Mr. Speaker, it is an honour, as always, to stand in this House to represent the great people of Timmins—James Bay and to speak to their concerns about the issues of affordability and fairness. Those at home who are watching from ridings like my own, very rural with a lot of senior citizens, will see the flip-flopping and back-flips from the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. They desire that we do not debate this.
The Liberals said right off the bat that they thought it was very unfortunate we were debating this. They talk about the issues of choice and say we should not interfere in the wonderful marketplace. It is the same argument I hear from the Conservatives about the mythical land of Adam Smith, where we have the little baker and the little blacksmith and the market regulates itself. Then of course we have the little banker and the big dread hand of government coming in and squeezing down.
My colleague from the Liberal Party talked about the creation of a nanny state. It shows the incredible disconnect between the Liberals and Conservatives and what is happening with real Canadians right now in 2014. We have the highest record of household debt ever, at 166%. We have mortgage debt over $1.1 trillion. Consumer credit debt has reached $500 billion. Average debt for the average person is now about $30,000. This includes their credit card debt. It also includes their student loans and their car payments. The issue is that when people are being gouged by the banks, it hurts.
My colleagues keep talking. They are twisting themselves into knots today to try to hide behind high school economics text books as opposed to talking about what is happening in the real world.
When my daughters went down to Toronto to go to school, they tried to get bank accounts. The banks were not interested in their business. They needed this form and they needed that form, so they had to get support from back home through the caisse populaire. Thank God the caisse populaire was there to represent them. However, it means that when my daughters are in Toronto, they do their banking with their ATM cards because they do not have the banking services at hand.
In many of our regions the banks have pulled out because they are making record dollars. They made over $29.4 billion in profits. Of that, they are making $420 million in ATM fees. It is not worth it to them to service the little towns. It is not worth it to them to service senior citizens, so they will stick them with the ATM machine.
My colleagues in the Liberal and Conservative Parties say that people have a choice. Choice is a false word. Consumers have a choice, but suddenly they do not have banking services. When they have to get money out, it costs them $40. They are getting dinged sometimes $7 on hidden fees.
My colleagues, the Liberals and Conservatives, say people could make an informed choice, as though they think people are stupid and lazy and do not bother to look at the screen. When they look at the screen and it says it will cost $2.25 to take out their own money, the screen does not tell them about the hidden fees. People are being ripped off and people are being gouged.
My colleagues, the Conservatives and the Liberals, talk about how the whole system will collapse if we make any efforts to help consumers. Oh, my God, the ATM business will run out of business. We would be intervening in the marketplace, the dread marketplace. The Conservatives intervene, by the way, any time they feel it will help their friends in the oil patch; they are more than willing to intervene in the marketplace. However, when it comes to helping the senior citizens who are getting gouged $7 to take $40 out to buy their groceries, oh my God, they see the dread hand of the socialists stepping in.
Let us look at other markets. I was just in the United Kingdom where they do not have ATM fees. There is no shortage of ATM machines; they are all over the place, and all over Europe, where they have dealt with this. That is not to say there should not be a fee, because it is a service and people pay for a service, but the question is this. When a person goes to an ATM and the regular account fee is $1—$1 on $40, okay—that seems fair, but then they get the network access fee, which is another $1.90 on top of that, so now it is $2.90. Then there is the convenience fee of another $5.
Both the Conservatives and the Liberals have been saying it is so important to protect the concept of convenience. They tell the consumers that when they go to their local corner store and they do not have a bank, and they try to get $40 out, it is a convenience. It is not a convenience to the consumer; it is a convenience to the banks, because they are getting 40% off consumers.
It is a rip-off. It is a gouge. However, we do not hear them say that. They will say anything else other than it is a gouge, because their heart, fundamentally, is with the people who are doing the gouging. That is where they feel more comfortable. If people are getting gouged, well, that is the wonder of the market, the great thing about consumer choice. If people have no bank, that is where they have to go, and they get gouged. Is capitalism not a beautiful thing? We should all hug it every single day.
We have seen the failure of the big banks to live up to the social contract and to represent fairness. They can still have record profits and they will still have record profits, but I find it unconscionable that in this day and age someone could be charged $7 to take out $20.
The Liberals have never pretended to be consumer friendly, so I am not going to worry too much about them. However, we see the Conservatives have been on the road to Damascus and have suddenly decided that consumer issues are important, so they have taken out some TV ads to beat up the telecoms. They will not do anything about it, but they will make them the enemy. However, the Conservatives will not do anything.
We have the big, tough finance minister, who was going to go in and read the riot act to the banks. Do members remember that? It was in 2007. A Toronto Star editorial said that for several months the finance minister has told the banks that he was not satisfied with their explanations. Whatever the banks did, the consumers wanted answers.
Then, of course, the Minister of Finance went in, in March 2007. It was his big showdown with the banks. He was going to stand up for consumers. He stood up, all right. He came out like a schoolboy after seeing the nuns. We never heard anything more about it after that. The banks continued on.
What we are talking about is the rightful place of the federal government. The federal government has a role. This is not interfering in the market; it is about establishing certain standards of fairness.
What we have seen with continual deregulation is this idea that if there is deregulation, if the industries are allowed to look after themselves, there will be more choice, and prices will drop. We actually do not see prices dropping; we see prices going up because they can gouge more. As well, because we have a government that does not want to stand up for consumers, the gouging gets higher and higher.
My colleagues on the other side always talk about price elasticity and at what point the whole market falls apart. I have not heard the elasticity of the government's backbone on at what point the gouging becomes unacceptable. Personally, I think that when it costs $5 for a convenience fee on top of the other $1.90 and the other $1 that are being charged, that is not acceptable addition.
What we are talking about here are some very simple practical steps.
It is getting more and more difficult for people in my community to get by. For young people, paying off $50,000 on their student loans coming out school is an enormous burden that was not there when my generation was at university age. Senior citizens are getting ripped off on their hydro rates in Ontario. They are paying through the nose for their own hydro when Ontario creates the cheapest hydro in the world, dumps it on other markets, and then forces senior citizens in northern Ontario to pay through the nose so that we can cover off the fact that the Liberals decided that they would gouge consumers for $1 billion for two gas plants in their own backyards. People in my region think that is criminal.
Senior citizens tell me that they cannot pay their hydro bills because of the Liberal smart meters. In northern Ontario, smart meters have shown pretty clearly how dumb they are. People are paying double what they used to pay for electricity. We know we are creating hydro in northern Ontario at 5¢, 6¢, and 7¢ a kilowatt hour, and people are paying 40¢ for it. That is people being gouged.
Do people want a little bit a fairness? They certainly do. When they go to the banks, they want to know that the dollars they have in their pension cheque or in their savings are going to stretch as far as they can.
I am asking my hon. colleagues to do the right thing and think of the people back home. As they say in the big McDonald's ads, “You deserve a break today”, but I doubt we are going to hear it from the government and we are definitely not going to hear it from the Liberals. They are going to shove that Big Mac of consumer choice down our throat.
I would say that we should do the right thing and give people a break on these outrageous gouging and ATM fees.