Canada’s New Democrats frequently — and zealously — assail the country’s banks. During the recent federal election campaign, NDP leader Jack Layton accused bankers of “gouging” their customers and called for the capping of credit card rates at five percentage points above prime. And when Michael Ignatieff dared defend the banks, the NDP issued a press release declaring the then-Liberal leader was “standing shoulder to shoulder” with Bay Street, making Ignatieff’s actions sound akin to siding with the Sheriff of Nottingham over Robin Hood.
But Terry Campbell, the new president and CEO of the Canadian Bankers Association (CBA), has little interest in feuding with the country’s official opposition. In a speech on Wednesday to the Toronto Board of Trade, his first address as CBA honcho, Campbell said he looks “forward to working with Mr. Layton, working with his caucus and working with all political parties to ensure Canada’s banks stay the strongest in the world.”
In an interview following the speech, Campbell said the NDP has “clearly articulated” their policy on issues like credit card rates, but the CBA, which represents 52 banks, is “quite serious” about forging a working relationship with Layton and his caucus.
“Mr. Layton has said it’s important to have a strong economy and to do that, you have to have certain elements in place. One of those elements is strong banks,” Campbell said. “And I look forward to having a conversation with him.”
Nonetheless, Campbell acknowledged the “loud commentary” during the recent election campaign with regard to bank fees. He devoted a chunk of his maiden speech to challenging the notion that further regulation is needed for credit cards, arguing two-thirds of Canadians pay off their balances every month, meaning they incur no interest at all, and that credit cards account for just 5% of total household debt. “Capping credit card interest rates at arbitrary levels would harm the very people that it is meant to help by reducing choice in the marketplace and by rationing credit,” Campbell the crowd.
There is clearly some concern amongst Canada’s bankers that the NDP’s newfound status as official opposition will now amplify the politicians’ criticisms of the banking system — should the party remount their hobbyhorses.
If that happens, Campbell seems ready to have a polite argument amongst friends.