The NDP pushed its consumer-focused agenda in the House of Commons on Monday, as it debated a motion to rein in ATM withdrawal fees.

The party urged the government to use its upcoming federal budget to cap ATM fees at 50 cents per transaction. Banks provide free use of ATMs for their customers, but according to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, withdrawal fees can cost as much as $5.90 per transaction for non-customers.

“Every Canadian has at some point stood in front of the ATM, in stunned silence, staring at the screen, showing just how much they’ve been gouged from taking out cash from their very own bank account,” NDP MP Glenn Thibeault said in the House of Commons on Monday.

But the motion to implement a cap on withdrawal fees is “misguided,” said Conservative MP Mike Allen.

Allen said the NDP fails to take into account the purchase cost of the ATM machine, in addition to other costs -- including ATM security measures, signage and advertising -- that justify the transaction surcharge.

“If that surcharge wasn’t in place, there would not be an ATM in that location,” Allen said.

The vote on the matter was deferred until Tuesday.

Thibeault, who is the NDP’s consumer affairs critic, said that “the most shocking part” of ATM fees is that the real cost of processing a transaction is estimated to be around 36 cents on average.

“This is unfair and it is a policy we, as parliamentarians, must address head-on,” he said.

Thibeault blasted the government, saying that “while the Conservatives talk a big game about the importance of protecting consumers from the most abusive practices of Canada’s largest corporations, their failure to crack down on ATM fees and the plethora of other consumer abuses undermines this claim.”

“Here, Mr. Speaker, is an opportunity to prove they are serious, and actually do something tangible for consumers,” Thibeault added. “A failure to do so will make this government’s priorities clear: Bay Street over Main Street.”

Robin Walsh, vice president of strategic communications for the Canadian Bankers Association, said people are given a choice of which ATMs they use, and there is full transparency about an added fee when they choose an ATM at a rival bank.

He also said the majority of ATM transactions inside banks do not result in a fee.

“Our data shows that 75 per cent of the transactions that take place at bank-owned ATMs are actually people using their own bank machines, so no fee is paid,” said Walsh.

But why are the banks charging fees?

“The fee does pay for the bank’s network of automated tellers,” he told CTV’s Power Play. “That’s a network where they’re constantly adding machines across the country -- 18,000 ATMs for the banks across the country. Paying for the technology to upgrade those, paying for security, getting the armoured vehicles to load the cash up into the machines -- there’s a lot of expenses for running that network.”

CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson told News Channel the NDP’s motion is more than a fight against ATM fees. “It’s about this whole consumer agenda that really seems to have seized in Ottawa,” she said.

Ottawa cracked down on roaming charges in December, with the government making legislative changes in order to prevent big wireless providers from charging smaller rival companies more than they charge their own customers for domestic roaming.

“All the different parties (are) pledging to do something for consumers,” Stephenson said. “This is the NDP’s contribution.”

During question period in the House of Commons last week, Mulcair asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper whether the budget, which is to be tabled Feb. 11, will tackle ATM fees. Harper didn’t say whether the government would crack down on the fees, but said concerns had been raised about “certain banking fees and practices on consumers and small business.”

And in 2007, former NDP leader Jack Layton announced a campaign to mobilize consumers in a fight against Canada’s big banks.

With files from The Canadian Press