Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill S-5. I thank the parliamentary secretary for her kind words with respect to my addition to the finance committee. I look forward to working with her and other members of that committee in the weeks and months ahead.
I want to make it clear that the official opposition will support Bill S-5 at second reading in principle. As she herself has said, it is a very technical bill. It has not received a lot of public discussion. As is the case with a bill of this nature, the devil is sometimes in the details. It will be incumbent upon us in the chamber and certainly members of the finance committee to bring witnesses forward and discuss those details to make sure there is not something untoward that causes concern. Assuming we do not find anything, we will support the bill at third reading, but we will see.
There is no question the financial services industry is a major financial force in this country. It employs hundreds of thousands of Canadian women and men and deals with trillions of dollars in assets. We also know that the banking industry is not an ordinary sector of the economy. Banks have the power to shape and influence the livelihoods of Canadians. They have the power to create currency through credit. Therefore, it is extremely important that we pay attention to the practices and procedures of these financial institutions. We only have to look at what has been happening around the world over the past couple of years to see how important that is.
While I want to go through the bill to some degree, I want to say at the outset that it makes me chuckle how the Conservatives like to take credit for the Canadian banking system that has relied on a strong regulatory and supervisory tradition and framework. Unlike our American neighbours, the Canadian government, but more importantly Canadians, have recognized how important it is that we not allow our financial institutions to run amok and do what it is they do. We therefore have been slower in deregulating our financial system.
I suggest that had there not been a minority government from 2005 onward and given what we have seen over the past number of months since the Conservatives have been in a majority situation, they may have moved before 2008 to remove some of the important regulations that saved our system in 2008. Luckily we got through that time. Even they recognize the value of maintaining regulations and supervisory control over the industry and we are continuing in that direction.
We saw with the financial meltdown that we in this country are not immune to what happens in foreign countries. It was the single largest default by a foreign financial institution which created a domino effect. It affected us and financial markets around the world.
It is important to recognize, which I know the government has failed to do on a number of occasions, that the Bank of Canada back in 2008 had to advance $75 billion through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to buy back $75 billion in mortgages from Canadian chartered banks to stem a liquidity crisis.
While the Conservatives want to try to take credit, it is important to recognize it is an established tradition that Canadians have followed. I am glad that we are going to continue along those lines for the foreseeable future.
We have a few concerns with respect to the process by which Bill S-5 reached the House. The government made a commitment in the last budget that it was going to initiate a review at that time. There is a statutory sunset clause that comes into effect on April 20 this year. The government recognized that we have to conduct this review. Unfortunately, what it did was post a request for submissions on the website. It was very quietly done, and it did not seek permission from the groups and individuals who were submitting that those presentations would be allowed to be public. Only 3 of the 30 submissions that were made have been made public and that was by those organizations themselves that posted the information on the government's website.
This idea gets to what the parliamentary secretary said in her debate. She said to Canadians who were watching that this is a very technical bill and that she would talk about very technical issues which they might not understand. That is an issue which goes to the heart of the whole question of consultation around such important matters. We need to demystify these issues. We need to present them in common language so that Canadians do understand.
One problem we are facing, which has been cited by the Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, is that Canadians are overly indebted. Household debt has reached very problematic levels. Part of the reason we run into these situations is that we do not have a sufficiently clear and honest discussion about matters such as those contained in the bill. The questions that have been dealt with by the bill deal with consumer protection. Those are matters in which Canadians should be involved. Canadians are continuing to be gouged, in that hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and taxes are being imposed by the banks on every type of financial activity. Canadians need to play a role in discussions on the regulations that the government permits and the legislation that goes through.
It is a concern to us that the government decided to introduce this legislation in the unelected chamber. It did not start such an important bill before the members of this House who are duly elected by Canadians. The government took another route. Some would say the bill came in through the back door. It came in through the Senate. Even some august senators said that there was not sufficient time given to them to have a proper review of it. They raised concerns about it. I also asked that question of the minister.
Members of this caucus hope that the government will not bring in closure number 14 on this bill to limit debate by elected members of the House. This is far too important. It is important that Canadians understand what is going on. We need to take every opportunity to explain what it is that is being proposed by Bill S-5, to ask questions of government, to listen to the answers, and to have a general debate about what it is contained in the bill and how it will affect Canadians. That is what we are going to do.
It has been suggested that there are a multitude of housekeeping changes. However, there are a few things within the bill that I would like to speak to directly.
We welcome the broadening of the supervisory and enforcement powers of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada and the broadening of the jurisdictional scope of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.
We heard this morning that the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions is watching closely the practices of banks, which appear to be loosening up credit, in some instances. That it is paying attention is a good thing. It is a good thing that the banks and financial institutions are not going to go down the road of predatory lending practices, which would have an impact. We have seen they have had an impact in other countries. We would not want to see that happen here. We welcome the broadening of the jurisdictional scope of the superintendent that is contained in the bill. However, we would say there was an opportunity in the bill for the government to go further to protect Canadian citizens from the predatory monopolistic practices of the banks.
I said that we have concerns that Canadians continue to be gouged by the banks in the form of service charges, user fees, and abusive credit card rates. That is one of the reasons we need to have a fulsome debate with Canadians about issues regarding our financial institutions and borrowing and lending practices.
It is also a fact that we need to provide in the bill and in regulation further protection for consumers because they are continuing to be gouged. The former leader of the opposition, Mr. Layton, was an outspoken advocate for a reduction in the credit card interest rates and the predatory practices of the banks and financial institutions as they dealt with credit cards. That is something we believe needs to happen. It is particularly galling at a time when these extra charges on Canadians are allowing banks to recognize record profits, which last year amounted to $25.5 billion, at a time when Canadian wages are declining. It is just wrong and we need to deal with that.
The responsibility for consumer protection unfortunately is not dealt with in this legislation. It is dispersed among multiple jurisdictions, departments and agencies. Again, it raises doubts as to whether the government is truly committed to the robust protection of consumers.
The modest changes that are brought about for consumer protection in the bill have yet to be tested by consumer advocates and users. We certainly hope we have the opportunity at the finance committee to bring representatives forward to deal with these issues.
We are concerned by increasingly risky lending practices in terms of mortgages and home equity credit lines by banks and other lending institutions. That concern is well-founded. It is something we heard about today and is shared by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions. Members of this House and members of the finance committee need to pay attention to that when we are discussing this bill.
Again let me say that it was through greater regulation that Canada avoided the mortgage-induced crisis, such as the one that occurred in the United States in 2007-08. We have a strong tradition in this country of supervisory and regulatory protections over our banking system, and we need to ensure that we are vigilant going forward.
This bill is missing an important step in creating a stronger economy, the regulation of financial speculation and derivatives. Billions of dollars continue to be gambled on a regular basis, destabilizing the economy and providing no benefit to everyday citizens. The government should use this opportunity to work in concert with other governments to halt the destructive speculation in Canada and abroad. We are also concerned that under this bill, large foreign acquisitions by financial institutions would be subject to ministerial approval rather than simply the approval of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions. We think this will unnecessarily politicize important decisions. These decisions should not be made in a partisan manner because there is the potential for political influence being exerted.
While I talk about the fact that the banking system in Canada has a tradition of regulation and supervision that has helped us avoid the kind of problems we have seen in other jurisdictions, there is a darker side to our stronger banking system. Canadian chartered banks have dominated the domestic market for decades. Their dominance and the fact that both Liberal and Conservative governments have only paid lip service to this issue have allowed them to continue to extract abusive fees, taxing Canadian consumers. These fees have created $25 billion in profits for the banking system. They provide the banks with enough net revenue to offset eventual speculative losses on the international capital markets and from overseas ventures, and allow them to pay out generous seven-figure bonuses to their CEOs and dividends to shareholders.
In addition, Canadian banks have been benefiting for years from tax-arbitered schemes such as the dividend gross-up mechanism that has allowed them to reduce their effective tax rates by acquiring Canadian dividend-paying stocks while hedging away the economic risk of those stocks by the use of derivatives. Banks sometimes share those tax savings with non-taxable entities, such as pension funds. This amounts to an effective tax subsidy that costs Canadian taxpayers sums that could well be in the billions of dollars. In addition to the tax effects, dividend gross-up mechanisms tie up bank capital for years and trump bank lending to small businesses and entrepreneurs. This is a complex issue that deserves much more scrutiny.
The changes being brought forward by Bill S-5 are modest. They could be greater as they relate to consumer protection. There is much work to be done and we cannot be complacent. We have seen turmoil and the damage that can be done by over-speculation and risky lending by financial institutions around the world, and we need to be constantly vigilant. However, I again say to the members opposite that we need to have this conversation about lending, borrowing and spending openly with Canadians. We need to deal with the problems created by the lack of financial literacy in this country.
We recognize that the increasing indebtedness of ordinary Canadians is a serious problem. The economy continues to be flat and has not been growing to expectations. Recently, we heard announcements indicating that the job creation figures continue to be weak.
The government is moving in directions that are having a detrimental impact on Canadians. We need to have important and respectful conversations about matters as important as to how we are managing our financial system in this country.
As I said earlier, we will be supporting the bill as it moves forward from second reading to committee. I look forward as a member of that committee to engaging with witnesses and starting to deal with some of the details so we can find out exactly what is in this legislation and make sure that it is as strong as possible for Canadians.