Monday, June 1, 2015

It won't be long now, Harper government on last legs. My speech on bank pay-to-pay fees

I gave the following 10-minute speech in the House of Commons today (June 1st).

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I stand in support of this motion, that, in the opinion of the House, government should ban all pay-to-pay practices by banks operating in Canada through the enactment of a mandatory financial code of conduct to protect consumers.

Mr. Speaker, I keep my finger on the pulse of my riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I’m constantly on the go in the community — on the doorsteps, in the coffee shops, on the streets, on the wharfs, even in the boats, Mr. Speaker.

I ask my constituents for constant feedback about issues ranging from childcare and climate change to pensions and poverty.

And, of course, Mr. Speaker, all federal issues having to do with the great province Newfoundland and Labrador.

If it moves here in Ottawa and it affects my province, Mr. Speaker, I’m all over it — I’m on my feet in this House.

Mr. Speaker, some of the most feedback I’ve received to date has to do with banks.

More Specifically, Mr. Speaker, bank fees — which people see as too high.

And credit-card interest rates — which people also see as too high (through the roof actually, Mr. Speaker).

Household debt in Canada is alarming, Mr. Speaker.

The total debt owed by all Canadians at the end of March was a record $1.8-trillion.

We’ve gone on a bit of a borrowing binge, Mr. Speaker, that’s how it’s been described — living on credit, a borrowing binge.

But, Mr. Speaker, I would say the banks have gone on a bit of a binge themselves.

Household debt in Canada is at a record high.

But bank profits are right up there too, Mr. Speaker.   

The Top 5 banks in this country make a killing.

Profit is a good word, Mr. Speaker — profit is to be celebrated, profit means growth, profit means success.

But is there a point when profit crosses the line into unfettered greed.

In the first two quarters of their fiscal years, Mr. Speaker, Canada’s top five banks amasses more than $16 billion in profits.

RBC alone has broken records by pulling in almost $5 billion in only the first half of the year.

I’d say banking binge is pretty accurate, Mr. Speaker.

I can tell you what drives me Mr. Speaker, my pet banking peeve.

Going to an ATM that’s not with my bank — but still one of Canada’s Big 5 — and being charged $3 to withdraw cash, over and above my own bank fees.

Now, Mr. Speaker that’s obscene.

I’ll go without before I pay that $3 — it’s the principle, Mr. Speaker.

It happens right outside this house on Sparkes Street and I consider it gouging, which I take personal.

And then I take my business elsewhere.

One of our New Democratic Party proposals, Mr. Speaker, is to cap bank fees at federally regulated ATM machines — those machines owned by chartered banks — at 50 cents.

Banks would still walk away with a healthy profit at 50 cents a transaction, Mr. Speaker.

But that’s another topic, Mr. Speaker.

Today’s motion is about pay-to-pay.

Paying to pay your bill.

Do you find that offensive, Mr. Speaker?

I do.

Canadians — Newfoundlanders and Labradorians — shouldn’t have to fork over their hard-earned dollars to receive a bank statement or pay a bill.

When was the last time you went into a restaurant, Mr. Speaker, and had to pay extra for the cheque, for the honour of being handed the cheque?

Because that’s what pay to pay fees amount to, Mr. Speaker, paying a fee to pay your bill.

Canadians will pay up to $180 million this year alone just to receive bank statements, Mr. Speaker.

No one should be punished — charged, Mr. Speaker — for receiving bank statements or paying their bills.

These fees that charge extra for the bill itself unfairly target seniors — about 40 per cent of whom don’t use the Internet, Mr. Speaker.

These fees unfairly target those without Internet access  — which amounts to one in five homes in Canada, Mr. Speaker, according to Stats Canada.

These fees unfairly target families already struggling to pay their bills, Mr. Speaker — 46 per cent of households with income below $30,000 don’t have Internet access.

Mr. Speaker, in the 2013 Speech from the Throne the Conservatives promised to end pay-to-pay policies so customers weren’t charged extra to receive paper bills.

Conservative Budget 2014 promised it again, Mr. Speaker.

Then — when it came to taking action, Mr. Speaker — the Conservative budget excluded banks from the ban of pay-to-pay fees.

Last year the Conservative government blocked telecommunication and cable companies from charging fees for paper bills, Mr. Speaker.

Why weren’t the banks included?

I don’t have an answer to that question — do you Mr. Speaker?

I’ve asked around — I can’t get an answer.

Dead silence from that side, Mr. Speaker.

I was in this House earlier today Mr. Speaker when the Minister of Finance rose to his feet to say the government will be supporting this motion.

Does he expect a pat on the back for that, Mr. Speaker?

He supports this motion, Mr. Speaker, but when he had an opportunity to change the law of the land, to stop banks from charging pay-to-pay fees — his government failed to act.

His government stopped short.

Siting in this House today, Mr. Speaker, watching the government in Question Period, for example.

And it’s obvious that this government is on its last legs.

The Minister supports stopping banks from charging pay-to-pay fees.

But he didn’t outlaw those fees last year when telecommunication companies and cable companies were blocked from charging fees for paper bills.

Again, Mr. Speaker, the question is why not?

The Conservatives are all over the place.

It reminds me, Mr. Speaker, of the Finance Minister’s unexpected announcement last week that he’s prepared to hear proposals to expand or enhance the Canada Pension Plan.

The Conservatives had written off that idea, but now — in an election year, with no mention of it in the recent federal budget — they’re possibly open to it.

I just shake my head, Mr. Speaker, they’re all over the place.

But that’s also a good thing — because it won’t be long now, Mr. Speaker.

A final word on banks, Mr. Speaker.

I’m old enough to remember a day, Mr. Speaker, that when you called a branch you actually got someone — from the branch — on the phone.

That’s getting harder and harder to do, Mr. Speaker.

Banks are almost cold in terms of personal touch, and very calculated, it seems to be all about numbers.

I can’t remember, Mr. Speaker, the last time I heard of a bank giving someone a break by writing off interest or forgiving a loan.

Oh yes I can, Mr. Speaker.

An interesting news story broke back home in Newfoundland and Labrador over the last week over how three major banks — Scotiabank, CIBC and the Royal Bank — wrote off $371,000 in interest charges to the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador relating to a loan for the 2003 election campaign.

So, Mr. Speaker, it’s a rare occurrence for an individual Newfoundlanders and Labradorian — individual Canadians — to get a break from the banks.

We’re being charged for our paper bills.

Bank fees are too high, Mr. Speaker.

Credit-card interest rates are shocking.

And bank profit is measured in billions.

Meantime, the only one getting a break — that I know of — is the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Not nearly good enough, Mr. Speaker.

But it won’t be long now.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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