BRIAN LAGHI , HEATHER SCOFFIELD and STEVE CHASE AND TARA PERKINS
Globe and Mail Update
October 9, 2008 at 10:48 PM EDT
OTTAWA, RICHMOND, B.C. and TORONTO — The federal government is moving to backstop the Canadian banks’ capacity to lend money in an acknowledgment that not even the country’s sturdy banking system is immune to the global financial crisis.
A plan originally earmarked for Friday morning would see the government assume some mortgages currently held by the banks by giving them to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp., a Crown corporation. In turn, the banks might receive CMHC paper – possibly bonds – against which they could use as collateral for their own loans from other banks.
In recent weeks, the big banks have faced a sharp rise in the cost of borrowing money in international markets to cover Canadian mortgages – a situation that puts them at risk of losing ever-increasing amounts of money on one of their core businesses.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and the banks say no bailout is on the table and the plan falls short of an intervention, but sources told The Globe and Mail Ottawa now recognizes the fast-changing economic landscape requires action to help the banks access cheaper funds to fuel lending.
With the double whammy of the last days of an election combining with the global economic slowdown, the federal government and senior bank executives are hypersensitive. The Conservative Party has been insisting throughout the election campaign that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. But in the past 24 hours a new reality has set in.
Mr. Flaherty, who is expected to be in Washington Friday at an emergency G7 session of finance ministers, had been preparing to make the announcement of a banking plan Thursday, but after word leaked Wednesday night, the plans were delayed, sources say, in an illustration of how important it is for the government to try to control the message.
Pressure from the banks is growing, with executives arguing their sector needs federal help immediately to ease their credit pressure.
Banks want it right now but the Harper government has to reconcile calls for immediate assistance with its insistence the Canadian banking system requires no extraordinary measures.