Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I should say that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Timmins—James Bay.
I am pleased to rise here today on the opposition day motion moved by my very competent colleague, the member for Sudbury. I will read the motion, because sometimes when we begin a debate, we lose track of the issue and forget what we are debating:
That, in the opinion of the House, Canadian consumers face unfair Automated Teller Machine (ATM) fees as a result of an uncompetitive marketplace and that the House call on the government to take action in Budget 2014 to protect consumers by limiting ATM fees.
Thus, it is pretty straightforward. We are calling for concrete action to protect consumers.
To put this into context, ATM fees have been charged in Canada since 1996, that is, for the past 18 years. However, surcharging is not regulated. There are absolutely no regulations to protect consumers.
Banks can charge whatever fees they want for transactions that people make to access their hard-earned money. That really is a problem. Furthermore, since 1996, these unwarranted fees have been rising steadily. There are administrative fees, but they are not very high. I will come back to that later.
People currently pay up to $6 per transaction to access their money. In my opinion, that is unacceptable. My colleague from Timmins—James Bay and the NDP clearly agree with me.
Let us talk about household debt. We know very well that setting a limit on ATM fees is not the magic solution to household debt. However, it would help a lot. The cost of living goes up every year, whereas incomes have declined by 7% in the past little while.
Paying $6 to access one's own money is irritating. It hits people in their pocketbooks. A $6 charge may seem small, but several $6 charges in one month can blow the budget and force people to buy lower-quality food. That is a problem.
Once again, the middle class and low-income people are paying the price. The government is squeezing the middle class more and more.
As I was saying earlier, several measures are needed in order to address household debt. Quality jobs must be created. We agree with that. In addition, workers' incomes must increase.
There are a number of other possible solutions. However, what we are proposing is very important and is part of a set of solutions that can help consumers.
We must put a stop to these bank practices that exploit consumers.
According to the former governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, household debt could be the biggest and most immediate threat to the Canadian economy. It could spur the government to take action. I do not know. We cannot ignore this important aspect of the Canadian economy. Right now, household debt has reached an all-time high of 166% of income. This means that when someone earns $100, they owe $166. I do not think I need a more concrete example. These figures give a good idea of the situation.
There is every reason to believe that consumers, especially those in the middle class, have reached their limit. Right now, Canadian household debt is at around the same level as U.S. household debt before the 2008 financial crisis. What else will it take for our government to take action? Finance is not my strong suit, but I know enough and I am smart enough to realize that this does not make sense. I am not the finance minister and I never will be, but if I were, I would take action.
Could we not give middle-class and low-income Canadians a break and make their lives a little easier, simpler and more affordable? People are tired of paying, and I understand. Right now, banks are allowed to charge Canadians nearly $6 per transaction. According to the best data we have, the average cost of a transaction is about 50¢. Someone is making a buck here, and it is not the middle class or low-income Canadians.
The Minister of Finance has made a few comments in the media and in the House about ATM user fees. I will quote him because I find this interesting. On March 6, 2007, he told the Toronto Star:
I tried to point out that, in my view, there are some legitimate concerns by Canadians on this subject, particularly seniors, students and persons with disabilities, many of whom have limited mobility so they don't have as much choice in terms of which banking machine they might be able to use.
Again in 2007, in reference to the NDP campaign in favour of banning fees— because the NDP has been working on this for a long time, even though it was not yet the official opposition—the Minister of Finance told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, “...we also agreed [with the NDP] that the banks ought to do something in terms of consumers with respect to ATMs”.
On February 16, 2007, in the Globe and Mail, the Minister of Finance also said that he was not satisfied with the explanation from Canada's banks for why they charge a fee when other banks' customers use their automated teller machines, and he asked them to try harder.
The Minister of Finance clearly has concerns, but no concrete action has been taken since 2007. The problem existed well before then, but the government did not start talking about it until 2007. It talks about it, says that this is appalling and that we should perhaps do something about this problem because it is hard on the middle class, seniors and persons with disabilities, but it does nothing. There is a real problem. This would be a good opportunity for the government to finally do something for consumers and the middle class, but it is doing nothing.
I have more to say on this, but unfortunately my time has run out. I would be pleased to answer questions.