Mr. Vic Althouse (Humbolt-Lake Centre):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to address this House on Bill C-6, to amend the Bank Act. This is an act where we grant a very special privilege to a corporate group in our society, namely the banks. We are granting them the privilege to do business in our country and we are laying down the rules by which that business will be transacted until 1990. With the passage of this bill, Parliament will be allowing the existing Canadian banks to continue for another ten years pretty much as they have done in the past.
There are some exceptions. We are told that in this act we will be encouraging competition in banking, that is, unless a province decides it wants to get into the banking business. I think that is fair because the British North America Act has stated clearly that banking is the business of the federal government to legislate. We are saying in this act that subsidiaries of foreign banks may be allowed to operate in this country if the minister is satisfied that the bank in question has the potential to make a contribution to competitive banking in Canada and if we are able to provide reciprocal arrangements with the foreign banks' own governments.
I am afraid that perhaps we have not spent as much time as we should on this act regarding the competition in our banking system that we have right here at home. I refer to our trust companies and credit unions, the so-called "near banks". We submit that these are the Canadian alternative to the banking system and the only real source of competition that exists in this country today.
What has the federal government done to promote this kind of competition and improve the competitive position? In my view, the programs have not been overwhelming. For instance, the Financial Administration Act prevents the deposit of federal government funds in financial institutions other than chartered banks. The Canadian Wheat Board Act permits elevator and grain companies authorized by the board to borrow from chartered banks but not from credit unions. The Livestock and Livestock Products Act requires livestock commission agents to keep a shipper's trust account in a chartered bank, not a credit union. The Bills of Exchange Act defines a cheque as a bill of exchange drawn on a bank, again not a credit union.
When it comes to presenting government services, we note that the credit unions clear government cheques and orders at no cost. In Saskatchewan, this amounts to about 40 per cent of the clearances. In Quebec, the caisses populaires clear approximately 13 million items each year, worth about $2 billion. These figures I have quoted are 1977 figures so the volume may be increasing. Yet neither credit unions nor caisses popu-
May 6, 1980
laires receive compensation for their work. Granted, the banks do not charge for clearing government orders, but they at least have access to government deposits. For instance, by the end of 1978 these totalled approximately $6.7 billion. These deposits provide a considerable source of compensation for the chartered banks and, as I have already mentioned, credit unions do not have access to similar government deposits and therefore have no source of compensatory earnings.
Credit unions and caisses populaires also sell and redeem Canada Savings Bonds for the federal government which result in a net outflow of funds for which they are not compensated by federal government deposits. We say that a means ought to be found to compensate credit unions and caisses populaires for services rendered to the government. This could include balances allocated to credit unions and direct payment on a per item or lump sum basis for services rendered. I realize that not all of these impediments are created under the Bank Act; they are created under a number of other acts, but they do indicate the bias of this and previous legislation against the credit union movement in favour of banks.
In presenting the act to the House, the claim was made that we are going to be increasing competition. These claims ring a bit hollow when we look at the real promise of competition that exists here and now in the lending of money and the attendant service transactions that are not allowed to grow and develop to their full potential. This government talks about bringing into Canada foreign banks to provide competition. It almost shouts "Ignore our Canadian institutions, bring in the foreign competitors." That unfortunately is the policy which this country has been following, and we say it is about time it came to a stop. The credit unions do have a role to play here. In most western European countries, financial legislation has recognized the need for co-operative Financial intermediaries to have broad international powers similar to those accorded to the banks.
In order to serve the financial needs of the various credit union members around the world, these legislative changes have been allowed. Some examples include the DG Bank in West Germany, Rabobank in The Netherlands, GZB Bank of Austria and Credit Agricole in France which, although cooperative banks, have international investment powers in other banks.
If Parliament is going to be looking at sections of this act which provide for a Canadian Payments Association, I think it is a credible step in the right direction because it will allow credit unions to become involved more fully in the banking system of this country. The credit union movement will benefit from the proposals in the bill to create a new Canadian Payments Association through which, for the First time, nonbank financial institutions that accept chequable deposits will be permitted to participate directly in the clearing system. The credit union movement appreciates this kind of legislation because it will be in keeping with the government's stated intention to provide more equitable competition within the Canadian financial system. It will allow credit unions to have
equal access to the Canadian Payments Association in order to protect their future competitive position, especially since the CPA will become the focus for the evolution of electronic funds transfer systems that are being developed in this country.
Although the present clearing system, controlled exclusively by the chartered banks, appears to work efFiciently, there is really no indication that it is cost-effective from the point of view of the credit union system, and so they welcome the Canadian Payments Association as a clear improvement over the old system.
Direct access by near banks to the clearing system has been recommended by the Commons finance committee in its 1967 report on the Bank Act, by the Porter Royal Commission on Banking in 1964 and by the Economic Council of Canada in its 1976 study of deposit-taking institutions.
As considerable time and effort has been devoted during the past number of years to preparing for the proposed participation by credit unions in the Canadian Payments Association, we think this part of the legislation should move ahead as quickly as possible.
Parliament will be granting the privilege and responsibility of this act to the banks. It has always been Parliament that has granted charters for new banks in this country, that is, until we pass this act. After that, issuance of letters patent for any new banks will be carried out by the cabinet. I think that right should have remained with Parliament.
There are many reasons for thinking this, but I will just say that the recent history in this country of regionalized representation which we have had in the past several governments indicates that we should leave the power within the hands of Parliament. Since the impact of any of these decisions falls on the whole of the country, such decisions should rightfully be taken by representatives from all parts of the country, and this can only happen if they are taken by Parliament itself.
I do not know if the item I am going to deal with now arises from the pleas of producers of livestock that they have been ignored or whether it is a simple case of oversight. I am referring now to section 178 of the proposed act which deals with the manner in which banks' claims against processing institutions are developed. To put it simply, section 178 lays down the ground rules whereby some producers of agricultural products are protected. The section I refer to is section 178(6)(b), which gives priority to claims by growers of perishable products of agriculture that are direct products of the soil. It also gives the same kinds of rights to producers of dairy products. However, it ignores producers of livestock. Producers of livestock do not have a similar kind of protection in the event that a processing plant goes broke or bankrupt and the bank has to move in and seize the assets of that processing plant.
The problem has been dealt with quite extensively in committee. Committee hearings were conducted in 1979. The committee heard recommendations to provide for changes to
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the act and it made recommendations that such changes occur. We noted in the last election that Liberals, Conservatives and this party all agreed that the change should be made. Unfortunately, it was not included in the changes made previous to the act being presented to the House. I have written a letter to the Minister of Finance (Mr. MacEachen) asking him to correct this situation before we get into the committee stage so that the bill will treat all sorts of agricultural producers equitably in the event that a processing plant does have its assets taken over by a bank. It is a problem that does occur occasionally.
I will just deal with a few years. In July, 1973, City Meat and Sausage Company in Montreal went under with losses to producers. In September 1973, Coleman Packing Company went under and the producers lost money. In October, 1973, Fawcett and Cristie, in Moosomin, Saskatchewan, went under and the producers lost money. In January 21, 1975, Burkmey-ers Meat Products Limited of Burlington went under and the producers lost money. In February, 1976, the same happened to Essex Packers Limited.
Producers lost money in all of these cases because the way that the act is now written, section 88, now 178, provides that the banks get prior claim if the product that the processor is handling is a livestock or a livestock-related product. That is not the case if it is a fruit or vegetable product or a dairy product. There is a hole in the act. That should be corrected in the interests of justice and basic equity to all producers delivering products.
In order to back up this kind of producer, there are a few housekeeping things that need to be done. Instead of talking about loans to processors and manufacturers of agricultural products for the "procurement" of products, banks should grant loans for the "purchase" of products. It does not seem to be a very big distinction. What we see happening with the product, whether it is livestock or poultry moving into the plant, is that the company which owns the plant takes out a loan against that livestock without paying the farmer. If the plant does in fact go broke, then the bank collects all of the assets that are in the plant and the livestock producers are left in the lurch. That is not the case with dairy producers or fruit or vegetable producers. I am sure we will get this provision changed when we are in committee. I urge that it be corrected before the bill comes back for third reading.
As well as changing those sections of the act, we should look at releasing the amount of liability that is mentioned in the act. It has been increased. The Conservative Bill C-15 referred to a formula that would pay $64 times a particular index that was quoted. This one uses the figure of $100 times that particular index.
There are a number of problems here, and probably the solution would be just to have no limit and give the producers an unlimited amount of protection. The problem with basing it on an index is that occasionally we change the basis of the index. In 1970 we got to the point where the index of agricultural products was approaching 200, so when we got into a
new decade we said, "Let's turn that back to a base of 100." This could happen again in the 1980s, and because it is written into the act it would substantially reduce the amount of protection that is available to producers.
I urge the government and the House to make these small, though important, changes to the act, that we give them very real consideration, that we bring them forward in committee and that we speedily process them in order to bring about the kind of equality and justice that should exist in that section of the act.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: BANKS AND BANKING LAW REVISION ACT, 1980 MEASURE RESPECTING BANKING INSTITUTIONS