Tories flip-flop again on ATM gouging by Canada's banks

Finance Minister Flaherty sides with the chartered banks after months of hollow rhetoric about bank machine fees


Ottawa (24 April 2007) - The Harper Conservatives have flip-flopped again, this time on the issue of ending the ATM fees that Canadian banks charge customers for withdrawing their own money.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, after harvesting months of flattering media headlines by suggesting he would take on the banks, now says he's "pleased" with the way they are doing business.

"Am I going to direct the banks about what they should be charging for a particular item? That's not the role of the minister of finance," Flaherty told reporters recently.

Yet that was exactly the role he pretended to play for months by talking repeatedly about pressuring the banks to reduce or scrap ATM fees, even going so far as to hold at least one highly-publicized meeting with bank executives - supposedly to twist their arms on the issue.

It was all a sham, apparently, to soften the Tories' pro-business image prior to an election. In reality, Flaherty now confesses he will do nothing to prevent the banks from preying as usual on ordinary customers.

2006 banks profits: $19.1 billion

How greedy are the banks?

Collectively, Canada's banks made $19.1 billion in profits in 2006. That works out to more than $600 for every man, woman and child in the country. Bank executives routinely collect multi-million dollar salaries while devoting huge resources to keeping staff salaries low and unions out.

ATM fees account for only a portion of overall bank profits but they still add up to a substantial total of $420 million annually - or about $127 per average Canadian household. That's a lot, considering where it's going.

Although the Conservatives have now admitted they weren't serious about confronting the banks, the issue has not quite died on Parliament Hill. The New Democratic Party has introduced legislation to scrap ATM fees.

Bill C-429

Chances are not great that the bill, tabled by MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis and given first reading April 19, will get very far, even in a minority Parliament, but it may keep the debate going for a while longer. If it were to pass, Bill C-429, would amend Section 447 of the Bank Act to prohibit ATM fees entirely. It reads:

"A bank shall not make a charge, to its customers or to the public, for the electronic transfer of funds or the communication of account information through the use of an automated banking machine, whether the machine is owned or operated by the bank or by another person."

The NDP holds only 29 seats in the 308-seat House of Commons. So far none of the other parties has spoken in favour of the bill. The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) supports the campaign to end ATM gouging by the chartered banks. NUPGE