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NDP renews fight against ATM fees

NDP renews fight against ATM feesNDP Leader Tom Mulcair asks a question during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Thursday, January 30, 2014. The NDP is renewing its mission to cap ATM fees. A motion calling for the cap will be debated in the House of Commons on Monday. It urges the Conservative government to take action on ATM fees in its upcoming federal budget. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - The NDP is stepping up its battle against bank machine fees, urging the government to make good on its pledge to do something about the charges that vex some Canadian consumers.

A motion calling for the cap will be debated in the House of Commons on Monday. It urges the Conservative government to take action on ATM fees in its upcoming federal budget.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says the ATM fees are "sky-high."

"We in Canada right now are noticing that in a lot of our inner city areas there are no more banks — not even credit unions are present," he said in Vancouver.

"So people fall prey if they go to a local convenience store — they're paying a small fortune to have access to their own money."

Banks provide free use of ATMs for their customers, while non-customers are often charged fees that can be as high as three dollars. The NDP proposal would cap ATM withdrawal fees at 50 cents per transaction across the board.

During question period in the House of Commons last week, Mulcair asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper whether the budget, to be tabled Feb. 11, will tackle the issue of ATM fees.

"Will the prime minister make good on his promise in last fall's Throne Speech to rein in basic banking fees and fees at ATMs and on credit cards?" Mulcair asked. "Will the prime minister keep that promise to Canadians: Yes or no?"

Harper responded by saying that his government has raised concerns about "certain banking fees and practices on consumers and small business." But he didn't say whether the budget would contain any initiatives cracking down on those fees.

October's Throne Speech also included a pledge by the government to outlaw charges levied by banks on customers who receive paper bills. There's been no legislation, however, on the issue.

But the Canadian Bankers Association said Sunday that ATM charges, called convenience fees by banks, are "entirely in the customer's control and are usually avoided."

The association said its data shows that 75 per cent of ATM transactions are done at a customer's own bank, so no convenience fee is charged.

"The convenience fee is clearly disclosed before the transaction is completed and the non-customer has the choice of either accepting the fee or cancelling the transaction and using one of their own banks' machines," the statement added.

"This is no different than buying milk at a convenience store rather than a grocery store. Customers know that they will pay more at a convenience store but make the choice of paying for that convenience."

The NDP has long called for a cap of ATM fees. In 2007, former leader Jack Layton announced a national campaign to mobilize consumers in a fight against the country's big banks.

Now mired in third place in the polls behind the Liberals and the Tories ahead of next year's election, Mulcair embarked upon a tour of Ontario and Western Canada last week to talk to Canadians about "affordability." He focused on bank fees and gas prices.

"Life is increasingly expensive," Mulcair said.

"We’re seeing a lot of working families who simply aren't getting by. And that could be anything from a $3 or $4 ATM fee to collusion at the gas pumps. So there are a lot of things that are costing families more and more."

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