OTTAWA - The NDP is stepping up its battle against bank machine fees, urging the government to make good on its pledge to do something about the charges that vex some Canadian consumers.
A motion calling for the cap will be debated in the House of Commons on Monday. It urges the Conservative government to take action on ATM fees in its upcoming federal budget.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says the ATM fees are "sky-high."
"We in Canada right now are noticing that in a lot of our inner city areas there are no more banks — not even credit unions are present," he said in Vancouver.
"So people fall prey if they go to a local convenience store — they're paying a small fortune to have access to their own money."
Banks provide free use of ATMs for their customers, while non-customers are often charged fees that can be as high as three dollars. The NDP proposal would cap ATM withdrawal fees at 50 cents per transaction across the board.
During question period in the House of Commons last week, Mulcair asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper whether the budget, to be tabled Feb. 11, will tackle the issue of ATM fees.
"Will the prime minister make good on his promise in last fall's Throne Speech to rein in basic banking fees and fees at ATMs and on credit cards?" Mulcair asked. "Will the prime minister keep that promise to Canadians: Yes or no?"
Harper responded by saying that his government has raised concerns about "certain banking fees and practices on consumers and small business." But he didn't say whether the budget would contain any initiatives cracking down on those fees.
October's Throne Speech also included a pledge by the government to outlaw charges levied by banks on customers who receive paper bills. There's been no legislation, however, on the issue.
But the Canadian Bankers Association said Sunday that ATM charges, called convenience fees by banks, are "entirely in the customer's control and are usually avoided."
The association said its data shows that 75 per cent of ATM transactions are done at a customer's own bank, so no convenience fee is charged.
"The convenience fee is clearly disclosed before the transaction is completed and the non-customer has the choice of either accepting the fee or cancelling the transaction and using one of their own banks' machines," the statement added.
"This is no different than buying milk at a convenience store rather than a grocery store. Customers know that they will pay more at a convenience store but make the choice of paying for that convenience."
The NDP has long called for a cap of ATM fees. In 2007, former leader Jack Layton announced a national campaign to mobilize consumers in a fight against the country's big banks.
Now mired in third place in the polls behind the Liberals and the Tories ahead of next year's election, Mulcair embarked upon a tour of Ontario and Western Canada last week to talk to Canadians about "affordability." He focused on bank fees and gas prices.
"Life is increasingly expensive," Mulcair said.
"We’re seeing a lot of working families who simply aren't getting by. And that could be anything from a $3 or $4 ATM fee to collusion at the gas pumps. So there are a lot of things that are costing families more and more."
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Check out these top tips to help you save money.
Grab your thermos
Bring your own coffee or tea in a thermos instead of stopping at the coffee shop every morning.
Shop in cheaper stores
Don't be afraid to step into low-priced grocery and clothing stores. They can help you save a lot of money, especially in you buy the in-house brand, which almost always is identical to the major brands.
Work your culinary magic
Try saving some money by making more meals at home...and that includes your lunch during the work week. Not only will you get to flex your cooking muscles, but you'll also notice less drain from your bank account.
Stop going out so much
Instead of always going out to eat and have drinks with friend, try having people in more often. House parties and dinners are often more fun, as anyone will agree.
Buy in bulk
Buy in bulk the items you use a lot - hand soap, toilet paper, paper towel, etc... Bulk items are almost always cheaper and you can store these items and replace or decant them when needed.
Stop buying so many "toys"
This goes for toys for your kids, as well as grown-ups in your life. Instead of buying the latest gadget, commit to spending more time outside or with loved ones. Try going without a new flat screen television/iPad/gaming console for the next six months. At the end of that time if you still feel like you can't live without it, then perhaps it's time to buy it.
Get rid of that second car
We already know humans drive too much. Try carpooling, Car-2-Go, public transit, biking or walking. You'll save money on gas, insurance, and maintenance.
Discover the library
Instead of spending money on books all the time, try checking out your local library. They always have the latest books, as well as movies and cds.
Unplug your cable
Opt out of your cable program and try a streaming service like Netflix or Apple TV. Netflix is less than $8 per month and has plenty of great movies and television shows. Apple TV has a broad selection of movies for cheap.
Before you go out shopping, make a list of the items you need. Don't buy stuff that's not on your list, especially impulse items like snacks, flowers and magazines. (Bonus tip: Don't grocery shop on an empty stomach. You WILL end up buying stuff you don't want/need.)
Watch for major sales
Keep an eye on flyers and store fronts for major sales at your favourite stores (often toward the end of the season.) It's a great way to get a good deal on brands or items you love.
Pay your bills on time
Don't let that payment slip. Avoid late charges by paying bills promptly. Ask for email statements or direct payment if you tend to forget.
Ditch the land line
Unless you have little kids or older people in the house, a land line at this point is often a waste of money. Ditch the land line and just stick with your cellphone bill.
There's nothing wrong with second-hand shopping. Plenty of Goodwill, Value Village, WIN, Bibles For Missions and Salvation Army stores carry quality items that are lightly used. Plus you have a better chance of finding unique items at discounted prices when you shop second-hand.
Avoid ATM fees
Try to withdraw from your bank to avoid added fees from other institutions. Those $1 and $2 fees can add up quickly!
Stop buying bottled water
Not only is it brutal for the environment, bottled water can get really expensive, especially if you're buying it a few times a day. Instead, pick up a reusable water bottle and fill it up from the tap or Brita.
Turn the heat down during the day
When it's cold outside try setting your thermostat lower during the day and upping the heat when you get home from work. Sure, it will be a bit chilly when you first arrive home but you'll warm up quickly and save money on your heating bill.
Consider a homestay vacation
Instead of shelling out wads of cash for fancy hotels while on vacation, try a homestay program that allows you to stay in someone else's home. You can also try programs like Air B'n'B, which allow you to stay in someone's home who is currently not staying there at the time for a small fee.
Sign up for member rewards
Even if you shop at a store infrequently, sign up for their customer rewards program. They often offer deep discounts, coupons and other rewards to their loyal customers.
Try consigning your clothes
Lots of consignment stores will take your clothes and sell them to their customers and share the profit with you. Next time you clean out your closet, put aside some of your gently worn clothes and call your nearest consignment shop to ask them about their program.
Cook in bulk
Next time you make your favourite soup or casserole, make four times as much, portion it and freeze it. This can help you with meal prep on busy days or offers a great option for weekday work lunches.