Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre faced criticism from MPs on Friday during a House of Commons debate on proposed cryptocurrency legislation – with Liberal, NDP and Bloc representatives all accusing the Tory leader of bankrupting some seniors by promoting products like bitcoin.
MPs used the debate on Bill C-249 – a private member’s bill first introduced by Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner – to read Poilievre’s past statements praising cryptocurrency into the record and blasting him for promoting what he called a money-losing “Ponzi scheme”. scores of investors.
With crypto prices in the basement after several recent scandals, Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux said he was surprised the Conservative Party would introduce legislation designed to encourage the growth of the sector in Canada.
“How many seniors on fixed incomes are using part of their life savings to invest in things that the leader of Canada’s Official Opposition party is recommending?” said Lamoureux, parliamentary secretary to the House leader.
“The leader said one of the best ways to fight inflation here in Canada is to invest in cryptocurrency. Imagine all the Conservative delegates and maybe others who could have listened to the Conservative leader?”
“Imagine all the seniors listening to the Conservative leader?” added another Liberal MP, Stéphane Lauzon. “What would be the same position now?”
Polievre was not in the Commons for the debate.
Bitcoin is trading at around $16,000 US – 75 percent lower than its November 2021 value.
That means if you invested $10,000 in bitcoin this time last year, you’d only have $2,500 of that initial investment – a loss of value for the financial product.
According to a filing with the federal ethics commissioner, Poilievre has held investments in bitcoin since May 4.
He announced his ownership stake in the Purpose bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF), an investment that closely tracks the price of bitcoin. If Poilievre still owns a piece of that ETF, the investment will be worth 60 percent less than what it was trading in May, when it first disclosed its holding.
“Leaders are showing a lack of good judgment by not coming forward and saying to Canadians, ‘I was wrong,’ when it’s not appropriate for people to invest, to speculate,” Lamoureux said.
Lamoureux asked Conservative MPs to raise their hands if they invested in crypto after Poilievre floated bitcoin during his leadership campaign. No one seemed to raise their hands.
Liberal MPs are also buying crypto
But Poilievre is not the only member of parliament who has expressed his ownership stake in crypto.
If Lamoureux had asked the same question to MPs on the Liberal benches, he might have seen the upper hand.
Liberal MP Joel Lightbound, Taleeb Farouk Noormohamed, Terry Beech, Tony Van Bynen and Chandra Arya all have reported some crypto-related investments to the ethics commissioner. Conservative MP Ben Lob has also announced its stake in bitcoin.
As Liberal MPs raise the possibility of older people losing money in bitcoin and other crypto products, research from the Bank of Canada suggests the demographic group most likely to lose out in the new crypto crash is younger people.
According to the Bank of Canada bitcoin omnibus surveyan estimated 13 per cent of Canadians have some bitcoin investment in 2021 – up from 5 per cent the previous year.
Bitcoin owners are more likely to be male, aged 18 to 34, with a university degree or high income, the survey found.
The survey found 25.6 percent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 owned some bitcoin last year. Only 2.8 percent of people over the age of 55 have a stake in bitcoin.
NDP MP Charlie Angus said Poilievre has pursued an “economic whack-job” by backing products that have “vaporized” investment dollars in recent months.
Beyond poor price performance, Angus said cryptocurrencies are a “dark money system” that can be used for money laundering, to finance terrorist organizations and support gang activity.
“Who else wants a system where there are no checks and balances and you can’t track the money?” Angus said.
As the criminal element becomes crypto for money laundering, some countries, including Mexico, have passed laws that force trading platforms to track transactions of large dollar amounts.
A 2022 report by blockchain data firm Chainalysis found criminals laundered about $8.6 billion in cryptocurrencies last year, a number that may be too low because it does not include money from offline crimes such as cash from drug trafficking.
Angus picked up on Poilievre’s campaign slogan – the leader’s hope then said he wants to make Canada “the freest country on earth” – saying the Conservative leader has advocated “freedom to lie, freedom to rob and freedom to rob people of their savings.”
Angus said it was “highly irresponsible” for Poilievre to push crypto when he has his own bitcoin assets. “They feed into people’s fear and uncertainty by pushing Ponzi schemes,” Angus said.
The sponsor of the bill, Rempel Garner, said that the current crypto struggle is exactly why lawmakers need to develop a federal regulatory framework for this asset class.
The bill, if passed, would force Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to consult with the industry and “develop a national framework to support the growth of the cryptoasset sector.”
If Canada doesn’t act, says Rempel Garner, crypto companies will take their business elsewhere, which could cost them jobs and investment dollars.
“I want you to understand what investors are hearing when they listen to this debate,” he said. “They say, ‘Don’t invest in Canada because politicians in Parliament are willing to take cheap political points.'”
Rempel Garner pointed to Vitalik Buterin, a Russian-born Canadian who co-developed ethereum, the second largest crypto platform.
Much of ethereum’s early development took place in Canada, he said, but operations have since moved to Switzerland because that country has a regulatory framework.
“All the jobs, all the capital – it’s gone,” he said.
Rempel Garner said he doesn’t want Canada to lose an opportunity to normalize cryptocurrency because of “partisanship.”
Conservative lawmaker Larry Maguire made a similar point, saying the legislation would help the federal government “protect investors” and create “guardrails” and “stability” for the multi-billion dollar industry.
“There is no better time for Parliament to start this conversation. We cannot let this issue become polarized to the point where it is too toxic to discuss it,” he said, adding that it would be “short” and “thoughtless.”