Lunenburg MLA Suzanne Lohnes-Croft is under fire from her Progressive Conservative competition for taking a hush-hush approach when she learned the news that the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) planned to shutter its bank in New Germany this summer.
Susan Corkum-Greek, running for the Tories whenever the next provincial election is called, suggested the Liberal lawmaker failed to advocate for constituents after finding out RBC's plans at least a month before customers were notified.
Lohnes-Croft "decided there was nothing to be done, she did not share this information with community stakeholders," Corkum-Greek said in an email to LighthouseNOW. "Nor did Ms Lohnes-Croft think to raise the issue, much less attempt to leverage the fact her government provided RBC with $20 million in payroll rebates just five years ago so the company would open a financial services centre" in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
In March 2015, the province and RBC reached a deal that saw the bank establish a services centre in Bedford and, provided it met certain hiring milestones over a period of years, would see it earn up to $22 million in payroll rebates.
"The payroll rebate has nothing to do with local branches," Lohnes-Croft said in an emailed response to LighthouseNOW.
RBC's decision comes from the corporate level and is separate from provincial government decision-making, she said, repeating that she's disappointed with the bank's departure, "but I am encouraged that local customers will still be serviced by the institution through online banking and local bank machines."
Following a review of operations over a year ago, RBC noticed dramatic changes in customer behaviour. Technology has also paved the way for faster and more convenient digital banking options, which translates to reduced use of office branches. All of this led to a significant and continuous drop in business at its Highway 10 branch, and served as a catalyst to this summer's pending closure. The bank shutters July 16. The bank's clientele began getting notification of the plan several weeks ago.
Community advocates feel this is another erosion of the rural community way-of-life where some basic services, such as a post office, bank and grocery store, were common-place.
Corkum-Greek wrote letters to senior RBC management. She told LighthouseNOW she had a conversation with one but there was no reversing of the decision.
Lohnes-Croft learned of the closure in November from RBC but she was asked to keep the information confidential, and didn't have consent to disclose details.
"My advocacy in a situation such as the RBC closure was to ensure the clients were informed before the public and that there was a transition plan for the closure," Lohnes-Croft told LighthouseNOW.
She said she can't tell a business what it can or cannot do. "Banks are profit-making businesses, they are not social enterprises."