Mr. Speaker, I will start off by looking at the problems the national task force on financial literacy had from the very beginning.
First, it was headed by a former banker. I have nothing against bankers. My mother was a banker. She worked as a bank manager for the Bank of Montreal for over 35 years. She worked in human resources. I had an aunt who worked for the Bank of Montreal for the same period of time. My mom's friends worked for a bank. I am familiar with bankers and I have no problem with them.
The raison d'être of bankers is to market financial products. I know this because I lived in a banking family. Bankers sell financial products. There are certain marketing seasons when they sell RRSPs or different financial products. They have quotas. There are things that they have to sell. They are salespeople. That is their raison d'être. Often the financial products that they sell to consumers increase the profits of their institutions.
That is not a balanced way to start a group dedicated to the idea of financial literacy. It is similar to putting McDonald's in charge of nutrition policies. It is not a balanced way to do things.
Members know as well as I do that consumers sometimes get burned by financial products because they do not quite understand them. A case in point is the RESP.
I want to make a transparent declaration to the House. When I was in my early thirties and took out an RESP for my daughter, I did not quite understand what I was getting into. The marketing material made it look like I could squirrel away money for my daughter and by the time she was 18 there would be enough money for her university education. I was conscious of the fact that when she did reach university age it would be quite expensive to put her through post-secondary education with the rising costs of education and the rising costs of living. I was really scared and I wanted to find a financial product that would allow me to pay for her education without any worries.
What I did not know was that I could lose that money easily. Call me a fool, but I did not know that the RESP would lose so much money when the market took a dive. My mother the banker did not tell me that fact either until I had lost half the value during the downturn in 2008. There was $12,000 in that plan and it went down to about $5,000 or $6,000. I worked hard to put that money aside. I believed that I was doing the right thing. The bank told me I was doing the right thing. The government told me I was doing the right thing. I believed them.
What we need in terms of financial literacy is somebody who will tell the people of Canada the whole truth, not just the marketing truth.
The Minister of Finance denied that we were in a downturn until the very end of 2008, but I felt it much earlier. I remember the government initiatives to boost people's contributions to RESPs in 2006 and 2007. There was quite a marketing drive by the banks and government. They were telling people to put their money into RESPs so that their kids could go to school.
I am sure people will say that I was a fool not to know how it worked before I put my money in the RESP. With raising a child, working full-time, taking care of my family, I did not have the time to sit down and look at what the RESP was about. It was never taught to me in high school. It was never taught to me in university. I was to teach myself from the bank's own marketing products and from the government literature. None of those things told me that I could lose my money just like that.
I know I am not alone in that. I know there are plenty of Canadians out there who have gone through similar experiences to me. Therefore, as much as we might say that I am a fool, if I am a fool, thousands of Canadians are fools. They need help understanding these financial products.
Francophones may find it even more difficult to learn about these financial products through this group because bilingualism is not a requirement for the position of financial literacy leader. Obviously, what the government wants to do is create a single consumer protection agency. However, that is not really within the purview of this bill. Consumer protection is not really included in the bill.
Instead, I would like to talk about one of the greatest problems for Canadians: savings.
If we are looking at the issue of financial literacy, I must agree with my colleague in the third party who said that the financial leader of the government was not quite literate, because we have serious problems. One of those serious problems is the savings of Canadians and it is one of the things that is effecting the competitiveness of our economy.
The former governor of the Bank of Canada said, in a report quite a while ago, that Canadians needed to save more. He said that they needed to save between 10% and 21% of their pre-tax income each year and that they needed to save consistently for 35 years to have comfortable retirement incomes.
According to a report prepared by the C.D. Howe Institute, which is not exactly a socialist organization, people who earn between $42,000 a year and $150,000 a year need to save between 11% and 21%.
What I see in Bill C-28 is the creation of a group that will try to market financial products, like credit cards, RRSPs and RESPs, without fully explaining what those products do or explaining it in a way that will promote those products to promote the profits of those institutions and banks. I do not think that is the way to teach Canadians how to be financially literate. We need to find a way for Canadians to save more money.
The Conference Board of Canada, looking at the World Economic Forum's 2011 report on competitiveness, said that Canada's macroeconomic environment rankings were weak. It said that a number of fiscal pressures were restricting Canada's economy from achieving its full potential. For example, Canada ranked 80th in terms of its gross national savings as a percentage of GDP and a lowly 129th out of 142 countries in terms of its overall government debt levels as a percentage of GDP.
It is clear that we need to help Canadians become financially literate but that starts with telling them to save more and finding efficient ways for them to save without marketing these financial products to them. I do not think the task force would be able to sufficiently explain these financial products to Canadians when it is obvious that the composition of the board would be compromised in that it would not be necessary for the head of the task force to be bilingual.
I have problems with the bill. I do not think it would do what the government states it would do, which is increase financial literacy. We need to take a serious look at how we can actually improve the financial literacy of Canadians. Looking at the statistics, I can see that we have a long way to go.