Mr. Speaker, I want to start off with the comments of the member for Timmins—James Bay. When he is in debate on this issue, one gets the impression that he might be somewhat nervous about the Liberal Party. I do not quite understand why he feels obligated to give misinformation. At the end of the day, I can assure the member and others that there are many advocates for consumer legislation and ideas in the House. A good number would be within the Liberal Party caucus and in other caucuses also.
When we talk about consumer prices, there are the big three, if I could put it that way. The price of gas is an issue that comes up constantly. Constituents want to hear what members have to say about the price of gas and what can be done. The price of cellphones is a huge issue that constantly comes up, and of course, banking fees is another issue that comes up quite frequently.
I recall back in November 2011 feeling very frustrated about gas. A number of constituents were asking what they could do. It is a very tough issue. It was suggested that what might be best is for consumers to target a particular station and declare that they will not purchase gas if it exceeds $x for a litre of gas. The point is that it is very frustrating. A lot of people believe that gasoline is nothing but a huge tax. The amount of tax on the retail sale of a litre of gas is a smaller percentage than what most people actually think it is.
I could go on forever talking about cellphones and some of the frustrations with cellphone pricing, such as the length of contracts, the way things are advertised, the exceptionally small font, and so forth.
Banking fees, again, is a very important issue. People who consider themselves consumer advocates, as I do, want to ensure that not only my constituents but all Canadians have reasonably priced fees for the services they are getting. There is an important role for government in monitoring to make sure that there is healthy competition. We also need to recognize that there are pockets, which is why we have talked about targets, that need to be looked at or taken into consideration.
If we look at it from the perspective of banking as an industry, I believe we would find that there has been movement from within the Liberal Party to deal with that particular industry. In fact, a member commented earlier about how healthy our banking industry is today. Many, including me, would go back to the 1990s, when the Chrétien government made significant changes in regulations that ultimately prevented the banking industry from becoming larger through the acquisition of other banks, such as TD maybe amalgamating with the Royal Bank. I am not suggesting that those would have been the two banks. However, there was a push by the banking industry to become larger.
We know about the issue of loans, in particularly mortgages. We saw a change in policy by the Government of Canada with regard to loosening the amount of money required to get a mortgage. I believe it went from 10% to 5%, something the Liberals opposed. We argued that it was not in the best interests of the economy or consumers. We are glad to see that the government has reversed that.
The point is that the Liberal Party has a history of recognizing the need for the Government of Canada to play a role in the banking industry. We have seen that in terms of consumer products. My colleague, our critic, referred to low-cost banking. That was something put into place during the 1990s, when, through legislation, we were able to virtually guarantee low-cost banking services. That would have ensured, for example, that with a low-cost banking account, people would get free bank cards. It put in some minimum transactions to take place. We needed to ensure that the consumer was in fact being protected and that, yes, the government did have a role to play.
I have asked government members about how they feel regarding the whole issue of banking, particularly ATM fees. The response has not necessarily been surprising. It has been somewhat disappointing. If we listen, for example, to the member for York Centre, one would take away from his comments that the Government of Canada has absolutely nothing to worry about and that it should not get directly involved in any fashion. Leave it the way it is. There is enough competition that one does not have to worry about it.
That is the wrong attitude to have about such an important industry. There is no choice. If we live in a modern society, we have to engage with the financial industry. There is no choice, living in Canada.
It is important that members of the Conservative Party recognize, as we have recognized, that there is a role for the government to play. Unfortunately, I do not think that the member for York Centre is alone within the Conservative caucus. Many within his caucus believe the same. I find that to be somewhat unfortunate.
We need to look at the issue in its simplest form. In Canada, we have an estimated 60,000 automated teller machines scattered all over the place. A number of speakers before me stood up and said that within a five-minute walk or drive, there are a few accessible ATMs. In certain areas, there is a very high concentration of ATM services and a good sense of competition. However, we need to recognize that there is different service being provided by the industry.
We have the banking industry, and this is where the NDP seems to be focusing all of its attention this afternoon. Within the banking industry, we might have one third of all the ATMs out there, so if there are 60,000, it is probably just under 20,000. For example, in the province of Manitoba we have somewhere in the neighbourhood of just over 500 ATMs, making up approximately one third of the total number of ATMs.
Within the banking industry, it varies quite significantly. If people do their banking at a particular institution and withdraw or deposit money there, quite often they will find there is no ATM fee.
Hypothetically speaking, if one banked at CIBC and went to the TD bank, there is a higher risk that one would in fact pay some sort of fee to use that ATM. I have not heard of a $6.00 to $8.00 charge for withdrawal of money through our banking industry or our big banks. I do not mean to sound overly naive about it, and I am open to others giving some examples of where there is a $6.00 to $8.00 fee. I am aware that there are other ATMs throughout the country, and quite often the service fees at those machines are quite high. I suspect that when we hear from time to time about charges of $8.00, that is most likely where those fees are being charged.
Individuals or corporations that use those machines vary quite significantly. For example, someone who has a corner grocery store may have made the decision that it is in his or her best interest to get an ATM installed in a corner of the store and would use it as a source of income subsidizing that particular store, or it might be for a multitude of reasons. Some might want to have it so people could withdraw money to spend in the community store.
I do not necessarily claim to understand why it is that everyone out there makes the decision to get an ATM in their store, but I do know it is a growing area. We have more and more independent operators wanting to acquire ATMs.
We need to recognize that there is a substantial difference. For example, NDP members are saying they want to put a cap on ATM fees, but it is important we recognize that they are talking about the smaller percentage of ATMs. All they are talking about are the ones that are regulated federally. If they want to deal with the majority of them, I would suggest they would have to start working with the provinces, which have jurisdiction, to try to see if there is in fact some sort of consensus that could be achieved.
However, there is no one-price-fits-all, which would even apply to the smaller number, those within the banking industry. I do not believe there is a one-price-fits-all, which is something that needs to be taken into consideration.
We in the Liberal Party recognize that there is a need for us to advocate for and protect our consumers. Therefore, in principle, we will be supporting this particular motion. However, I think we have to be very honest with Canadians in terms of exactly what it is that the motion is purporting to do.
In fact, there have been some changes, which I put in terms of a question to the previous speaker. At one time the NDP did have a position. Jack Layton did say there should not be any fee whatsoever. The NDP has now made a change and is saying that there should be a 50¢ flat fee, which is based on the fact that it is resentful of the billions of dollars that banks are making on an annual basis.
What I am most concerned about in terms of Winnipeg North is the banking industry as a whole and the impact it is having in my riding and communities across Canada. I can say that, yes, people are concerned about banking fees—there is no doubt about that—but there are many communities that are concerned about banks closing branches, as a major issue, and the impact that has on our communities.
When a bank closes a branch, quite often it then puts individuals in a position where they have to go to ATMs where they will be charged these huge fees.
I think it would have been a healthier discussion if we would have had today's debate more on the bigger picture. If we wanted to deal with ATM fees, maybe it should have been with respect to the banking industry as a whole. There are many aspects of that industry we could talk about that actually have an impact upon consumers. I think there is a great deal of merit for that.
We need to recognize that the banking industry has changed considerably over the years. There were the limited hours during which we could go to the bank; some suggested 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., from Monday to Friday, which was very real. Then there is today, where it is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week because now it can be done online. From having to wait in long lines in banking institutions to being able to sit in front of a computer in our homes, and everything else that has happened in between, we recognize that the industry has changed tremendously over the years.
I especially appreciate our credit unions and the phenomenal role they have played in terms of moving into areas where the banking industry has pulled out. Here, I am talking more about locations because that is of concern to my constituents.
We need to take a look at how we can ensure these fees that are being charged are appropriate. The bigger issue, I believe, is looking at where we might be able to improve, by working with the different levels of government, our provinces, and taking more of a holistic approach at dealing with the issue of banking fees, in particular the ATM fees. That is why I posed the question earlier today in terms of my home province of Manitoba, which has a New Democratic government. I posed the question in terms of what it has done to deal with the ATM fees because that is the larger percentage of fees in the province of Manitoba. I had thought that the member might have been able to inform me, as I do not know the details. However, to the best of my knowledge, it has not.
I do believe that if we take a holistic approach at dealing with the financial industry and how it services our constituents, we might be able to learn something from that. If we base it on the past, we will find there is a need from time to time for the Government of Canada to play a leadership role in providing guidance within our financial industry.
We have done that in the past, whether it was Paul Martin or Jean Chrétien or others. Legislation has been brought in and third parties have been brought in to ensure there is competition. There is that need, and that need is very real.
As much as the Conservatives will likely end up voting against the motion, as many of them have implied, I think they are being shortsighted. They could do consumers and all Canadians a favour, at the very least by recognizing a need for the Government of Canada to watch over and ensure there is competition, that there are reasonable rates, and to work with the different levels of government to see if there might be something that could be done.
It is called having an open mind. I do not see an open mind coming from the Conservative government on this issue.
I understand that we will probably end up having a vote on this tomorrow or whenever the vote is. I trust that the government members might have an opportunity to rethink their position and put the consumer first, along with Canadians. I think we could—