Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity today to speak on such an important topic. Let me begin by saying that I find it passing strange that the NDP members are trying to label themselves as the party of consumer protection when it has been our Conservative government that has actually taken action to protect Canadian consumers.
What has the NDP done for consumers? The answer is nothing. Unlike the NDP, our government recognizes that financial decisions are some of the most important choices Canadians make. At the same time, we also recognize that financial products are becoming increasingly complex. Our government believes that the cornerstone of any consumer protection framework is one in which there is competition, fees are disclosed, and consumers can exercise choice.
That is why our government has engaged with the banking industry on many occasions on the issue of ATM fees. In fact, we have highlighted that some consumers such as seniors, the disabled, and students may not have 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.
The NDP may not be aware, but we have an entire federal agency devoted to consumer issues, the Federal Consumer Association of Canada, or FCAC as it is frequently referred to. Through the FCAC, consumers can access information on banking costs such as ATM fees. The FCAC developed innovative tools to help Canadians understand the different types of financial products in the marketplace. For example, in addition to information on ATM fees, the FCAC has resources to help consumers shop for the most suitable credit card, as well as banking packages that most effectively meet their needs. The NDP should know that this objective, reliable, and free resource is available to all Canadians to help them make sense of the everyday financial questions they face.
I would encourage the members opposite to take some time today and visit the FCAC's website. They will see how this service is helping Canadians acquire the skills they need to be informed financial consumers. However, that is not all we are doing to help consumers.
The NDP might be interested to know that in 2010, our government introduced regulations to enhance Canada's consumer protection framework. These regulations protect consumers by requiring clear and timely disclosure of financial information related to credit frauds. Specifically, these regulations mandate an effective minimum 21-day interest free grace period on all credit card purchases when a consumer pays the outstanding balance in full; lower interest rates by mandating allocations of payments in favour of the consumer; allow consumers to keep better track of their personal finances by requiring express consent for credit limit increases; limit debt collection practices at financial institutions used in contacting a consumer to collect on a debt; provide clear information in credit contracts and application forms through a summary box that sets out key features such as interest rates and fees; help consumers manage their credit card obligations by providing information on the time it would take to fully repay the balance if only the minimum payment is made every month; and mandate advance disclosure of interest rate increases prior to their taking effect, even if this information has been included in the credit contract.
In addition, these regulations require that any disclosure by financial institutions be in plain language and presented in a manner that is clear, simple, and not misleading. However, for a reason known only to themselves, the NDP members did not think that clear and transparent disclosure is important for Canadian consumers. That is right: the NDP voted against each and every one of these measures.
I find it the height of hypocrisy for the NDP to stand here today and pretend to be on the side of consumers. What party that claims to defend the interests of consumers votes against increased transparency and disclosure on credit products? Apparently the NDP does.
Not to worry, we will not be discouraged by the NDP. Our Conservative government continues to introduce measures to protect consumers. For example, in action plan 2010 our government committed to bring greater clarity to the calculation of mortgage prepayment penalties. However, in typical NDP fashion, it voted against this as well. Clearly the NDP does not want Canadians to have important information at their disposal when they want to purchase their home, possibly the most important financial decision a family will ever make.
Now let us take a close look at what NDP members have voted against.
They voted against providing families an explanation of the differences between mortgage products and the prepayment privileges that they can use to pay off their mortgages faster without having a prepayment charge. They voted against providing families with an explanation of how prepayment charges are calculated and a description of the factors that could cause prepayment charges to change over time. They voted against requiring banks to provide clear disclosure on the amounts families must pay to the lender if they prepay their mortgage and on how the amounts are calculated. They also voted against allowing the borrower the opportunity to speak with a staff member who is knowledgeable about mortgage prepayments.
I have asked this question already, but I have to ask it again. How can NDP members pretend to be on the side of consumers when they opposed our government's action to provide Canadian families with clear information before making the most important financial decision of their lives?
Thankfully, our Conservative government understands the importance of having this kind of information available, and others agree. Here is what the Canadian Bankers Association had to say:
With the new Code, every year bank customers will receive information that will help them better understand mortgage prepayment charges and how they are calculated if they want to pay their mortgage off early. The Code also builds on the advice that banks have always provided to make sure the customer is making an informed decision.
Thanks to this code, a young family can make the decision to buy a first home with confidence. Now that is what I call real action for consumers.
Unfortunately, there are still more examples of our government's consumer protection measures that the NDP voted against.
As part of economic action plan 2011, our Conservative government built on our strong record of consumer protection by introducing even more measures that benefit consumers. The NDP may not realize this, but a number of credit card issuers offer what is referred to as “credit card cheques”. These credit card cheques allow funds to be withdrawn directly from a credit card and are considered to be cash advances, which can accrue higher interest rates and fees and do not allow for an interest-free grace period. To ensure that consumers were not taken advantage of by these products, our government banned the unsolicited use of these credit card cheques.
Clearly, if NDP members really cared about protecting consumers from high interest rate products, they would have voted to ban this practice with us. Rather, they voted against restricting the use of these products. However that is not all they opposed; there is more.
In recent years, many Canadians have come to rely on the use of prepaid payment products, commonly referred to as “prepaid credit cards” for their daily purchases. Our Conservative government believes it is important that, when Canadians use these products, they understand what fees and conditions apply. By having this information, they can make informed financial decisions. In many cases, there were fees associated with prepaid credit cards that were not entirely clear to consumers. Thanks to our Conservative government, new regulations were introduced to ensure consumers are informed on fees and requirements related to prepaid credit cards.
For example, our government's regulations require that fees be disclosed to consumers in an information box displayed prominently on the product's exterior packaging. Furthermore, they require that other information associated with these products is provided in a manner that is clear, simple, and not misleading, prior to the card being issued.
These regulations also limit certain business practices that could be harmful to consumers. For example, they prohibit the amount on the card from expiring and they prohibit any maintenance fees for at least one year after activation.
These regulations will ensure that Canadians get the full value of their hard-earned dollars when using these products. Unfortunately, this is yet another proposal that the NDP did not support. Shamefully, the NDP voted against it in yet another vote against Canadian consumers.
Not only do NDP members continually vote against the interest of consumers, but their love for high taxes clearly shows that they have no desire to save consumers money. If NDP members had their way, they would introduce a $21 billion carbon tax that would raise the price of everything.
Our Conservative government would never do that. In fact, we have been doing the opposite. The fact of the matter is that this government has kept more money in the pockets of hard-working Canadians and their families than any other government.
In fact, since 2006, we have cut taxes over 160 times, reducing the federal tax burden to its lowest level in over 50 years. Overall, our strong record of tax relief has meant that the typical Canadian family will save almost $3,400 in 2014.
We have cut taxes in every way government collects them. This includes personal taxes, consumption taxes, business taxes, excise taxes, and much more. Unfortunately, the NDP has voted against each and every one of these tax cuts.
Let us list off some of the tax cuts that the NDP has voted against. It voted against cutting the lowest personal income tax rate. It voted against increasing the amount Canadians can earn without paying tax. It voted against pension income splitting for seniors. It voted against reducing the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%, which has put over $1,000 back in the pockets of the average family. It voted against the introduction and enhancement of the working income tax benefit. It voted against the tax free savings account, the most important savings vehicle since RRSPs. It voted against increasing the age credit, the pension income credit, and more.
More Canadians and their families are keeping more of their hard-earned money in their pockets because of the low tax agenda of our Conservative government. Furthermore, this tax relief is helping families at all income levels. Our government's low tax plan has helped remove over 1 million low-income Canadians from the tax rolls, including 380,000 seniors. For the NDP to suggest that our government does not stand up for consumers is simply absurd. There can be only one explanation: the NDP must be ashamed of itself for voting against each and every one of these consumer protection measures and against each and every one of our tax cuts.
As I said earlier, the NDP's indifference toward Canadian consumers will not discourage our Conservative government. We will continue to stand up for consumers. We will empower consumers, and we are taking bold steps to do so.
In today's marketplace, financial literacy has become a necessary skill for Canadians. Financial literacy, however, is not just a skill for adults. It has to start at an early age, and it should continue throughout one's life. As technology marches forward, so has its effects on financial services and products. With financial markets innovating constantly, it can be difficult for Canadians to manage the exceedingly complicated financial decisions they need to make. That is why financial literacy is a skill more relevant today than ever before. Clear and concise financial information and increased financial literacy can translate into higher savings levels and decreased indebtedness. It gives consumers the information they need to select the financial products and services that are right for them.
Our government is firmly committed to strengthening financial literacy across the country. Let me be clear: with economic action plan 2009, we created the task force on financial literacy with a mandate to make recommendations for a comprehensive national strategy to strengthen Canadians' financial literacy. It was this report that resulted in our government introducing legislation to create the office of the financial literacy leader. The financial literacy leader will work collaboratively with stakeholders and coordinate their efforts across Canada to contribute to financial literacy initiatives.
It is clear that the NDP does not have the interests of Canadian consumers at heart. While it claims to be an advocate for consumer protection, the fact of the matter is that it has done nothing to help consumers. On the other hand, our Conservative government has, time and time again, stood up and taken action to ensure that consumers are protected and have access to the information they need to make informed financial decisions.
We have no intention of resting on our laurels. Our Conservative government committed in the recent Speech from the Throne to further expand Canada's consumer protection framework. Our government made a commitment to take further action to expand no-cost banking options available to Canadians.
The NDP should stop pretending to advocate for consumer interests. It is clear from its record that it has no interest whatsoever in consumer issues or protecting consumers in any way. If the NDP truly cared about the Canadian consumer, it would have supported the government on the countless consumer measures we have introduced.
It is because of the NDP's hypocrisy on this issue that I will be voting against this motion, and I urge all members of the House to oppose it as well.