Grand Manan residents, council push to reverse Scotiabank decision

Submitted photo Gregg Russell travelled to Toronto in April to protest the closure of the Scotiabank branch in Grand Manan.

GRAND MANAN – Grand Manan’s mayor isn’t sure where she’ll take her business when the isolated island’s only bank closes on Aug. 24, but she’s pretty sure it won’t be Scotiabank.

Bonnie Morse says she’s been trying to persuade Scotiabank to stay open since bank officials contacted her in January to say the branch would be “consolidated” to combine with one on the mainland in St. George.

“It doesn’t feel right to continue to give them my loyalty when they’re not showing loyalty,” she said in an interview.

On a map to bankers based in Toronto, St. George might look convenient. But the trek to and from Grand Manan amounts to a day trip, including a ferry ride, a hefty fee given soaring gas prices and the $26 cost for a resident for a return trip on the ferry by car. That doesn’t include the expense of meals and a potential day off work for the nine-hour trip.

Rather than going to St. George, many on the island are planning to do their banking in Saint John, where they typically go for other appointments.

“All the major banks are there,” said Morse. “People will be shopping around.”

The loss of the bank, which has operated on the island for 116 years, is a particular blow to older Grand Mananers, who are used to doing their banking in person, and small businesses, which often rely on cash to do business. Locals worry that having more cash on hand could encourage crime.

Scotiabank isn’t leaving an automated bank machine on the island. Instead, the 2,360 residents will have to rely on two unbranded ATMs that charge fees for withdrawing cash and don’t allow deposits. Those could be shut, too, however, without Scotiabank there to provide them with cash.

Village councillor Gregg Russell says he’s acting as a concerned citizen as he’s organized a series of peaceful protests outside the local branch and in Fredericton aimed at getting Scotiabank to change its mind.

“As a councillor, I’m bound by guidelines of what I can and cannot do,” he said.

At Russell’s urging, local Member of Parliament John Williamson set up a meeting in Ottawa with officials from the federal Department of Finance, including staff from Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office. Morse and Russell went along to the meeting on June 15.

Morse says it was worth the trek.

“The trip went well. Nothing tangible but it was a good conversation that we will hopefully continue.”

Russell isn’t expecting the meeting to result in Scotiabank reversing its decision.

“What can come out of this, I don’t know,” he said.

So far, Scotiabank isn’t budging. The bank has said repeatedly that the decision is final and was not made “lightly.”

Valerie Huang, a Toronto-based spokesperson for the bank, reiterated that stance Monday and offered no further comment.

Williamson acknowledged Freeland’s office has no power to order Scotiabank to remain in the community, but he’s hoping the meeting with members of her office will send a message to the bank.

He’s also trying to get a meeting this summer with Scotiabank CEO Brian Porter.

“We want to try and convince him that his officials further down made a bad decision and for him to reconsider,” said Williamson, who plans to appeal to Porter’s Maritime ties as a Dalhousie University graduate and summertime resident of Nova Scotia’s South Shore before he got too busy as CEO.

Russell says his next steps are to encourage Grand Mananers and other Scotiabank customers to start telling bank managers they will take their business elsewhere if the branch closes. He also plans to encourage Scotiabank investors to sell their shares.

“Banks do not like negative publicity,” he said. “Nobody we’ve talked to can believe this is happening.”

Rural communities across New Brunswick and the rest of Canada have been losing banks here and there for years as big banks look to cut costs and customers shift to online banking.

Morse, a nine-year veteran of Grand Manan council before she was elected mayor in May 2021, says the village has contacted other major banks and credit unions asking them to consider opening a branch on the island.

“So far we’ve not been successful in attracting anyone,” she said. “Not even an ATM.”