Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak today to Bill C-57. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance has given a pretty good explanation of what the bill is all about.
It is very important to mention the participation of the corporations, such as banks, bank holding companies, the insurance companies and all the corporations for which the bill would set, modernize and update governance rules.
The parliamentary secretary did not mention this but it is also important to thank the members of the official opposition finance team for the input they gave to the government. I know the government, on many occasions, sought the advice of our finance critic, the member for Medicine Hat; the member for Edmonton—Spruce Grove; the member for Peace River; and the member for Portage—Lisgar, who all played a part in the formation of this bill. They have given input to the government over the years at committee and in the House. I know the government appreciated the fact that the members of the official opposition's finance group were able to participate and help the government out when it was seeking advice on some very complex issues of this bill.
The bill would make changes to the corporate governance framework of banks, bank holding companies, insurance companies, insurance holding companies, trust and loan companies and cooperative credit associations to bring them in line with the Senate Bill S-11, which was updated in 2001 for business corporations under the Canada Business Corporations Act. That is a mouthful to the average person out there watching this debate but what it means is to modernize the governance framework that the banks and financial institutions operate under so that what they do becomes more open and more transparent to shareholders and the general public at large that may do business or invest in these corporations or be part of credit unions and cooperatives. They would now be able to sleep a little better at night knowing that these governance regulations on how these corporations operate would be open and transparent. It would give them an extra measure of comfort when they are placing their money in the trust of these people.
The bill also enhances the ability of shareholders to exercise their rights by allowing for the electronic participation at meetings, which is important because many times shareholders may be living in Vancouver or Toronto and they just cannot afford to jump on a plane, fly across the country and be part of a shareholders meeting, even though they may have something important to say or to cast their votes. This would let them cast those votes electronically, something we have talked about in the House here. I am sure the day will come when members of Parliament may be able to cast their votes electronically from the other side of the country if they cannot make it to the House of Commons, which certainly would be a savings to the taxpayer given the cost of air travel these days.
The bill seeks to improve the flow of information from financial institutions to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions. The important part of the bill is that it would allow medium sized insurers and trust companies to apply for an exemption to the public holder requirement which requires institutions with equity holdings between $1 billion and $5 billion to make at least 35% of their voting shares available for trading on the public stock exchange. That is going to be a huge benefit to credit unions and co-ops that have been seeking this modernization of the rules.
The bill proposes changes to the policyholder governance framework and the Insurance Companies Act, which would be intended to increase disclosure in regard to participating in adjustable policies.
Millions of Canadians have insurance policies and millions of Canadians invest in insurance companies. These companies are reputable and have demonstrated that they are trustworthy, and although Canadians may feel comfortable investing in them, I would hazard a guess that many shareholders and policyholders really do not understand the fine print in their policies. This legislation would give that more disclosure.
It is important to point out that after the next election a Conservative government, this Conservative Party, will protect the best interests of consumers by fostering competition and ensuring that the financial services sector is appropriately regulated for the protection of shareholders and balanced with stability and the opportunity for success and growth. This is a written policy of our party, which we intend to follow through on when we become the next government in this House.
Cooperative organizations and banks have all expressed a level of comfort with Bill C-57. I think it is important to keep a line of communication open to the very companies that Bill C-57 would apply to, particularly banks and other financial institutions in our country.
In many cases, the government has failed to do this. Many times, banks have been left hanging by the indecision of the Minister of Finance on some very key issues such as bank mergers and cross-pillar merging. Credit unions have been seeking some administrative changes.