June 5, 2003

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
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Some hon. members

Agreed.

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.

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BQ

Yvan Loubier

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Yvan Loubier (Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle for this opportunity to make comments and to ask him a question on the important issue of bank mergers, as this is not the first time this issue has been debated.

We had this discussion five years ago, if my memory serves me well. It was extremely controversial then, and it still is today. The difference between now and five years ago, however, is that the Bloc Quebecois had met with representatives from all the financial institutions and banks directly or indirectly involved in the mergers and had asked them for guarantees, in order to save jobs. We got guarantees that not only would jobs be maintained, but that employment opportunities would be increased and that client services would be maintained, particularly in regions like south-central Montreal where not a single bank branch remains—for example, in the Hochelaga—Maisonneuve riding, the last bank closed its doors two years ago—, and also in rural regions, such as the riding of my hon. colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle. We received all these guarantees.

So, why are these institutions now being given a blank cheque without having to provide any guarantees? I am asking my hon. colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle: would it not be appropriate, in the context of this debate, to do again what the Bloc Quebecois did five years ago, and first seek out firm and written guarantees from financial institutions stipulating not only that the jobs would be maintained, but that jobs could be created as a result of these mergers; second, that all the services would be maintained, particularly in the rural regions; and third, that consumers would enjoy lower interest rates, as a result of mergers, since there would be economies of scale.

We sought out such guarantees, and this reassured us about the mergers. I think that we are now in a position to ask for such guarantees.

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NDP

Lorne Nystrom

New Democratic Party

Hon. Lorne Nystrom

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot. He has referred to the importance of a written guarantee from the Canadian banks. That would be a good idea. I am pleased that the Bloc Quebecois did this some years ago.

He has spoken of three things, jobs being one of them. It is important for Canadians to have jobs, and it is important that they have a guarantee of jobs. If two or three major banks in Canada merge, it is virtually certain that some people will be laid off. I have often seen this happen in Canada when major companies, regardless of sector, are merged.

We must not lose sight of the fact that the big banks hold a very special position in Canada. In fact, they hold charters from the Parliament of Canada which involve certain obligations to the public. This makes the major banks very special indeed, and is why we should follow the very wise advice of the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot about having a guarantee in writing from the Canadian banks before the merger.

Another important point concerns services. I have often spoken of the services offered by the major Canadian banks. I come from a little place in Saskatchewan called Wynyard. It has a population of only 2,500. Now we have the good fortune to have two or three banks, one of these a credit union, the equivalent of the Caisse populaire in Quebec. There are choices and I want a guarantee that those choices will remain in future.

There are five major banks in Canada at present. These are: CIBC, Royal Bank, Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia, and National Bank. The latter started out in Quebec, but we have a major branch in Regina.

If there were a proposal to merge the big Canadian banks, it would be essential to have a guarantee of services in all regions of Canada. We have had a lot to say about the importance for the first nations, the aboriginal groups of our country, to have access to capital. It is also very important to that segment of our population.

The third point is interest rates. At the present time there is a big difference between interest rates in Canada and those in the United States. It is good for Canadian banks to have a higher interest rate than the Americans, because they will make large profits. At the present time, and historically, the difference between our two countries is very great.

I agree with the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot. It is a good thing to have promises, commitments in writing, from financial institutions.

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CA

Dick Harris

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Richard Harris (Prince George—Bulkley Valley, Canadian Alliance)

Mr. Speaker, it was surprising to have the NDP put forth this issue today. I imagine there was more than one reason to start talking about bank mergers and I guess we will find that out as the day goes by.

It is very easy to stand here, as the NDP does in so many cases, and tell everyone that the sky is about to fall if those big, bad banks have a merger. There are a couple of points he made with which I really must take issue.

The banks, operating under the charter, of course have an obligation to the population of Canada, like the hon. member said. They also have an obligation to the Canadian economy, and it is absolutely critical that our banks remain as strong as they possibly can to support our economy.

Over the last number of years, because of mergers around the world, our Canadian banks have lost their standings from an asset base and the ability to take advantage of opportunities in the global market. While other banks around the world have grown in size through mergers and acquisitions, our banks have not had that opportunity. They are getting left behind and have been unable to participate in financing opportunities in the global marketplace. That has a direct bearing on the ability of banks to solidify and increase their strength right here in Canada. It is a trickle-down effect which is certainly a reality.

The member talked about the difference between interest rates here and in the U.S. That is true, our rates are somewhat higher, but the interest rates are at the lowest point they have been in many years. Many Canadians are taking advantage of the low mortgage rates, for example, that are offered by our banks. They are able to buy houses a lot easier than they could before. They are able to buy other consumer products, large ticket items like cars and recreational items like boats.

The banks were here and made presentations before the committee. They made commitments. Where does the member want to go with this? The banks are waiting for a response from the government which will be forthcoming. They have said they are ready to do whatever it takes to facilitate these mergers.

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NDP

Lorne Nystrom

New Democratic Party

Hon. Lorne Nystrom

Mr. Speaker, the comments made by the member from British Columbia are very relevant. I know from his comments in committee and our private conversations that he is concerned that sometimes our party is a little too negative in terms of big banks and big business in Canada. However he knows very well, being a western Canadian, the record of western Canadian social democrats in terms of the business community.

We just saw two days ago, for example, the re-election of the Gary Doer government in Manitoba. It was extremely popular because it had a reasonable position, not just with workers, farmers, senior citizens and health care and so on, but a reasonable position in dealing with the business community. That certainly has been the legacy of the NDP government in Saskatchewan, going back to 1944 with Tommy Douglas, on through Roy Romanow, and now to Lorne Calvert. I think we have been positive and helpful in terms of big bank mergers.

We can go back to the real test in 1998-99. I was really puzzled by the deafening silence of the Reform Party in those days regarding its concern about big bank mergers. We were positive in terms of our approach. We suggested these were not good things for the small business community in terms of access to capital and we were proven right.

We were also proven right that the mergers proposed at that time would not be a good thing in terms of service to individual communities right across the country. I talked to many citizens around the country. Public opinion polls that were taken bore us right, that bank mergers were not in the best interests of Canada. That is why this study took place.

I do not think we are being negative. There is a party that is quite negative in the House of Commons, the Alliance Party, which complains about almost everything that happens in this country; that Canada is falling apart and that this country is going to hell in a handbasket. I criticized the Liberal government, but we are still a pretty decent country here. The opposition should be more positive in what we propose, so that is what I am doing today.

I am proposing that we concur in this report of the finance committee. Mr. Speaker, I know you are anxious to say a few words yourself, but we should concur in this report and take a look at the minority report which we have tabled as an appendix to this and chart a course that is important. We have seen the dollar go down, the dollar go up--

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The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. I want to reassure the hon. member for Regina--Qu'Appelle that the Chair has, in usual practice of course, nothing to say on this matter except to guide the deliberations. Resuming debate, the hon. member for London West.

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BQ

Yvan Loubier

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Yvan Loubier

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I respectfully submit that a few moments ago my hon. colleague asked for an unspecified amount of extra time. He had unanimous consent and thus we can continue to ask him questions and make comments on the subject of his speech.

That is how I understood it at the time.

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Subtopic:   Committees of the House
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The Deputy Speaker

If I understood correctly, the additional time allocated was 10 minutes. I was generous in timing those 10 minutes.

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PC

Joe Clark

Progressive Conservative

Right Hon. Joe Clark

Mr. Speaker, the only way we can resolve this is to look at the Hansard blues and listen to the tapes. There is no question about the recollection of members here that there was no time limit placed upon the right of the member for Regina--Qu'Appelle to respond. That ruling was made by the Chair. It is incumbent upon the Chair to respect that ruling and allow questions and comments to be made for as long as there are members who are interested in putting them.

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LIB

Bryon Wilfert

Liberal

Mr. Bryon Wilfert

Mr. Speaker, we consented to 20 minutes in total, 10 minutes for speaking and 10 minutes for questions and answers, not unlimited time.

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The Deputy Speaker

The table officers have told me that the original request was for a few minutes.

Then, the chair occupant before me said that the time allocated would be 10 minutes. Thus, I thought that was what the hon. members had agreed to.

Once again, I was generous with that 10 minute period. Now, I have simply opened the debate; I looked at the government side so the parties could alternate and I gave the floor to the hon. member for London West.

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PC

Joe Clark

Progressive Conservative

Right Hon. Joe Clark

Mr. Speaker, of course the House is obliged to respect the ruling of the Chair, but I wish to serve notice that we will want to consult both the electronic and written record of

Hansard.

If it were to turn out that the original ruling allowed unlimited debate and that it has now been reversed by your ruling, Mr. Speaker, which we are bound to accept, that would create a serious issue for the House. The House would then be required, once the words of your predecessor in the Chair were verified, to go back to the status quo ante, that is to say, to go back to where the member for Regina--Qu'Appelle had unlimited time to respond to questions and comments put to him by members.

I understand that the parliamentary secretary is talking about the intent of the government. We are talking about the words of the Speaker as we understood them, and the words of the Speaker must prevail, not the intent of the government or indeed any of us.

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CA

Dick Harris

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Richard Harris

Mr. Speaker, it was our understanding that it would be a 10 minute extension at the most. It is unrealistic to think that the House would allow the member for the NDP to have unlimited time on this subject. That party is using it as a delaying tactic for another bill it wants to postpone. We would never have given unanimous consent for unlimited speaking time. That is just not realistic.

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NDP

Bev Desjarlais

New Democratic Party

Mrs. Bev Desjarlais

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the party that my colleague from the Alliance has just spoken about, I find it annoying, if not insulting, to suggest that we would deal with something as serious as bank mergers, that have affected our communities greatly, by misleading the House as to what we understood was a ruling by the Speaker.

My colleague from Regina--Qu'Appelle asked for unlimited time. Although I was sitting in the lobby when it was approved, I was of the impression that it was unlimited time. I was in the House when a member of the governing party said that if we wanted to request it again that consent would be given, and that is what took place.

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NDP

Lorne Nystrom

New Democratic Party

Hon. Lorne Nystrom

Mr. Speaker, I have two points.

First, the member of the Alliance Party said I was doing this for some other reason. That is impugning motives which is against the rules of the House. My motives are to have to a full-fledged debate on the possibility of bank mergers in this country. I hope he would withdraw the allegation that he made.

Second, Mr. Speaker, I hope you follow the advice of the hon. member for Calgary Centre and check the blues. My understanding was that I was getting unlimited time, that the House thought this was a very important debate. It had nothing to do with the debate on Bill C-7 or whatever other issue the member from British Columbia was thinking of.

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LIB

Sue Barnes

Liberal

Mrs. Sue Barnes

Mr. Speaker, I was here for this and I heard that it was limited to 10 minutes. Most of my colleagues around here know that I would not say that if I did not believe that is what I heard. I am quite confident that Hansard will show these things. I was one of the members who consented to the elongation of time so that the member could take more questions. It is immaterial to me at this point because we all have something to offer here.

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The Deputy Speaker

I take the suggestion from the right hon. member for Calgary Centre with a great deal of seriousness. The blues have been requested and will arrive momentarily. I ask for the House to be patient because the Chair is reluctant to continue the debate because some other element might be introduced. I cannot begin to speculate, but I would not want the matter to become any more complex than it already is.

We are all cognizant that the matter previously before the House, which the government had given some indication that it would become the business of the day, is a very important one. Albeit there are some very strong feelings on both sides of that debate, so I would want to proceed with caution. I ask members to please bear with the Chair momentarily.

Let me go over the sequence of events.

Before I occupied the chair, the hon. member for Drummond had spoken, followed by the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle.

The hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, according to the print of the blues that I have here before me, stated Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I wonder if I could have unanimous consent to extend my time for a few minutes? The Acting Speaker said: Is there unanimous consent to table the motion? Some hon. members: Agreed. The Acting Speaker: Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion? Agreed.

Before us we have a request from the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle for unanimous consent to extend his time by a few minutes. Now it might be that someone on either side of the House might have said other things, but this is the record I have regarding the exchanges according to our Hansard blues.

Now, needless to say, the Chair feels that by allowing 10 minutes plus, to allow for one question from the hon. member Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, the response from the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, subsequently a question from the hon. member for Prince George—Bulkley Valley and a final response from the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, which would have taken in some approximately 10 to 11 minutes, would fit within the confines of a few minutes.

The Chair will continue the debate and give the floor to the hon. member for London West.

On a point of order, the right hon. member for Calgary Centre on a point of order.

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PC

Joe Clark

Progressive Conservative

Right Hon. Joe Clark

Mr. Speaker, I would like to move, seconded by the member for Churchill, that the member for Kings—Hants be now heard.

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June 5, 2003