House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was autism.

Topics

The House resumed from October 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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10:05 a.m.

Liberal

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.

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10:20 a.m.

Yellowhead
Alberta

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Minister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, I want to clarify some of the things my hon. colleague from Mississauga, who comes from an urban setting, has suggested about rural delivery.

My riding is 100% rural. As the minister in charge of Canada Post, I am very proud to ensure that the people of Canada and the House understand that a moratorium on rural post offices is maintained. She needs to understand that.

She is new to the portfolio and perhaps does not understand what we did recently with the Canadian Postal Service Charter. It is the first time in the history of the country that we have locked in an agreement between Canada Post and the people of Canada, ensuring that the service delivered by Canada Post is set out in a charter, which will be analyzed and reported on a yearly basis and reviewed every five years. It is interesting that she would not mention that it locks in service for rural delivery across the country, in a specific and very clear way.

It is amazing she would suggest that the legislation, which does not look after mail in Canada but mail outboard to international countries, would compromise any rural jobs. I see none of that taking place. Absolutely it is a massive leap.

Perhaps she is new to the portfolio. Perhaps she does not understand. Perhaps she has no idea. However, I want to ask her one question because she was not clear on her position on the bill.

Is she supporting the bill?

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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have indicated to the minister that we will allow the bill to go to committee for considerations.

I fully understand the Canadian Postal Service Charter and the implications of it. While I am a newly appointed critic, I have been completely briefed on the issues. I have analyzed the file and I have spoken to the former critics. It is my responsibility to raise questions and concerns over issues that are not in the public interest.

What is not in the public interest is the deregulation of this industry. Dismantling our crown corporations and other public institutions, our crown jewels, is not in the public interest. It will lead, and we know this, to two standards of service, one for rural and one for urban. It will lead to reduced service, increased prices and job losses in communities that can least afford it.

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10:25 a.m.

Bloc

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.

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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have many concerns with the bill. There are many issues that need further consideration.

Why has the government not acted sooner? It has certainly had ample time to help resolve this issue. It had favourable support from all critics on all sides of the House. It sought accommodation with stakeholders. Why has the government waited so long? Why has it waited until today?

The Supreme Court decision came a number of years ago, in 2004. The strategic review was last December. Why has the government waited so long to take advantage of the goodwill in the House among our colleagues to seek a favourable resolution on this vital issue that affects all Canadians? It could lead to the deregulation of industries. It could lead to privatization. As we know, it certainly will lead to increased costs and a compromise of service in remote and rural communities, communities that a Liberal government is committed to serving.

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10:25 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, much has been said this morning about the exclusive privilege that we are trying to protect for the Canada Post Corporation. The member has given some eloquent comments about the concerns with respect to the bill.

It seems to me, though, what is most important is the link between that exclusive privilege and the protection of decent paying jobs in our communities.

The member, when asked by the Minister of State if she would vote for or against the bill. said that the Liberals would support it for now and see if they could improve it, but in the end she had no idea what the final position would be, which under most circumstances is fair enough. We often try to improve bills in the House. However, how do we improve on deregulation when we know it inevitably leads to privatization? We cannot suggest that if we improve the bill, it will make things better. We will have good deregulation as opposed to bad privatization.

It seems the member is trying to have it both ways. It is a bit like being a little bit pregnant, frankly.

I will follow up on the question asked earlier by the Minister of State. Could we get a categorical yes or no? Is the member in favour of deregulating Canada Post? Is she aware that it will lead to privatization? Does the member support that agenda?

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been unequivocal that we do not support deregulation or privatization of any variety.

What the government is attempting to do is open up a lucrative market, while at the same time undermining another one. This is what the legislation will witness, the deregulation of a natural monopoly, an erosion of service, an increase in costs and an increase in job losses.

Our crown corporations are mandated through a public policy agenda to provide service in remote and rural areas that would otherwise be unaffordable and too costly for the private sector to deliver. That is why Canada Post is a monopoly. We support it and we do not support deregulation or privatization.

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has outlined how important Canada Post is, not only to urbanites but to rural communities and how the previous Liberal government had protected it.

Canada Post is competitive. It provides excellent service. It covers coast to coast to coast. Why is the government introducing a bad bill, which is on a slippery slope to privatization of Canada Post? What is the government's ideological agenda?

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is quite obvious what the government is doing. It is opening the door to deregulation of industries, our crown corporations and our crown jewels and will inevitably lead to spinoffs, sell-offs and privatization.

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10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville said that she had been well briefed, had studied the bill and had a thorough understanding of it. What is strange is how she has missed a very important recommendation of the advisory panel, which says that the advisory panel recommends neither a general deregulation of the postal market, nor a reduction of the existing level of Canada Post's exclusive privilege, save for one segment, which is the remailing sector.

This has nothing to do with reduced postal service to rural Canada or to the rest of Canada. This is only to correct a part of the legislation that, if not corrected, will put many remailing companies out of business and hundreds and thousands of people out of work.

The member is starting to sound like NDP members, who sit up all night trying to dream up bad news scenarios to talk about in the House. It is not factual. The member should get her facts straight.

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am completely aware of the recommendations of the report are and I am very aware that the legislation will lead to deregulation and possibly privatization.

We have lost confidence in the government. We have lost the trust and faith in the government. It is a government that said it would not raise taxes. What has it done? It is about to impose a $13 billion payroll tax on small businesses, businesses that we need to help rebuild the economy and our nation.

It said that it would run a surplus. What has it done? It announced a $34 billion deficit, which grew to a $50 billion deficit and today is a $56 billion deficit. We cannot count on a government that cannot count.

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10:30 a.m.

Bloc

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
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Yellowhead
Alberta

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Minister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is suggesting that the privatization is sort of the thin edge of the wedge.

If that is indeed what he thinks, then why are the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP not pushing us hard to bring in a charter?

That was an initiative brought in by this government. The charter locks in stone that that will never happen. The idea of Canada Post going into privatization is absolutely absurd. It has a universal, effective, efficient system. It actually has the number one brand name in Canada, ahead of Tim Hortons, ahead of Canadian Tire, as deemed last year. It is a great corporation, and it is going to stay that way.

This bill does not do any of what is being suggested by the opposition. It takes absolutely nothing away from Canada Post. All it does is allow for competition on outbound, international mail. That is all it does. It does not compromise one little bit any mail that is delivered in Canada.

We have to understand that this is a very small tweaking of a piece of legislation, the Canada Post Corporation Act. It is not going to lead to anything other than a more efficient, effective operation in Canada, as well as to making sure that we retain jobs for the international remailers. It will mean more jobs in Canada, more money in Canada, and a greater ability to compete as a nation.

Why is the Bloc not pushing us to put in a charter that locks in stone the very things the member is suggesting we would try to attempt to privatize or to move Canada Post into being?

Canada Post Corporation Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would just ask the minister to look at the history of Canada Post. That is why I gave some background earlier, because Canada Post was given the exclusive privilege so that it could be profitable. That was the goal. He says that this is a little bill, and it is true, but it is probably the most damaging little bill. It says this:

Section 15 of the Canada Post Corporation Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (2):

(3) The exclusive privilege referred to in subsection 14(1) does not apply to letters intended for delivery to an addressee outside Canada.

I have said and I will say again that this is the beginning of the end of Canada Post's exclusive privilege. That is what the Conservatives want. I gave him the example, because now remailers will be able to send lettermail abroad. How do we know they will not collect all an institution's mail, even mail that could end up back here in Canada? It will be up to Canada Post to prove that this mail was sent from Canada and wound up back here.

That is the hypocritical Conservative way of achieving their ends without saying so out loud. The minister knows it full well. The companies know it full well because, in committee, Canada Post was asked not to go further or the companies would want to take over the entire market. Obviously the remailers do not hesitate to keep going. They want even more of the market.