Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in this House to debate Bill C-26.
I will be sharing my time with the member for Richmond—Arthabaska, my worthy and eminent colleague, who always comes to the defence of the farmers. He does so in this House and outside it as well, in the ridings and throughout the regions.
I rise in this House to debate Bill C-26 because we in the Bloc Québécois support neither the bill nor the principle of it. I know of no industry that would ask government to legislate a restriction on its profits. My colleague alleged that the industry needed regulation. Regulation of the consumer industry is a provincial and territorial and local business matter. It does not come under federal government jurisdiction.
The aim of the bill, as I read and understand it and as I examine it like my Bloc colleagues, is to amend the Criminal Code, which already contains provisions to restrict the charging of usurious interest rates. Businesses operating in this type of industry want rates higher than those currently in effect under the Criminal Code.
I am not here to protect people represented by other MPs or the people of Canada. MPs will decide what legislation is needed to support their fellow citizens and protect them as required. We must not forget that 547,000 Canadians work for minimum wage and it is primarily they who need payday loans and make use of this industry.
The industry is well entrenched throughout Canada, except in Quebec. Why? Because in Quebec the government has passed legislation in this regard. Rates of interest have been set below the usurious rates charged elsewhere in Canada, well below the figure of 60%. We must keep this in mind.
Quebec passed this legislation because it is entitled to do so under its authority to legislate to protect its citizens, so that all consumers are well protected against an industry that is abusing its power and making money at the expense of the poor.
That is how I see it. It is an industry that makes money at the expense of the poor and, at present, it is primarily the industry that is pressuring the government to reconsider this legislation. That is wrong. Members have to realize that we must not give in to lobbying by the industry and that we must respect those who elected us to this House. We must provide the best framework for our citizens. Once again, this the is a provincial responsibility.
Furthermore, if we accept this bill as it is now written, we will be opening the door to a great danger. The bill states that the federal government would have the right of oversight and veto regarding provincial and territorial legislation. Imagine that the Prime Minister in this House decides to examine Quebec's legislation. We decided that an interest rate of 60% was too high and the Prime Minister could say that he does not agree. Would all Quebeckers have to pay what the rest of Canadians have decided to pay? That is not right. We have established rules to protect our citizens. That is precisely why it is important that we not adopt this bill. It meddles directly in areas of provincial and territorial jurisdiction.
Since the government was elected, the Prime Minister has been making very public speeches claiming he wants to limit encroachment on provincial and territorial jurisdiction. Yet this bill does just the opposite, giving the federal government even more powers than before. Does that make sense? I am asking you, Mr. Speaker. I realize you cannot answer me, but I know that you have been thinking about this and coming to the conclusion that what the government is doing does not make sense.
I hope my colleagues will also give this some thought and come to the same conclusion that when we legislate, when we decide to bring in a new law, that law has to represent as many people as possible, the interests of as many citizens as possible, the interests of citizens who do not have a voice.
That is why we are here. We are not here to represent industry, though we often do so when it is in our best interest. We defend industry when our citizens have jobs they want to keep and when they have the right to work.
Our first duty is to the citizens who elected us as members of Parliament. We must remember that as we discuss this bill in the House. We have discussed it over the past few days. I hope my colleagues will remember that.
I hope they will remember that the people who use this kind of service are society's poorest—the ones earning minimum wage. If we give people the opportunity to borrow money from these places, they will sink deeper and deeper into a cycle of debt from which they will have a very hard time escaping. We must remember that.
Payday lending is short term lending involving unsecured loans for small sums of money—a few hundred dollars for a couple of weeks.
Lenders require that the borrower provide a cheque so that they can get their money as soon as the borrower is paid. Earlier, the claim was made that people earning minimum wage do not have access to banks. But if they are able to write a cheque to pay a loan, then they must have a bank account. We therefore need to work with the banks to make sure these people have access to loans at much lower, much more reasonable rates. Interest rates on personal loans, consumer loans, currently range from 6% to 7%, nowhere near the usurious rates payday lenders charge.
Even the Consumers' Association of Canada is very concerned. Yet the background information on this bill says that it is at the request of the Consumers' Association of Canada and the people who use this type of company that the government is introducing legislation to amend the Criminal Code on criminal interest rates. This legislation has served Canada well to date, but Quebec has more restrictive legislation.
All consumers will lose because of this legislation. The Consumers' Association of Canada understood this. And if the Consumers' Association of Canada understood this, why are we having so much trouble understanding it? If an association that represents so many people properly, effectively and professionally understood it, why are the members who are here to represent their constituents' interests having so much trouble understanding it? The association even believes that the industry is calling for this amendment for its own benefit.
Consumer protection is within the jurisdiction of the Government of Quebec and the provinces. That is why I would ask all my colleagues in this House to think carefully before giving in to pressure from payday loan companies. I would ask them to think about all their constituents who could become trapped in this cycle of debt. We must be very careful. This bill is not what it purports to be. This bill will not help the public. It will help the payday loan companies.