Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mulcair rips big oil, big banks

Alleges collusion in pricing of gas, slams ATM fees

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NDP Leader Tom Mulcair took aim at big banks and big oil Wednesday as he brought his "affordability tour" to Winnipeg.

The federal Opposition leader denounced the banks over ATM transaction fees that can reach as high as $5. He also accused the oil companies of price collusion, noting prices always rise before long weekends and big holidays and vary little from station to station, if at all.

"It's mathematically impossible that all of these companies have exactly the same price and at the exact same nanosecond raise all of their prices to the exact same amount," the 59-year-old Quebec MP said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has the power to police these industries through federal legislation, but fails to act, he told a news conference at a downtown hotel.

Mulcair is hoping an appeal to pocketbook issues among middle-class voters will differentiate his party from the governing Conservatives and the third-party Liberals, who have soared in the polls under new leader Justin Trudeau.

The federal NDP holds only two of 14 seats in Manitoba, half of what they possessed a few years ago.

Mulcair said the NDP wants to nominate candidates in all ridings this year so they can start door-knocking well before the next election, expected in the fall of 2015.

The party has enlisted the advice of key strategists who worked on the successful re-election of U.S. President Barrack Obama, he said.

At a wide-ranging news conference, Mulcair was sharply critical of Conservative Saint Boniface MP Shelly Glover over a recent fundraiser organized by her riding association that included members of the city's arts community. As heritage minister, Glover is responsible for arts and culture.

"It's an extraordinary situation to see a sitting minister inviting the people she's responsible for regulating to come and give her money. It is the essence of a conflict of interest," he said.

Asked to weigh in on rocker Neil Young's condemnation of the Alberta oilsands, Mulcair said an informed debate on resource development is important. Ensuring firms pay for the pollution they create and environmental problems aren't left for future generations to deal with are the "essence of sustainable development," he said.

Mulcair was expected to attend the annual general meeting of the NDP riding association in Winnipeg Centre Wednesday night. The seat is held by longtime NDP stalwart Pat Martin. The NDP leader will also attend a community breakfast in the North End this morning before departing for Edmonton.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) and a financial executive that does business with the oil industry took issue with Mulcair's criticisms of those industries on Wednesday.

The CBA's Maura Drew-Lytle said banks will typically charge "a small convenience fee" of about $1.50 for non-customers.

The fee is clearly disclosed before the transaction is completed so users have the option of cancelling a transaction and using one of their own bank's machines, she said. Some fees are waived by banks, she noted, depending on a customer's account package.

"Our research has found that 76 per cent of Canadians believe that they receive good value for their bank service fees and 33 per cent of Canadians pay no service fees at all," Drew-Lytle said in an email.

Peter Tertzakian, an economist with Calgary-based ARC Financial Corp., a private equity management firm that focuses on the energy industry, said Mulcair should offer some evidence to back up his charges of oil-industry collusion.

"Let's see the proof. Talk is cheap," he said.

Prices move up and down according to supply and demand, Tertzakian said.

Gas stations across from each other must compete right down to the penny, he said, so it's not surprising their prices will be identical. Prices can vary, however, from one part of town to another, he added.

"The fact that they all move up and down (seemingly in tandem) is also indicative of a highly competitive market," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 23, 2014 A6


Updated on Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 7:02 AM CST: Replaces photo, adds videos

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