Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill S-201, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Bank of Canada Act (quarterly financial reports).
The great riding of Thunder Bay--Rainy River takes 7.5 hours to drive across, over two time zones. It covers 27 communities, of which 16 are municipalities and 11 first nations. The principle of Bill S-201 is certainly something that my constituents would support.
The bill would require crown corporations and the Bank of Canada to submit quarterly financial reports to both the House of Commons and the Senate. I do not see anything wrong with increasing the disclosure and the transparency of these corporations.
In the riding of Thunder Bay--Rainy River, there is an expression that there are two times to plant a tree: one is 20 years ago and the other is today. Is this legislation timely? I believe it is, because from time to time in the House, we see an annual report that raises some serious concerns about the administration of one crown corporation or another. Parliamentarians then jump to action to correct the problem, but of course this is typically after the damage has been done.
If crown corporations are required to table reports on a quarterly basis, it will be much easier for parliamentarians to identify any problems early on and move to correct them before they become too serious. In short, it will help parliamentarians to ensure that the government is properly managing public funds through its crown corporations and the Bank of Canada.
Under existing legislation, publicly traded corporations, including our banks, are required to make quarterly reports to their shareholders. It is not beyond reason to expect that our government-run crown corporations can at least match that standard of disclosure.
Let me give one concrete example of how this legislation would be of use to Canadians. One crown corporation that many Canadians frequently want more information from is the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. As of right now, the CPPIB, like all other crown corporations, currently tables one report annually. In that report, the CPPIB discloses all of its holdings so that Canadians can see where their pensions are invested.
Unfortunately, if Canadians want an updated version of the CPPIB's holdings, they are out of luck. They have to wait until the spring of each year to see what has been bought or sold. If they call the investment board with a question, they are told to wait for the annual report.
In the aftermath of the government's broken promise never to tax income trusts, many Canadians wanted to know how much exposure their pension plan had to income trusts. They could look at the last year's annual report and see that the CPP held over $1 billion in income trusts seven months ago, but there was no way to know how much it held at the time of the Minister of Finance's income trust massacre.
With Bill S-201, however, Canadians will hopefully be able to see an updated holdings list that is no more than 90 days old.
There is, of course, an administrative cost to increasing to this level of disclosure. Quarterly disclosures at the Bank of Canada and our crown corporations will certainly increase their workload and they will have to dedicate more resources in order to achieve it. As the managers of public funds, we need to ask if the cost-benefit of Bill S-201 is worth it for Canadians. My constituents would certainly argue that it is.
I trust that when the bill proceeds to the appropriate committee, the members there will perform such a cost benefit analysis that the bill can again be supported at third reading, and I would be glad to do so.
We do have to recognize the input that has already gone into this from the senators, which has been positive, thoughtful and comprehensive. It included many important amendments and ideas.
Regarding the income trust scandal, many people were hurt. And many people here are trying to remember which scandal this is because we have had a few of them and it looks like the record of the present government will pass the previous record of the last Conservative government.
In my riding there was an astonishing number of people who formerly supported the Conservative Party who just could not believe that the Prime Minister would actually break that campaign promise with such devastation to their long time savings.
I was actually not the one who reminded them of the string of broken promises. It was my constituents, again former Conservatives, who have seen the light and who reminded me that it was the current Prime Minister who promised to eliminate the double taxation on gasoline pricing and eliminate the taxation after 85¢ a litre.
I just received correspondence the other day reminding me that since January 2006, gas prices have almost doubled, so hon. members can draw the correlation.
The bill could perhaps reassure people, give them some faith in government, and hopefully recognize in our discourse today that the government will actually take heed.
There was a question from another opposition member about how this would be implemented and how we would actually see the results of it.
I am hoping that the people from crown corporations and the Bank of Canada, who are watching this debate, and are perhaps concerned about their own workload and quarterly reporting will know that for us, who really want to restore people's faith in democracy, we want them to know that the Canadian public service and its crown corporation divisions are of the highest standards of accountability and transparency. That we, as elected representatives, have the utmost faith in their ability and competence, and that those of us in the opposition ranks have a duty to ensure that the government maintains those high standards.
I am hoping that as we proceed through this debate, the bill will succeed. I believe that it should, and that those people who want their faith restored, those elected representatives who want a quicker turnaround in this rapid age of communications to review changes that can still affect pricing and changes in people's investments, we can do this. We can do this in the spirit of understanding that without a strong public service and strong set of Crown corporations, even at arm's length, this is a nation that is built on people who hold the highest of standards.
To that end, I would hope that we could all support Bill S-201.