Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Newton—North Delta for perhaps setting the tone of the debate as we enter the conversation about Bill C-28 and this notion of a new financial literacy leader.
It surprises me that we are having this debate. In this era of belt tightening, the best thing that the Conservatives can come up with to address the issue of financial literacy is to create a high level, expensive, bureaucratic position with no real plan and no guarantee that it will have any of the desired effects in elevating the financial literacy of the general population. It seems like a big PR campaign and, frankly, a phenomenal waste of money.
What is even more worrisome is that there this element of blame the victim that runs throughout this whole notion, which is that if we are seeing greater financial inequality, somehow it is the consumers who are to blame for getting themselves into this mess.
We should note that the notion of a financial literacy leader has its origins in a national task force on financial literacy that was criticized as soon as it got out of the gate because the chair was, of course, a banker. The majority of the members on the task force were either bankers, or in the financial sector, or associated with it. The recommendations they came up with had more to do with making Canadians into good customers for the banks rather than elevating the standard of living conditions or even the financial literacy of the general public. The recommendations were suspect from the very outset given the origins, the motivations and, I would say, the conflict of interest from the principals chosen to be on this task force.
Even he recommendations that came out of the task force were ignored when it came to putting them into a bill. The task force recommended that this new financial literacy leader be guided by input from an advisory council made up of industry, unions, educators, volunteer organizations, et cetera. However, there is no mention of that whatsoever in Bill C-28. It seemed reasonable to have an advisory committee to at least steer, give some direction and some sense of purpose to this new expensive bureaucracy, but that notion was ignored.
The other thing the task force recommended was that the financial literacy leader should be accessible to the general public through reports tabled by the Minister of Finance in Parliament. That did not find its way into the bill either.
Therefore, the financial literacy leader would be operating in isolation doing, we do not know what, having the effect of, we do not know what. Who will audit the efficacy of the financial literacy leader?
Those are some of the things that bother me. This is an urgent issue but the problem lies more with the lack of protection for consumers than it does the consumers' personal education.
I want to talk for a minute about what the government could be doing.
There used to be a time within living memory, and I am not that old but I remember, when there was a minister of consumer and corporate affairs. It was a whole department with a fairly high profile minister. This was not just a small portfolio in cabinet. There were heavyweights like André Ouellet, big names in Canadian politics were the ministers of consumer and corporate affairs. Their stated mandate was to protect the best interests of the consumer, not the financial sector, not the predatory lenders and not the gougers and users who charge 10 and 15 points above prime for credit card lending rates.
If the government really wanted to do something for the consumers' best interest against predatory lending, why would it not cap the credit rates to 6 points above prime and never mind 18 points above prime? Why does it not enforce the Financial Administration Act and the Bank Act to make banks live up to their charter and provide reasonable access to Canadians to basic financial services, and if they will not live up to their charter, why do we not pull their charters?
The banks have an exclusive monopoly on some very lucrative financial transactions, like cashing cheques and credit cards, in exchange for providing basic services to Canadians, even when it is not the most profitable thing in the world. However, what do they do? They close down bank branches in every neighbourhood in this country.
In my riding alone, 15 bank branches have closed down. That is a vote of non-confidence in my neighbourhood and it is an abrogation of their obligation under their charter. We have charter banks for a reason. We should pull their charters if they are not going to live up to their financial obligations. Every time a bank pulls out of my neighbourhood, do members know what pops up? Another Money Mart or another Payday lender, and it is not charging interest at 60%, that is in the Criminal Code. If a lender charges more than 60% per annum, it is a criminal offence called usury. The interest rate at these Payday lenders is not 1,000% or 2,000%. It is as high as 10,000% per annum. People cannot make that kind of money selling cocaine but yet it is happening on the street corners of every major city in this country because the banks have reneged on their obligation to provide basic financial services. They are charging 3% to cash a government cheque. It is against the law and the government will not enforce it.
Members can walk to the Sparks Street Mall right now and some money lender in a Money Mart will charge them 3% to cash a government cheque. It is illegal but the government does nothing to enforce it. Instead, it will put in place this expensive bureaucrat, God knows who. I presume some failed Conservative candidate is in line to be the new financial literacy leader.
This is the most appalling thing. I believe this is all part of the whole notion of driving down Canadians' expectations. The government believes in a low wage, low cost economy and low wage, low cost economy is a recipe for poverty, mark my words.
Forty-seven percent of the children in my riding live below the poverty line, and members heard me correctly. The child poverty rate in Norway, Denmark and Sweden is less than 3% because they do not have this notion of a low wage, low cost economy. They do not see it virtuous to drive down workers' wages. They do not see it as virtuous to smash unions.
I saw a bumper sticker the last time I was in Washington, DC. that read, “At least the war on the middle-class is going well”. That government has embarked on a comprehensive detailed attack on labour and the left, just like the neo-Conservatives in Canada have followed suit, eliminating things like the Fair Wages Act, enabling the Merit shop contractors and the non-union sector to flourish and prosper.
This is the way to drive down the middle-class. This is the way to drive down wages and drive down expectations. Then the government will blame people for not saving their money and, instead of having a real pension plan, they can have one of these pooled pension plans that the employer does not have to pay into, only the worker.
It is all part of picture. The Conservatives' vision of Canada is to recreate Canada in the image of the United States, and t is not a model we want to follow. I have been to the United States recently where in North Carolina a decent job pays $9 to $10 an hour. Is that the economy and the vision of the Conservatives where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and then some guy is getting gouged by these financial institutions?
My colleague from Newton—North Delta had a good point. No amount of financial literacy will help somebody understand how to sell short on a derivative of a hedge fund or understand some of these arcane financial instruments that these financial engineers put in place to deliberately obfuscate and make it impossible to make an informed choice or decision. I challenge any stockbroker on Bay Street to explain some of these derivative hedge fund monstrosities that were actually a great cause of the demise in the most recent downturn.
If we had kids going to engineering school and actually learning how to build things instead of going to financial engineering school to learn how to construct these incomprehensible financial instruments, we would be a lot better off. We would have a generation of young people who could do things instead of a generation of young people who are trained to cheat people and help the financial sector cheat Canadians.
We want to see consumer protection in its purest form. As I said, we do not have to look very far back in Canadian history to when we had a minister of consumer and corporate affairs who was a champion for Canadians, not a shill for the financial sector. That is what we are seeing here.
We cannot support this bill. We disagree profoundly with the Conservative vision of any kind of enhancing or enabling of people to cope with the financial services sector.