02/03/2014 03:38 EST | Updated 04/05/2014 05:59 EDT

ATM fee cap should be 50 cents per transaction, NDP says

The NDP is taking another run at getting ATM fees lowered. 

Members of Parliament are debating an Opposition motion calling for the cap in the House of Commons today. The motion urges the Conservative government to take action on automated teller machine fees in the 2014 federal budget.

Glenn Thibeault, the NDP's consumer affairs critic, said Canadians shouldn't have to pay two or three dollars to withdraw their own money from bank machines — particularly when it costs banks as little as 36 cents to complete the transaction.

The NDP proposal would cap ATM withdrawal fees at 50 cents per transaction.

Thibeault said "the devil's in the details," citing hidden fees charged by banks — foreign fees and convenience surcharges, for example — that can equal almost $6 per transaction.

"If you start adding that up over a year, that's a lot of money that consumers are spending just to access their own account and their own funds," Thibeault said.

Bank ATMs vs. 'white-label' ATMs

There seemed to be slight confusion in the House as to which ATM machines would be covered under the NDP's proposal, which drew economic arguments about government interference in the free market. 

Liberal MP Judy Sgro mentioned that Parliament has its own ATM and that members are "willing to spend a few dollars at times for that convenience."

But the NDP made it clear the motion applies only to federally regulated ATM machines — those owned by chartered banks — and not private "white-label" ones found at such places as grocery shops and convenience stores, which fall under provincial jurisdiction. 

Sgro said price-gouging clearly occurs with white-label ATMs and said she herself "was hit with $6.50" once and "certainly learned her lesson." She said some consumers don't pay attention.

"So, I'd like to see the government put in some sort of cap on white ATMs – privately owned ones."

Consumers should do due diligence, NDP says

The Canadian Banking Association said more than 75 per cent of transactions that occur at bank ATMs are by customers of the bank, so no fees are charged.

"Canadian bank customers are actually quite smart, and they've figured out how to avoid fees," said vice-president Robin Walsh.

Thibeault acknowledged consumers need to do their own due diligence, but also believes it's necessary to reel in the big banks. 

"The government can step in when it's needed, and right now it's needed because we're the Wild West when it comes to unregulated ATM fees or credit card interest rates," he said.

During Monday's question period, NDP finance critic Peggy Nash stood up to ask whether the Conservatives would step in.

"Will the Conservatives support the NDP motion to limit ATM fees and implement this policy in the budget?" 

The Minister of State for Finance Kevin Sorenson responded by saying she would have to wait "eight more sleeps" until Feb. 11 to find out what will be included in the federal budget.

When pressed further, Sorenson made mention of the last fall's speech from the throne and said, "Our government will take further action to expand no-cost banking options available to Canadians."

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.

The NDP has long called for a cap on ATM fees. In 2007, former leader Jack Layton announced a national campaign to mobilize consumers in a fight against the country's big banks.