The federal government has named its first Financial Literacy Leader, a position aimed at helping Canadians sort out facts from spin on everything from managing credit card debt to choosing the best bank account.
A nearly year-long search led to Tuesday’s appointment of Jane Rooney, who has already been working on these issues as the director of financial literacy and consumer education at the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC).
It’s the latest outcome of an initiative that was a priority of former finance minister Jim Flaherty, who died last week of a heart attack and will be given a state funeral on Wednesday.
The call for a Financial Literacy Leader was recommended in a 2011 report by a task force on financial literacy, which also recommended that provinces and territories provide teachers with financial-literacy training to share with students.
The task force was first announced in Mr. Flaherty’s 2009 budget. He had said that consumer decisions make up a big part of the economy and that an “informed and therefore empowered” citizenry is important to Canada’s long-term prosperity.
The federal minister of state for finance, Kevin Sorenson, noted at Tuesday’s announcement that efforts to improve financial literacy were very important to Mr. Flaherty.
“Much of what he did was for the future Canadians, future leaders of our country,” Mr. Sorenson said. “And while sad, I know today provides us with a particularly timely way to remember him and to celebrate the hard work on behalf of Canadians, specifically his efforts to improve financial literacy.”
The government has said the new Financial Literacy Leader will have a particular emphasis on seniors, aboriginal people, youth, immigrants and low-income Canadians. The official will report to the Minister of Finance, as well as to Parliament through the Commissioner of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC).
Some critics have questioned the merit of adding this position, given that there is already a federal agency, FCAC, that works in the field. The agency publishes tips on issues such as how to control the cost of a wedding and how to select the right bank account to pay less in fees.
Also as part of Tuesday’s announcement, the FCAC launched a series of online personal finance videos aimed at youth, with topics such as “How do I live within my means?” and “Dealing with debt.”
NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen said he supports efforts to improve financial literacy, but he said the Conservative government should be taking more concrete action to limit the credit card and banking fees that have landed many Canadians in financial trouble.
“Is anyone going to be helped by this? Maybe,” he said. “But real action would be a lot better than more booklets and seminars.”