Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Big Jim goes soft on banks


Ottawa has gone soft in its pledge to end automated teller machine fees for Canadians, critics say. Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty met privately yesterday with the country's six top banks yesterday and asked them to consider reducing the service fees for low-income seniors, students and the disabled when they use a competing bank's ATM.

"(Flaherty) wimped out. I thought he was the tough guy ... the minister with all the power who was going to cut the fees across the board," said NDP finance c ritic Judy Wasylycia-Leis. "He said these fees were not tolerable or acceptable and were gouging Canadians. We expected him to give the banks a clear demand or say he was going to legislate change. I guess he isn't that committed to what he says."

Flaherty has said his goal is to ensure competition and choice, after the issue was keyed up last month by NDP Leader Jack Layton. Layton launched a scathing criticism of fees imposed on clients who withdraw money from their bank accounts at machines of other institutions, calling the levy of between $1.50 to $2.50 "very, very high -- and unfair." The NDP chief estimated the big banks rake in $420 million per year in ABM fees, as they accumulated a record $19 billion in total profit last year.

"I brought the concerns (to the six banks) that I expressed in Parliament, and I expect a response from some of the banks," the finance minister said yesterday in Toronto, adding that he didn't want to get involved in day-to-day policy making with the banks.

Right. Notice how the NDP generated this as an issue, but the Conservatives have co-opted the plan. What Jack Layton and Company planned to use as a campaign platform plank "Looking after the Little Guy" is now all about Jim Flaherty and the Conservatives. Ooops.

Flaherty has been getting all the press. When the banks give him even just a little concession, he and Stephen Harper will get all the credit. Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis can only cry "very, very high -- and unfair".

Politics is so unfair is it not?

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