We have concern about banks making a profit. If we look over the spreadsheets of banks, banks do extremely well.
It is interesting that a lot more of their profit now is coming from bank service charges than in the past. It is important that we have the access to services at a reasonable price. I think of many communities that have this problem.
I think of the branches that have closed. Branches tend to close in rural communities and the inner city. They tend to be in places where people have to drive a lot further to get services after a bank closes.
I think of my own riding, for example, where bank branches have closed. The credit union has taken over these bank branches now and provides those services. These are factors that should be considered. I am talking about access to banking in all regions.
I am talking about banks and I happen to see one of my favourite bankers walk in, a former vice-president of Yorkton Securities who is an MP from Nova Scotia. I know he too is concerned about the access to banking in all regions of this country.
What about access to banking? If someone is living in a small town or village and their branch closes, all they have if they are lucky, is an ATM machine in the corner cafe or grocery store. These are issues we should be talking about. Yet a Senate committee report said that the House of Commons should not have a role in terms of commenting on bank mergers in Canada.
One of the things that has been talked about is the size of Canadian banks in terms of the international community. Will our banks be internationally competitive? In general our banks have done very well internationally. One example is Scotiabank whose chair, Mr. Peter Godsoe, back in 1998-99 was one of the leaders in the argument against the mergers of the other banks. His bank has done very well in the United States and other parts of the world.
It is important that we keep our banks competitive internationally, but we do not have to have the merger of our banks domestically to make sure they are more competitive internationally. As Mr. Peters, a former member of Parliament for the Liberal Party said, there is nothing that says our banks cannot form a joint venture internationally or form a consortium of Canadian banks internationally to be bigger and to compete with Chase Manhattan, ING Direct, or the City Bank in New York.
Those are things that our Canadian banks could do to compete internationally. We have very competitive banks internationally. It also provides great opportunities for Canadians in terms of jobs and other opportunities.
I want to mention a word here about the role of the Competition Bureau and the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions. Both of these institutions have a very important role to play. When a bank merger is proposed in Canada, which happened in 1998, it has to go through a process at the House of Commons finance committee. It has to go through the process at the Competition Bureau, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions and then of course have approval by the Minister of Finance.
It is still very important to make sure that the Competition Bureau has a thorough review of whether or not it will be good for the Canadian people in terms of competition.
The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions must continue to have a thorough review in terms of whether or not it is a reasonable proposition for the Canadian people. In addition, the Parliament of Canada, the finance committee, has a very important role. The role of a parliamentary committee is crucial.
We have just gone through a debate on a point of order about whether or not there was adequate opportunity for members of the House to present amendments at the Indian and northern affairs committee. I want to have the same full-blown opportunity for the finance committee to study very thoroughly any proposed merger.
We need serious parliamentary reform where parliamentary committees have much more independence. It is ironic that we can choose the Speaker of the House freely, independently and secretly in a ballot, but we cannot have the free choice secretly of a committee chair. We need those kinds of rule changes where we have more independence on our committees, where a committee can timetable legislation or can introduce legislation to the House of Commons and where there is less interference from the government, from the cabinet and from the Privy Council Office. That is the kind of reform needed in terms of our parliamentary system.
If we had those reforms or a greater independence of committees, a greater research capacity for a committee in the House a Commons, then the committees could play a very lead role in terms of studying a proposed bank merger. It should be the parliamentary committee that looks at a number of issues to determine whether or not a proposed merger is in the public interest, because we are all elected to represent our constituents.
Going back to the member for Churchill, she was raising questions in the House about Lynn Lake when it lost its bank. That is the role of a member of Parliament. We need a parliamentary committee with greater independence that would sever the direct link from the government, from the Privy Council Office.
I fail to understand why the Liberal government is being so conservative, so reactionary, so cautious. Such a party is status quo when it comes to parliamentary reform.
I was pleased to note yesterday in the inaugural speech of the new premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, that he has proposed a system of partial proportional representation in the province of Quebec. That is a really serious electoral change in terms of electoral reform.
Along with that electoral change which I predict will happen in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island, hopefully Ontario and soon right across the country, that electoral change will eventually happen here. Along with that electoral change we have to reform Parliament. Parliament has to change and reform as well to make this institution more meaningful for the Canadian people.
Canadians spend tens of millions of dollars a year on this institution. They want an institution with committees that represent the public interest. One area representing the public interest is deciding whether or not the huge financial institutions that are involved in everyone's life, the banks, have a right to merge. It is extremely important that we do that.
I read in Quorum today about a parallel Liberal caucus. The minister across the way from Montreal, the minister of immigration, apparently was at the parallel Liberal caucus last Tuesday night at a restaurant in Ottawa's Chinatown. Apparently there were more members at that caucus than there were at the so-called official Liberal caucus that meets here on Wednesday mornings.
It is absolutely incredible how irrelevant Liberal members of Parliament see their own caucus. In Quorum there are quotes from Liberal members of Parliament which say that it is a waste of time to go to their national caucus. What an admission for government members to say that it is a waste of time to go to their own caucus. They are spending the taxpayers' money, blowing the taxpayers' money. It is amazing that they would not want to be in favour of parliamentary reform. One area of parliamentary reform is the study of important public policy issues such as whether or not banks in this country should be merged.
There is a role for parliamentary reform in this country. There is a role for the finance committee in determining whether or not bank mergers should go ahead.
I made a reference a few minutes ago to Dr. Doug Peters, a former Liberal member of Parliament who is the vice-president of a bank. He sat in the Liberal cabinet in 1993 and 1997. As I said, he was a former chief economist and the vice-president of a bank. The bank happened to be the Toronto-Dominion Bank.
I know that Dr. Peters is very frustrated with some of the economic policies of the government across the way. When he appeared before the finance committee, he raised a number of questions which I think the finance committee should consider when it comes to the merger of big banks.
Among those questions were whether or not the merger of banks would lower the cost of banking services to individual Canadians. One, if banks merged, would it lower banking service costs for individual Canadians? Is the answer yes or no? The answer was no according to Dr. Peters. Two, would the merger of banks improve the level and quality of service that Canadians receive from banks? The answer again was no. Three, with the merger of banks in this country would it increase the choices of the Canadian people for banking services? If there are fewer banks does it increase choices? It is a very important question. The answer again was no.
These are Dr. Peters' questions, the former minister of financial institutions in the Liberal government across the way, a former Liberal member of Parliament.
Four, he asked whether or not it would improve the availability of credit and lower the costs of credit for small and medium size businesses in Canada. Again, the answer was no. Five, would the merger of banks lower the cost of credit to Canada's large business community? The answer was no.
I have two more questions by Dr. Peters who is a very distinguished Liberal, a former member of cabinet, a privy councillor. Six, would it increase the profitability of Canadian banks for international operations? Again, the answer was no. Finally, would it improve the Canadian economy by increasing employment and economic growth? Again the answer was no.
Mr. Speaker, if I have run out of time, I would like to ask for unanimous consent to continue for another hour or two.