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Count Me In, Canada will aim to improve financial literacy

The Hon. Kevin Sorenson, Minister of State for Finance, right, laughs with Jane Rooney, Financial Literacy Leader, following an announcement by the federal government of a new national financial literacy strategy in Toronto on Tuesday, June 9, 2015.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

More than 50 new financial-literacy initiatives are launching across Canada, part of a national strategy the federal government has rolled out to improve the money-managing skills and habits of Canadians.

Financial institutions, not-for-profit groups and government organizations will offer new programs aimed at helping different at-risk groups across the country improve their knowledge and skills when it comes to tackling their finances, managing debt and detecting fraud.

The move comes after years of research, reports and consultations with a variety of stakeholders on the topic of Canadians' financial understanding, dating back to June, 2009, when then-minister of finance Jim Flaherty created the Task Force on Financial Literacy. The new strategy, called Count Me In, Canada, is meant to be a framework to support three financial-literacy goals. The first is to empower Canadians to manage money and debt wisely. The second is to help them plan and save for their future. And last, the strategy should reduce financial fraud and abuse.

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The strategy is "meant to rally organizations that support financial literacy around our common goals," said Jane Rooney, federal Financial Literacy Leader, in an announcement at the YMCA of Greater Toronto on Tuesday. "It's a call to action for every Canadian to make financial literacy a matter of lifelong learning," Ms. Rooney said. She was appointed to the role in 2014 and tasked with overseeing the creation of the national initiative.

But the completion of the national strategy is just the beginning, according to Ms. Rooney. "We know financial literacy is a long-term initiative. It will take a long time to make changes. So there will be more specific action plans coming," she said.

Each of the 52 new financial-literacy initiatives is meant to support at least one of the strategy's three goals. The programs take the form of new websites and podcasts with educational resources for students, seminars and community workshops for seniors, and quizzes and financial bootcamp programs targeted at those in debt. The programs are designed to be rolled out over a year or two and the national strategy indicates that they will be evaluated and improved upon over time.

Last year, the government established the first part of its national strategy targeting seniors. The government made suggestions on how to help seniors understand and access public benefits along with other goals, and it set out a broad plan to measure progress over the next five years.

The national strategy offers fewer long-term objectives than the seniors strategy, which Ms. Rooney said is because Count Me In, Canada, is still being formed, and the announcement is in part meant to encourage more organizations to create programs that support the three financial-literacy goals.

The new national strategy takes into account government consultations over how to help groups that need financial help most, such as low-income Canadians, newcomers to Canada, youth and aboriginal Canadians.

"Aboriginal peoples are faced with multiple socioeconomic barriers to inclusion in the Canada economy. In addition, cultural barriers can also impact financial literacy, including language and traditional values on financial matters," said Terry Goodtrack, chief executive of the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada (AFOA), at the launch of the national strategy. He said specific financial-literacy programs geared to aboriginal Canadians can help include them in the country's economy by giving them new skills.

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AFOA, along with financial partner TD Bank Group, will run a program called Dollars and Sense to build financial knowledge and skills of aboriginal students in elementary and secondary schools. The next step will be working on a retirement product geared to aboriginal people.

A National Steering Committee on Financial Literacy was part of the consulting process, and its 15 members will monitor and promote the national strategy in the sectors they represent. That includes financial-services firms, regulators and advocacy organizations, among others.

Canada's banks have also pledged to contribute $10-million spread evenly over five years as part of a Financial Literacy Partnership Fund. This will be launched later this year by the Canadian Bankers Association.

"We see people every day making a good income, but frustrated that they can't make ends meet," said Laurie Campbell, chief executive of Credit Canada Debt Solutions, who sits on the committee. "Teaching clients that they need to put money aside for occasional expenses like clothing, gifts, car repairs and vacations all too often seems like a revelation to them." She added that financial literacy can stop consumers from turning to credit cards in place of saving money.

The success of the national strategy will be measured through program evaluations, participant feedback and surveys, as well as reports to the steering committee and Ms. Rooney. The next Canadian Financial Capability Survey, in 2019, will also provide insight into whether financial literacy is improving.

"We've heard some tragic stories. We've heard stories of fraud and people who have placed their confidence and trust in others and who were taken for everything they have," said Kevin Sorenson, Minister of State for Finance, who joined Ms. Rooney for the announcement. Mr. Sorenson added that financial literacy is important not only to protect individuals and local economies, but because it can also benefit Canada's economy as a whole.

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About the Author
Financial Services Reporter

Jacqueline Nelson is a financial services reporter at the Report on Business. Prior to that she was a staff writer at Canadian Business magazine, covering news and writing features on a wide variety of subjects. More

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