Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity today to address the NDP's motion suggesting that our government is not concerned with protecting consumers. This could not be further from the truth. To make such a claim only shows that the member opposite does not understand how our government approaches the budget process.
To be clear, in every budget our government focuses on the priorities of Canadians. That means jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity. If members across the way took some time to read our government's budgets, they would realize that measures that benefit consumers underlie the priorities of Canadians and are featured prominently.
One of the most effective ways to help consumers is to maintain a low-tax environment. Our government has put tax relief at the core of all our budgets, and we have a proven record of continuously lowering taxes and tariffs to the benefit of all Canadians. Since coming to office in 2006, our government has reduced the goods and services tax from 7% to 5%, providing tax relief for all Canadians.
In addition, our government has introduced more than 160 tax relief measures, providing almost $160 billion in tax relief for Canadian families and individuals over a six-year period ending in 2013-14. Overall, these tax reductions have helped the average family of four to save close to $3,400 in taxes in 2014. What is more, the federal tax burden is at its lowest level in more than 50 years.
Clearly, our focus on reducing taxes for all Canadians has brought real and tangible results. While the NDP talks about standing up for consumers and Canadian families, our government has actually taken action and kept more money in the pockets of hard-working Canadians.
Shamefully, the NDP has voted against all of our tax reductions. Those members repeatedly voted against consumer protection and had the audacity to present themselves as being on the side of the consumer. It is simply unbelievable.
Unfortunately, not only has the NDP voted against all of our tax cuts, but those members have also opposed all of the consumer protection measures we have introduced. Let me repeat that: they have opposed all of the consumer protection measures we have introduced. I wish that rather than advocating higher taxes, such as their $20 billion carbon tax, the NDP would congratulate us as we stand up for consumers.
Our Conservative government has consistently put the interests of consumers at the core of our decisions. This includes making the right decision to create more choice in the wireless sector, which has resulted in lower wireless rates and more jobs in the industry.
We listened to Canadians who demanded that measurements at the gas pumps accurately reflect what they are paying for. We responded with regulations for fairness at the pump to protect consumers from inaccurate measurements when purchasing gasoline.
Our government introduced anti-spam legislation that would make the online marketplace safer for businesses and consumers.
We implemented stronger labelling regulations so that Canadians can rest assured that they are not being misled when purchasing drugs.
We have also taken action on copyright modernization to balance the rights of consumers and creators.
Furthermore, our government has ensured greater fairness in airline advertising so that consumers can feel more confident they are getting what they paid for.
The list goes on and on.
We have also taken action to help consumers when dealing with financial services and products. Unlike the NDP, our government recognizes that in today's fast-paced world, financial services and products such as credit cards, mortgage agreements, bank statements, and more are becoming increasingly more complex to navigate. For this reason, our Conservative government believes that consumers of these products should be presented with clear information so that they know the terms and conditions around using these products. That is why our government introduced targeted measures in 2006 to make financial products more consumer friendly. Let me quickly share some of these with members today.
Our government is protecting consumers with new disclosure rules around credit cards and regulations that outlaw other anti-consumer business practices. We are developing a financial consumer code that will better protect consumers of financial products and ensure that they have the information they need to make responsible financial decisions. This code will reflect the realities of increased use of electronic financial products as well as respond to the needs of those requiring unique assistance, such as seniors and people with disabilities.
Our government is bringing in a code of conduct for the credit- and debit-card industry to help small businesses deal with unfair practices, which would help ensure fairness, encourage real choice and competition, and protect small businesses from rising costs. It is shortening the cheque-holding periods and ensuring immediate access to the first $100 of a cheque and protecting Canadians from predatory payday loan companies by working with provincial governments to regulate such institutions to better protect vulnerable Canadians. We are more than doubling the maximum fine on financial institutions that violate consumer provisions, from $200,000 to $0.5 million. Our government is better protecting Canadians using prepaid cards issued by federally regulated banks, with increased transparency and new consumer protection rules, and so much more.
Allow me to unpack some of these measures, all of which are tangible ways our government is helping consumers every day, and all of which the New Democrats have opposed. In order to help Canadian borrowers better manage their finances, regulations relating to credit agreements, including lines of credit and credit cards, came into force in 2010. These regulations limit business practices that are not beneficial to consumers, and require the provision of clear and timely information to Canadians about credit products, with a particular emphasis on credit cards.
To name a few, the regulations specifically mandate an effective minimum 21-day, interest-free grace period on all new credit card purchases when a customer pays the outstanding balance in full. They lower interest costs by mandating allocations of payments in favour of the consumer, and limit debt-collection practices that financial institutions use in contacting a consumer to collect on a debt. The regulations prohibit over-the-limit fees solely arising from holds placed by merchants; mandate advance disclosure of interest-rate increases prior to their taking effect, even if this information had been included in the credit contract; and require that any disclosure be made by a federally regulated financial institution in language presented in a manner that is clear, simple, and not misleading.
In addition, in budget 2011, our Conservative government proposed to develop measures to enhance the consumer protection framework with respect to payment network-branded prepaid cards. In order to support consumer awareness and informed decision-making, the prepaid payment products regulations require federally regulated financial institutions to provide consumers with information that is clear, simple, and not misleading. The regulations require that institutions disclose fees in an information box that appears prominently on the exterior packaging. The regulations also require that information pertinent to the prepaid payment product’s use be available on the product, including where to access the full terms and conditions of use and a toll-free number to make a balance enquiry. Going even further, another regulation that came into force in 2012 deals with cheque-hold periods. The access to funds regulations provide Canadians with greater leverage for financial management by reducing the maximum cheque-hold period to four days from seven days for cheques of less than $1,500. The regulations also provide consumers with access to the first $100 within 24 hours.
However, wait; our initiatives go beyond law-making and regulation and include public outreach and education. Last year, our government passed the Financial Literacy Leader Act, a piece of legislation the NDP actually voted against. It provides for the appointment of a financial literacy leader within the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. When the leader is appointed, they will collaborate and coordinate activities with stakeholders to contribute to and support initiatives that strengthen the financial literacy of Canadians in general, with a specific focus on the needs of seniors. This initiative will allow the government to broaden its efforts and help Canadians make informed choices for themselves and for their families. Indeed, it is when consumers have all the relevant information and when fees are clearly disclosed that consumers can make informed financial decisions. This is the cornerstone of any effective consumer protection framework, but not everything.
Another key element is competition. When consumers have more choice in the marketplace, they pay lower prices. This is basic economics that even the New Democrats should be able to understand. That is why our government has engaged the banking industry on the issue of ATM fees.
Indeed, we have highlighted that some consumers, such as seniors, those who are disabled, and students may not have had access to different banking options.
Several banks acknowledged our concerns and responded by expanding ATM access in or near colleges and universities to help students avoid fees; unveiling low-fee accounts for seniors and students; and improving access for the disabled.
However, we have not stopped there.
The NDP may not realize this, but the Federal Consumer Association of Canada, or the FCAC as it is frequently referred, is an entire federal agency devoted to consumer issues. The FCAC provides consumers with objective, reliable, and free information on banking costs, including the cost of ATM fees and how to avoid paying these fees.
Yet, that is not all. The FCAC has a number of resources for consumers on almost any consumer issue. For example, the FCAC can help consumers shop for the most suitable credit card, as well as banking packages, including low-cost accounts.
I would encourage the members opposite to take some time today to visit the FCAC website. If they were to do so, they would see how beneficial the resources are that the FCAC provides in order to help Canadians get answers to their banking questions.
While our government has a solid record on introducing measures to protect consumers, I would not want to give my NDP colleagues the impression that our government thinks the job is done. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Perhaps the NDP missed our government's recent Speech from the Throne. If the NDP had paid attention, it would have noticed a number of commitments by our government to further enhance affordability for Canadians. These include: ending “pay to pay” policies, so customers will not have to pay extra to receive paper bills; expanding no-cost basic banking services; working with the provinces and the territories to crack down on predatory payday lenders by supporting ongoing efforts to make consumer protection regimes more robust; empowering consumers by requiring disclosure of the cost of different payment methods; and taking further action to end geographic price discrimination against Canadians.
Clearly, it is this Conservative government that puts consumers first. While we are the ones who are actually finding solutions to the issues facing consumers, all the NDP can do is oppose measures that would actually help consumers.
For once, it would be refreshing to see the NDP actually support consumers, by standing to vote for our consumer protection measures.