Mr. Speaker, I do find it a trifle bizarre that somebody is talking about relevance 30 seconds or so into a 10-minute speech. This topic is all about investor literacy in dealing with banks that may be charging pay to pay, to give people the understanding to be able to choose banks on that basis or any other basis. This is all about financial literacy, and if my hon. colleague will allow me my time, I think he will find that we are talking about the protection of consumers and about literacy, part of which is understanding things like pay to pay.
Canada is proud to be a world leader in promoting financial literacy for all Canadians so that they can make decisions.
In the 12 years between my military career and my political career, I was a financial adviser and branch manager for investment firms in Edmonton. A large part of our job was counselling people on effective financial and retirement planning, which too many people take for granted, sometimes with disastrous results after it is too late to change. People do not plan to fail, but they do fail to plan.
We continue to take action to ensure that Canadians can learn the skills they need to make solid financial choices, such as what bank to deal with, which may or may not be charging particular fees.
In 2011 we declared November as Financial Literacy Month. Each successive literacy month has involved more organizations, bringing more resources and events that have helped more Canadians improve their personal money know-how and skills. Budget 2013 committed $3 million specifically to initiatives to develop Canada's financial literacy.
In April 2014, Jane Rooney was appointed as Canada's first financial literacy leader. I am sure that many in the House, perhaps even my hon. colleague, may have heard Ms. Rooney talk about the National Steering Committee on Financial Literacy and the consultations it has held with a broad range of individuals and groups. That is a great example of collaboration to strengthen financial literacy in action.
Our country can also be very proud to now have its own Canadian financial literacy database. This one-stop shop will guide Canadians toward the information, educational tools, and events they need to answer their financial questions and improve their financial know-how. This new tool is the perfect example of the power of collaboration among public, private, and non-profit sectors to deliver useful information and resources that people can use right now.
Hundreds of activities are already being featured in the database, and I strongly encourage all members of the House to take the time to look at the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada's website at itpaystoknow.gc.ca. This tool was created for the benefit of all Canadians.
Efforts such as these and others offered by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada are certainly needed. Many struggle to pay their regular bills and many more lack financial understanding about the costs of owning a home and about how much money they will need to retire. Young people, seniors, newcomers to Canada, and low-income Canadians are among the most in need of targeted efforts to improve their financial literacy so they do not fall prey to nickel-and-diming by banks.
Many seniors, for example, are entering their retirement years carrying debt. We need to act to give them the tools they need to understand their retirement needs, and we are. In 2014, the FCAC carried out public consultations with seniors groups across Canada and in mid-October released “Strengthening Seniors’ Financial Literacy”, the seniors component of the overall national strategy for financial literacy.
The seniors strategy has four goals: first, to engage more Canadians in preparing financially for their future years as a seniors; second, to help current seniors plan and manage their financial affairs; third, to improve understanding of and access to public benefits for seniors; and fourth, to increase tools to combat financial abuse of seniors, such as nickel-and-diming by banks.
We are already seeing results. As a stated goal of FCAC's national strategy for financial literacy, combatting financial abuse of seniors has brought together many public, private, and non-profit sector organizations united by a common goal. I will highlight some of the objectives and initiatives targeting financial abuse that are part of this effort.
The first objective is to ensure seniors and their caregivers have access to the tools they need to identify and prevent financial abuse and are aware of what to do if it happens.
The second objective is to ensure governments and stakeholders collaborate to enhance understanding of financial abuse and fraud targeting seniors, the factors that contribute to financial abuse, and effective fraud prevention techniques.
The effort will provide front-line credit union staff with the tools they need to recognize and help combat elder abuse, and it helps to meet both those objectives.
I also spent three years as a member of the board of the Lakeland Credit Union in Cold Lake, Alberta. I want to applaud the credit union movement for the great work it does, especially in smaller communities and especially in combatting higher fees for financial services.
Credit Union Central and Elder Abuse Manitoba are being joined by many other groups active in supporting in this area.
Some examples include the new horizons for seniors program, which supports projects led or inspired by seniors who make a difference in the lives of others in their communities. Expanding awareness of elder abuse, including financial abuse, is among its critical objectives.
We live in a complex world where we can spend money by clicking a mouse, swiping a card, or using a mobile device. With so many ways to spend money, it is easy to get buried in debt and it is not so easy to dig oneself out. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, household debt among Canadians remains close to record highs. This can make consumers vulnerable to a rise in interest rates. It can also impact the food budgets of families on fixed incomes.
This is why our government has made financial literacy a priority here too. It is a key component of Canada's economic action plan. That is the reason we set aside an additional $3 million in budget 2013 for collaboration and coordination. At the FCAC website right now, there is valuable advice on getting out of debt, rebuilding a credit rating, and paying off a mortgage faster, among many other topics. There are also calculators for choosing the right bank account or mortgage and setting financial goals.
Our government understands that when Canadians make decisions about how to spend their money, they must be assured that their interests come first and that they are given fair treatment. That is why our government has consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to consumer protection by ensuring that Canadians are being treated fairly and getting value for their hard-earned dollars.
We have demonstrated that commitment in many ways: by better protecting Canadians using prepaid cards with increased transparency and new consumer protection rules; by requiring greater disclosures of mortgage prepayment charges; by strengthening the position of credit card users by imposing a mandatory 21-day interest-free grace period on credit cards, banning unsolicited credit card cheques, and requiring consent for credit limit increases; by better protecting seniors using financial services by requiring enhanced disclosure by banks on the costs and benefits of using powers of attorney and joint accounts, as well as requiring more robust processes and staff training related to these services; by enhancing access to basic banking services by expanding and modernizing no-cost basic banking services for youths, students, and seniors, as well as ensuring consumers do not have to pay for monthly printed credit card statements; by improving transparency and fairness in the credit card market by developing options to lower the costs faced by merchants to accept credit cards while ensuring those lower costs are passed on to consumers; and by securing a commitment from the major banks to voluntarily provide a range of basic banking services for $4 or less per month.
We must ensure that Canadians are best positioned to make wise financial decisions, allowing them to drive Canada's economy. This is just another way that our government is ensuring that Canada can create jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity.
Specific to today's motion, banning pay-to-pay bank fees is the kind of thing we intend to look at, including in the mandatory financial consumer protection framework that we promised in economic action plan 2015. Canadian consumers can count on our government.