Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to provide the response on behalf of the government to today's motion.
I have to express disappointment at some blatant errors in the wording of the motion. Specifically the text mentions that Canada should adopt legislation similar to the credit card accountability, responsibility and disclosure act of 2009, introduced by the Obama administration in the United States. The NDP's push for Canada, which has the strongest banking system in the world, to junk its banking system model for that of another country is odd at best.
I suggest the NDP listen to the words of Paul Volcker, chairman of President Obama's economic recovery advisory board. He envisions a U.S. banking system that, “Looks more like the Canadian system than it does like the American system”. Better yet, I suggest the NDP listen to the words of President Obama, who stated:
—one of the things that I think has been striking about Canada is that in the midst of this enormous economic crisis...Canada has shown itself to be a pretty good manager of the financial system in the economy in ways that we haven't always been here in the United States. And I think that's important for us to take note of...
I would like the House to note that the credit card accountability, responsibility and disclosure act of 2009 was not introduced by the Obama administration. This is not some point of debate; it is a fact. It is a fact that is pretty easy to verify. Those at home watching and are near a computer should take a minute to Google it. They will find the act was introduced by the senator from Connecticut, Christopher Dodd. Mr. Dodd is not a member of President Obama's administration.
I also did a little research, and by “little”, I mean about five minutes, which the member for Sudbury could have and should have done. I quickly discovered that Senator Dodd first introduced the bill in the 108th Congress on July 22, 2004. I believe he has reintroduced it every congress since. I do not have to Google to remember that it was not the Obama administration that was in power back then, but rather it was the Bush administration.
How and why is the member for Sudbury claiming a proposal that a Connecticut senator first introduced in 2004 during the Bush administration can now be called an initiative of President Obama's administration? It was not and it cannot be. It was just some sloppy research that is unbecoming of Parliament.
In essence, what we are debating today is basically an American senator's private member's bill. The senator informs us:
This bill has the support of a wide array of consumer advocates and labor organizations, including...Connecticut Public Interest Research Group, the Connecticut Association for Human Services...the National Council of LaRaza, the Service Employees International Union, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
Indeed, Senator Dodd is pretty adamant that this bill, “Is what the American people and the people of Connecticut are demanding”.
I bet people are wondering what all that has to do with Canada. Luckily for the Parliament of Canada and the people of Canada, according to the logic behind today's NDP motion, all of Senator Dodd's colleagues in the Senate who he mentioned, along with those American-based consumer advocates and labour organizations as well and the people of Connecticut, were kind enough to consider the impact and the effects the bill would have on Canada. This would be funny if it were not actually being debated in this Parliament in Canada.
Clearly, I suggest for the member for Sudbury that Senator Dodd and company did not talk to Canadians about his bill, and that means this bill was not designed for Canada's superior financial system.
Some will suggest that does not matter, that it is the broad intent of the proposals in the bill that matter. I respectfully disagree. I think it does matter. Canadians did not send us to Parliament to merely copy and paste legislation from another country, as much of a great neighbour as that country may be. Canadians want their elected representatives and their federal government to develop legislation that takes into account their needs.
With all due respect to the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group and the Connecticut Association for Human Services, relying on consultations done with the groups that operate in different counties does not and cannot accurately reflect the needs of Canadians.
The motion is especially jarring because it essentially discounts and ignores committee hearings that are taking place or are about to take place in Canada's House of Commons and in the Senate and the recommendations or suggestions that those hearings could provide and replaces these with a made in Connecticut proposal. I would suggest that it is ill-advised to buy legislation off the shelf.
However, what can one reasonably expect from the NDP? When it comes to reflecting the needs of Canadian consumers and investors, the NDP members have gone beyond simply failing. They have been missing in action. They clearly have not been doing their homework. They have developed a pattern of voting against every major initiative that this government has brought forward to protect consumers, improve financial literacy or to help investors.
The most obvious example is today's motion, which claims the NDP wants legislation introduced to allow the government to protect credit card consumers. In fact, we already did that and the NDP voted against it.
Specifically, our economic action plan announced that our Conservative government would enact regulations to strengthen the disclosure requirements for federally regulated financial institutions that issued credit cards. This would allow consumers to benefit from clearer and simpler summary information on credit card application forms and contracts and from clearer and more timely advance notice of changes in rates and fees.
Catherine Swift, president of Canadian Federation of Independent Business, appearing before a Senate committee, lent her voice in support of such a change, explaining:
Who reads fine print? My son recently had a card. He hates it when I look into anything because it drives him mad, but I found out that he was paying 25-per-cent interest. I told him to cut the card up immediately....
That is one reason why we saw recommendations in the federal budget for consumers to be better educated on financial matters, and for more proactive dissemination of this kind of information. When consumers receive a long document with small print accompanying their credit card, I would argue not many people are looking out for their own interests. They end up paying a lot more money than they need to.
We are not done, though. We will also enhance consumer protection by limiting business practices that do not benefit consumers. For example, we will require a minimum grace period on new purchases made with a credit card and move to improve the debt collection practices of federally regulated financial institutions.
As I mentioned, the changes that were proposed in the budget were significant. They were developed in Canada in response to needs and concerns of our Canadian market and applauded by public interest groups based in Canada, groups like the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which noted “reaction to the fact the government is moving in this direction is a positive one”.
Again, did NDP members support any of these measures to protect consumers? No, they voted against them, a vote of opposition that they have yet to explain to Canadians. However, it does not stop there.
The pattern of opposition continues and extends to improving financial literacy to ensure Canadians have the knowledge to make informed financial decisions. Financial literacy, the ability to understand personal and broad financial matters, to apply that knowledge and assume responsibility for one's financial decisions, is becoming an increasingly vital life skill for Canadians.
We had recognized from the start of our government, and we have been actively supporting initiatives to improve it since.
Starting in budget 2007 and carrying on into budget 2008, our Conservative government made investments in new funding into the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. I encourage all Canadians to visit its website at www.fcac.gc.ca. This is very important in helping to improve financial literacy in Canada, but both times the NDP voted against that funding. The pattern continues.
In budget 2009 we made a decision to build on those previously mentioned investments by committing to an independent task force to work towards a national strategy on financial literacy. The task force will include representatives of business, education, volunteer organizations and academics and will be supported by a federal secretariat. I note for the member for Sudbury that this initiative, along with our government's broad efforts to improve financial literacy, was in fact praised by a member of the Obama administration.
Let me quote John Hope Bryant, vice-chair of President Barack Obama's advisory council on financial literacy, who said:
[The Prime Minister's] government has taken some important steps in this direction [of improving financial literacy].
In 2007, his government mandated that the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada begin addressing financial literacy matters. Funding was provided in the subsequent federal budgets.
However, in fiscal 2009, the Canadian government['s]...commitment to form an independent, multi-sector task force to develop a national strategy on financial literacy is the first step in a process that could help Canadians make better financial decisions.
He continued further:
It could also help Canadians better weather the economic storms that will inevitably blow through the global economy from time to time.
Again, despite the obvious benefits of such an initiative, the NDP voted against it. This appears more like the anti-consumer protection agenda of the NDP.
We see this also in the lack of support of a new national regulator to support consumers or investors of securities. This is an issue that many people often do not understand at first glance, but as it is explained they quickly understand why improving Canada's securities framework is so vital.
We are an investing country, plain and simple. Canadians own RRSPs, equities, mutual funds and other investments. These nest eggs represent Canadians' financial future. However, investors in Canada are not protected to the degree that they deserve. Canada is the only industrialized country without a national securities regulator. Instead we have a patchwork of 13 separate securities acts and regulators, with no coordinated enforcement to maximize investor protection.
In the words of the National Union of Public and General Employees, an organization often aligned with the NDP:
Canada is practically the only advanced country without a national securities regulator. Instead, the regulation of corporate fraud and insider trading is left to ineffective provincial securities commissions, each seeming to vie with the others for the title of the weakest sheriff in town.
Another prominent organization that often sides with the NDP, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, has also declared that “Canada's securities...regulators have a dismal record...Canadians have been embarrassed...that regulation and enforcement of securities crime in Canada is so weak”.
No wonder people like Erin Weir, the United Steelworkers economist, has noted that he is “quite supportive of a national securities regulator...I do think it would be good to have”.
They understand that an improved, national regulator would strengthen both regulatory and criminal enforcement by focusing accountability, improving allocation of resources, and ensuring consistent sanctions and enforcement priorities.
No wonder the IMF declared:
Canada is currently the only G7 country without a common securities regulator, and Canada's investors deserve better.
Our Conservative government agrees with that, that Canada deserves better, and has been aggressively working on establishing that national securities regulator.
Where does the NDP stand? We guessed it. The NDP members continue in their pattern of voting against protecting consumers. What is worse, they seemingly have blinders on. They have demanded in a House of Commons vote that our government immediately abandon even considering the idea.
The NDP finance critic, the member for Outremont, ignoring the pleas of the labour organizations that I just spoke of, claimed Canada's patchwork system was “working fine”.
Let us review today's motion that is before us.
The NDP wants to abandon Canada's banking model, ignore Canadian parliamentary committees currently undertaking studies on this issue, and adopt a Connecticut senator's private member bill from 2004 that they incorrectly believe was introduced by President Obama. All the while, the NDP continues to oppose every single initiative we have introduced to protect consumers and investors and to improve financial literacy.
I will let that record speak for itself and finish by quoting my dear colleague on the finance committee, the esteemed Liberal finance critic from Markham—Unionville, who said:
The fundamental point about the NDP is that those members do not understand economics. They never understood economics and they never will understand economics. In effect, the NDP is mired in a time warp in the 1960s...It has no vision...and no clue...which is why that party will remain a marginal protest party...The vast majority of Canadians want nothing to do with a party of economic Luddites, which is why that party is marginal, why it will remain marginal and why it is not taken seriously by the people of Canada.