Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that for every Canadian across the country the health of the banking sector is critical. The banking sector plays a critical role in all our lives, whether we are buying a house or applying for a credit card. Also, many of us get paid through our banks. Many people, not just those with a lot of money, have a vested interest in ensuring our banking sector is stable.
Knowing that a five year sunset clause was included in the legislation and knowing that the deadline for that review was April 20 this year, it interesting that my colleagues across the aisle would wait this long to table such critical legislation. Not only did they wait so long, but at the same time they tabled the legislation, they moved time allocation on it. Out of one side of their mouths they are telling us that this is critical and timely legislation and we must get it through the House. Out of the other side of their mouths they are telling us that they will not have open and transparent debate, where the opposition gets to take a look at the bill and could, and probably would, make some useful amendments.
I sat here for half an hour this morning and listened to the debate on the critical nature of the need to move time allocation. Once again, I would argue that time allocation is not needed. The bill requires thoughtful consideration because it would impact many Canadians. It would impact their savings as well as the homes in which they live.
Instead of us being given a reasonable amount of time to debate the legislation, the majority in the House once again used the duct tape approach of muzzling the voice of the opposition. Let me assure my colleagues that they might be able to move time allocation in the House, but we will send a message to our communities that we were not allowed to debate the bill in the thoughtful way we would have liked.
I am a new MP so the House will have to beg my forgiveness for saying this, but I was really taken aback this morning when a speaker on the government side said that the NDP opposing time allocation was like us bringing chaos into people's lives.
I am beginning to wonder what my colleagues across the way want. Do they want the opposition to just support any legislation they bring in? I am sure they would like that, but that is not the role of the opposition. If members of the opposition have things to say, we are immediately labelled, and some language is used that I find disturbing.
I am not a supporter of chaos, either in Parliament, in my personal life or back in my community. When I want to debate a legitimate piece of legislation, it is not because I want chaos. It is because I want to give thoughtful input as the representative of my community.
The government shows a lack of respect toward members of the opposition. I should not be puzzled by that; I should expect that. The legislation had its first unveiling in the Senate. It is a bill that would impact so many Canadians. I find it really disturbing that it was first put before an unelected, unrepresentative Senate. Why? What prevented that bill from being in the House first?
It also interesting to note that despite the patronage appointments and the payola that has gone into many of the appointments to the Senate, even that house commented that it had to look at a significant piece of legislation, with many technical components, and had concerns that with three weeks it did not have enough time and that the government was trying to rush the bill through.
We have until April 12, What is the rush? If the government knew it had until April 12 as the sunset clause, why did we not start talking about this last May, or June, or October, or November or December? Instead, we are today looking at this significant piece of legislation.
Despite all of those things, the NDP welcomes the review of the financial systems review act. We should be very proud of the banking regulations that are in place. It is because of those regulations that Canada was buffered from the worst aspects of the economic meltdown.
I also think there is an irony that has to be pointed out. We have a majority in the House that is absolutely committed to deregulation. When we look at almost everything else, like the gun registry, the Wheat Board and many of the other issues that have come before the House, they have all been for deregulation. Yet when it suits the Conservatives, they wax eloquent about the existing banking regulations. However, those regulations exist because of the work of some other governments. It was the opposition that prevented my colleagues across the way from deregulating our banking system at a certain time in our history.
When I look at the need to review the area of banking and banking regulation, I am also hit by what is missing from the legislation. I am not sure if members have read some of the newspaper articles and emails. There is nothing in the bill to limit and regulate user fees charged by banks.
Recently a senior citizen came to my constituency office. I have many of them coming in these days because they are getting very disturbed. This is what the senior citizen told me. She put her money in the bank, and when the bank wanted to automate and introduce the ATM machine, she started to use that thinking it would save the bank and her money. Remember, bank profits are very high now, yet there is always a threat of new user fees or increased user fees. This senior citizen is so puzzled because she believes she has saved so much money for the bank by it not needing the personnel in place, which I think is a huge mistake, and it being so automated. However, her fees keep going up.
This was an opportunity, with this legislation, for the government to start looking at regulating user fees that banks are gouging their customers. Some banks are even beginning to introduce fees for people to get their own money out of their bank accounts. At one time, it was only if they went to a different ATM. Now one of the banks has put out the idea that there could be user fees even if customers uses their own bank's ATM machines. That makes no sense. Canadians look to us to regulate things like that.
The other concern I have is the interest rates on credit cards. It is time the government put regulations in place that are tighter and more closely regulated to ensure banks do not charge the kinds of rates they are. People who put their money in banks are lucky to get 1% interest. With that money, the banks get to play with it and make money on it. On the other hand, if people use their credit cards, which are banking credit cards, banks charge interest rates from 12% up to 22%. If that is not gouging, I do not know what is. As far as I am concerned, a critical component that is missing in this is tackling the area of user fees for citizens who are being hurt by them. We also have to look at the rates banks charge for people who use those credit cards.
I know some people will say that people should not use credit cards. However, in today's reality some people live from paycheque to paycheque. They often end up having to spend on their credit card, hoping they can pay part of it back if they get some money coming in within the following month. I am talking about just a few people. A lot of people survive like that and not because they go out to buy some big fancy toys or go on big holidays. They are trying to make ends meet from month to month.
I would be the first one to argue that if we are getting into luxury items, then we are looking at choices. I am talking about credit cards people are using because they have no other choice. They need that flexibility to survive. Because of that, I feel the scope of this bill is really limited and needs to be widened.
I was also interested in finding out what kind of consultation occurred. I heard that 30 groups were consulted. For a country the size of Canada, only 30 groups were consulted, and 27 of those were anonymous. What kind of consultation is that? Was this consultation open and transparent?
One thing I do not like about anonymous submissions, or whatever, is people get to say whatever they want and they are never held accountable. I have a primary rule that if I get something that is not signed, I put it aside. The government has had consultations with three groups, three groups for a country the size of Canada on an issue as important as banking.
The other area we do not often talk about is the co-operative banks in our communities and how we need to support them and find ways to do that. The co-operative banks in my area do an amazing job of giving back to the community in many different ways. I am a bit saddened that this is not being addressed in the bill.
Once again, Bill S-5 is being used by the government as a prop to hold up the banks. It is being rushed through the House. From what I have read, the profits of banks has increased incredibly. It has not really gone down. We should take a look at the consumer debt, which is at a record level of 151% of disposable income. I want every one of us in the House to take a second to comprehend that. Consumer debt is at record levels of 151%, which is so high.
It is because this debt level is so high that we are becoming increasingly concerned about some risky mortgage lending practices and home equity credit lines by banks and other lending institutions.
Currently, if I go through websites or look at some of the mail that comes through my door, it is clear that a person can actually get his or her house financed fairly easily for up to 90%. That is an advantage for some, but in the long term it is also the basis for potential instability. Right now our interest rates are fairly reasonable and low, as many would say, but if they were to go up by even half of 1%, that would put many of these people in jeopardy.
To avoid the kind of housing slump that happened in the United States, surely we should be taking the time with this legislation to put protections in place. When we take a look at our regulations, we absolutely must take our time.
Mr. Speaker, how much longer do I have?