Mr. Speaker, I stand in support of the motion:
That, in the opinion of the House, the 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.
I keep my finger on the pulse of my riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl, in Newfoundland and Labrador. I am constantly out and about in the community, on the doorsteps, in the coffee shops, on the streets, on the wharves and even in the boats. I ask my constituents for constant feedback about issues ranging from child care, climate change, pensions, poverty and, of course, all federal issues having to do with the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador. If it moves here in Ottawa and it affects my province, I am all over it; I am on my feet in this House.
Most of the feedback I have received to date, as a member of Parliament, has to do with banks; more specifically, bank fees, which people see as generally too high, and credit card interest rates, which people also see as too high, through the roof, actually.
Household debt in Canada is alarming. The total debt owed by all Canadians, at the end of March, was a record $1.8 trillion. We have gone a bit of a borrowing binge, that is how it has been described, living on credit.
However, 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. The top five banks in this country are making a killing. Profit is a good word. Profit is to be celebrated. Profit means growth. Profit means success.
However, is there a point when profit crosses the line into unfettered greed?
In the first two quarters of their fiscal years, Canada's top five banks amassed more than $16 billion in profits. RBC, alone, had broken records by pulling in almost $5 billion in only the first half of the year. I would say banking binge is pretty accurate.
I can tell members what drives me. My pet banking peeve is going to an ATM that is not with my bank but still one of Canada's big five and being charged $3.00 to withdraw cash over and above my own bank fees. That is obscene. I will go without before I pay that $3.00. It is the principle. It happens right outside this House, down on Sparks Street. I consider it gouging and I take that personally. I also take my business elsewhere.
One of our New Democratic Party proposals is to cap bank fees at federally regulated ATMs, those machines owned by chartered banks, at 50¢. The banks would still walk away with a healthy profit at 50¢ a transaction, but that is another topic.
Today's motion is about pay-to-pay, paying to pay a bill. Do members find that offensive? I do. Canadians, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, should not have to fork over their hard-earned dollars to receive a bank statement or to pay a bill.
When was the last time members went into a restaurant and had to pay extra for the check, for the honour of being handed the check, or paying the check? That is what is pay-to-pay fees amount to: paying a fee to pay a bill.
Canadians will pay up to $180 million this year alone just to receive bank statements. No one should be punished, charged, for receiving bank statements or paying their bills.
These fees that charge extra for the bill itself unfairly target seniors, about 40% of whom do not use the Internet. These fees unfairly target those without Internet access, which amounts to one in five homes in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. These fees unfairly target families already struggling to pay their bills. Forty-six per cent of households with incomes below $30,000 a year do not have Internet.
In the 2013 Speech from the Throne, the Conservatives promised to end pay-to-pay policies so customers would not be charged extra to receive paper bills.
The Conservative budget 2014, last year, promised that again. However, then when it came to taking action the Conservative budget excluded banks from the stopping of pay-to-pay fees. It excluded them when it had a chance. It was $180 million in 2013 and another $180 million in 2014. That is a total of $360 million that Canadians had to pay because the current Conservative government failed to act.
Last year, the Conservative government blocked telecommunications and cable companies from charging fees for paper bills. Why were the banks not included? I do not have an answer to that question. Mr. Speaker, do you have an answer to that question? I have asked around and I cannot get an answer. There is dead silence from that side of the House.
I was in this House today during question period 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? He supports this motion, 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. It stopped short.
Sitting in this House today, watching the government in question period for example, it is obvious that the current government is on its last legs. The minister supports stopping the banks from charging pay-to-pay fees, but he did not outlaw those fees last year when telecommunications companies and cable companies were blocked from charging fees for paper bills. Again, the question is why not? The Conservatives are all over the place.
It reminds me of the finance minister's unexpected announcement last week that he is 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 are possibly open to it. I just shake my head. They are all over the place. However, that is also a good thing, because it will not be long now and we will have a change of government.
I have a final word on banks. I am old enough to remember a day that when we called a branch we actually got someone from the branch on the phone. That is getting harder and harder to do. Banks are almost cold in terms of personal touch, and they are very calculated. It seems now to be all about the numbers. I cannot remember the last time I heard of a bank giving someone a break by writing off interest or forgiving a loan.
Yes, though, I can remember. An interesting news story broke back home in Newfoundland and Labrador over the last week. It was 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. It is a rare occurrence for an individual Newfoundlander or Labradorian or an individual Canadian to get a break from the banks.
We are being charged for paper bills; bank fees are too high; credit card interest rates are shocking; and, bank profit is measured in billions. In the meantime, the only one getting a break that I know of is the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador. That is not nearly good enough.
I will end on this: It will not be long now.