Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Winnipeg Centre.
I am pleased as well to speak to Bill C-38 which involves financial sector reform, a bill, as has been mentioned, that is 900 pages long and certainly deserves thorough scrutiny.
It was interesting to listen to the Minister of Finance today during question period talking about generational debt. This is a man, along with our Prime Minister, who was in the House in the eighties and nineties when that huge debt was created and a large part of it is due to compound interest.
He was talking about this generation and himself as someone who was going to be a saviour. It was in fact our parents and the men and the women who were in the war and lived through the depression. They made sure their children went to school and got an education. They made sure there would be pensions, unemployment insurance benefits and housing programs. They made sure that people would have homes and that they could afford the gas and the heating fuel to keep their houses warm.
Here we have a government that has slashed and burned those programs. It was not the social programs that caused the debt. It was, as I said, compound interest that was paid to financial institutions in the eighties and nineties that caused the debt to spiral.
I agree that we have a debt and that it needs to be paid, but we also have a debt to the homeless and to the people who are on emergency lists at hospitals. People are dying because they are being turned away from emergency wards. Those debts are far more important than the debt to private institutions such as banks.
We have a finance minister who has been visibly taking public money and transferring it into private hands and we have no say. The big announcement of an extra $12 billion goes right to the banks. Nobody in the House has any say over how that money will be treated, who it will go to or who it should go it. It is completely out of our hands. That is reprehensible and shocking when we have other debts besides financial debts.
These financial institutions are the most privileged, profitable and wealthy institutions in Canada but they pay very little tax compared to the profits they make. They put nothing back into their communities. The bill will not require them to reinvest in their communities. They will be able to pull out of communities and end banking services at will without any recourse for the communities involved.
The New Democratic Party, just on principle, does not support the bill. There are things in it that are worth supporting but not in comparison to what is not worth supporting. We do support the expanded power to credit unions. We think it is important to modernize financial institutions and make sure there is better competition for insurance companies. The bill will provide more power to the House of Commons in bank mergers.
It seems that this huge financial bill went through a screening in a backroom committee where no elected official or average Canadian could have a say. I do not know about most members of parliament but I do not know any wealthy people. Most of the people I know barely make it from month to month, paycheque to paycheque and being able to buy shoes for their kids for the start of school. Most of us do not have any access to the world of privilege or wealth.
We in the NDP do not support the bill because it abandons the wide ownership rules and it will lead to a concentration of power into a few hands. We do not need more public money going into private hands or more public power going into private hands. In a democracy we want to keep power where it belongs, in the hands of the people as much as possible.
The bill also gives far too much power to the finance minister. Why would we want to do that when he already has enormous power? Why would we want him to have that much power over the way we exchange goods or the way we make decisions? In fact, very few of us can get away from a world that depends on money. The minister will have a final say on mergers, acquisitions, regulations and ownership levels, and that is just not acceptable.
There will be no accountability between a bank and its community. As do some states in the United States, the bill will not require banks to reinvest in the communities where they have made their money. Banks make their money off our money. There will be no guarantees of rural access to banking. We cannot stop bank closures or provide no cost accounts. It reduces capital requirements for small banks and there is no control on high risk derivative products or off balance sheet liabilities.
In 1999 our Canadian banks made $9.1 billion in profits. That kind of money seems unimaginable to the average Canadian when they pay $2 billion in federal tax. The banks also got a 7% reduction in corporate tax in the 1999 budget.
As I said, banks are privileged but they do need to be dealt with fairly. The financial sector does have to be reformed but it should not be reformed at the expense of the individual Canadian who has a very hard time going to the bank. Small businesses struggle when approaching banks for loans. They could at least invest in our communities.
In closing, I want to say that we in the NDP oppose on principle second reading of Bill C-38.