrench the most expensive and least effective model of governance yet tried in first nations.

Meanwhile, the government is preoccupied with the dumb as a bag of hammers Bill C-24, the political financing act.

Rifts have developed. A legacy is at risk. However

the Liberals have resolved the issue by tapping the taxpayers for another $5 million, all because the bill would have an impact on just $1 million of Liberal fundraising.

Meanwhile, Canadian taxpayers are being charged a billion--