Madam Speaker, I would like to share my time with my colleague from Windsor West.
I would like to begin by applauding my colleague from Sudbury and the work of the New Democrats in the House in bringing forward such an important proposition and calling for the introduction of a credit card accountability, responsibility and disclosure act. This is so important to us in our every day lives as Canadians in general, but even more important at this time of unprecedented economic downturn.
Basically, this act calls upon the government to protect consumers, protect Canadians who are going through a difficult and rough time, and ensure that their livelihoods are being protected. In many ways, it is modelled along the initiative that the Obama administration south of us took in introducing a credit card accountability, responsibility and disclosure act just some time ago. It was something that was heralded as very good news and very important in protecting American consumers. The question remains, why can we not see the same done here?
I would like to speak to this motion as the critic on youth issues. As a young person myself and the second-youngest person in the House of Commons, I speak in a place where not many people of my generation have the chance to speak. It is a tremendous honour to be here at my age and to represent the people of Churchill, one of the youngest regions in Canada. However, I also hold it very important to represent my generation and people of a similar age whose voices, in many cases, are not heard.
This bill seeks to protect all consumers. Particularly, it pays attention to the challenges and the need to look out for young people in our country. Among the many things this act would do, it would protect young consumers from aggressive credit card solicitations. This is in addition to dealing with interest rate increases and account changes, protecting card holders, and eliminating abusive fees and penalties. However, the particular attention to the situation facing young people is of utmost importance.
I want to paint a bit of a picture of the reality that many young people in Canada and around the world face today. We know that we live in the age of constant advertising and media, whether it is the Internet, television or whatever it might be. We are constantly faced with images of consumption and advertising encouraging all people, but especially young people, to spend their money. In many cases, these things might be useful. However, in many other cases, their usefulness is questionable.
The matter remains that consumption is very much an activity impressed upon young people. In recent years, we have seen the promotion that we need credit cards in order to fuel that consumption, that young people will be able to achieve what they want and be happy by buying, and that this will be easily accomplished through credit cards. Watch the music channels and listen to the radio. All of these messages are readily there and specifically promoting the use of credit cards. Having gone through a couple of universities myself, I am aware of walking down the hallways and seeing numerous credit card companies approach students to take out credit cards and enter into a proposition that for many students is difficult.
Given that encouragement of consumption and the use of credit cards, we also have to see how that interacts with some of the other realities young people face. For example, many young people who are going to university or achieving post-secondary education are facing increased tuition fees. In many cases, they have to take loans out in order to pay off these tuition fees. The average Canadian student debt among those who borrow and graduate from four-year programs is $22,700, an amount that for many students who either work part-time or may not be able to work at all is quite prohibitive.
We are dealing with increased tuition fees and an overall increase in the cost of living, which for many students is highly problematic. The New Democrats have called upon the Conservative government to deal with issues of access and support when it comes to post-secondary students.
I also believe it is important to protect our young people from credit card solicitation, but the abuse of credit card fees also interacts with the employment situation that many young people face.
We talk a great deal about the thousands of jobs that so many Canadians have lost from coast to coast to coast. We need to recognize that, in many cases, this means not only the loss of jobs for young people, but also there are no jobs for them. I see hiring freezes and layoffs in my area. In many cases companies are laying off young people, but they also are shutting down opportunities for them when they come out of our educational institutions and look for jobs.
Given the difficult employment situation that our young people face today, in addition to the constant encouragement of young people to take out credit cards and to be exposed to these difficult situations, is very unfair. We need the government to take leadership, not just looking at it in terms of protecting all consumers, but also the importance of looking ahead to the future and supporting young people in the challenges they are facing today, which in many ways differ from the challenges that other generations face.
I want to particularly point out that the employment situation will continue to be very difficult for young people in that we do not know when exactly we will come out of the economic recession. We recently heard the negative forecasts. The future appears quite grim for many young people. I hear it from peers of mine from university and from college. They say that they are getting an education, and they know that is right, but what kind of opportunities are they going to have?
The difficult situation faced by many of the children of members here and many young people who work in our offices, who make government and our country work, needs to be recognized. The Conservative government needs to take action. It needs to listen to the voices of the House, the leadership that New Democrats have taken. The role of government is to stand up for consumers and to protect them.
I also want to note that young people are not in isolation from the reality that many of us face. Many young people are members of families and depend on them, which are equally finding themselves in very difficult situations as a result of the lack of regulation and unfair credit card rules.
For example, the Canadian household debt to income ratio in 2003 increased by 105.2%, which is incredible. We note that many young people depend on their parents or their families to help them get through their education or to help them get on their feet because they do not have that ability in many cases, and especially now.
It is beyond me to understand why any member would vote against something that not only stands to protect consumers, but, more important, stands to protect our young people and our future.