Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak to the motion brought to us by the member for Davenport, a hard-working MP who has been very passionate about making life more affordable and addressing all the silly charges, which are not so silly because they impact the lives of people. I should call them hidden charges that customers are facing, and many times they do not even know it unless they examine their bills.
The government should ban all pay-to-pay practices by banks operating within Canada through the enactment of a mandatory financial code of conduct to protect consumers. I think all parties agree on this. Just as it acted quickly on the tampon tax, I hope that after the debate today, the Conservative government will move very quickly to implement this motion as well.
Just to make it clear, we are not talking about the gargantuan and outrageous fees charged by credit card companies when they lend money, through the credit cards as well the credit card fees. Nor are we talking about the huge burden on businesses, especially small and medium-sized business, of transactions fees.
We are here to talk about pay-to-pay billings that Canadians have started to receive. Some people may think this means paycheque to paycheque. It does not. This term was coined by a young volunteer in Toronto. He actually asked if we had to pay to pay. It is really about having to pay a fine or a fee in order to pay a bill or to do some banking. The motion is about that.
As members know, to receive a paper billing, banks are charging some pretty hefty fees. The Internet is not available to all Canadians. According to Statistics Canada, one in five homes in Canada has no Internet, and 46% of households with income below $30,000 have no Internet.
Forty percent of Canadian seniors do not use the Internet. I am hearing from a lot of constituents, both young at heart and others, about the impact of these fees on their day-to-day lives. We have seniors who live on a fixed income, a very limited income that is not keeping pace with the cost of living, and are finding these new fees cropping up all over the place.
We are talking about some of our largest banks. The five major banks, just in the first two quarters, made a profit of $16 billion. RBC alone raked in $5 billion. These are the banks that are saying that they are now going to charge a fee to pay, whether it is a fee to pay a bill, or a fee to pay off a mortgage or many other things.
Let me remind members that RBC was in the media quite a bit when it laid off hard-working, qualified Canadian workers and brought in temporary foreign workers to cut costs. It was only when it got caught and it was all over the media that it came out and became champions of jobs in Canada for Canadians. It is the bank that makes billions in profits, yet it is charging these fees to hard-working Canadians, putting pressure on our hard-working middle class and all those who aspire to be middle class. These are incredible new pressures.
It is very hard to imagine that banks are charging these fees. I always thought automation would lead a reduction or elimination of fees, but it seems that this is not the case. Through automation, not only have we seen many jobs disappear but now the banks want to rake in even more money, or to steal more money from consumers.
Canadians should not have to hand over their hard earned money just to receive a bank statement or pay a bill. Surely, a bank where people deposit their money gains from that money when they are paying almost nothing in interest on those deposits. Banks are still charging more than enough in the way of interest when people take money out, and that can vary quite a lot, as we know, with credit card interest fees going up to 18% or 21%. Even borrowing from the bank can be very expensive. However, when people put their money in the bank, they hardly get any return on that at all.
The Conservative government talks the talk, and it is very famous for that. It promises things over and over again, and each time it makes it seem as if it is making a new commitment. We see that right now with the budget that it is promoting to the public, yet the action plan has not gone through all of the rinse cycles in the House or the Senate.
The government announced in the 2013 speech from the throne that the Conservatives would finally take action to “End “pay to pay” policies, so customers won’t pay extra to receive paper bills”.
It re-pledged the same action in the 2014 budget to “eliminate the practice of pay-to-pay billing”. Guess what the Conservatives did with the resulting legislation that it brought forward to deal with telecommunications companies? They excluded banks, which make billions of dollars in profit. I am sure Canadians are thinking “what was the payola in return?”, or “what kind of lobbying took place?”
It is not that Canadians pay a small amount in these fees. They pay $180 million a year just to receive bank statements. Nobody should be punished for receiving bank statements or paying their bills, yet that is exactly what is happening to hard-working Canadians.
I have quotes from hard-working Canadians and from our seniors.
The Canadian Association of Retired Persons said, “It hardly seems fair that customers - through no fault of their own - are being charged two dollars extra for the privilege of paying their bill”. It is higher in some banks.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre recommends “the Government of Canada follows through on its commitment to eliminate the application of additional fees charged to Canadian consumers to receive a paper bill or statement”.
This issue is not funny. However, comedy is often used to show people who fail to understand just how ridiculous some policies are. Fees for paper bills and statements were named a top contender for Canada's dumbest charge in a special series by CBC's Marketplace in October, 2013, beating out Ticketmaster fees, airline seat selection fees, and even ATM fees.
People have been raising their voices. Canadians should no longer have to wait for another promise to be made and not kept. I would urge my colleagues across the way to do what they did with the tampon tax and get on with implementing this.
As we look at the struggles that Canadians face to make ends meet, this would go a long way. This fee targets, specifically and unfairly, our seniors, those without Internet access, and families that already struggle to pay their bills. The other thing that we have to take into consideration is that a growing number of us, and I am one of them, are concerned about online fraud and identity theft. Now we are being charged more and are essentially being penalized for banking offline.
Finally, I would urge my colleagues to, just as we did for the tampon tax, pass this today and implement it by the end of the week.