Mr. Speaker, the reality is that, in opposition, the Reform Party fought vigorously against the decision of the Chrétien government to maintain strong regulations around Canadian banks, the very regulations that kept Canadian banks from following the global trend and off the cliff like the lemmings in Europe, in the U.K. and in the U.S.
What did the Conservatives do in government in terms of the prudential management of banks? One of the first things the Minister of Finance did in 2006 in his first budget was to bring in 40 year mortgages with no down payments. This created the loosest approach to mortgage lending in the history of Canada.
Furthermore, in 2007, the Conservatives went further. Under the Liberal government, Canadians needed mortgage insurance if the down payment on their mortgage was less than 25%. In 2007, the Conservatives changed that and lowered the threshold to 20%.
Those were just some of the changes they made to create looser mortgages, looser regulations, which led to, among other things, what many economists are now referring to in Canada as a housing bubble, certainly a personal debt bubble. We have the highest level of personal debt in Canada today, which is $1.53 of personal debt for every dollar of annual income. That is the highest in our history and it is higher than that of our neighbours to the south in the U.S.
The February 4 edition of The Economist magazine states:
When the United States saw a vast housing bubble inflate and burst during the 2000s, many Canadians felt smug about the purported prudence of their financial and property markets.
It went further and cited the Prime Minister at that time boasting in 2010. It then states:
Today the consensus is growing on Bay Street... that [the Canadian Prime Minister] may have to eat his words.
The Economist then said that Canada's housing prices had doubled since 2002. This has coincided with a massive growth in our personal debt levels. We see a great increase in speculation in the housing markets, particularly in some hot markets, such as Toronto and Vancouver, among others, and we see this growth having occurred, in part, in a response to the deliberate decisions by the Minister of Finance to loosen up debt and mortgage regulations back around 2006 and 2007.
The government must be held to account for those decisions, which actually helped create what we hope is not a housing bubble that ends badly but is certainly a personal debt bubble that needs to be managed.
It is important to realize that the Conservative government cannot take credit for the prudential decisions made by the previous Liberal government, and that the current government must be held to account for some of the foolhardy decisions it made as a government to loosen banking regulations and to loosen mortgage rules early in its term.
I want to note a couple of other things about Bill S-5 because some of the changes would have an impact on Canada's incredibly strong banking sector and its role in the world. One change is requiring the minister, in order to approve foreign acquisitions by a Canadian entity, under certain circumstances, for instance if the foreign entity being acquired has equity of at least $2 billion and if the acquisition of the entity would increase the size of the Canadian entity by at least 10%.
Under those circumstances and conditions in this legislation, it would mean that the Bank Act would require the minister to approve the acquisitions of these foreign financial institutions by Canadian banks. That is a change. The previous rules simply required that the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, OSFI, would approve those within the public service, within the bureaucracy.
Recent deals that would have triggered this mechanism of ministerial approval would have been the Manulife John Hancock deal, the TD Commerce Bancorp deal, the BMO Marshall & Ilsley deal and Sun Life. There are other large acquisitions that have occurred in the last couple of years: Scotia Bank bought Banco Colpatria, Colombia's fifth largest bank, and it also bought the Royal Bank of Scotland's Colombia assets as well 20% of the Bank of Guangzhou.
I want to raise as a concern, that the government consider the politicization of these foreign investments by our Canadian banks and the potential risk to the capacity that we have in doing so. The fact is we now have some of the largest banks in the world that are world leaders in terms of governance and success. With the capacity to significantly increase Canada's influence in the world in terms of a very important financial services sector, this politicization could lead to some highly political and potentially bad decisions in the future which would limit the role of Canadian banks in the world.
I raise that as a concern and I look forward to questions from my colleagues.