Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak in support of the principle behind this motion brought forward by the member for Edmonton—Leduc.
There is no question that financial literacy is extraordinarily important for Canadians to be able to make fully informed decisions with regard to their financial futures. However, I would suggest that this motion is a half-hearted attempt by the government to move forward with an important initiative begun by the financial literacy task force, which brought down its report with recommendations two years ago. The best we have been able to get from the government after some considerable hard work and lobbying by the member for Edmonton—Leduc is a motion that talks about the government moving forward with good intentions. I would suggest, frankly, that it is not good enough.
We in this country are faced with a situation where the average family's debt load in the past 10 years has increased twice as fast as incomes, and three times as fast for older Canadians. It is important to bring that up because there is no question that understanding the rules of the road, the various financial vehicles, the terms and conditions of credit cards and various loans and mortgages, is important for all of us. At the moment, however, there is a situation in this country where older Canadians are experiencing debt levels at historic levels.
We have talked about this in the House over the past number of weeks and months, with the government contemplating extending the eligibility period for OAS from 65 to 67 years of age. I want to take this opportunity to bring to the government's attention the fact that seniors are already seriously struggling to make ends meet. There is an increasing number of seniors who, as a result of losing their jobs and of downsizing and poor health, are unable to work. The figures show that at the age of 62 there seems to be a bulge in the number of seniors finding themselves unemployed. They are piecing things together with credit cards and personal loans in trying to make ends meet until they reach the age of 65, when they are eligible for the Canada pension plan, GIS and old age security.
Understanding the implications of credit cards is not going to help those people because they are simply trying to cope. They are trying to keep their heads above water and maintain what they have. Being responsible contributors to their communities for their whole lives, they are not wanting to default or to go bankrupt, so they are trying to use every tool available to try to deal with their situation. This motion does not help them deal with that.
I absolutely support the intent of this motion to make available to Canadians, including to children and other Canadians throughout their lifelong trajectories, increased resources for financial literacy at all levels and to work with the provincial governments on that, et cetera.
However, we have to recognize in this House that there are some very critical problems at stake that make understanding the problems associated with debt levels more important than simply understanding their terms. On a matter like credit cards, if the government would do what the former leader of the NDP, Jack Layton, talked about for so many years and bring in a cap on credit card rates, that single action would do so much for seniors and average Canadians trying to make ends meet.
I want to talk about the financial literacy issue specifically as it relates to the fact that 50% of adult Canadians, according to the task force, struggle with simple tasks involving math and numbers. Therefore, when we talk about putting information on a website or about sending information out in pamphlets or putting it on billboards, we have to recognize that over 50% of Canadians are having basic literacy challenges as it is. That fact needs to be taken into consideration when it comes to the means by which we deliver information on financial literacy. Forty-two per cent of adult Canadians struggle with reading, and 20 per cent of Canadian households do not have access to the Internet. Not only are there problems with literacy but at least 20% of Canadians also do not even have access to computers or the Internet. This issue needs to be taken into account when we consider how to move forward with things like literacy programs.
When I began, I said that this was a weak attempt at implementing some important recommendations of the task force. I want to highlight a couple of things the government could be doing right now and should have done already. Here are a couple of key recommendations.
First is working with the provinces and territories to integrate financial literacy into all levels of our education system, including primary, secondary, post-secondary and adult learning curricula. That is key, and it has to start now and start young.
Second, the government should be implementing financial literacy through key programs that already exist, including EI, OAS, CPP, the youth employment strategy, the urban aboriginal strategy and the immigrant settlement and adaptation program. Those are areas where the government has contact with many Canadians, some of whom are Nova Scotians, and an opportunity for it to present information in clear language so that people are more likely to understand it. I get a chuckle from that when I think about the problems we have been dealing with at my office in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, from people struggling even to get access to some Service Canada offices and dealing with the EI and CPP backlog and the fact they are only getting a recording on the phone and are having trouble getting a response.
Third, the government should implement a financial literacy component to the Canada student loan program for students receiving funding.
Finally, the government should intensify efforts to raise awareness with regard to financial fraud among vulnerable Canadians.
Those are key recommendations that the task force came up with. The government could and should have been moving on these already. They are very specific strategies and I would urge the member who has moved this motion, which we support, to continue to work with his colleagues to ensure that very specific actions begin to take place on the important initiative begun by the task force and its findings.