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Ultimatum issued to legislate cap on credit-card fees

IDNUMBER 200903240084
PUBLICATION: New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal
DATE: 2009.03.24
SECTION: News;News
BYLINE: Rob Linke Telegraph-Journal
COPYRIGHT: © 2009 Telegraph-Journal (New Brunswick)

Ultimatum issued to legislate cap on credit-card fees

With the Senate banking committee starting to hear witnesses on credit-card and debit-card fees tomorrow, Senator Pierrette Ringuette warns that, if the government doesn't introduce legislation to protect businesses and consumers, she will.

"Hopefully, Finance Minister (Jim) Flaherty and the Conservative government is listening to the plea of Canadians that they want legislated fairness in the system like they have in other countries," the Liberal senator from New Brunswick told a Parliament Hill news conference Monday.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business presented more than 12,000 "action alerts" from its members asking parliamentarians to investigate credit- card fees that merchants are charged.

"The small business sector - which is nearly half the economy - is being confronted by uncontrollable cost increases from credit-card companies with seemingly little or no warning and economic conditions already tight," said Brien Gray, CFIB executive vice-president.

"They will be forced to pass this cost on to consumers."

Gray said there's a serious need for more information about and scrutiny of credit-card and debit-card industry practices.

He applauded Ringuette and the Senate committee for tackling the issue and said he hoped the hearings would lead to positive changes "based on facts, not on promises."

CFIB members have issues about the cost of fees, and the choices available to merchants and consumers, among other things.

"We would like to see them delay any proposal to charge fees as a percentage of the sales transaction through Interac or credit-card companies until the full impact on the Canadian market can be assessed," said Gray.

Ringuette said that "if the government cannot understand and put forth legislation by the end of June on this, I will introduce legislation in the Senate to cap those fees because it's unfair to small and medium-sized businesses."

Wednesday, the senate banking, trade and commerce committee starts hearings on credit-card and debit-card fees. The first witnesses to appear are from the federal Finance Department, the Competition Bureau and the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.

The Conservative government has also begun to tackle credit-card issues, but Opposition MPs have criticized them for window dressing.

The federal budget included measures to strengthen disclosure requirements for banks that issue credit cards.

Other measures include clear and timely advance notice of changes in rates and fees and minimum grace periods on new purchases.

Ringuette has called those measures "lip service" that ignores the need to provide real protection to consumers and businesses.

The credit-card industry maintains there is ample competition in the industry and a variety of credit-card products and other credit tools available to consumers.

They point out most Canadians pay their cards in full each month and pay no interest at all.