Mr. Speaker, I will begin by providing some clarity on what is a bit confusing at times, I am sure, for many.
Whether it is members from the Conservative Party proclaiming that we have the best Minister of Finance in the world, implying that is the current Minister of Finance. I hear a member applauding but he might want to hold his applause for a little while on that particular point. Then we have the New Democrats who believe they can rewrite history, not by saying it once or twice but even going beyond that. The other day we heard a New Democrat saying that it was the New Democrats who saved the banking industry in Canada. They may be a little more generous by implying that there might have been some Canadians also involved.
However, I do think it is important to get the record as clear as possible so members can be a little more forthright about what history actually was back in the 1990s. At the time, I was a member of the Manitoba legislature and I recall the debate on deregulations versus having a regulated banking industry. I had met with TD Bank representatives at a special event where there was a discussion on it. Therefore, I am somewhat familiar with the issue and, like many Canadians, have followed it.
It is important to recognize that there was a great deal of pressure being applied around the world by the financial industry which wanted to see deregulation and many countries succumbed to that.
In Canada, Jean Chrétien, the prime minister at the time; the minister of finance, Paul Martin; and the cabinet were able to resist the pressure that many governments caved in to. They recognized the value of having a regulated financial industry with respect to the banking industry specifically.
Because of the efforts and actions of those two individuals in the cabinet at the time, we have what has been classified as one of the greatest and healthiest banking industries in the world. It had nothing to do with the current Minister of Finance or the Prime Minister.
The first major policy announcement from the government related to the banking industry was that we would allow for 40 year mortgages. The current Prime Minister and the current Minister of Finance can take full credit for that. We all know that turned out to be a dud of an idea. Not one Conservative member will now stand in his or her place and say that the Conservatives brought out the 40 year mortgage. The simple reason is that they recognize now that it was a bad idea to do that.
We have a Minister of Finance and a Prime Minister who like to travel the globe and assume credit for the health of the banking industry in Canada. However, I would suggest that the real credit should be going to Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, the member for Wascana and many other members who made up the cabinet back in the nineties and resisted the world pressure to deregulate.
What role did the New Democrats play in it? Some might argue that they played a bit of a role. I do not know what it is. I never detected any significant role. It was a Liberal majority government throughout that period and I believe there were 13 New Democratic members, although I could be wrong. However, I do not believe they played any role whatsoever in regard to protecting the banking industry, as much as they would like to claim that they did play a role.
Just the other day we heard New Democratic members of Parliament trying to take credit. However, that was the reality of history and I think it is important to accurately reflect why it is we have a relatively healthy banking industry, especially in comparison to other countries throughout the world.
This is not just something the Liberals recognize. Even the Conservatives, the New Democrats and, I would suggest, leaders around the world have recognized the valuable role that Canada has played in terms of demonstrating leadership on our financial industry as a whole. We should all be proud of that. There is no doubt whatsoever that through the process we have been able to generate the regulations because these ideas and needs of average Canadians come through our constituencies.
I would agree with one of the statements my colleague made, which is that Canadians as a whole understand and appreciate the importance of the industry.
In doing a bit of research, it was interesting to find out that it was Michael Quinn, a Canadian member of Parliament back in 1897, who came up with the idea that we needed to do something to protect consumers. Ever since then, and possibly even before then, governments have recognized the valuable role they play when it comes to monetary policy and the financial industry in our country. That particular member of Parliament, who happened to be from the province of Quebec, highlighted the importance of interest rates. He felt at the time that interest rates were too excessive, that individuals were being charged not 100% but close to 1,000% in some situations. He felt that it was unrealistic to put people who were in relatively poor economic situations and exploit them through high interest rates.
There has always been a high level of interest in the House of Commons in terms of protecting the consumer and in terms of the financial market as a whole. I will spend a little bit of time speaking to that because it is an important issue.
We talk about tomorrow, which is our budget day. Members should not kid themselves. Many people within the financial institutions or the hierarchy throughout the world will be watching the government to hear the types of expenditures, the sorts of revenues that will be generated and what the potential is for Canada into the future. Many individuals and stakeholders throughout the country, everyone from the consumer in Labrador to B.C. to Winnipeg and in our territories are very much interested in what sort of budget we will see presented. It will have a very significant impact on our financial institutions.
Here we have a bill that is designed to protect the integrity of that financial system but I will talk about how government has a direct impact. One thing that needs to be talked about is the government's own debt situation. It was not that long ago, almost six years ago, when the Prime Minister took office and he had some $13 billion-plus in surplus.
If we fast-forward six years, we find that the government has now exceeded $150 billion in terms of new debt. When a government takes that sort of action, many vested stakeholders throughout will stand up and take note, and it will have an impact.
On the macro scale, it does have an impact in the overall debt that we have as a nation. It is something of which we have to be aware. However, the government has not really done a good job on this, and the numbers speak for themselves.
There are other things that we look to the government to demonstrate leadership on because they have a direct impact in regard to our financial institutions. I will give a specific example. We talk about the retrofit program. In a retrofit program where government sees the value of getting people to invest in their homes, quite often that means government support goes toward it and also financial institutions will get directly involved in those types of programs. I bring this up because it is important for us to recognize that the role the government plays in our financial institutions is significant.
It is very important that when we have legislation such as this, we provide the opportunity for members of Parliament to have good thorough debate and provide the opportunity for a bill such as this to go to committee. Actually, this is the type of legislation in which we should be encouraging Canadians to directly get involved in because it affects each and every one of us. It affects our pocket. Therefore, Canadians have a vested interest.
We have to look at the process. What has the process been like for the Conservative government on Bill S-5? Members will notice it is called Bill S-5, as opposed to Bill C-5, meaning it had to go through the Senate. This is something the Prime Minister wanted to do. If it were Bill C-5, that would have implied it would come through the House of Commons.
Ever since the Prime Minister has been given a majority government, he feels he has the authority and mandate to ride roughshod over anything that happens inside the House. He has acquired, in the very short time since he had a majority government, record high introductions of time allocation to prevent members of Parliament from engaging in debate on legislation. The attitude or disregard for this fine and wonderful institution is amazing.
Through this institution, Canadians are afforded the opportunity to voice their concerns through their elected officials. However, day in and day out the Prime Minister seems to ignore the rights and what is important for members to truly engage on legislation that is brought forward and which we are asked to pass. The Prime Minister, for whatever reasons, and he will have to explain them at some point, chose to go through the Senate.
Then we have the issue of the Prime Minister being fully aware months ago of the need pass the bill by April 20. The Prime Minister, as he has done with other legislation, seems to drag his feet. After all, he believes that, through his majority government, he can push things through. Now we are in a situation in which there are some serious time concerns. As a result of those concerns, we will be unable to have the type of debate that is important.
In principle, the Liberal Party supports the bill and we have been very clear on that. We recognize the value of it, but many Canadians have issues about which they want their members of Parliament to speak. This would have been a wonderful opportunity to hear many of those contributions to debate.
As an example, it is estimated that the average Canadian now spends well over $120 or $130 annually on banking fees. There is a great deal of concern over whether there is anything the government can do to watch the whole ordeal, to have take some kind of action or have a plan to provide assurance to Canadians that it truly cares about that issue, that it wants to move toward more transparency on the whole issue of banking fees. What about issues such as interest rates?
Another important issue in my riding has been that of bank closures. In Winnipeg North, a number of banks have closed over the last number of years. It has had a very significant impact. For seniors who live on McGregor or on Selkirk in Winnipeg's north end and have had banks in their community close down, there is a real impact. Many of our senior population do not have Internet. They are not going to do banking on the Internet. They want to go to their local bank. It is great in many ways where we have had credit unions. Recently, Assiniboine Credit Union opened up, I believe on McGregor, to try to meet the demand that was created because of banks leaving.
These are real issues that affect Canadians. Whether the government is allowing for adequate and proper debate in the House or providing the opportunity in committee, we need to have this type of discussion so we can share some of the details of the issues that face us. We know there are explanations of how banks will try to justify the narrowing of the gap in interest rates between loans and deposits. That is one of the primary reasons why banks will say that they have to rely more on banking fees in order to cover costs. We are very much aware of that issue. However, I am also aware that banking profits are at all-time record highs and Canadians are aware of that fact. The government needs to develop a plan that ultimately will deal with the wide variety of issues within our financial markets.
Direct banking is one of them. We could talk about the financial institutions of our insurance companies. There is a wide spectrum of issues that are of critical importance. If we do not do it properly, then people are right to be concerned. Not long ago we witnessed the crashes that happened in the United States, in particular. A number of people virtually walked away from their homes. This crisis took place because banks closed down in countries throughout the world.
It is of the utmost importance that we have ongoing reviews. That is why the Liberal Party supports the principle of Bill S-5. We recognize the value of monitoring our financial markets and ensuring we have good, sound regulations. However, we also recognize the importance of Canadians and consumers and we want to see a government do more to address these issues. Whether it is credit card interest rates or the amount of banking fees, consumers want us to be talking about it this.