Quebec small-town mayors upset over plans by Desjardins to close ATMs

MONTREAL — Some small-town mayors in Quebec are warning that a decision by the Desjardins credit-union movement to shut down automated teller machines in several communities will have a devastating impact.

Denis Legare, the mayor of Notre-Dame-de-la Salette, says there will be no cash available in the western Quebec municipality when the town’s ATM is removed in mid-August.

“Cutting the cash flow and asking our merchants to drive 24 kilometres (return) every night to do their nightly deposits (in another town), is going to kill the municipality,” Legare said in an interview Tuesday.

He said the local credit union, which is located in the town hall, was opened in 1943 and is the only place where residents can do any banking.

“Most of the business out in the small towns in the country is cash business,” he said. “When you go to a farmer to buy vegetables, you have to pay cash.”

Legare added the town would like to stay with Desjardins, but that he’s already approached two banks about installing an ATM.

‘“Once a small town loses its caisse populaire (credit union) and its church, there’s nothing there,” he said. “You might as well close the door behind you and leave.”

Legare said a petition is circulating calling for a meeting to discuss the decision to yank the ATM and added a movement has begun throughout the province to try to get Desjardins to change its mind.

At least half a dozen communities in the province are facing the prospect of losing their ATM.

Louis-Georges Simard, the mayor of Riviere-Ouelle, a town in the Lower St. Lawrence region, says the banking machine in his town will be pulled out next Monday.

He said that will have a big impact on many seniors in the community.

“There are older people who are used to functioning with cash, but are not used to making electronic payments and that will take time,” Simard noted.

He said while he understands technological change, Desjardins is moving too fast and he’s asking for a three-month moratorium.

“I have no problem with the fact that, in five or 10 years, there won’t be any banking machines,” he said. “But I think Desjardins is pushing too hard on the accelerator.”

Simard said people in his town are furious.

‘I was with a group at a meeting in the municipality earlier today (Tuesday) and they had a lot to say against Desjardins — but I can’t repeat the words I heard,” he added.

A Desjardins spokesman points out that any decisions to remove banking machines — or service counters — have been discussed in advance with members of the local credit union.

“Directors with the local credit union, where decisions are made, follow a normal process,” Marc Villeneuve, a regional vice-president, said in an interview Tuesday.

Villeneuve noted that Desjardins is seeing a reduction in the use of automated teller machines, as people turn to online banking.

“Today, it’s less than seven per cent of our transactions that are made at banking machines,” he said.

Villeneuve admitted it’s possible people may have to travel 10 to 12 kilometres between ATMs, “but we put machines where our members use them.”

“If there are no grocery stores, no service stations, no pharmacy or post office…when there’s nothing open in a village, it’s difficult to explain why the ATMs should be kept operating,” he added.

The company still has 2,000 ATMs in Quebec and Ontario, but says there are no plans to close those in Ontario.

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