Madam Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to enter this debate on this comprehensive and sweeping piece of legislation regarding our financial institutions, both their well-being and their duty and obligation to provide adequate service to Canadians.
I need to preface my remarks by noting that the bill is entitled Bill S-5, the S meaning that it does not originate in the House of Commons, the chamber of the duly elected representatives of the people. It has its origins in the other place, the Senate of Canada. As democrats, each and every one of us should take note, pause and reflect on the significance and meaning of the bill. More and more, we are finding bills originating in the Senate, when in fact all pieces of legislation should find their origins in the duly elected chamber of the House of Commons, not the unelected, undemocratic Senate. I profoundly resent this chamber being seized with a bill that has originated there. I will state that for the record.
The other thing comment I would say before discussing the substance of this legislation is the fact that once again we are faced with a debate on a bill with a gun to our heads, under pressure, under the time limitation placed on our democratic review, scrutiny, analysis, and due diligence of the bill, the very reason we were sent here as representatives of the people. We are being denied that right systematically once again by a government that introduces a closure motion almost on the same day it tables a piece of legislation. This is the 16th time in a row, in this short session of this 41st Parliament, that we are being denied our democratic right to give full study and examination of the bill and to have our comments within this place recorded in Hansard.
I do not want anyone in the country who has been observing the activities of our Canadian Parliament to think for one minute that these are normal circumstances. These are anything but normal. These are extraordinary. This is the most appalling abuse and undermining of the democratic process that anyone has ever seen.
I have been a member of Parliament for six terms. I have sat in majority and minority Liberal governments. I have sat in majority and minority Conservative governments. No one has ever seen anything like this before. This cannot be allowed to continue without condemning it in the strongest possible terms. I hope the people of Canada take note that the Conservative government of the day, and I do not say this lightly, is undermining the integrity of our parliamentary institutions by systematically denying the right of members of Parliament to study bills, per our constitutional parliamentary democracy. It offends the sensibilities of anyone who calls himself or herself a democrat to see this happening systematically.
While I am on the subject, I would also note that I just came from a committee meeting earlier today, where there has been a systematic denial of the public's right to know what its government is doing with its money, in its bills and policy development, by invoking the shroud of secrecy over the otherwise ordinary activities of parliamentary committees that have traditionally been held in public. The government has moved to put these in camera. For any ordinary Canadian watching, this means that the doors will be shut, everyone will be asked to leave, and there will be no cameras and no one will have any right to ever divulge what happened behind those closed doors. That is the in camera rule.
In times gone by, three or four years ago, it used to be the rare exception if the activities of a parliamentary committee were held in camera. It would be in matters of national security, or of profound commercial sensitivity where someone's right to privacy in a commercial setting would otherwise be violated.
Now in camera meetings are being used willy-nilly for any little issue that may be controversial or potentially embarrassing to the government. The government slams down the in-camera rule and shuts down the cameras, ironically. Everyone is kicked out of the room and no one in that meeting is ever allowed to divulge anything that happened behind those closed doors under the rule and penalty of the Speaker of the House of Commons. It is a very serious violation to contradict the in camera rule. There is no justification for this whatsoever. I cannot even divulge the matter we were discussing at today's in camera meeting, because it was in camera.
This has been a systematic undermining of the democratic procedures and the processes that have evolved over time to make our Westminster model of parliamentary democracy the best in the world. However, I caution the members across and anyone listening that our parliamentary democracy is a fragile construct. It exists only by virtue of both sides stipulating that they agree to abide by a set of rules that includes openness to the greatest possible, and respecting the role of the opposition to test the merits of the proposals put forward by the government before they are implemented into legislation.
Again, I caution the government of day. It may in fact be doing irreparable harm to our democratic institutions. I think that if it allows pendulum to swing too far this way, it will never get it back to the norm. The toothpaste might never go back into the tube; the genie might never go back into the bottle. The government has pushed the limits of the integrity of our system. It is like pulling a thread on a sweater: the whole sweater can unravel if we keep yanking on that thing. That is what the government is doing. It is testing not only our patience but also the integrity of our whole fragile, yet precious, parliamentary democracy.
I resent profoundly that we are facing closure once again on this bill for the 16th time since we returned to work after the parliamentary summer recess. It is an absurd situation that we find ourselves in. We are being systematically denied the ability to do our job as agents of the people who elected us here to provide scrutiny, oversight and due diligence and to hold the government to account. That is the very function of Parliament and it is what is being denied to us.
We are talking about banks. If there were any subject in the country that warranted a greater examination by the elected representatives of the people, it is the way banks are, or are not, serving the best interests of Canadians. It warrants enhanced scrutiny. It warrants not only a thorough examination but also a royal commission. The failure of banks to meet the needs of Canadians, and their gouging us in the process, is almost ridiculous. The biggest PR campaign in the country right now is not to sell cars, not to promote the oil sands, but the PR job of banks trying to peddle themselves to Canadians as warm, fuzzy and benign institutions that have our best interests at heart.
I challenge that. I would have welcomed the ability to challenge it in a much more thorough way as we go through the bill to amend the law governing the financial institutions of this country. I say this because in the riding of Winnipeg Centre, which I represent, chartered banks are closing like crazy. They are disappearing. They are going the way of the dodo bird. Whereas we used to have a bank, an accessible institution, on the street corner, they are all shutting down and are being merged into one conglomerate. There were 14 bank closures in my riding alone.
Do members know what is filling the void left behind? It is the fringe banking institutions, the Money Marts and payday loan outfits that are charging not the 60% that the usury laws of this country allow them to charge, but which should have been reviewed in this process, but 1,000% to 1,500%. The Government of Manitoba did an investigation and one example it found was a payday loan charging 10,000% interest.
Do members not think that warrants a bit of debate and analysis and scrutiny by the elected representatives of the people, the fact that people are being gouged because of the unwillingness of our chartered banks to live up to the terms and conditions of their charters to provide reasonable financial services to Canadians no matter where they live?
Because of their failure in that department, they have left a void that is being filled in by these predatory lenders. I do not know what can be done to make a 10,000% profit. Selling cocaine does not even give, I presume, a 10,000% profit. However, they are springing up like mushrooms all over the inner city and preying on poor people and gouging them in the most egregious way. The Parliament of Canada is silent on it because we are being denied the right to even do a thorough analysis of the job that financial institutions are doing to provide basic services.
We need to remind ourselves that we granted the chartered banks their charter and what comes with the charter is the exclusive monopoly for certain very lucrative financial transactions, the credit cards, cheque cashing and all of these things, that are enormously profitable. In exchange for the exclusive monopoly on these lucrative transactions, they were to provide at least the basics that financial consumers might need.
We in the NDP have been trying to rectify this for a decade or more, which is why these rare, once every five years, opportunities are so precious. Myself and the former leader of the NDP actually got some proxy shares and used to crash shareholder meetings of the big chartered banks. We would go to the Royal Bank shareholders meetings, as well as the Bank of Montreal, the Toronto Dominion Bank and the CIBC meetings. We would move motions at those shareholders meetings trying to bring these big institutions to account, to stop the gouging and to make them responsible.
Exactly. I see my colleague gets it. He seems as perturbed as I am about this situation.
I will give an example. This is quite an experience. Everybody here should do this. Members should go to a shareholders meeting of one of the chartered banks, such as the Royal Bank of Canada. My good friend, John Cleghorn, was the CEO of the Royal Bank. I had just enough proxy shares to move some motions. Nine motions were moved that year at the shareholders meeting of 1,500 people and I moved all nine of them. Everybody else just goes there to find out how much money they made. I went there to try to introduce some democratic reform to these appalling undemocratic organizations.
One of the motions I moved even my colleague from Nepean would enjoy. I moved a motion to limit the CEO's salary to 20 times that of the average employee. Now the average employee salary, if anyone did the math, is about $47,000 a year, and 20 times that is almost $1 million year, which is pretty good. Sadly, however, the motion was defeated.
Another motion, however, that we moved was for gender parity on the board of directors. This motion was what scared John Cleghorn. Matthew Barrett was not nearly as amused by all of this but John Cleghorn was a good sport. The motion for gender parity on the board of directors failed by this ratio, the exact same as the last Quebec referendum, 49.4% to 50.6%. We almost got it.
There is a lesson here. The shareholders' democratic movement should be inspired by this. A room of 1,500 people who did not come there to talk about amendments to democratic reform or corporate governance had an appetite for corporate governance. There was an interest.
Again, when we did the same thing with Matthew Barrett, he had a hissy fit and was openly wondering how Alexa McDonough ever got in there with any shares in his bank.
Other people are interested in this and, believe me, on behalf of those people who are being victimized by fringe banking in low income neighbourhoods like mine, we owe it to them to give a far more thorough analysis of our once in five year opportunity to amend the laws governing financial institutions and to provide for related and consequential manners. We should not be having it rammed down our throat by a bunch of unelected senators, hacks, flaks and bagmen in the Senate, many of them recently appointed by the government.
With all due respect for the Senate of Canada, it has no business introducing legislation for the House of Commons to have to deal with. It is supposed to be the other way around.
I have talked briefly about the importance of charter banks. I will talk at length, if given the opportunity, on the importance of charter banks and their obligation to provide basic financial services to ordinary Canadians. They have reneged on that deal systematically over the last many decades, to the point where they are now charging money at an ATM. First, they brought in ATMs, presumably to save money so they could lay off bank tellers. Finally, when they got people used to the idea that they had to use ATMs, they started introducing service fees. So they are not only saving a fortune and posting record profits every quarter, even through the economic downturn, but they are gouging ordinary Canadians for $1.50 each way to take $20 out of their bank account. I would like to see the percentage charge on that, extrapolated over the lending fees associated with the usury provisions. I think in the Criminal Code of Canada, if more than 60% is charged they are guilty of usury.
Therefore, how is it that the Money Marts, the payday lenders and the title loan lenders in my riding are charging 1,000%, 1,500% and, in this one egregious example, 10,000% interest and the government of the day and the enforcement agencies regarding financial institutions are silent on the matter? Clearly something is fundamentally wrong.
I have notes about Bill S-5 but many of the observations and points being made here are so narrow and specific that they miss the big picture. More often than not in this place we do not see the forest for the trees and the fact is that we are not being well served by our financial institutions. We are being gouged by our financial institutions. We should be screaming from the rooftops condemning the treatment of ordinary Canadians by the gouging that is going on.
I have talked about the shareholders' rights efforts that we used to make. We should probably mention that again but I want to talk about one other thing in the global picture of how we view the relationship we have with the financial institutions that seem to have such great influence over this country.
I hear time and time again the government side bragging that we have the best banking regime in the world, that it is due to the wizardry of our Minister of Finance and that somehow everything is rosy in this regard.
I want to remind anyone listening today that were it not for the Herculean efforts of the NDP, not five or seven years ago, the charter banks of Canada would have been allowed to merge into massive institutions, as they wanted to do. They were dying to merge. They were asking permission. They were knocking on the door. The John Manleys and the Paul Martins of the world were eager to receive the message. Do members know why they wanted to merge? It is because they wanted to play in the big leagues in the biggest game in town. The biggest game in town at that time was the sub-prime mortgage industry. Our banks were too small to play a meaningful, realistic role in that industry sector but they were dying to merge so they could dive in there and we would have been in just as much trouble as the big institutions in the United States, crashing and burning in this catastrophic notion of bundling the sub-prime mortgages and marketing them as a financial product.
Fortunately, we managed to prevail and block the urge to merge. I remember the national campaign was purge the urge to merge. It was Lorne Nystrom's campaign, the NDP finance critic of the day, criss-crossing the country. I see he is outside here today. We should recognize and pay tribute to Lorne Nystrom because we owe him a great debt of gratitude. He is a big businessman and he knows something of these things.
It is our job and our obligation to ensure the financial institutions meet the needs of Canadians, not to have it rammed down our throat in a bill put forward by the undemocratic, unelected Senate.