Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to use my time today to endorse the spirit of this motion and to review certain measures by our government that have already taken place to put Canadian consumers first. In my remarks I will also illustrate how this government has often been able to ensure positive commitments from financial institutions without resorting to mandatory measures.
It is quite remarkable to see the NDP members actually put forward any sort of public support for Canadian consumers, especially since they have voted against every pro-consumer measure that our government has introduced. Nonetheless, we will be supporting the motion today because our Conservative government has a strong record on consumer issues, and I am glad the members of the NDP are happy with that announcement. We will continue to put Canadian consumers first. We certainly hope they will too.
In doing so, however, I would like to remind the hon. member that consumer protection measures like the updated code of conduct this government released in April benefits two different groups: the businesses that rely on financial institutions to operate, and the consumers that make those businesses and ultimately our entire economy a success.
It was the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, after all, that noted that the code of conduct for the credit and debit card industry in Canada “has served merchants extremely well....[It] has done an excellent job in ensuring some fair ground rules and maintaining Canada’s low-cost debit system”.
Accordingly, a valid and constructive examination of the motion before us simply must ensure both small business and consumers are priorities. With the NDP refusing to support our measures helping small businesses, on top of all the measures to protect consumers, I question the sincerity of the NDP's motion today.
In the motion, the hon. member has trained his sights on the business-to-consumer space, the B2C space. B2C, on the other hand, describes the relationship between a company and the end user of a service. Without question, these relationships are important. Canadian families work hard to make ends meet and every dollar counts. When Canadians make decisions about how to spend their money, they must be assured of a voice, a choice and fair treatment.
These words once again recall the 2013 Speech from the Throne and the very first strokes of what was to become our consumer first agenda. It is here that hon. members may have first heard the term pay-to-pay, for it was on this occasion that we committed to end pay-to-pay policies in specific industries in Canada, starting with the telecommunications sector. Contrary to the wording of the motion, the pay-to-pay concept goes beyond banks.
For those who are not aware, pay-to-pay billing refers to a new charge on monthly phone bills that previously did not exist. This fee may cost up to $6 each month and is charged to Canadians who choose to receive their monthly phone bill by mail, that is the paper version. Here again, promises made, promises kept.
Last December, legislation prohibiting telecommunications companies from charging Canadians for receiving paper bills received royal assent. This was a very good first step, but it was by no means our last.
One of the most important relationships Canadians have is with their financial institution, and Canada's banks are world-class. The World Economic Forum has recognized Canada's banking sector as the soundest in the world for the seventh straight year. That is something of which we can all be very proud.
Our nation's financial institutions continue to meet global regulator reform thresholds on time and often ahead of schedule. Three of our six major banks count among Bloomberg's list of the world's strongest. More important, Canadians have high regard for their financial institutions: 87% have a favourable impression of banks in Canada, significantly higher than any other service providers; 75% give banks a good rating for being stable and secure; and 79% of Canadians get good value for their service fees.
This is positive news because it shows Canadians recognize that a profitable banking sector benefits communities across the country and the Canadian economy as a whole. Those countries that do not have a sound banking sector, including the ones most impacted by the global financial crisis a few years ago, have come to envy those that do.
In the banking sector, as in the telecommunications sector, our government has been proactive about ensuring that Canadians do not face unfair or undisclosed charges for services rendered. Our efforts in this regard are long standing and cut across many different areas of the banking and financial industry. They are even in collaboration with other levels of government. However, while we have a strong banking sector, we also understand the concerns of Canadians who feel nickel-and-dimed by the big banks. It is why we have introduced tough measures to protect Canadians from predatory banking practices and have continued to look for ways to protect Canadian consumers when dealing with their financial institutions.
Some of our measures leverage public education. For example, in budget 2014, we committed to raising public awareness about the associated costs of payday lending and other lending products with high interest rates. We are also giving provincial governments the space they need to fully regulate payday loans, including a 2007 change to the usury provisions of the Criminal Code.
Many more of our efforts draw on the benefits of clear disclosure to help consumers make good choices. Disclosure rules ensure that service providers, credit card companies, or federal financial institutions that offer mortgages, highlight relevant consumer information about charges and consequences in a manner that is visible and accessible. For example, the prepaid payment products regulations, which came into force last May, require disclosure of fees in a prominent information box on exterior packaging; disclosure of pertinent information on the product's use, including on how to access the full terms and conditions and a toll-free number to make a balance inquiry; prohibit the expiry of funds; and prohibit dormancy fees during the first 12 months following card activation.
To put consumers first, our government has prohibited unfair practices where necessary. That includes, for example, the use of unsolicited credit card cheques, which encourage funds to be withdrawn directly from a credit card. These cheques are considered to be cash advances, which can accrue higher interest rates and fees and do not provide an interest-free grace period.
Another example of our government's consumer commitment is the access to funds regulations, which reduce the maximum cheque-hold period to four days from the previous seven days for cheques of less than $1,500. The regulations also provide consumers with more timely access to the first $100 of a cheque.
These are some of the actions that the government has taken, which in turn have prompted changes within the banking industry.
However, our financial industry has always been a driver of positive change. Financial companies also recognize the value of treating their clients fairly, whether they be consumers or businesses. It is the Canadian way, and our government has repeatedly helped to make that happen.
For example, budget 2014 called on banks to enhance disclosure to consumers of the costs and consequences of collateral charge mortgages relative to conventional mortgages. In response, on September 3, 2014, eight major banks, and the Canadian Bankers Association on behalf of its smaller member banks, committed to providing consumers with general comparative information on residential mortgages. Banks also committed to providing specific information about these same topics to consumers on their individual mortgages at the time of or before entering into a mortgage loan agreement.
The NDP voted against all of these consumer protection measures.
Just over a year ago, Canada's eight largest banks voluntarily committed to enhancing low-cost bank accounts, and to offering no-cost accounts with the same features as low-cost accounts to a wider range of eligible consumers, especially students and seniors.
Industry-initiated change has not been limited to our federally regulated financial institutions either. Last fall, we welcomed voluntary commitments by Visa Canada and MasterCard Canada to cut credit card fees by close to 10%. Visa and MasterCard started to implement the reductions in April 2015. This is a very important commitment for retail business owners in particular.
Canadians have proven to be enthusiastic adopters of new and evolving payments technology. From the early days of automated teller machines, now known as ATMs, to newer tap and go technologies at point of sale, the days of exchanging hard cash for goods and services, for many, seem long ago and far away. I am proud to say that Canada leads in this respect.
Businesses that accept payments must now consider a much larger number of payment options, ranging from cash to debit to credit, and emerging digital technologies as well. That is why, alongside the recent release of our updated code of conduct for the credit and debit card industry in Canada, we have also undertaken a consultation, seeking the views of Canadians on how to ensure that payments innovations are safe and provide adequate consumer protection.
Payment systems are vital to the movement of money in an economy. Given their importance, the government provides oversight of these systems based on the broad policy objectives of safety and soundness, efficiency, and consideration of user interests. It is our strong hope that one of the major conversations that this consultation will spark is related to efficiency and how to ensure that our payments industry remains competitive so that consumers do not face higher costs when using new payment technology. At the same time, businesses can make the right choices about the kinds of payments they will accept.
More important to this debate today, which I am surprised the NDP has already forgotten, is that the banks have already committed to ending pay-to-pay charges. It makes this debate somewhat unnecessary, as the NDP is completely ignoring that the banks have made a commitment to the federal government that they will not charge customers for bills when money is owing.
Our government completely agrees that we should support eliminating the practice of making customers pay fees to see their bills or invoices, which is why, in the spring or summer of 2014, the banks made their commitment to ending this practice for Canadian consumers. Our government fully intends to accept the banks' voluntary commitment.
I am sure the hon. member knows that our government does not regulate the day-to-day operations of banks, but this issue is something we take seriously, which is why we are proud that we are able to work with the industry to help all consumers.
Then, there is the financial code of conduct that the member has raised. Again, I am faced with some confusion. Economic action plan 2015, the extraordinary budget that the Minister of Finance introduced this year, proposes a new financial consumer protection framework for banks. This is the same budget that the opposition has already committed to voting against, which comes as no surprise when members opposite vote against most of our government's measures without even reading them.
Economic action plan 2015 proposes to amend the Bank Act. It will strengthen and modernize Canada's financial consumer protection framework to respond to the diverse needs of Canadians. Not only will it make the consumer protection provisions of the act more transparent and consistent with regard to the banks' dealings with consumers, it will benefit all Canadians, including the most vulnerable consumers. Since it would be enshrined in the Bank Act, the framework would be mandatory.
Again, New Democrats need to read the budget before they propose their motions. Our government's use of voluntary codes of conduct has increased transparency at banks and is considered a model framework around the world. Every Canadian bank has accepted and implemented our voluntary code of conduct. We are taking it one step further to make sure the framework will prohibit certain business practices, improve access to basic banking services, and broaden requirements for clear and simple disclosure of information for banking products and services.
I am sure that the point is clear already, but let me quote from the budget text itself:
The Government of Canada intends that the Bank Act provide the exclusive set of rules governing consumer protection for banks. One comprehensive set of rules will allow banks to officially deliver national products and services and provide consumers with the benefit of knowing they have the same uniform protection when they deal with their bank anywhere across the country.
I am not sure what more the member wants. This is a clear example of our government taking true leadership on this issue and helping all Canadians, by putting these principles in law.
Let me be crystal clear for the NDP. Banning pay-to-pay bank fees is the kind of thing we intend to look at, including in our mandatory financial consumer protection framework that we promised in economic action plan 2015. Our government understands that when Canadians make decisions about how to spend their money, they must be assured that their interests come first and they are given fair treatment.
I could spend a whole day listing the measures we have introduced to help consumers and that the opposition has voted against, but I see that my time is almost up.
Let me comment on one more measure that I believe is extremely important, and that is financial literacy.
Our government has been working to support the financial literacy of Canadians since we came to power. We have created the financial literacy leader position and invested funds to ensure that Canadians have the skills and knowledge to make informed financial decisions. As we have said many times, this will not only result in economic benefits for Canadians, it will also benefit the entire economy.
Protecting consumers and supporting small businesses remain a central focus of our government. We continue to work through our many channels to effect positive change for both groups. From regulations to voluntary industry-driven codes, consumers today enjoy far greater protections than ever before, even as the products and services they enjoy also evolve in step with technology and our increasingly digital world. Canadian consumers and businesses stand to benefit first from these exhaustive efforts, which is only right and fair.
Again, while we support the motion here today, I urge the NDP to stop playing political games and finally support the countless measures that our government has introduced to protect Canadian consumers. It could perhaps start by supporting economic action plan 2015.