Madam Speaker, I was trying to save time. I thought I had received unanimous consent.
On the surface, this bill does not seem to have any major points of contention, as I have already said, but we cannot assume that everyone sees it that way. Financial institutions are a pillar of our economy and have to be treated with more respect. Allowing the Minister of Finance to have veto power over the acquisition of foreign entities by Canadian banks is something that should be analyzed further. The government tells us that this is to allow us to prevent crises like the one in 2008, but is this really necessary? No Canadian bank had problems similar to the ones experienced by the American or European banks and there is nothing to suggest that this could happen in the near future.
Why are the Conservatives imposing this condition in the bill? Do they have a hidden agenda? We do not know. Do they have any studies to support the fact that this necessary? Why do they not leave this responsibility to the real professionals? Representatives from the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, who have always done excellent work, would be better qualified for this responsibility. Perhaps we are giving this veto power to the minister simply because the Prime Minister, as we all know, always likes to be in control of everything.
All these questions make us realize one thing: the Conservatives do not like studies. They believe they have the answers to all the problems and they pass legislation without any consultation or debate. In 1995, former finance minister Paul Martin introduced the Bank Act and saw it passed. That legislation was not sloppy or passed at the last minute. We spent a year preparing it before passing it. The Liberal government at the time held many consultations and put a committee in charge of the matter. Public consultations were held, and the Liberals listened to expert advice in order to ensure that the legislation was drafted properly.
The Liberal government of the day had a majority, as the Conservatives do today. Yet it did not impose legislation at the last minute or limit debate; instead, it listened to what parliamentarians and all Canadians had to say. This Liberal legislation saved our banks from the financial collapse of 2008. Now, we have barely two months to pass this bill. The problem is that parliamentarians are not necessarily experts in banking. We use banking services, but we are not experts. Consultations with people in the industry are needed, for instance, with people who receive and provide services, managers and others. And that takes time.
As I said earlier, is it really necessary to give the finance minister more power? Would another person or institution have been in a better position to make these decisions? Is there really a problem?
Since we are taking the time to tackle the question of banks, are there other aspects that we should also focus on, as we heard this morning? Is this the best solution for the problem? These are some of the basic questions that could have been answered with an in-depth study. The last time we reviewed the legislation on financial institutions, in 2006 and 2007, I was chair of the Standing Committee on Finance and we examined Bill C-37. Thanks to the hard work of the Liberal members on the committee, we led consultations that lasted over three months. That diligent work allowed us to find several flaws in the Conservative bill. It is hard to do the same work today.
As I said earlier, the main problem with this bill is not so much its content as the uncertainty surrounding its review, given that the government does not intend to consult the players involved. This problem could have easily been avoided had the government introduced this bill in October rather than in February since, I repeat, the bill must be passed before April 20. The House of Commons simply does not have the time to seriously consider this bill. Even in the Senate, Senator Hervieux-Payette stated that they simply did not have time to thoroughly examine the issue.
What were the Conservatives thinking when they introduced this bill in the Senate on November 23, 2011? The bill was read for the second time on December 6, 2011, just before the long Christmas break. Today, it is February 3 and the government is only now presenting the bill for second reading. Rather than wasting their time abolishing the firearms registry and rushing to pass regressive legislation to imprison our youth, why did the Conservatives not begin seriously reviewing the Bank Act? This is an urgent situation that needs to be resolved because, as I mentioned, the act must be revised before April 20. This should have been a priority but the Conservatives would rather invent threats than take care of real problems.
Another problematic aspect of this bill is the fact that the changes to this legislation would allow a foreign government to own shares in a Canadian bank and thus have voting rights. How does this help Canadian banks? We do not know. Taxpayers who have pension plans with banks do not even have the right to vote, so why should a foreign government? What will the effects of this be? I doubt that we will have an answer before this reformed legislation is passed because we do not have enough time to consider the consequences.
In summary, I am not against this bill but there are still some unresolved issues because this government took its time and did not adequately plan for this review of the Bank Act. A competent government, like the one that existed when the Liberals were in power, would have conducted many studies and allowed parliamentarians to carefully consider this bill. Now, there is not enough time and we will not know all the effects this bill will have until after it is passed.