Madam Speaker, the strength of the banking and financial system in Canada is that its legal framework is perpetually sunsetted every five years. It has to be re-enacted or it expires. Some might think this is a source of uncertainty or weakness, but the opposite is really true. By requiring Parliament to re-examine Canada's banking laws every five years, we are forced to pay attention and to keep them strong and up to date.
Bill S-5 is a product of this five-year review process. It certainly has the questions that have just been referred to by my colleague, but hopefully Parliament will be able to address those questions in a satisfactory manner in the time that remains before the bill needs to be passed. It has to be enacted before April 20, 2012, to keep our whole system intact.
In that sense, this proposed legislation is rather routine. It renews and extends Canada's basic financial laws for another five years. That is important, but beyond that, Bill S-5, quite frankly, is not very ambitious.
It does not, for example, address the chronic problem that small businesses have in getting fairness from the big banks on their debit and credit card arrangements. It does not address the problem that will soon arise from another piece of legislation that was before the House this week, and that is the bill creating the new pooled registered pension plans.
Experience in other countries has demonstrated that a key issue will be the management fees and the other charges enacted by big financial institutions to operate these new pension plans.
A report from Australia shows that its PRPP system generated handsome profits for banks and insurance companies, but the average pensioner would actually have been better off simply buying a government bond.
There is nothing in legislation from the government to ensure a level of return on PRPPs equivalent to the extraordinary performance of the Canada pension plan, or to prevent fee gouging by the banks, insurance companies and other companies that run these new plans. Bill S-5 is probably most noteworthy for what it does not do.
The last significant work on the overall framework governing our financial sector was undertaken some 15 years ago by the Task Force on the Future of the Canadian Financial Services Sector. It was chaired for Canada by an eminent Saskatchewanian, Mr. Harold MacKay. His report was a powerful piece of work. He laid out those principles and values that have given this country the strongest financial services sector in the world.
The current Prime Minister likes to travel the world bragging about the success of Canadian banks and financial institutions. He did so in his recent alpine speech to the rich and famous in Davos, Switzerland. Before he launched his attack on low and middle income future seniors, he spent some time taking credit for the strength of Canadian banks as well as for the Canada pension plan.
There is more than a little irony here; some would say hypocrisy. In the mid-1990s, when Mr. MacKay was doing his work, there was huge pressure on the Liberal government of the day to go in the opposite direction. The big banks and the political right in Canada, including the predecessors of the Conservative government, were pushing hard for what they called a more American-like system. They wanted weaker prudential standards. They wanted less regulatory oversight. They wanted big banks to merge, so the biggest five or six could become the big two or three, and they could better take on the American competition, like Lehman Brothers, for example. That was their Conservative line back then.
All that right-wing advice turned out to be really bad advice. Lehman Brothers and other U.S. banks have gone the way of the dodo bird, and Canadian banks have turned out to be the most successful and the most respected.
In opposition back in the 1990s, the current Prime Minister and his Reform-Alliance colleagues also gave very bad advice about pensions. They went on the attack against the CPP, the Canada pension plan. They called it a huge boondoggle. They called it a big, European-style socialist welfare scheme. They said it should be scrapped altogether, that Canadians should just fend for themselves with private savings. The rich, of course, would do very well under a scheme like that, and as for all the rest, well, who cares. That was the right-wing line back in the 1990s.
We can hear echoes of that sort of thing today in the current debate about old age security and the old age pension. Never mind that 75% of those who receive the old age pension have incomes below $40,000. Never mind that many are elderly widows living alone. Never mind that without the old age pension, poverty among seniors would rise by as much as one-third. “Never mind all that”, the right-wingers say, “just cut them back and let provincial welfare programs pick up the slack”.
There is only one taxpayer, federal or provincial. Cutting down the OAS would not make the human needs go away. It would just download the burden onto the provinces, like health care downloading and prison cost downloading. It is false economy. That is true today, just as it was 10 or 15 years ago, when the current Prime Minister and his colleagues attacked the CPP.
He went to Davos and bragged about how the CPP is so actuarially sound, which it is, but no thanks to him. It was refurbished for the future despite the Conservatives, not because of them. The CPP has a superlative investment and return record and the plan is assured for at least another 75 years.
Once in government, the incompetence of the party across the way has continued. The Conservatives increased federal spending by three times the rate of inflation. They eliminated contingency reserves and prudence factors from federal budget making and they put Canada back into deficit again, all before there was any recession, not because of the recession, but before it. Then during the recession they dug their deficit hole deeper and deeper, $50 billion or more per year, with no coherent rules or objectives. Millions of dollars were siphoned into useless pork-barrel projects like the G8 and G20 fiasco, with all its fake lakes, ornamental gazebos, and sidewalks to nowhere. The Auditor General called it unprecedented and very wrong.
Now, while earmarking billions to be squandered on bigger jails and wildly expensive fighter jets, the Prime Minister says his government can no longer afford pillars of Canadian life like universal health care and old age pensions for middle- and low-income seniors.
The fiscal pressure on the Conservatives is entirely self-concocted and they are rather happy about that. I can hear them chuckling across the way right now. They want an excuse to pull away from medicare and pensions, and they really could care less who suffers.
It is important to keep Bill S-5 in context. It will be passed before April 20 to maintain Canada's banking success. However, for so many Canadians beyond the big banks the story is not very rosy. Economic growth stalled in October; it turned negative in November. Household debt is at an all-time record high, at 153% of disposable income. Unemployment went up again last month and it worsened again just today, with another 450 jobs lost at the Electro-Motive plant in London.
Strong banks are a must, but they are certainly not all by themselves sufficient to achieve a strong, successful country overall with growing and shared prosperity for all Canadians. It is that last element that the government seems to care very little about. It does not care if growth is sustainable. It certainly does not care if it is shared.
We will continue to battle the Conservatives on that fundamental principle: prosperity. We have proven we know the formula for making the economy grow. We did that through 12 very successful years of economic prosperity in this country. We also must work together on the sharing and the sustainability of that prosperity.