Brison speaks on Banking Sytem.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
House of Commons Debates
OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Hon. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, Lib.):Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill S-5.
This legislation does not make significant changes to the Canadian banking system. In fact, the Canadian banking system is probably, if not the most, among the most prudentially sound banking systems in the world.
That is something all of us as Canadians recognize as being important to our Canadian economy. I believe it is good for Canadian jobs. It is good for our role in the world and our influence on the world. The growth in the scale and success of Canadian banks compared to other banks in other countries, in other banking systems, in recent years has been remarkable.
It is important to recognize why that is the case. While I agree with the Conservatives when they say that the World Economic Forum and other international fora recognize that Canadian banks and the Canadian banking system are among the best in the world, where I differ from them is on the genesis of why that is the case.
The reality is that during the 1990s, when the global trend in the U.S. and Europe was to go to rampant deregulation, it was the Canadian government that said no, that refused to follow the lemmings in other countries off the cliff.
In Canada, the Chrétien government, with Paul Martin as finance minister and Jean Chrétien as Prime Minister, was under immense pressure to follow the global trend of deregulation. They said no to that. They disagreed with that because they did not believe it was in the interests of Canadian bank customers, in the interests of Canadian small business or in the interests of ultimately the prudential strength of Canadians banks to do that. The decision was made not to deregulate at that time, and thank goodness that was the case.
It is important to realize that there were many members of the Reform Party or the Canadian Alliance Party. I forget what it was at that point. They were in fact opposed to the government and the decisions at that time.
I will be the first to offer a mea culpa from my perspective, because there were times when I was critical of the government's caution at that time. I will be the first to admit that when I criticized the government for its caution at that time, I was wrong. I will admit I was wrong, and I will not take credit personally for the decisions made by the Chrétien and Martin team at that time. I was wrong; they were right.
I just wish that at some point the folks on the other side, who were also wrong at that time, would admit that they were wrong and Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Martin were right. I do not take credit personally for the fact that some very strong and sound decisions were made by the Chrétien and Martin government, because I was criticizing those decisions at the time.
Again, I was wrong. Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Martin were right and the Liberal government was right. All I am saying is that when the government speaks of, and boasts of, the prudential strength of Canadian banks and our reputation in the world, it ought to do the same thing, have the same journey I have gone on where we embrace our inner honesty and expunge our inner hypocrisy, and we feel so much better. It is completely cleansing.
Let us look at what happened in the nineties. The reality is that the Chrétien and Martin government did the right thing by not following the global trend of deregulation.
There are some other reasons why Canada is doing well and our financial services sector is doing well. Part of it is that there is a massive global trend for commodities, and we have a lot of commodities in Canada: oil, gas, mining. Just in mining finances, 80% of all the mining transactions, financings, in the world over the last five years were transacted in Toronto.
I was in Calgary last week. I met with some oil and gas finance companies and some oil and gas companies. Calgary is booming in terms of oil and gas financing.
None of us in this House, not even the Conservatives, can legitimately take credit for putting the oil and gas under the ground or the minerals or potash under the soil. The Conservatives cannot say they put the oil and gas under the ground in Alberta or the potash under the ground in Saskatchewan. We all know they did not put the oil and gas off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. That was Danny Williams.
The reality is that we have to be honest with each other about why we are doing well as a country. Two of the reasons are that we have a strong banking system and we have become the global centre for mining and for oil and gas transactions. That is all very good.
In this bill, specifically, one of the changes the government is making is the decision that takeovers of foreign banks by Canadian banks will be subject to not public servant scrutiny in some cases but will go to the minister's office. The minister's office will make the determination, depending on the size of the transaction and the size relative to the Canadian bank's assets. It will not be OSFI, as an example, in the public service that will have the decision to make; it will be the minister's office.
I can understand the rationale from some perspectives. The government may see that as an extra level of precaution in terms of the minister's office, but I have a concern. I raised this at committee, the politicizing of these transactions. We know Canadian banks have been very acquisitive in recent years. We have seen the Bank of Nova Scotia buy all the Royal Bank of Scotland's assets in Colombia and more recently a significant retail bank in Colombia. The Bank of Nova Scotia bought 20% of the Bank of Guangzhou for $700 million in China a few months ago.
We are seeing that happen, and that is generally a very positive news story in terms of those head office jobs that will be here in Canada and the opportunity for us to strengthen our influence, financially and in business around the world. However, I want to see these transactions judged based on prudential strength, not on politics and other issues. I think we have be careful with that.
Another thing, when we are talking about the banking system, is that one of the biggest concerns we have is the level of personal debt Canadians are carrying right now. There is $1.50 of debt, on average, for every $1.00 of annual income in Canadian families. That is at a record high. That is actually higher than that of our American friends, who are less indebted personally than Canadians today. Canadian families have the highest level of debt. It is higher than the personal debt levels of Americans.
We have historically low interest rates today. People are struggling just to get by today. A lot of people have lost their full-time jobs. They have seen their full-time jobs replaced by part-time work. We have seen a bifurcation of the Canadian economy where for people who are in Alberta or Saskatchewan, which have a lot of natural resources, it is a very different kind of economy than if they were in Ontario or Quebec or the Maritimes.
The reality is that one of the reasons why we have seen growth in personal debt is not that Canadians are going out and buying big screen TVs and boats, as the Minister of Finance said when he blamed personal debt levels on Canadians' profligate spending on big screen TVs and boats. It is not that. It is that a lot of Canadians have lost their full-time jobs, which have been replaced by part-time work.
The other factor is that the government has sent signals to Canadians and in fact has changed the rules and regulations around lending to actually encourage Canadians to take on more debt. In his first budget in 2006, the Minister of Finance brought in 40-year mortgages with no down payment, for the first time ever in Canada.
The government has to take some responsibility for the growth in personal indebtedness and the degree to which Canadian citizens and families are leveraged financially today, because it changed the rules in 2006 to 40-year mortgages—
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