Madam Speaker, I rise in the House for the last time in 2016, and I wish every member of the House, especially my colleagues who sit on the finance committee, happy holidays, merry Christmas and all the best for 2017. I hope everyone will use the next few weeks to get some rest.
My final thoughts will not be in praise of the government. Today the government indulged in some interesting revisionism regarding what happened over the last weeks. Clearly, the parliamentary secretary should go back to Hansard so see what answers he gave in the House and what was discussed in the finance committee. He would realize that no one on the government side, no one among the 40 Liberal MPs from Quebec, not a single Liberal member of the House uttered a single word on consumer protection jurisdiction. Until very recently, before the minister did an about-face, the answers we got—the last one just two days ago—were still about defending the government's decision to go ahead with division 5, the amendments to the Bank Act.
The government decided to delete the provisions, thanks to the efforts of all opposition parties. Like my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent, I, too, would commend the members of the Bloc Québécois, the Conservative Party and the NDP on all their work. I also commend the Senate, particularly independent senator André Pratte, who kept pressing the issue. Consumer associations that were invited to appear before the committee to share their concerns about consumer protection and federal interference also helped to make sure that the government backed down on this issue.
Why is it so important? If I am concerned, it is because the government does not seem to understand that the main issue is not the level of protection enjoyed by Canadian bank customers. The main issue is that consumer protection is a provincial jurisdiction. Given what we have just heard, the minister is clearly trying to find another way of imposing a consumer protection framework even if that is outside federal jurisdiction.
I am worried by the government’s interpretation of the famous Marcotte ruling. This was a class action against the Bank of Montreal. Mr. Marcotte went to court to challenge certain fees which he felt were far too high, in addition to being hidden. He went to court to complain about these fees. In the end, the Bank of Montreal and all the banks were saying that they did not need to comply with the Consumer Protection Act, because they operate under federal jurisdiction. The case went to the Supreme Court.
Contrary to what the government has persisted in saying, the Supreme Court did not ask the government for jurisdictional clarification. The Supreme Court established that the Bank Act was applicable, the Consumer Protection Act was applicable, and the two could coexist very well, since they were complementary. The Bank Act covers the operation of the various banking programs, and the Consumer Protection Act, self-evidently, covers consumer protection.
What the Marcotte ruling said was that the Consumer Protection Act was applicable. The Supreme Court never asked the government to look into the issue and assume control of the consumer protection issue, for Quebec or for the provinces generally.
Why is this a problem? Why was it a problem with regard to the jurisdiction from which we will shortly be withdrawing? The legislation created a conflict between the federal statute and the provincial statute. There is a principle called the principle of federal paramountcy, which holds that if two laws, one federal and one provincial, touch upon the same issue, the federal law will have primacy.
With regard to the Marcotte ruling, the Supreme Court said that there was no conflict, in spite of what the banks tried to make it say.
In trying to recover these powers, in trying to impose this, they created a conflict between the federal side and the Consumer Protection Act. Having created that conflict, they found themselves invoking federal paramountcy.
I would argue this is where the government’s argument failed. It is the same kind of argument the consumer protection agencies, in particular, were making, saying that the government was trying to interfere and create a problem where there was none. Obviously, the Chambre des notaires and the Barreau du Québec were saying the same thing.
That is why we are happy to see these clauses being withdrawn, indeed, to see the entire opposition in this House working in the same direction to encourage the Senate to take a look at this. Quebec, starting with the opposition in Quebec City and then the government, saw that there was a major problem, and asked the federal government to make some changes and remove these clauses. The various civil society groups did the same thing. Finally the government has listened to reason. We hope that it will learn a valuable lesson from what has happened when the time comes to make decisions which could effectively encroach upon provincial jurisdictions.
In that sense, I invite the Liberals to do some soul-searching over the holidays. We will have a few weeks to replenish ourselves. This is the perfect time to do it. I am truly very happy to have been able to play a small part in this decision. Once again, all of the opposition parties have been involved in this.
I will close by adding a few more words on Bill C-29, and perhaps replying to what has been said on the government side. They talk often of the 9 million Canadians who are going to benefit from the tax cuts. But they are always silent about the fact that 23 million Canadians, most of them earning less than $45,000, will benefit in no way from these cuts. I would prefer that they show a little more honesty. Certainly, there will be a tax reduction. They will increase taxes on the 1% richest people, but that money will not be given to the middle class as a whole. It will be given in large part to the 9% of people who are the richest. My colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent mentioned this: the people earning under $45,000 will receive nothing from the tax cut. Those earning between $45,000 and $90,000 will benefit a little from the tax reduction, but mostly it will be those earning over $90,000 and up to close to $200,000 who will benefit from it. Even those earning $210,000 per year will still enjoy a tax cut. But the people earning $45,000 will get nothing at all. That is one of the problems with the Liberal program. We tried to correct the situation by making it possible for people to get a tax reduction starting at $11,000, but the government would have nothing of it.
The second thing, also mentioned by my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent, is the fact that when the Canada child benefit program was set up, they forgot to index it. That is a major problem because the lack of indexing would have meant that the program would have been less advantageous for most families starting in 2022-2023. For this we can thank the parliamentary budget officer, who conducted a rigorous study on the subject. As if by chance, the afternoon after the report was published, the government finally said that it wanted to index the program and would do so starting in 2020-2021, that is, after the next federal election.
Can we really believe that this was part of the government’s plans? It never mentioned indexing when the program was announced, when it was set up. In the end, it took the publication of a report for them to realize that not indexing would mean that the government’s initiative was going to be less beneficial within six years. Even taking into account the amendments to Bill C-29, we are going to find ourselves in a situation where loss of purchasing power is going to come dangerously close to the level that families would have had with the old program.
So instead of congratulating ourselves on different initiatives—initiatives whose value or lack thereof we can debate, initiatives that are going to affect different groups of Canadians to different degrees—for 2017 I would like to wish the House debates that are more rigorous in terms of economic analysis. I am an economist by training, and I like rigour. There is always room for partisan viewpoints. That is normal: we function on the adversarial principle. It’s normal that we should have differing positions, but all the same, we ought to be more rigorous and disciplined in the exercise of our duties.
That is what I wish us all for 2017.