Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today on this motion, and I will be splitting my time with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport.
Financial literacy is a skill more relevant today than ever. There is no better way to protect consumers than to give them the tools, knowledge and confidence to make the financial decisions that are right for them. Financially informed Canadians are better able to save, to pay their bills and to invest in their future.
Increasing the knowledge of the financial skills of Canadians across the country is why we named November Financial Literacy Month, and why our government continues to support financial literacy and financial literacy events across the country.
The subject of financial literacy has long been a priority for us on this side of the House, because the true costs of uninformed decisions can be substantial. This is true for young Canadians who face increasingly complicated decisions when it comes to applying for a credit card, buying their first car, or figuring out how to pay for school. It is true for our seniors, who must deal with a range of financial products that have expanded greatly and have become more and more complex. It is also just as true for middle-aged Canadians who are saving for retirement.
The ever-changing world we live in makes it difficult for most Canadians, in fact, to understand fully the risks or fees involved in products like savings accounts and loans. It is a critically important subject, which is why our government has been committed to increasing the financial know-how of Canadians since 2006.
We began by establishing the task force on financial literacy and committing additional funding to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada to undertake financial literacy activities. We also amended the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada Act to provide the framework for the appointment of a financial literacy leader. In April 2014, the Finance Minister appointed Jane Rooney as Canada's first financial literacy leader.
The financial literacy leader' s mandate is to collaborate and coordinate activities with stakeholders to contribute to and support initiatives that strengthen the financial literacy of Canadians. After all, financial literacy is everyone's responsibility.
Financial institutions deal directly with Canadians every day and offer a wide range of tools and resources to help Canadians choose the right financial products for them. The not-for-profit sector has existing and direct connections to Canada's most vulnerable Canadians, and plays a pivotal role in reaching out to these people to deliver financial literacy information and initiatives in their communities. Employer and labour organizations deal with millions of Canadians and have significant opportunities to teach employees about financial matters such as pension and retirement plans.
For Canadians, it is crucial that they take advantage of all of the financial planning tools available to them so they can better participate in today's fast-paced economy. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has much to offer in this endeavour, including a host of online tools and publications such as “The City”, a web-based program for high school students designed to teach skills integral to financial well-being.
The Financial Consumer Agency's website is the destination for all Canadians looking to enhance their financial decision making. As just one example, it has a valuable tool on its website that helps Canadians in selecting the right banking services for them.
In addition to the work of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, our government has also taken steps to update the existing financial consumer protection framework with several key measures.
We are mandating an effective minimum 21-day, interest-free grace period on all new credit card purchases when a customer pays the outstanding balance in full and are introducing a fee summary box.
We are reducing the maximum cheque-hold period to four days from seven days for cheques of less than $1,500 and are providing consumers with timelier access to the first $100.
We are banning unsolicited credit card cheques.
We are also requiring federally-regulated financial institutions to offer products and services on an opt-in basis only, where consumers have sufficient disclosure about the terms and conditions before accepting, and introducing new requirements for prepaid cards issued by federally-regulated financial institutions requiring them to disclose to consumers relevant information at appropriate points in time.
We are implementing regulations relating to credit agreements and unsolicited credit card cheques, and a new code of conduct dealing with mortgage prepayment penalties.
We are developing measures to enhance the consumer protection framework with respect to network-branded prepaid payment products to ensure that fees be disclosed to consumers in an information box displayed prominently on the product's exterior packaging, and that other consumer-oriented information be provided in a way that is clear, easy to understand and straightforward.
Our government is clearly working tirelessly to protect hard-working Canadians. Just last year, the government secured voluntary commitments from Canada's eight largest banks to enhance low-cost bank accounts and offer no-cost accounts with the same features as low-cost accounts to a wider range of eligible consumers. As a result, no-cost accounts are available to youth, students, seniors qualifying for the guaranteed income supplement, and registered disability savings plan beneficiaries. This action fulfilled a 2013 Speech from the Throne commitment to expand no-cost banking services and to end pay-to-pay policies, as well as an economic action plan 2014 commitment to enhance access to basic banking services.
We are also continuing to take action on consumer issues in economic action plan 2015, with a number of measures to build on our already strong track record in that regard. That includes looking at banning pay-to-pay banking fees as one of the things we intend to include in our mandatory financial consumer protection framework that is in economic action plan 2015.
It would also go beyond strengthening the basic things I just spoke about with respect to banking and consumer protection issues. I will highlight a few quickly. There are so many of them that I could never get to them all in 10 minutes.
We are increasing competition in the telecommunications market by amending the Telecommunications Act to cap wholesale domestic wireless roaming rates, putting an end to cross-border price discrimination by cracking down on companies that use their market power to charge higher prices for consumers, and removing tariffs on baby clothing and certain sports and athletic equipment to help reduce the costs of these goods for Canadian families, just to name a few.
Furthermore, our government is also focused equally on savings and ensuring that Canadians can save to have a dignified retirement. Our government believes that Canadians who have spent their lives helping to build a strong and resilient Canadian society should be able to enjoy their retirement and, most important, that they can save enough funds to be able to sustain their lifestyles in retirement. This is why we took several measures to ensure that seniors could have a dignified retirement.
For example, we increased benefits through the old age security program's guaranteed income supplement for Canada's most vulnerable seniors. This investment of roughly $300 million each year improves the well-being of approximately 680,000 seniors across Canada, and represents the largest increase to the guaranteed income supplement for the lowest-income seniors in a quarter century.
We have also improved the tax rules for registered pension plans and registered retirement savings plans, and increased the age limit for maturing savings in plans to 71 from 69, allowing seniors to make further contributions and accrue greater retirement savings. More recent, economic action plan 2015 proposed to adjust the RRIF minimum withdrawal factors that would apply in respect of ages 71 to 94 to better reflect more recent long-term historical real rates of return and expected inflation.
Furthermore, we have introduced pooled registered pension plans for the more than 60% of Canadians who do not have access to a workplace pension plan. PRPPs will be of particular help to employees of small and medium-sized businesses that until now have not had access to low-cost private pension options.
Our government's actions clearly demonstrate our dedication to promoting an ideal economic environment for all Canadians. This includes equipping Canadians to make informed decisions that strengthen their own personal finances and support the economy as a whole.