Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak to Bill C-37, An Act to amend the law governing financial institutions and to provide for related and consequential matters. Essentially it is the Bank Act review.
The government has drafted a bill that largely follows Liberal policy that has been occurring over the last five years. This legislation was a result of recommendations that came from a white paper that was commissioned by the previous government.
The bill represents the statutory five year review of the Bank Act, and there is nothing in the bill, quite frankly, that is particularly contentious. The government avoided a number of controversial issues and has provided some important updates that we have been fighting for and in fact was an extension of what we were doing before.
The bill satisfies the obligations of the government to present statutory updates to the Bank Act every five years, so in essence, it is a rather rudimentary bill, almost administrative in nature. The last time this happened was in 2001.
Bill C-37 will ensure that financial institutions provide greater and more timely disclosure to consumers in areas such as deposit type of investment products and complaint handling procedures. I think that is probably music to the ears of most Canadians in dealing with their banks. The bill and this update will provide consumers with a lot more accountability and knowledge about what is happening with respect to their accounts and their activities with the financial institutions of their choice.
The Bank Act, in this particular review, also does something which I think is quite intelligent. It expands the definition in terms of what one defines as a large bank and one that is a medium sized bank, so as a result of an increase in assets, the definition and threshold will be increased from $5 billion to $8 billion. That is a sensible thing for the banks which could be credited as being one of the great success stories in Canada and are competitive internationally. Those banks hire a lot of Canadians and provide a lot of asset attraction with respect to private capital into Canada that can be invested in our country and used to create jobs, and hopefully, jobs that pay very well.
The bill also increases the use of electronic cheque imaging, which is a technology that will allow financial institutions to transfer cheques more efficiently. The bill also proposes to reduce the cost of mortgages for some borrowers by increasing to 80% the loan to value threshold above which mortgage insurance is required by the statute.
There are also some provisions that I hope the government takes into consideration. Because of the value of homes increase quite significantly, it would be wise for the government to start looking at CMHC grants and allowing the valuation of those homes to be bumped up quite significantly. I would personally recommend at least a 50% increase for the value of those homes, specifically in my area of Victoria, British Columbia, where house prices have increased astronomically.
People have been forced to buy homes, the value of which may be much higher than in most other parts of the country, but they are not able to access the CMHC grants that are available to most Canadians. A home of one size, all things being equal, may be equivalent to one in most other parts of Canada; however, the value of the home in a place like Vancouver and Victoria will be so much greater as to push that home above the ability of the individual to access CMHC grants. Most Canadians have made all of us very aware of this problem. I would strongly encourage the government to resolve this.
One of the things that the Canadian International Development Agency has done over the last year is moved the international development envelope from what we call project funding to what is called program funding. What does that mean?
Project funding would be something that we would do in terms of Afghanistan. We would fund a particular project such as the building of a school. We would probably do it through a Canadian NGO or an Afghan domestic NGO.
That is a very efficient way of ensuring that taxpayers' money is going to be used to help the people on the ground who need the help, but curiously, what has happened over the last year is that the government, and CIDA in particular, has moved to something called program funding. What it is doing is taking a large amount of money, $50 million, $60 million and even more, and giving it to a large organization.
What does that mean? It means we are giving $50 million to $60 million to a large organization such as UNICEF, the World Bank or the IMF, and we utterly lose traction and accountability with respect to those moneys. This is not an intelligent way for us to use taxpayers' money to help those who are less fortunate.
I would encourage CIDA and the minister to really take a close look at this. It does not mean that we do not have to invest in the international financial institutions. They have a very important role, but if we are going to take our international development envelope, the ODA, and simply take that money, divvy it up into rather large chunks of money and give it to very large international multilateral organizations, we lose traction, we lose accountability, and we lose the ability of Canadians and Canadian NGOs, and Canadian companies quite frankly, to execute those roles on the ground.
We have seen over the last few years a shift in our international development envelope. We are not giving money to Canadian NGOs, small NGOs and groups, particularly Canadians out there who are doing an incredible amount of work, but taking the funds from those groups that are very effective at getting work done on the ground, and instead giving it to these large black holes of large multinationals. We do not know where that money goes or what it is used for, and it utterly loses the connection between those Canadian dollars and our wonderful nation.
This is not an intelligent thing to do because not only do we lose accountability and the branding that identifies Canada as the country that has given those moneys but we also lose the effectiveness. I would argue, and I would challenge members to say otherwise, that the most effective way of using our international development assistance is through small NGOs, either international small NGOs that are working on the ground or Canadian NGOs.
Right now, Canadian NGOs can only compete for a paltry $20 million out of the $3.2 billion official development assistance envelope. Does that make sense? The fact is that from coast to coast, in our ridings, there are thousands of non-governmental organizations in our wonderful country, people who are committed, many of whom are volunteers and most of whom are doing an outstanding job on the ground. Those groups should be able to compete for the official development assistance envelope in a way that enables them to be able to carry out their duties on the ground, consistent of course with the objectives of our ODA.
That is a much better way of using Canadian taxpayers' money rather than taking moneys and plunking them into the World Bank where we completely and utterly lose the accountability and effectiveness of those moneys.
This is something that will require a sea of change on the part of the minister and I hope she understands this because one of the great frustrations, and I think all of us have seen this with respect to Afghanistan, is that we are missing the boat in Afghanistan. We are certainly doing a good job from the military aspect, and our defence forces and RCMP deserve enormous credit for the hard work that they are doing, but there are four or five things that we need to do, in my view, that will provide security on the ground in that country, and they are as follows.
First, a Loya Jirga is required in Afghanistan that will bring in those groups that have been disarticulated from the Bonn agreement and bring them to the decision-making table. Right now they are excluded and right now they have become part of the Taliban, warring against us.
Second, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs was just in Latvia along with the Prime Minister, we need to ask our NATO allies to invest in the training of the Afghan police. Right now they are being paid $70 a month. Their training is eight days. They are not equipped to do the job, so what has happened is that many of them are engaging in thuggish behaviour simply to put food on the table for themselves and their families.
What does this mean on the ground for our troops? It means that once they go out there and take out the Taliban there is nothing to come in after them which will enable our troops to be assured that security is going to take place. There is no effective constabulary force on the ground. Our troops are doing a yeoman's job, an incredible job, of removing the immediate threat, but there is nothing coming after they are done. Now, the Germans have been tasked to do this.
What I would ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs to do is to ask the other NATO allies to contribute money for salaries, money for training, and money for the equipment that the Afghans need. If we do that and build up an effective Afghan police force, then that will go a long way to providing the long term security the country needs. If we do not deal with that, we will have a major problem.
Third, we have a major problem with respect to an insurgency coming from outside Afghanistan. If the insurgency that is coming, particularly from Pakistan, is not dealt with there will be war without end. The border is porous. We know that. We cannot block that border off. It is too large, too wild, and too strategically impossible to block off.
What we have to do in my view is call together a regional summit of countries that will bring together the regional powers that will be dealing with the Afghan security. Only by doing this will we be able to address this problem of blocking off and reducing the threat from the outside.
Those individuals who are blowing themselves up as suicide bombers in Afghanistan and those groups that are shooting and trying to kill our troops, many of those, in fact the vast majority, are from outside Afghanistan. They are Pashtuns from Pakistan, Chechens, Tajiks, Kazaks and others, in addition to those from the gulf states. These people are flowing into Afghanistan, particularly in the south, and they are the ones who are killing our people.
No military solution will be able to resolve this. The Minister of National Defence understand this and the Chief of the Defence Staff understand this as well very clearly. So if we accept that as a fact, how are we going to address this?
Leopard tanks are required by the NCOs on the ground and they should get whatever they want. We must also provide other solutions. I know the government is seeking other solutions. This plan will address that: one, ensure the Aghans have the Loya Jirga and have the meeting with all groups, particularly those who have been excluded; two, train the Afghan police; and three, ensure that the development envelope is going to work.
Mr. Karzai's government is roundly known as being utterly corrupt. If the government is being utterly corrupt, we must, if we are giving moneys to him, which we are in the amount of $100 million a year, ensure that those moneys are going to be used effectively and wisely. That is our responsibility to the taxpayers and indeed to the Afghan people. Right now his government is corrupt and money coming in the front door is going out the back door into the hands of the warlords and drug dealers.
Fourth, with respect to the issue of the opium crop, we know the opium crop is the highest it has ever been. How do we deal with that? We can deal with that by transferring the opium into the legal production of medically-used narcotics. If we are able to transfer those moneys from that area to legal production, we will undercut the financial underpinnings that are being used right now to fuel the Taliban and the warlords. We have to do that. It is absolutely essential.
The last point is the development envelope. That is where the banks come into play; the international financial institutions that we are talking about today, in part.
Those international financial institutions must be able to ensure that the moneys are getting on the ground to the people who need it. The development assistance envelope is not functioning that way. Right now Afghanistan, as a post-reconstruction country, is receiving perhaps the least amount of any post-reconstruction country that we have ever seen.
The NATO countries that are not willing to contribute the troops can do a lot more by contributing moneys for international development. We have to ensure that the accountability is there. We have to give President Karzai the budget support that he requires and also have the accountability checks and balances to make sure that our moneys are being used wisely. Again, have the Loya Jirga and the regional summit to address the insurgency coming from the outside.
I see my time is almost up. Is that correct?