Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill S-5 to amend our financial system. I am a member of the Standing Committee on Finance, which examined Bill S-5.
A member across the floor mentioned the sunset clause. Indeed, this system should be reviewed every five years, but our problem with the government is that it is improvising on this issue. It passed this bill in the Senate with very little public consultation, then it used the date when this review is supposed to take place as an excuse for not accepting any of our amendments. This proves that the government did not take this bill seriously and did not do its homework.
As we all know, our financial system is very important. I am a notary and lawyer and, before I was elected, my clients included Canadian banks, some of them in Montreal. Our banking system is important to our economy. However, this bill overlooks consumers. People have to assume the cost of the banks' excesses, and this has not been taken into account at all.
Nor does this bill take the global crisis into account. I am not making this up. Many believe that the crisis originated in the financial sector, primarily in banks in the United States, which had an impact the world over. There was an opportunity to do something here, but once again, this government improvised and did not take the steps that should have been taken.
The members across the floor say that we on this side of the House are idealists. That is true, but we are also pragmatic. We proposed real solutions. It is true that this bill has little impact. It contains technical revisions and deals with minor administrative concerns. However, we are worried about one point: the acquisition of foreign banks by Canadian banks.
A system was introduced a few years ago, establishing the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, which is responsible for assessing these transactions. When a Canadian bank acquires a foreign bank, it affects our economy and our financial system. We want such acquisitions to be truly beneficial for our economy. The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions should have been mandated to study such purchases and make recommendations, perhaps even give its approval. However, Bill S-5 puts this power in the hands of the minister. This poses a problem.
This power used to belong to the minister, but was given to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions in an effort to depoliticize the process and avoid having a minister be influenced by his connections or lobbyists and make a decision that would defy the financial system and what had been proposed. Now, the Conservatives, who claim our system is working, are in the process of reversing the decision and giving the power back to the minister.
Some of the ministers across the way have very close ties to lobbyists. The Minister of the Environment, to name one, does more to promote lobbyists than he does to protect Canadians in this regard. The concern here is what might happen with the Minister of Finance. Without pointing the finger directly at this Minister of Finance, putting this power back into the hands of a minister makes the decision very political and problematic. What is more, there is no requirement to provide public explanations. The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions could say that a certain transaction is not beneficial to Canadian financial institutions and, without providing any explanation, the minister could ignore that decision and make his own decision.
The process is becoming very political and that is worrisome. What is happening in the United States is a result of the deregulation of the system. The Conservative government is doing the same thing here. That is one of our major concerns. We are being told that all we want to do is make proposals that will only delay matters. Yet the amendment we proposed was quite simple.
We did not have a lot of time to debate it because the government once again decided to move quickly and push things through.
We had asked the minister, when he makes a decision, that he not just look at the criteria that are good for the Canadian financial system—that is important and we would not take that away—but that he also look at the criteria that are good for the Canadian economy. Unfortunately, that amendment was rejected. It is very hard to understand why.
When a Canadian bank takes over a foreign bank, some people think that this must also be good for the Canadian economy. Unfortunately, our amendment was rejected. It is very difficult to understand. I wonder what this means. I have to interpret this myself, because the government was not very clear on this subject. All that matters to this government is the financial system, not the Canadian economy. Yet they cannot be separated. It is important to discuss the financial system, but we must also discuss the impact that it can have on the Canadian economy. In a way, this shows that the government wants to hold on to power and wants to make a decision its own way, once again without explaining why it is moving in this direction. With this bill, the Conservative government is again showing its lack of transparency. It wants to politicize the matter and does not want to explain to Canadians what is happening in this regard. We asked for further information, but unfortunately we did not receive it.
I will now address another matter. We know that this bill had to be introduced. However, the government is once again being criticized for its lack of vision because it had a golden opportunity to reform the banking system. I do not think that this government can pat itself on the back for that. In addition to reviewing the banks and financial institutions, the impact on consumers should have been considered as well.
We now know that the government's job creation strategy is to give tax breaks to big business, including the banks. Does that create jobs? It remains to be seen. We do not believe it does, as indicated by the statistics on job losses and unemployment. Despite this, banks have not lowered their interest rates, even though the prime rate is at an historic low. And that is not all. After receiving tax breaks and making billions of dollars in profit, the banks are now increasing their fees.
Look at what is happening. Consumers have contracts with banks or have bank accounts. They borrow money and proceed as usual. It is a bit like the gas situation. We cannot get out of it. People are a bit dependent on the system, on the bank. The bank can do what it wants. Despite the fact that interest rates are very low, credit rates have not changed at all. Who is reaping the benefits? The banks.
Banks are increasing their fees and it is not consumers who are benefiting. That is what we are telling the government. The members opposite need to be aware of this because they too represent constituents who are consumers. The government must not be so single-minded. It makes for a very unbalanced approach. Once again, this is a problem that we have with the government, that it is too single-minded and is not looking at how what it is doing will affect the entire system, whether we are talking about tax cuts for large corporations or the banking reform that it may or may not implement. This affects consumers. We are asking the government to take a broader view of the situation and to look at what is happening in this respect.
If we were to ask any of the members opposite whether any of their constituents are being negatively affected by this, I think that they would say yes. We do not even need to ask. We simply need to look at the figures. The OECD will tell them, and so will economists. Household debt is a problem. It has reached a record high of 151% in Canada. This means that for every dollar a family earns, it owes $1.51. The record level of household debt is a problem. Yet, unfortunately, the government is not doing anything about it. This would have been a good time to do something, but unfortunately, once again, the government is demonstrating its complete lack of vision. This is a missed opportunity.
This government is bragging and saying that the system is working well and that everything is fine, but I think that the government must be really out of touch if it does not see that people are suffering. This would have been a good opportunity to help consumers and families. Unfortunately, the government did nothing in this respect.