Bill C-44 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.
John Baird Conservative
Second reading (House), as of Nov. 30, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends the Canada Post Corporation Act to modify the exclusive privilege of the Canada Post Corporation so as to permit letter exporters to collect letters in Canada for transmittal and delivery outside Canada.
Canada Post Corporation Act
November 30th, 2009 / 5:50 p.m.
David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to debate the government's attempt at privatizing Canada Post part two. Part one was Bill C-14, which was introduced about two years ago, and to refresh people's memories, it was not that long a bill. Neither is Bill C-44, the one now before us now. They are exactly the same bills. It is important to state, as my comments will show, that they are exactly the same bills with different numbers and dates on it. The sole purpose is to privatize part of Canada Post.
Interestingly, however, we hear government members stand and say that they do not agree with privatization. It is in their famed report, the strategic review that says that they do not agree with privatization. In this case, however, all they need is a little deregulation and they automatically get privatization because it is already there. Talk about a major flip-flop.
The government began its tenure in government supporting the fact that all mail delivered within Canada is the responsibility of Canada Post and any mail delivered anywhere is the responsibility of Canada Post. However, as I will show, the government flip-flopped and I am not sure where the Liberals are. I will mention them a couple of times but they are, as a Liberal colleague said, skating on this one and the skate is set to music in this case.
I wanted to mention the strategic plan early on because the Conservatives did a strategic review of the Canada Post Corporation. There may be some members of the government who are tempted to say that they are going for this because of the recommendation in here. We need to understand that the first bill, Bill C-14, was introduced before this report was done. Who is really surprised that a government hand-picked committee came up with a report that, get ready for the shock, endorsed the government's position? Wow, who would have thought that a group of people selected by the government would recommend a major change in the way Canada Post operates and it just happens to line up beautifully with where the government is? It is a wondrous world. I will come back to that report.
I want to begin with the Canada Post Corporation Act, one small part of this law. Part 1, Objects, section 5.(1)(b) reads as follows:
the need to conduct its operations on a self-sustaining financial basis while providing a standard of service that will meet the needs of the people of Canada and that is similar with respect to communities of the same size;
The operative language is “on a self-sustaining financial basis”. If we were not there, there might be some kind of argument that the government could make that it should make this change. If we were on a trend line that showed that in the near future Canadians would need to start either increasing the cost of postage or, worse yet, giving direct subsidies to keep it afloat.
What is the reality, one might ask, so we know the context. The reality right now is that Canada Post makes a small profit so it is currently meeting the mandate of a self-sustaining basis. It sounds like it is meeting its mandate. Why would we make this change? Will the change do any harm to the ability of Canada Post to meet its mandate of being self-sustaining financially?
Let us go back to the last review. We have the government and its current review which says that we ought to stop giving Canada Post the exclusive privilege of dealing with all mail.
What the last report in 1996 said about this very idea, the whole purpose of this bill that we are dealing with right now, about that singular idea that is the singular purpose of Bill C-44, is:
Removal of the exclusive privilege would be tantamount, in effect, to tossing Canada's postal system up into the air, allowing it to smash into a random assortment of pieces, and hoping that those pieces would somehow re-arrange themselves into a coherent whole that was better or at least as good as the current system.
What has changed since 1996? I know. The government, and the official opposition which used to be the government so they might not want to laugh too hard yet until we get to the bottom line. There will be time for them, so they should not get too upset.
In 1996, there was no mistake, the government of the day did support keeping Canada Post intact. Another review came up with that conclusion. Is that the only conclusion? No. This is so critical; there is lots of evidence. I wish I had much more than 20 minutes to get it all on the floor of the House of Commons about why we ought not do this and what the experts, the people with the experience, have had to say about this idea over the years. However, I will do my best to get the main pieces tabled.
What did Canada Post say at that time? It is a little quieter these days. It does not say as much, certainly not as much in support of the Canada Post that most Canadians want. At the time, Canada Post said:
For as long as it is the public policy of Canada to provide universal letter service at uniform rates, it will be necessary to maintain the limited exclusive privilege for letters.
This bill undoes that.
Now who else might have something to say about this? Well, cabinet ministers who are responsible for Canada Post often have things to say. What did the Conservative cabinet minister responsible for Canada Post say in a letter dated July 25, 2006? He said:
The activities of international remailers cost Canada Post millions of dollars each year and erodes the Corporation's ability to maintain a healthy national postal service and provide universal service to all Canadians.
That was a Conservative minister of the Conservative government on record, in writing.
I will introduce one more piece to the foundation of our position on this. The situation is that these private enterprises started encroaching into this business and then started getting into it in a big way. Canada Post told them to stop but they did not. it tried a negotiation process but that did not work. So, given the mandate that it has under law, it did what any Canadian or any Canadian corporation would do if somebody was wronging them, it took them to court. Canada Post won.
However, because these international remailers are so committed to the Canadian postal service, they appealed that decision. On May 8, 2007, the Ontario Court of Appeals brought down its ruling. Justice McFarland wrote on behalf of the three judge panel who had a unanimous decision. They said:
The purpose of the statutory privilege can only be to enable CP to fulfill its statutory mandate or realize its objects. It is meant to be self-sustaining financially while at the same time providing similar standards of service throughout our vast country. Profits are realized in densely populated areas which subsidize the services provided in the more sparsely populated areas.
Is it that hard to understand? We have a huge, beautiful country but it does present serious challenges in terms of presenting and providing the same level of service in downtown Toronto as in downtown Hamilton, Vancouver, Halifax, Yellowknife and, quite frankly, all the other far flung reaches of this country. It is expensive and has challenges in addition to money in terms of having the human resources.
We have this great formula in Canada right now whereby there is enough money being made to tell Canada Post to do it all but that we will regulate it, that it will be responsible to Parliament through a minister, that we will provide the law and regulations, but that its purpose is to provide this service at a world level and be self-sustaining.
Nobody likes an increase in the price of postage stamps or anything like that, but the fact is that currently Canada has one of the lowest cost postal services in the world. That would be one kind of a brag if we are talking about Austria, but to make that brag when we talk about Canada is pretty darn good and it has been pretty good.
There are always problems. I am sure that is not a person in this room who does not have one postal or letter story or another, so be it, but in a large corporation that size that is not surprising. The reality for most people is that the service is okay. It can always be better but it is not horribly broken and inefficient. It is quite the contrary. It is efficient enough to generate a little profit.
What is on the floor now would have the effect of taking that ability away. Why is the government doing it? It did not have that position before and now it has it right after the judge's decision.
This is what it looks like. It looks like a group of entrepreneurs, and there is nothing wrong with that, got into this business, struggled with Canada Post, lost the struggle, went to court, lost, appealed it, lost and then found friends in the Conservative government and said, “We cannot seem to get our argument past the courts with that darn monopoly that Canada Post has that lets it generate this modest profit, so what we would like is for you to change the law and then we will not be violating the law. We can keep on doing what we are doing and whatever happens to Canada Post, that is your problem”.
It is similar to a lot of the issues at the core of privatization. They cherry-pick the things that make the most money, privatize that and make bags of money, usually with non-union workers, but it is a free country but that is a little point to make, and leave the expensive parts, like delivering mail to Yellowknife or Iqaluit, to the government, which will be the first one to talk about how much it costs and how outrageously inefficient the system is.
We have a system that is not perfect but the financial structure allows us to maintain and expand our service to pay the workers a decent wage and benefits. It is not as good as what they deserve for the work they do but it is a decent wage and benefits. All that is done and Canadians do not need to give it a thought. It is taken care of because of the way it is structured.
In effect, by deregulating this particular section, by taking it out of the existing law, the government would make legal the privatization of Canada Post work that is prohibited under the current law. One little change and suddenly what is not allowed in the front door comes merrily bouncing through the back door. That is what is going on.
The government is going to stand and talk about jobs and this, that and the other thing, and the reality is the question is not whether there will be jobs. The question is whether those jobs are going to be outside Canada Post and therefore deny Canada Post the financial ability to provide the service and to be financially self-sustaining, as the law mandates and as it has been doing. That is the real rub.
If this thing were broken and nothing were working and Canada Post were running a massive deficit, one could make arguments for some kind of fix and correction. However, that is not the case.
The people who will be celebrating, should this bill pass, are the owners of the companies doing the re-mailing. That is why I mention the official opposition because I do not know where the Liberals are. They supported Bill C-14, which was the exact same bill, word for word. The current critic is listening to the member for Toronto Centre and skating up and getting ready to go. What I heard was that they put out some nonsense that they were going to support it at this hearing so they could get it to committee and then at committee, they would worry about the jobs that should be at Canada Post and about where the money was going to come from. It is all just a scam.
The fact of the matter is this is a straight-up question. My colleague from the Bloc spoke in the last go-round and made it very clear that there is no nuancing here; there are no maybes or ifs or any kind of dodging. It is very simple: we either support the right of Canada Post to maintain the exclusive privilege and therefore to have the ability to be financially viable, or we do not.
I say to the official opposition, if they join with us and the Bloc, we could kill this. We could save Canada Post. There are a lot of people who use Canada Post and who work for Canada Post and are beneficiaries of the services of Canada Post who do not want this to happen. They do not want it to happen for the very practical reason that it does not make sense. It only makes sense if we think about the owners of these corporations that are doing the re-mailing, the mailing outside Canada, mostly to the United States, right next door. That is where the money is. That is where the volume is. That is where the big bucks are. Of course they want this.
They are going to talk to us about the jobs. Move those jobs out of where they are now and put them in Canada Post and I will bet that every one of those employees will be making more money than he or she is today, and Canada Post would still turn a modest profit. There is a win-win-win situation.
However, the owners of the companies that are currently illegally doing this work would be so heartbroken to see this die. It is the best Christmas present they could ever get, and they would have received it because of the handiwork of the Conservatives and, until I hear differently, from the support of the Liberals, who will have changed their position from having supported Canada Post the way it was to supporting this nonsense.
We can stop all of that. Do Canada Post, Canadians and Canadian business a big favour by voting this bill down and out.
Canada Post Corporation Act
October 9th, 2009 / 10:05 a.m.
Bonnie Crombie Mississauga—Streetsville, ON
Mr. Speaker, as the new Liberal critic for crown corporations, it gives me great pleasure to stand today to join in the debate on Bill C-44. I look forward to this opportunity, my maiden debate as critic, and I look forward to many more.
I rise today to state our concerns with Bill C-44 and the government's attempt to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act and to legalize the activities of international remailers. While we have specific concerns about the bill, we will be determining as a caucus in the coming days how to best deal with it.
Crown corporations were created to provide standardized and essential services from postal delivery to energy development, resource extraction to public transportation. Crown corporations serve in binding our expansive, sparsely populated country, providing services where they would otherwise be inefficient and uneconomical for the private sector to operate. Providing universal yet affordable services to all Canadians, whether rural, urban or in remote areas through our crown corporations is one of those principles that bind us as a nation. Social cohesion in Canada rests on the shared institutions in which we can have pride.
Canada Post, through its very mandate, is dedicated to providing Canadians with reliable, affordable, accessible and universal services. For 158 years, Canada Post has been a pillar of the Canadian economy, connecting Canadians with their communities and their businesses. Each and every day, it processes some 45 million pieces of mail to nearly 15 million residences and businesses. It continues to meet or exceed delivery standards 96% of the time. It provides the lowest cost of sending a letter among all the industrialized nations, and it costs the same amount to send a letter from Halifax to Vancouver as it does to send a letter from Montreal to Ottawa. That will not be the case if the government is successful in its attempt to deregulate or privatize this public corporation.
Canada Post is a well-managed business that does not rely on taxpayer support and has been profitable for 13 consecutive years. It is one of Canada's largest corporations, employing almost 55,000 workers across the country, including 3,800 or more in rural and remote areas. It is a brand and an institution that Canadians trust.
Even before being elected to the House, I have always looked at Canada Post as one of those corporations that deliver, literally. Its motto is, “On land, online, we deliver”. I have often considered that to be true. Canada Post is award winning and world leading in its online services and second to none in its door-to-door service. To quote our friends from south of the border,“Through sleet, through rain and snow”, and, I will add, “from coast to coast to coast, it delivers”.
As the new critic responsible for crown corporations, I have studied this issue, consulted with former critics and I have heard from the minister of state and my other hon. colleagues. The issue in my mind is that the Supreme Court has ruled that Canada Post should maintain its exclusive privilege for domestic and international mail. Allowing remailers to continue to operate would cannibalize letter mail, reduce mail volume and revenue, and would erode the trusted corporation's ability to provide service in remote and rural areas.
In a letter to Canadian postal workers, CUPW, on July 25, 2006, the then minister of transport stated:
The activities of international remailers cost Canada Post millions of dollars each year and erodes the Corporation's ability to maintain a healthy national postal service and provide universal service to all Canadians.
As we understand it, the problem hinges on the difference between the English and French language variations of the Canada Post Corporation Act, section 14. The English version restricts Canada Post's exclusive privilege to letter mail for addresses within Canada, while the French version expands the exclusive privilege to mail directed to international addresses. This discrepancy between the English and French version has allowed an industry to develop outside the intentions of the act. We are debating Bill C-44 because of this discrepancy.
As we know, for the past 20 years, private international mailers have entered the market undeterred and have capitalized on the language discrepancy and the lack of clarity within the act. What is a remailer? Private remailer firms collect international mail daily from Canadian customers and fly it as cargo to other countries or foreign destinations, either for direct entry into their domestic postal operations or to an intermediary postal administration, bypassing Canada Post altogether.
The U.S. postal service estimates that it loses 5% of its international mail volume each year to remail companies. Canada Post president, Moya Greene, has estimated that the illegal activities of the international remailers results in a loss of revenue for the corporation of between $60 million and $80 million annually.
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in Canada Post's favour, stating:
...any one or more of the activities of “collecting, transmitting and delivering” letters is the exclusive privilege of Canada Post in Canada, including letters addressed to foreign destinations.
In 2007, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-14, which died on the order paper because of an unnecessary election that the Prime Minister called. We remember when the Prime Minister broke his own fixed date election law. Not only does the Prime Minister obviously break his own laws, but he also ignores the laws of the Supreme Court of Canada.
The ruling cannot be clearer. When the highest court in the land clarifies an ambiguous section of an act, we must respect it. The court granted Canada Post an exclusive privilege over both domestic and international mail delivery. We have an obligation to respect its decision. In fact, section 14 was ambiguous and allowed new players to enter the market for a 20 year period. That fact does not make those actions legal.
In December 2008, a strategic review of the Canada Post Corporation was released, examining all aspects of Canada's postal service and providing some 60 recommendations. The report recommends against deregulation of our public post offices. Page 8 of the executive summary states:
Canadians remain deeply interested in postal matters and intensely committed to the maintenance of a viable and effective universal postal service. There appears to be little public support for the privatization or deregulation of Canada Post and considerable, if not unanimous, support for maintaining a quality, affordable universal service for all Canadian communities.
The advisory panel received submissions from individuals, businesses, community organizations and municipalities. An overwhelming majority of them opposed the deregulation of Canada Post.
In 2008, an Ipsos Reid poll suggested that 69% of respondents strongly opposed deregulation; that is, allowing private companies to deliver letter mail in Canada.
Yet, does Bill C-44 not propose to deregulate postal service by allowing remailers to compete for the international share of the business? It is a slippery slope. Once competition is permitted in one segment of the business, what prevents the government to privatize, spin off, sell off or open competitions in other sectors of this crown corporation or in other corporations? What is the government's true agenda?
The government made a commitment to stakeholders and the industry that it would engage in future consultations before commenting on the recommendations of the report. Instead, the government acted unilaterally to introduce legislation to potentially deregulate the industry and that could create two standards of service: one for urban and one for rural communities.
What would the impact of open competition be on domestic delivery? Let us speculate on that for a moment. We know for certain that service to remote communities in rural areas would be jeopardized. Deregulation would raise prices, reduce services, destroy jobs, hurt the environment and reduce the security and privacy of mail.
Municipalities from coast to coast have written letters to the strategic review panel stating that postal deregulation would be bad for their communities.
A moratorium has existed since 1994 that protects the approximately 3,800 public post offices in rural and small one post office towns. Of the 647 municipalities that made a submission, only one municipality, Ponoka, Alberta, supported deregulation and, hence, is willing to eliminate its rural post office.
Unfortunately, the strategic review report also recommended that the current moratorium on post office closures in rural and small towns be replaced with new rules and procedures, including the ability to replace public post offices with private outlets. By eliminating small town post offices, we would kill jobs, isolate communities and deny them a vital link to the rest of Canada. Closing post offices in small rural and remote communities would prevent seniors from sending letters to childhood friends, disabled Canadians from accessing postal services easily and children from sending letters to Santa Clause at Christmas.
Despite this electronic age of instant messaging, email, Facebook and Twitter, Canadians still value a stamped and sealed envelope, which carries strong sentimental value for their most special occasions: birthdays, weddings, funerals and/or other holiday greetings.
Seniors need accessible and reliable postal service that meets their needs. They are aware that with deregulation they would face higher postal rates. When the Swedish post office was deregulated, the standard rate increased by 90%.
Disabled rights organizations also oppose deregulation. Organizations representing blind people are concerned that deregulation would result in service cutbacks. Canada Post provides free mailing of braille documents and sound recordings. It is no secret that deregulation would result in cutbacks to these types of services because they are not profitable, but we engage in them to serve Canadians because it is our public service mandate.
Small businesses, too, would face rising costs and suffer difficulties as a result of a lack of postal services in their communities. These businesses would have no choice but to pass on increased costs to their customers in the form of higher prices.
Thus, deregulation jeopardizes high quality, affordable, accessible and universal postal delivery in rural and remote markets.
In fact, the revenue Canada Post generates by operating in large urban centres subsidizes the more costly services to rural farms, villages and isolated northern communities. Deregulation would open competition in lucrative urban markets and lead to the dismantling of rural delivery.
In other markets that have deregulated postal delivery service, we have seen increased prices. The cost of a stamp in Finland is $1.35; in Germany, 93¢; and in Sweden, 92¢. In countries that have not deregulated, the price of domestic mail has remained affordable, like in Canada, 54¢. It is the same in the United States.
The final point is the issue of jobs, one of the key and critical issues. The government has a dismal record of creating and protecting jobs. The introduction of this bill is no exception. Instead of putting forward meaningful legislation dealing with the creation of jobs, we find ourselves debating a bill that has the power to potentially eliminate thousands of jobs and destroy an industry.
The remail industry is driven primarily by subsidiaries of foreign postal interests that operate in a bulk mailing system designed for transnational overseas markets. Still, it is responsible for a not so insignificant number of jobs in Canada, some 2,000 or 3,000 according to some estimates. These jobs are generated from gross annual revenues ranging from $40 million to $80 million, depending on who presents the figures.
At any rate, it is a number that pales compared to the 55,000-plus workers who are employed by Canada Post Corporation, more than 3,800 of them in remote and rural communities employed in rural post offices. These positions are often the only jobs in some villages that are helping people connect across our nation. The value of these jobs goes far beyond the simple wages and benefits. These rural postal workers are envied by those who are seasonal workers in resource communities facing contracting industries and job losses.
Although the minister, in his introduction of the bill, neglected to mention or touch upon the special relationship that rural Canada has to postal service and to rural post offices, we on the Liberal side value that relationship. If the Conservatives are prepared to dismiss and abandon Canada Post's connection, indeed obligation, to rural Canada, Liberals will not stand idly by.
Those 3,800 jobs in rural Canada represent the viability of a people and a culture in Canada becoming increasingly urban, but the minister did not even mention that. He made no reference to the economic weight these jobs carry in rural Canada. He ignored entirely the impact the bill could have on those communities, despite the fact the Conservatives have received ample warning from communities across the country.
He referred scantily, almost dismissively, to the Canada Post strategic review, preferring to simply note that closing rural post outlets was one of the recommendations emanating from it. He would address the others. He did not make the connection between the impact of the bill and the implementation of the recommendations on the viability of Canada Post and its employees.
I would not blame him. His finance minister wants to privatize the corporation and his abilities to guesstimate the economic health of the country and the finances of the government would embarrass any six year old.
As we know, in 1994 the Liberal government imposed a moratorium on the closures of rural post offices. I remember the quote as though it were today, “As long as this Government is in power, no rural or small town post office will close”. We promised at that time not to make any changes to rural service without first undergoing a full and comprehensive consultation with Postal Customer Councils and that has not been accomplished today.
Many Canadians are worried about the true long-term agenda of the Conservatives. Is it to weaken the government and crown corporations slowly, incrementally but determinately, so that eventually mass deregulation and privatization is the only answer?
Weakening Canada Post by opening a profitable area to unfair, unlevel competition is a recipe for the long-term degradation of Canada Post and its continued viability and sustainability.
The bill needs work and further discussion to ensure that it will not lead to the deregulation and demise of rural and remote post delivery. At this time, we are agreeing only so far as to send the bill to committee.
Canada Post Corporation Act
October 9th, 2009 / 10:25 a.m.
André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC
Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the member who just made a speech about maintaining postal services whether she realizes—I am sure it is the same thing in her riding as in mine—that there are a number of concerns about maintaining postal services, especially in connection with the Canadian Postal Service Charter. This charter raises a number of concerns regarding universal yet affordable services for all Canadians. In any case, many communities in my riding have sent me resolutions stating that we should uphold the moratorium on closing post offices, of course, and that we should maintain universal services for everyone.
In my view, Bill C-44 opens the door to the privatization, perhaps only partial, of Canada Post. I would like to ask the member if she is aware of that. I would also like to remind her that in 2005, under her government, the Liberal government, Canada Post lost between $50 million and $80 million a year to remailing companies. I would like to ask her if she has looked at the connection between what happened in 2005 and the bill introduced by the Conservative government.
Canada Post Corporation Act
October 9th, 2009 / 10:30 a.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois today about Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act.
I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois will vote against Bill C-44. This bill is the same as Bill C-14, which was introduced in May 2008. This bill would amend the Canada Post Corporation Act, abolishing Canada Post's exclusive privilege to handle outgoing international mail.
We think that taking away Canada Post's “exclusive privilege” would jeopardize its revenues and have other negative repercussions, such as the reorganization of rural mail delivery and job losses.
As a first step toward deregulating outgoing international mail, the introduction of Bill C-44 erases any doubt about the Conservative government's intention to completely privatize Canada Post.
The Bloc Québécois strongly opposes the privatization of Canada Post to any degree. The crown corporation must remain a public concern in order to maintain universal services and consistent rates throughout Canada and Quebec.
We should take a look at how the situation has evolved. On April 14, 1981, the House of Commons passed the Canada Post Corporation Act to turn the postal service from a department into a crown corporation. For the government of the day, a complete overhaul of the Canadian postal administration had become necessary because of the steady deterioration in the quality of service during the decades preceding the legislation. Serious disputes between the department and its employees, which led to a number of strikes that brought postal service to a standstill, were among the factors that contributed to the decline in the quality of service.
In a context that favoured the organization of public service workers in the 1970s, the postal workers' union waged an intense struggle for better working conditions in an environment that was being transformed by the mechanization and automation of mail processing. Administration of the department was made more complex by factors such as worker demands, a serious annual deficit that climbed to $600 million in 1981, and an increasingly competitive market.
The federal government’s top priority was to give the new postal administration the autonomy required to develop business objectives that would make postal services self sufficient in Canada, and also improve labour relations and service. The new crown corporation was given the “exclusive privilege” of collecting and delivering letters in Canada. The monopoly provides it with a guaranteed source of revenue that allows it to deliver mail to everyone, no matter where they live in a country, at affordable rates. In other words, it allows Canada Post to use the money it makes in high-density areas to provide service in non-profitable low-density areas. This practice is known as cross-subsidization. That is important.
In addition, among the changes that made it possible to achieve these new business objectives were the franchising of postal outlets, the privatization of other services, rate increases, the closure of post offices, especially in rural areas, technology development and use, and the penetration of new markets such as the acquisition of Purolator in 1993. As a result, in 1989 Canada Post made its first profit since 1957.
Today, Canada Post collects, processes and delivers over 11 billion pieces of mail a year throughout Canada, and between Canada and more than 200 postal administrations around the world. It serves approximately 14 million urban and rural addresses in Canada. Canada Post's products and services are sold through a network of some 23,000 retail outlets. It counts itself among the largest corporations in Canada in terms of gross revenue and is the sixth largest employer in Canada.
Canada Post Corporation, which is responsible for traditional postal operations, is the principal component of the Canada Post Group, which also includes Purolator Courier Ltd., epost, Innovapost, Progistix Solutions Inc. and Intelcom Courrier Canada Inc.
The Canada Post Corporation, which handles traditional postal activities, is the main component of the Canada Post Group, as I said earlier. In addition, the Canada Post Group remains profitable today, although its consolidated net profit after tax was $90 million for the year ending December 31, 2008. I would remind the House that the Canada Post Corporation has been subject to federal income tax since 1994. It also pays provincial tax and large corporation tax.
In addition to paying tax to its shareholder, the Canada Post Corporation pays it a dividend. Based on its financial performance in the previous year, Canada Post declared and paid $80 million in dividends to the Government of Canada in 2006. In 2007, it paid $48 million in dividends, and in 2008, $22 million. We can see that, with time, Canada Post is becoming less profitable and paying out less in dividends to the government.
What remailers do is collect bulk mail from business customers in one country and send it to another country with lower postal rates, where the mail is sorted and then remailed to a third country.
For example, a Canadian company that wants to send mail to the United Kingdom can deal with a remailer. The company sends the bulk mail to a post office in another country, where it will be sorted for a fraction of the price, then remailed to the United Kingdom.
Remailers have been working in Canada for over 20 years. In 2006, it was estimated that there were between 5 and 7 remailers in the country. The largest are Spring Global Mail, Key Mail and DHL Global Mail. They use the services of some Canadian industries and do $150 million in business.
It is important to understand the dispute between the Canada Post Corporation and remailers. Canada Post states the following:
For the last 10 to 15 years, several companies, some of which are surrogates of postal administrations abroad, have been collecting lettermail in Canada and bringing it to other countries where it is processed and remailed to other countries. Under section 14 of the Canada Post Corporation Act, Canada Post has the exclusive privilege of collecting, transmitting and delivering letters in Canada.
Canada Post initiated court action against several of these remailers. Through actions and appeals the matter was put before several courts. In all instances, the courts confirmed Canada Post’s interpretation of the Act.
For several years, Canada Post tried to resolve this issue diplomatically via the Universal Postal Union, of which most postal administrations are members, as well as through direct negotiations with violating remailers. When this did not effect compliance with the law, Canada Post reluctantly resorted to litigation.
I emphasize the word “reluctantly” because it is important. The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, on which I sit, brought in Canada Post and the remailers. The first recommendation in our first report indicated that we wanted the jobs in these companies to be retained. That was the goal. It is important since Canada Post told us in its statement that it tried several times, through the Universal Postal Union, to negotiate with these companies.
It is important because in his speech on October 7, 2009, in the House, the Minister of State responsible for Canada Post, among other things, said:
There are two kinds of outboard international remails. [...] First, a piece of mail going to another country can go to a country with a lower regime cost.
...that is one way that it can and would be allowed. This actually goes back to the ratification of the 1999 Beijing congress on the Universal Postal Union. That is one way that it can be done.
There are two methods and one of the methods is legal and that is what everyone has always focused on. When we talk about $150 million worth of business in 2006, that figure has surely gone up since then. It was difficult for us to get the exact figures. When Canada Post says it is losing between $60 million and $80 million, that means that the remailers are still in business.
With that in mind, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, responsible for examining crown corporations, looked at this issue. Our recommendation pointed out that since one way of operating is allowed by law, there is no need to change the law to allow these businesses to continue remailing under international agreements. Canada Post used the international platform and went to arbitration through the Universal Postal Union.
The Conservatives have not understood one thing: private corporations have a bad habit of not being all about service. They are there above all to make money. In recent years, they have launched huge operations with major public institutions such as universities and Quebec CEGEPs, by signing contracts with these universities. They were in the process of taking over Canada Post's market piece by piece.
I understand the decision of the President and board of directors of Canada Post. At some point they decided that enough was enough. Under the law, they have the right to do certain things—I read to the House the text delivered on October 7 by the minister responsible—but there are other things that they do not have the right to do and they have been told to stop. When I met with these companies' lobbyists, I told them to stop always wanting to expand. They are targeting Canada Post revenues, leading to their decline. What does that mean? It means that the government is considering privatization. The president of Canada Post, Moya Green, was hired at the time by the Liberals. We cannot ignore the fact that the president's stated goal, which is now gaining increasing support from the Conservatives, was to make Canada Post attractive for privatization.
That is clearly the goal, despite what many departmental documents say. An election is on the horizon, and they do not want to scare people. It is clear when we see the work that was assigned by the former minister, the member for Pontiac. He wanted a report that would open a crack in the exclusive privilege. In fact, by attacking the exclusive privilege and allowing companies to collect mail and send it overseas, the Conservatives are now opening up that crack. This will probably permit companies to collect all the mail from a major organization and process it abroad—and maybe even send it back here. Once the exclusive privilege has been breached and a company can take mail to be processed abroad, that does not mean that no letters will come back. What will happen then? It will end up before the courts. Canada Post will come in second, and will be forced to prove that the mail that was collected was intended for us, and that will not be easy.
That is what the Conservatives want. They want to open a crack in the exclusive privilege. Canada Post's profits are dwindling, but what matters to us, to Bloc Québécois members, is that services must be maintained throughout Quebec at the same rate. That is our objective. We know that the hidden agenda of the Conservatives is to open things up to competition. Once again, they are making speeches and haranguing us to tell us to open up to competition.
Rural areas in Quebec will never be able to compete with urban areas. How far will the Conservatives' need for competition go? I think it will never end, no matter what they may tell us today.
They released their latest report because there was a threat of election. They decided to sweep some of their ideas under the rug to hide them. We are not fooled. We hear them, we are listening. I listen to the minister's colleagues in committee. We know that they want privatization.
We will always be there to prevent privatization, especially when Canada Post services are currently under attack.
The government's report even makes it possible for services to be provided in a different way once postmasters retire.
The government sees it like this: they can close post offices and provide services at postal outlets, which are often located in shops or convenience stores.
My colleague from Drummond went through a difficult situation this week. What are Canada Post and the Conservative government doing to obtain the public's consent? They offer more services to a community. The postmaster retires. They could replace him, but what they really want to do is contract the services out to a private outlet located in a shop that is open for longer hours than the post office.
However, what happened with my colleague from Drummond was that it came to light that a contract had been signed with a convenience store owner, and the contract was due to expire in 2010. Then Canada Post decided to impose new advertising standards. Lacking the means to do what the crown corporation wanted him to do, the operator could no longer provide the service. Canada Post therefore closed that outlet and opened another four or five kilometres away, and then some 5,000 people had to drive their cars to pick up their mail. That is what happened.
Clearly, Moya Greene, the corporation's president, will have achieved her objective. She wants to close service centres, because she thinks there are too many and they are too expensive. Of course people will have to travel to get their mail and that is what we will do. They are choosing to do something indirectly that they refuse to openly admit. The fact that the Conservatives are supporting Canada Post's actions just shows their hypocrisy.
Bill C-44 is therefore a way to create a crack in Canada Post's exclusive privilege of collecting the mail. There is a reason I gave a little background information, because that exclusive privilege was granted to Canada Post. Before becoming a crown corporation, with the government as its major shareholder, it reported directly to the government. Now it is a crown corporation. As I said earlier, it pays federal and provincial income tax, as well as corporate income tax. It has a board of directors and acts more or less autonomously. It would not take much to be able to privatize it.
Of course as long as it is generating income for the government, things are fine. However, the problem is that the Conservative government is beginning to realize that the way things are going, profits will continue to dwindle. So naturally, there is tremendous temptation. The temptation to privatize began with the Liberals and continues with the Conservatives. Of course, as soon as a private corporation takes over, it will be like what happened with Air Canada. Since Air Canada's privatization, no one can say that the service has remained the same throughout Canada as it was when it was the government's responsibility or when it was a crown corporation. They want us to forget that.
When it comes to service in French, we all know that Air Canada receives more complaints than any other. It is legally obliged to provide service in both official languages. Yet that company is the subject of the greatest number of complaints to the Commissioner of Official Languages, because it does not provide the service. That is a fact.
As soon as Canada Post is privatized, there will be fewer services in rural areas, and the Bloc Québécois will never be a party to this creeping privatization. What the government is doing is opening up a crack in Canada Post's exclusive privilege, and it will be the beginning of the end. The end, in our opinion, is the privatization of the corporation, which is clearly not acceptable. As soon as it is privatized, service in rural areas will not be as good as in urban areas. Who knows, one day there could well be two sets of postal rates: lower rates for urban areas and higher rates for rural areas. We have to nip this in the bud.
Canada Post Corporation Act
October 7th, 2009 / 5:05 p.m.
Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB
moved that Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to share my thoughts with regard to this legislation. The Canada Post Corporation Act needs to be amended. It is not the first time it has been tried. We have tried to bring this forward previously. I am excited about bringing this forward because the legislation will give the official opposition an opportunity to stand and support us as a government. We look forward to that because I know it actually will happen.
The members have encouraged me to bring forward the legislation because they see it as good thing. It is the second time it has been introduced. It died last fall, so we are reintroducing it now. It is a very simple legislation, which I will describe for the House so we understand full well what will happen.
It would amend the Canada Post Corporation Act, which we need to do because it is the only way we can change the legislation. It has gone to court. The courts did not rule on whether they agree with outboard or international mailing. What they did was interpret the act as saying that Canada Post had the exclusive right to outboard and international mailing.
The legislation would make outboard international remailing legal, which in the law today is the exclusive privilege of Canada Post. The industry is worth millions of dollars and employs thousands of Canadians right now. Those individuals need to know that in Canada we agree with competition. We agree that this exclusive privilege is not in the best interests of the country. Canada Post would perhaps argue the other way.
Things have changed over a number of years. I would like to explain why it is not needed at this time. This is not unique to Canada. It has changed in Europe. Most of Europe's international remailers have the opportunity to exercise international remailing. It has also changed in the United States. When one sees exactly what has happened internationally, we are just trying to catch up with other countries.
There are two kinds of outboard international remails. We need to describe those so members who will vote on the legislation understand the two ways that it can happen.
First, a piece of mail going to another country can go to a country with a lower regime cost. Bulk pieces of mail will go to foreign developing countries, such as Jamaica, that have a cheaper rate because of their costs of doing business in those areas. Then the mail moves on to a third country where the mail is actually distributed. It is not exercised that way as often, but that is one way that it can and would be allowed. This actually goes back to the ratification of the 1999 Beijing congress on the Universal Postal Union. That is one way that it can be done.
The other way, which is the way more commonly done in Canada, is when an outboard international remail occurs with remailers that collect the outboard international mail from their consumers. Usually it is sorted and bagged by a country of destination and then directly deposited in that foreign country.
That is most likely what would happen. It is most common with us because of our proximity to the United States. These bags are taken to the United States and distributed domestically. Domestic rates are always much cheaper than international rates and that is the reality of the situation. With the way the act is written and the way that the monopoly is given to Canada Post, that is illegal in the country.
It is important that we stay competitive with the United States. We do a tremendous amount of business with our neighbour. I do not know of two other countries that are more closely connected by business, by heritage, by relationships than the United States and Canada.
I have had the privilege of serving as the chair of the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Association over the last two years. I work closely with both the U.S. Congress and the Senate. The United States is a great friend and a great ally on many fronts. It is important for us to ensure that we are not at a disadvantage when we do business across the border. We are in the same marketplace and it is important that we understand that.
The world is changing. Eighty-five per cent of our exports used to go to the United States. That figure went down to about 75% and then 70%. Last year it was 66%. We are seeing a trend where our exports are not going directly to the United States and that is because we are capitalizing on international markets.
That is why this legislation is so important. It would allow us to have a competitive edge internationally. One thing that the economic slowdown has shown us is how interconnected we are with the rest of the world and how we have to compete. The only way Canada will really win is by competing and by being better, smarter, stronger than our international competitors. That will give Canadians a competitive edge.
Becoming protectionist would be a recipe for disaster. That promotes lack of productivity not better productivity. As we move forward in the 21st century, only by creating better productivity will Canada reach its full potential.
Canada is a wonderful country. Our population is only 33 million. With the amount of natural resources we have per capita, I know of no other country that can compete with us. If our legislation is right, if our ability to compete internationally is right, we will out-compete any country in the world. Now it is important to make the right investments.
I listened to the opposition speaker before me talk about how, as a government, we have lessened the opportunity for Canadians by going into debt. It is important to understand that it was our government that paid down $40 billion of debt. It is important for that individual to understand that in the fall of 2007 we gave back $200 billion in taxes by dropping the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%. We also gave Canadians a choice in child care. We provided them with $100 for every child under the age of six. Our government dropped corporate tax, personal tax, small business tax, giving Canadians a competitive edge. At the end of five years, Canada will have the most competitive G7 tax regime of any of our major competitors.
That is a competitive edge. That is the greatest stimulus that we could provide for our country. Our economic action plan provides a wonderful stimulus of $12 billion. It was wonderful to do that.
We are capitalizing on the opportunity to use public dollars in a competitive way because of the bidding process that is going on.
I am directly responsible for the stimulus package going into Alberta and Saskatchewan. In Alberta competitive bidding is working extremely well. Projects that were projected to cost $9 million are coming in at $6 million. A project for an overpass that was projected to cost $300 million came in at $168 million. We are using taxpayer dollars to the advantage of Canadians.
It is important not only to get taxpayer dollars working to create jobs now and in a competitive way, but it is also important that we build the infrastructure that allows us to compete internationally in the 21st century. I am talking about solid water and sewer projects, good roads, good facilities that will allow us that competitive edge as we go forward.
Why am I bringing that into a speech on legislation on Canada Post? We have to understand what this legislation would allow us to do. It would allow us to push for productivity in the long run. It does not take away the rights of Canada Post to enter into this business, but it does not give it an exclusive right.
There is a competitive opportunity for all people to push Canada Post into better productivity, as well as to allow these international remailers who employ thousands of people, thousands of Canadians the opportunity to do it in a legal way.
A lot has changed in the last few years. Actually since 1986, profound changes have happened. Up until then the remailing industry was very small, but that is when the United States decided that they had to compete as well. At that time the United States actually handled half of the world's volume of mail. They decided that they would allow international remailers to start, and the industry began to grow in leaps and bounds, and that is what has happened over a number of years.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the European Union sought a consolidation of the market into a larger one, and the pan-European market allowed this to happen in Europe as well.
We are seeing what has happened in Europe and what has happened in the United States. This piece of legislation would allow us to be able to catch up and get into this in a great way.
I want to talk a little bit about how this came about and why we are introducing it. Canada Post is one of the Crown corporations under my watch. There was a panel struck that did a review of Canada Post and what should or should not happen in order to be able to revitalize it and put Canada Post in a very positive light in the 21st century.
There were 60 recommendations, many of which we are following through on. One is that they are recommending we remove the exclusive privilege of Canada Post in international mail and remailers. This is something that comes from a very close study.
Some people may argue that we have rushed on this piece of legislation. This group of three who are very astute and who have worked very hard for over a year heard from thousands and thousands of Canadians on the recommendations for Canada Post. This is very well researched, well thought out and very well supported with regard to where we are going with this piece of legislation.
CUPW, the Canada Post union, does not really like this, but it is actually going to be good for them. It allows them to actually compete. It allows them to be able to test themselves, as to whether they actually can be competitive as they move forward with regard to this.
We are not compromising Canada Post's universality in Canada. We want Canada Post. We demand Canada Post. In fact we have a charter and will have a contractual arrangement between the people of Canada and Canada Post that will insist they deliver mail in an appropriate time period from one side of this country to another.
We know they have committed to local delivery within two days, regional delivery within three days, and national delivery within four days. That is a standard that is set out in the charter that we announced earlier, in mid-September, between our government and Canada Post on behalf of the people of Canada.
No one needs to worry that Canada Post is going anywhere on their mandate or that we are going to compromise in any way the Canada Post Corporation Act. This is the only change that we are looking at or are considering.
I am looking forward to the support of members from all parties in this House because this is what will hold us in good stead as we move forward, long after this vote is taken, because it will allow for many Canadians to be employed; it will allow for competition and it will allow us to be able to enter the world in a way that we can be proud of as Canadians because we will compete with anyone, given the right tools. This allows us the tools to do that.
With that, I would entertain any questions the House might have with regard to this piece of legislation.