Canada's four largest banks still hope their merger plans will be approved by the Canadian government, despite rising doubts about whether the country's finance minister will give his approval.

"The question is whether the finance minister will allow due process to proceed," said a spokesman for Royal Bank of Canada.

In January, Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of Montreal requested regulatory approval to merge. Toronto-Dominion Bank and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce followed suit in April.

The banks have argued that mergers are necessary to compete in financial services and to build companies with enough capital to compete globally.

Canada's Competition Bureau is to issue its verdict between Dec. 11 and Dec. 15 on whether the proposed mergers would create unfair market conditions.

However, doubts over the government's willingness to allow the mergers have reemerged amid reports in the Canadian press that Finance Minister Paul Martin - the official with the last word on the matter - is determined to reject them.

Mr. Martin, a member of Canada's ruling Liberal Party, is expected to announce his decision early next year after the Competition Bureau and the Canadian Senate and House banking and finance committees have delivered their opinions.

Though an independent commission suggested this year that the mergers be allowed, on the condition that Canadians get adequate protection against monopoly pricing, a Liberal Party report last month opposed the mergers.

The report concluded that the deals would be against the interests of Canadian consumers and called on Finance Minister Martin to block them. The ruling party's report also recommended against letting banks sell insurance or lease autos.

Canadian banks have expressed disappointment over the stance taken by the Liberals but said they are still hoping the Finance Ministry will let them submit revised proposals in the event the Competition Bureau raises objections to the mergers.

"We think that any issues that might arise are addressable," said the Royal Bank spokesman. The question is whether Mr. Martin will let such negotiations take place, he said.

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