OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)
Friday, March 2, 2012
Speaker: The Honourable Andrew Scheer
Financial Literacy Leader Act
The House resumed from March 1 consideration of the motion that Bill C-28, An Act to amend the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the motion that this question be now put.
Mike Sullivan (York South—Weston, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.
This is yet another in a series of governing on the back of an envelope from the government side. The government tried to amend Bill C-10, and discovered it could not. It then had to send the bill to the Senate to have some amendments made. Now it will come back to the House.
We then had the lawful access bill, the awful access bill, which the government had to withdraw. It had to send the bill to committee so some amendments could be made to please Canadians.
Now we have this bill. It seems to be extremely poorly thought out. It does not actually deal with the recommendations of the task force, except to create a new bureaucracy. Canadians do not need another level of bureaucracy.
According to the bill, a position would be created, with no definition of what the person would do and with a very vague statement of consulting with stakeholders, which have not been defined. Are the stakeholders the big banks? Are they the payday lenders? Are they the big and powerful corporations that want better tax regimes? Who are the stakeholders in this?
The bill does not deal with the bulk of the recommendations that came from the task force. In fact, it only deals with half of one, which is to appoint a leader. The other recommendations suggested that the government spend money on making Canadians better able to deal with their day to day financial pressures. They are such things as integrating financial literacy into the Canada student loans program. That would require an expenditure. This proposed new individual would not have the authority to spend money.
There was the recommendation that government make financial literacy training programs for young Canadians eligible for funding through the youth employment strategy. Again, the bill would not do that. There was the recommendation that the Government of Canada, as part of the renewal of the urban aboriginal strategy, make financial literacy training programs for young aboriginal Canadians eligible for funding. Again, funding is not a part of the bill.
The recommendation to provide relevant financial information and education services for recent newcomers through the newcomers to Canada program, again, would require funding. In Toronto the funding for CIC programs is being cut.
Mr. Speaker, the task force recommended that, “the Government of Canada, as well as provincial and territorial governments, invest in the capacity of the voluntary sector”. The individual would not have the power to invest anything. It also recommended that, ”the Government of Canada support existing capacity-building initiatives in First Nations communities by offering culturally relevant financial literacy tools, training and resources”. However, there is no funding in the bill for resources. The bill is all about creating a bureaucracy that has absolutely no ability to do anything except perhaps talk to a few people about what they ought to do with financial literacy.
There is no definition in the bill of financial literacy. What is it? Let us talk about some real examples of missing financial literacy in my riding. Would the bill actually fix these things?
A 59-year-old gentleman in my riding was laid-off from his job. As he had paid into the EI system for many years, he tried to collect it. However, EI was not available, not because of his fault or the fault of his employer, but because of the fault of the EI administration. It took 11 months for him to finally get his EI. In that period of time, would financial literacy have helped him collect EI better? I do not think so because it was not forthcoming.
In that 11-month period, he managed to lose his house. Would financial literacy have prevented him from losing his house? No. The big bank, I think it was the Royal Bank, decided he had missed too many payments because he did not get his EI in time. When he did get his EI, but by then it was too late.
We have an example of an individual for whom financial literacy means absolutely nothing because the systems and structures that are in place do not prevent the horrible impacts that the delay of 11 months for EI had on he and his family. He now lives on somebody’s couch.
On subprime loans in the U.S., would financial literacy have helped the migrant farm worker making $12,000 a year decide to say no to a quarter-million dollar loan? Would financial literacy have prevented the subprime mortgage crisis in the U.S.? I do not think so.
If I am making $12,000 a year and somebody tells me that I could have a quarter-million dollars to buy a house and live in it for as long as I wanted because the government would back the loan, would I turn that down because there was a financial literacy program? I do not think so. These kinds of things just do not happen.
Would the financial literacy program help eliminate payday lenders? We hope so. However, what of the single mom who is told by the doctor that she has to buy a prescription for her sick daughter and she does not have the money for it because her paycheque does not come in until Thursday? There is no drug plan in any of the three part-time jobs she has to hold down in order to keep her head above water. Would financial literacy prevent her from going to a payday lender? I do not think so. Although she knows it is wrong and stupid to pay 1,000% on a loan, she does not have a choice because the financial structures in our country do not prevent the need for these payday lenders.
According to the member for Newmarket—Aurora yesterday, financial literacy would help Canadians understand some of the complexities of what was going on in financial markets and how they could respond as individuals to the things that were happening. What does that mean?
As an ordinary Canadian consumer, I have to respond to something going on in Greece and the financial markets in Europe and Tokyo? Maybe 1% of Canadians do, but I do not think that 1% have a need for financial literacy training. Canadians depend on the government to look out for them on these kinds of things. They depend on the government to pay attention to what goes on in those financial markets and act accordingly.
The government should not be considering financial literacy as a way for ordinary consumers to somehow find a way to protect themselves from these financial markets. Maybe the answer is to put all of our RRSP money in our mattresses and then we would not lose half of it when those financial markets go down.
I do not think there is going to be a financial literacy course anywhere in our country that is going to tell people to put their money in their mattresses because those financial literacy courses are going to be conducted by the big banks, whose job it is to ensure that people are investing in them, and the take 2% or 3% of people’s money to keep their profits up.
Financial literacy for Canadians is knowing a bunch of things about their own financial health, such as knowing, for example, that being in a union means better wages, benefits and retirement security. Will that be part of the financial training? I doubt it. It is knowing that the tax credits for children’s arts programs and other things, which are non-refundable, do not help most of the people in my riding. They are too poor to afford the children’s arts program in the first place and they do not pay enough taxes to use that credit. It is knowing that non-refundable tax credits for transit passes are not of any benefit to the poor, but they are the people who use transit passes. The non-refundable tax credit does nothing for them.
It is knowing that indiscriminate tax cuts to rich and powerful corporations do not trickle down to the indefensible individuals in my riding. It does not create jobs for them. The jobs have disappeared. There were 400,000 manufacturing jobs that disappeared in Ontario alone since the government took office and those jobs were family supporting and created employment in a way that people could afford to have families, mortgages and live above the poverty line. Those jobs have disappeared under the government and have not been replaced.
Financial literacy is knowing which side of the House is good for ordinary Canadians. Financial literacy is knowing that we are.
Mr. James Rajotte (Edmonton—Leduc, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, my colleague talked about the establishment of a new bureaucracy. We are not going to recreate the existing Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. It will be the agency that works with the financial literacy leader if the bill passes.
Is he aware that there will be co-operation between an existing agency, not a newly-created agency, and the financial literacy leader if the bill passes?
Mr. Mike Sullivan:
Mr. Speaker, yes, I am quite aware that this position is incorporated, in part, in another agency. I was not suggesting that the government was creating another agency. I said that it was creating another level of bureaucracy, without any definition of what that bureaucrat would do or how the individual would accomplish tasks. He or she would have a salary, an office and staff. The person may require French-language training if the individual does not have the required bilingualism.
It is not creating another agency, I agree, but it is creating a position with very little to do.
Mr. Dennis Bevington (Western Arctic, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I heard the presentation yesterday by the Conservative member for Saint Boniface, who mentioned a number of different things that would be accomplished within the financial literacy leader’s role. I understand the nature of what is going ahead and yet, when I read the bill, I see nothing that indicates any surety that these things are going to become part of the financial information and direction that the government provides to corporations that lend money to Canadians or engage in financial transactions with Canadians.
How can we agree to this position when the government seems intransigent on the needs of consumers? How can we expect anything good to come out of the bill?
Mr. Mike Sullivan:
Mr. Speaker, we want good things to come from the government, but the bill does not do it. The bill does not deal with the fact that credit card interest rates are one of the biggest scourges in this land. There are credit card interest rates of 30% and 40%, yet the prime rate is around 1.5% or 2%. The rest of it is pure profit. There are systems in our country that actually pick on the poor and vulnerable. Nothing in the bill would deal with those issues.
The bill, apparently, would simply create an office. Without any of the other things in the recommendations, it will not accomplish what we want it to accomplish.