House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugee.

Topics

Board of Internal Economy

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I have the honour to inform the House that for the purposes and under the provisions of Article 50 of the Parliament of Canada Act the following members have been appointed members of the Board of Internal Economy, namely: Mr. Cullen, member for the electoral district of Skeena—Bulkley Valley in place of Mr. Comartin, member for the electoral district of Windsor—Tecumseh; Ms. Turmel, member for the electoral district of Hull—Aylmer in place of Ms. Charlton, member for the electoral district of Hamilton Mountain.

Canada Post Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB

moved that Bill C-321, An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act (library materials), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be before the House again to introduce a bill that would amend the Canada Post Corporation Act dealing with library materials.

As many members here know, this is the fourth attempt to get this legislation through the House. We have had great support from members across the way and I am looking forward to that same support today.

Historically, Canada Post has allowed libraries to move books between libraries to constituents at a reduced postal rate. That has been a handshake agreement for many years. In the last several years, Canada Post, obviously with pressure on it to increase revenues, has seen this as one of the areas where it might make a change and revert back to the full retail price, which, in my estimation, would devastate our small rural libraries.

The bill would solidify that reduced rate and protect libraries from any other rate increases without a debate in the House to verify how much and when it should take place.

I have said all along that I am not trying to handcuff Canada Post. I feel that it is important that it not only recognize what a great service this is to the communities that take advantage of it but also that many small communities could not afford to take the hit if they were to go to full retail prices overnight.

My bill also proposes some adjustments to the definition of library materials. In years gone by, a book was a book and libraries transferred books back and forth on a regular basis. My bill would expand the definition and over time this would allow Canada Post to reduce its costs in the sense that it will be shipping lighter materials, and obviously weight plays a big role in the cost. My bill would expand the definition from books to magazines to records to CDs to CD-ROMs to audio cassettes to video cassettes to DVDs and to other audiovisual material.

Having toured a lot of libraries across Canada, I have seen many of them moving into the electronic age. Their books are being transcribed electronically and, over time, I suspect that this will be the mode. Perhaps the long range view is that rate will disappear or at least stay the same for many years to come.

There are some people in Canada who do not have access to libraries either because of where they live, of a disability or for some other reason. Giving people the ability to access a libraries across Canada brings the world to them. This bill would benefit a lot of Canadians. I am told that about one million Canadians use this service directly on a regular basis and up to three million people use it on an occasional basis over a year. It is important that everyone in Canada has access to a library's resources. I see it that way and I see it as a way for libraries to share material.

I will give the House one instance that brought this to my attention. I have a small community library in my riding. It was brought to my attention during a campaign that this rate increase may happen. The annual cost to the library was about $1,800 and to see the rate change overnight would probably cost $15,000 to $18,000, which the library cannot afford. My bill would fix the rate.

I appreciate the good work that Canada Post does in providing this service. I encourage libraries to make people aware of the service and I encourage people to access a library. I travelled to Alberta last week and the library there told me that this was a good way to build traffic because people do need to go in.

I am not sure I started the expression but I have used it many times. Many years ago, if a community had an elevator it was a thriving community. However, we know what has happened in the past several years, sadly, but if we have a library, maybe it will make up the difference. That is the gist of what I am trying to do.

I thank my colleagues on all sides of the House. I have received tremendous support so far. The last time I introduced the bill, it made it to first reading in the Senate. However, due to changes in the electoral environment I need to start again, which I am prepared to do.

I thank all the people who have written letters and have had libraries write letters of encouragement. I look forward to debate on this. I appreciate this opportunity and I look forward to the bill going forward.

Canada Post Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I stand in the House today to talk about Bill C-321. I salute the member for Brandon—Souris for his work on this bill and for the many years that he has tried to pass the bill through the House. I would like to underline that I will miss his chairmanship now that I am no longer on the same committee. I was vice-chair of the committee on which he is chair. I have always found him to be a very fair member and that his ideas are very practical and pragmatic. He takes a balanced approach to public administration. I know he has tried to pass this bill in the House many times. Therefore, it gives me pleasure to say that our party will be supporting this bill at second reading.

We will be supporting this bill at second reading because it is a practical proposition. We believe that rural communities are dependent on this postal rate. In order to give access to everyone across Canada and fill the gap between the rural and the urban, we need measures like this so that people in rural communities are not deprived of library materials. We believe this bill would allow Canadians to get the library materials they need and would allow Canada Post to do it at a reduced rate.

Usually from the government side we see a desire to privatize public services such as Canada Post. We often hear rhetoric about how the government should not get involved with these arm's-length corporations. We are glad that the government is not taking that approach with this bill. We believe that government does have a role to play and that it can make practical propositions to benefit all Canadians. A crown corporation does not necessarily need to be privatized in order to achieve those aims. Therefore, we are delighted with the fact that members on the government side are willing to make propositions that make sense and are pragmatic.

The one provision I would like to see explored at committee is the five year time limit for the first definition of library materials. In other words, the definition would be decided In five years' time and after that it would be ten years' time.

We never know the pace of technological change. Ten years ago we did not have resources such as YouTube. Then, from 1992 to 2002, technological change went crazy. Therefore, we have put a question mark on the period for the review of library materials just because the pace of technology change in the past 20 years has been fairly accelerated and we would not want libraries to lose out on this reduced rate just because the review period is too long.

Other than that, we believe the bill, as it is, with some minor discussions at committee, will probably pass quite quickly. We do not see any roadblocks. I am sure the member for Brandon—Souris is quite happy that this bill will finally see royal assent.

As a member of this place, I am sure it is a great pleasure to see a bill that comes from one's heart make it through all of the stages of legislation and finally gets passed. That is a great achievement and the member for Brandon—Souris can be proud of that achievement. We salute him.

Other than the things I have mentioned, which perhaps need to be discussed at committee, we plan on supporting the bill.

Canada Post Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

April 23rd, 2012 / 11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to echo the compliment paid by the hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges to the hon. member for Brandon—Souris with respect to the value of this bill. The latter must have Irish blood, because he certainly is tenacious. This is the fifth time he has introduced this bill. I find that interesting.

More interesting still is his bill, which the Liberal Party of Canada is very pleased to support. The House passed it during the previous Parliament. I believe the bill made it all the way to the Senate. The House passed it unanimously.

This bill is important for a number of reasons. On behalf of my party, I would like to salute Canada Post workers for their extraordinary work.

I think that even if they were mistreated by the current government, we have to make sure that we salute them for the amazing job they do and their contribution. I would also like to salute the member for Brandon—Souris, whose private member's bill sends a clear note to the government that it has a role to play in this crown corporation.

The name of the game, as they say, is access to literacy and making sure that all people, whether they live in rural, urban or suburban communities, are treated like first-class citizens.

Without a doubt, this bill will ensure that all Canadians, regardless of where they live, have access. It makes sense to establish a library book rate to help people become better citizens and fight ignorance and illiteracy.

My party and I have no choice but to vote for this bill.

The questions that my NDP colleague raised are valid. Technology is changing extremely quickly, and that is why this bill will really emphasize access to those kinds of documents. This is about audiovisual materials, not just books. Books come in many guises now, including paper and electronic versions. We have to take that into account, but we should not get bogged down in the details. This bill deserves our support because Canadians need it.

I believe that there were over 713,000 packages sent, each containing one or two books. The Canadian Library Association also supports this bill.

I just want to say that we are very happy to support this bill. Nevertheless, we will ask questions. The chair of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities bombards us with questions from time to time. Now it is our turn, but this bill has our enthusiastic support all the same.

Canada Post Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, one of the reasons that I am proud to serve as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport is the essential nature of transportation in a country with a geography such as ours.

If we consider the facts of our country, the longest distance north to south on land is 4.6 thousand kilometres from Cape Columbia on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut to Middle Island in Lake Erie, Ontario. The longest distance east to west is 5.5 thousand kilometres from Cape Spear in Newfoundland and Labrador to the Yukon territory at the Alaska boundary. Despite this fact, we have the 39th biggest population in the world, meaning we have one of the less populated lands, despite our enormous geographic breadth.

In short, Canada has one of the lowest population densities in the world. That means that we have enormous challenges moving people and things to their destinations. One of the things that matters most is books and other reading materials that come in the form of magazine publications, journals and specialized articles that are very hard for some people to get other than at their local libraries. This bill seeks to address that challenge.

Before I discuss how it does that, I would like to talk a bit about the changing nature of the marketplace of cultural products. I have been reading a book called The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson. He talks about how, not so long ago, sales of music products, for example, were overwhelmingly concentrated in the top 20 or top 100 artists or albums. That was because of something called shelf space. Music stores had only so much shelf space that they could offer to musicians. As a result, they had to dedicate that shelf space to those products that sold at the highest volumes. That meant that promising artists who had a dispersed following with a moderate but no less significant demand would not even get into music stores. They could not get shelf space. As a result, it was always the top 20 and top 100 that had most of the sales.

Something interesting happened with the growth of the digital world, which was infinite shelf space. No longer was physical space required to store the books, cassettes, CDs or records, as used to be required in the pre-digital era. Now there is literally infinite shelf space at our fingertips as we sit in front of our personal computers, laptops, iPads or any other devices that connect to the Internet. This means two things: one, it eliminates the barriers of transportation that afflicted a vast country such as ours; two, specialized artists, which is to say people who write or produce music in areas for which there is a small niche demand, can now have an easier time reaching their market because they do not need to secure shelf space at major retailers. This is true for music and books, and it is an exciting development in the democratization of literature and reading.

People who have unique interests and live in remote communities will not have to travel long distances or wait long periods of time for books to be delivered to them. In fact, they can order them online as long as they have some sort of Internet connection, which increasingly they do.

In 2007, 65% of rural Canadians used the Internet, compared with 76% of urban Canadians; by the end of 2009, 84% of rural households had access to broadband, compared with 100% of urban households. Less than 80% of rural households in the territories, Newfoundland, Quebec and British Columbia had access to broadband. Nearly 100% of rural households in P.E.I., New Brunswick and Nova Scotia had access to broadband.

To summarize all of these statistics, what is most interesting is that in a two-year period, from 2007 to 2009, we saw Canada's rural communities go from two-thirds with broadband access to three-quarters. That trajectory is very promising. It means not only the democratization of the Internet but also increased digital access to literature and other cultural products.

This is very positive. What we need to do as a government is more or less stay out of the way and allow, in a low-tax, free-trade, limited regulatory environment, the marketplace to provide this great explosion of digital opportunities to the Canadian people.

There remains a gap, however. That is the gap that my hon. colleague and chairman of the transport committee is seeking to address in moving this private member's bill. We all congratulate him for doing that.

His bill would allow Canada Post to continue to take advantage of its enormous economies of scale in delivering things from one place to another. One very important thing, as I said earlier, is literature: publications, books and other materials. There are certain people who are either disabled, do not have the financial means or are, for whatever reasons, suffering from an inability to access written materials; this bill would help them to do just that.

By taking advantage of the economies of scale of this vast crown corporation, which already delivers vast amounts of mail across the country, we can provide a low-cost opportunity for these Canadians who would otherwise be excluded from publications that interest them to have access to those publications. It is in that spirit that we support this bill.

At the same time, we celebrate the fact that the free enterprise economy is delivering to Canadians of all incomes, of all walks of life, in all geographies, access to knowledge that was not even contemplated only a couple of decades ago. To call the transformation in communications technology that we witnessed in the last quarter century “revolutionary” would be an understatement. It is a tribute to the enormous power of free enterprise economics that this commerce has brought us these new tools that make it possible for people of limited means to have extraordinary access to knowledge and to thereby have incredible upward mobility in our economy.

Every day that I wake up, I celebrate the fact that I was born in a free country with a largely free economy, a country that is now the sixth-freest economy in the world, four spots ahead of the United States of America. This government made its decision to reduce the cost of the state by $5 billion over the next three years, to expand free trade, eliminate excessive regulation and keep taxes low. We are building upon that Canadian tradition of free enterprise. That is the source, the fundamental source, of our prosperity; we celebrate it and we build upon it.

Canada Post Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-321.

As indicated by my hon. colleague from Vaudreuil-Soulanges and all members on both sides of the House who have spoken on this issue, the NDP will gladly support this bill, which the House has been trying to pass for the past few session and which, for various reasons, has never passed third reading to receive royal assent.

I would like to take this opportunity here today to address a few issues related to this bill. These issues are not necessarily part of today's debate, but I think they are worth pointing out.

As hon. members probably know, the postal subsidy program has existed since the 19th century, but it was modified in 1939 specifically to include the shipment of library books. I mention library books because that is probably one area that will have to be revisited in committee, in order to increase the bill's scope.

We must not forget that in the 1990s, the program was cut by 50%. I am sure we all recall the cuts made by the Liberal government of the day, including the social program review, in particular. So, funding to this program was cut by 50% and the eligibility criteria had to be tightened considerably in order to promote Canadian owned and controlled subscriber-paid publications.

However, in March 1996, the legality of the postal subsidy was challenged before the WTO, which revived the whole issue of cultural exclusion in international trade relationships. Indeed, Canada and especially Quebec have always defended the notion that the cultural industry—books, periodicals, magazines, newspapers, movies, DVDs, music—and, to some extent, broadcasting express and reflect ideas, opinions, values and traditions, and as a result, contribute to the structure and identity of a community, a population or a nation.

Canada had to comply with the terms and conditions of the GATT agreements in 1998. The program's preferential postal rates were converted into direct subsidies through separate accounts at Canada Post for each registered title. The costs related to these rates therefore had to be absorbed by the crown corporation. That decision likely contributed to putting the nail in the coffin for this program, which officially stopped being a government program in 2005. However, thanks to pressure from libraries and industry organizations, Canada Post has granted an extension of the rates every year since 2005.

Since that time, the rates have never increased, which is a credit to Canada Post. However, that is about to change, since Canada Post announced for the latest year of the program—this year—a 5% increase to the library book rate, effective January 16, 2012.

For example, sending a package that weighs just over two pounds at the library book rate currently costs 92¢. That amount increased to 97¢ in January 2012. Without the library book rate, the same service of sending and returning a book would cost $18 through a post office. There are truly very significant savings when it comes to library books and they benefit the entire Canadian library network, whether we are talking about public libraries or university libraries.

In general, I believe that this shows the importance of being able to vote for a bill such as the one introduced by my colleague from Brandon—Souris. However, the library book rate program is scheduled to end on December 31, 2012, after being renewed for more than five years. For almost 30 years, and especially since the 2008 Canada Post strategic review, the corporation has been trying to reinvent itself, sometimes even abandoning the fundamental principle of universal and accessible postal services. Thus, it is a pleasant surprise that this program is still in place.

In defence of this crown corporation, I have to agree that it is not just up to Canada Post to cover the cost of this program to promote culture and knowledge. Hence the Canadian Library Association, as well as most stakeholders, recommended that the federal government ensure the continuation of the program. However, stakeholders do not agree on whether the program is part of the universal service obligation—the USO—that Canada Post has toward Canadians. The strategic review advisory panel's conclusion was as follows:

As a matter of principle, Canada Post should not be required to subsidize or otherwise pay for those public policy objectives that are not an explicit part of the USO. If a government department or agency proposes public policy activities like the ones above, the government should open the service to a competitive bidding process on a contract basis where such options exist.

To quote further from the advisory panel carrying out the strategic review of Canada Post:

While Canada Post as provider of postal services to all Canadians has been delivering publications since before Confederation, it does not have the mandate to promote Canadian culture by subsidizing postal rates for Canadian publications. That is the responsibility of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

One thing is clear: if Canada Post does not receive assistance, it will end this program, be it in 2013 or at some other time.

The crown corporation estimates that in 2007 alone, it lost $6 million because of this program. On the other hand, if the library book rate is raised or eliminated, libraries could pay postage fees that are up to 24 times higher, which would significantly curtail our access to information, knowledge and library services.

In Quebec alone, some 800 small public libraries use Canada Post's library book rate. In 2010 alone, over 115,000 interlibrary loans were made. A lot is at stake for them.

Public libraries are gateways to knowledge. That is why high-profile organizations like UNESCO promote them. In fact, UNESCO adopted the UNESCO Public Library Manifesto in 1995 in collaboration with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions to guide the creation and evolution of public libraries around the world.

The manifesto states that public libraries are a living force and a natural ally for education, culture and information. It also says that libraries are an essential agent for the fostering of civic-mindedness and peace because certain values “can only be attained through the ability of well-informed citizens to exercise their democratic rights and to play an active role in society. Constructive participation and the development of democracy depend on satisfactory education as well as on free and unlimited access to knowledge, thought, culture and information.”

In that sense, government support is key, if not crucial, to encouraging and promoting these local institutions, which open doors and minds to knowledge and possibilities.

I would like to add that this bill and the difference it could make are of particular concern to me given that I represent a riding that is largely rural and that depends on this kind of program so that libraries that would normally have a hard time accessing many books and library materials would be able to access them without necessarily blowing their budget. In rural settings, it is often difficult to properly fund organizations that are key to the vitality of several municipalities, because of the lack of resources. Interlibrary loans are an essential tool in sharing these costs in a uniform manner so they can all benefit.

If the book subsidy program currently offered by Canada Post as part of this interlibrary loan program were eliminated, libraries in small municipalities would suffer first and foremost.

I would like to take this opportunity to respond to what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport said about the issue of the availability of information. He was quite right to mention that the free market in information and the development of new technology have increased knowledge through various media such as the iPad, the Internet and so on. However, this is not all that different from what bookstores were offering in terms of library materials. One can easily go and buy a book at a library, just as one can buy access to documentation online for iPads and for other devices.

In that sense, this provides part of the equation. Public libraries represent opportunities for those who cannot afford to buy books and documents, so they can consult them for free, which democratizes information and knowledge. That is why it is important that we do not confuse the issues. The issue of access to information in the private sector is an important one and we fully support that, but we need to ensure thoroughly democratic access to information and its public availability.

As I said, we will be supporting this bill. We would like to propose some amendments in committee, including, for example, increasing the number of materials that can be exchanged—not only books, but also other materials that can be accessed by various devices.

I am pleased to announce the NDP's support for this bill.

Canada Post Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to rise today and address such an important issue. This bill has appeared before previous Parliaments but this is the first opportunity I have had to stand in this place and speak to this bill. I want to thank my colleague from Brandon—Souris for his dedication and commitment to ensuring this legislation goes forward. It is of critical importance and very vital to the lifeblood of, particularly, smaller and rural communities, much like the communities that make up my constituency of Wetaskiwin, which I am very honoured and privileged to represent.

Bill C-321 is an act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act, dealing specifically with library materials, as we have been hearing from all the speakers today. Librarians in my riding have been talking to me about this piece of legislation ever since I was elected in 2006. First and foremost, the library book rate supports the intellectual needs of remote or small communities. This is paramount to ensuring that Canadians have timely access to the information they need. We all know the value of libraries in providing intellectual and reading materials to keep our communities current and our education systems working well. It is the principal underpinning of the concept that the collections of all libraries across our country be accessible to all Canadians, and as such support those education and lifelong learning needs as well as help maintain our global productivity and competitiveness.

I started my post-secondary education in 1987. I was at the University of Alberta taking a bachelor of science but of course I had to take some arts courses. There were a number of libraries on the campus at the university. The main science library was Cameron Library. Occasionally, I would have to get some materials that would be referenced out of one of the smaller libraries on campus. While I could look up the information, I had to go from one library to another to get the materials. If I happened to be in some other library off campus, I would not have access to look up those materials. As I was on the university campus, the information from the main database was shared among all those libraries on that campus. However, if people were not hooked into that system, they did not know that those materials and resources were even there.

I left Red Deer College in 2006 when I was first elected to this House. I was a tenured faculty member there, teaching computer systems technology. We could go to the library at Red Deer College and access any vast number of resources from across the country, through various interlibrary loans and online catalogues. The advancement over that short time, with the implementation of various information technology advances, is incredible. Now we have Canadians from coast to coast to coast able to go to their small municipal library if they are fortunate to have one in their community and look up reference materials all over Canada. That is why this bill is so important. It is important to rural Canada, to western Canada and to the communities I represent.

Being able to access the catalogue of materials in major libraries and have these books sent to communities at a reduced rate allows those small communities to put forward a larger range of reading materials and opportunities without bearing the expensive shipping costs of sending books across the country, of purchasing large amounts of materials to keep in collection and of having the square footage to keep large collections. Coming from rural Alberta, I understand the limitation of not always having access to some of the larger city centres. With a library book rate, library members can easily participate in interlibrary loans, allowing urban and rural library membership alike to have access to the vast library collections across our great country.

Canada Post has been offering this highly discounted postage rate for library books for over 70 years. The rate is significantly discounted, up to 95% of regular parcel rates available to Canadians at Canada Post counters. As staff of public institutions, librarians seek to minimize their costs while maintaining a high level of service to Canadians, a paramount principle. Saving on this postage rate would allow librarians to increase their investment in educational programs and to expand their offerings to all Canadians. This was originally funded directly by the Government of Canada. In 1997, however, a ruling by the World Trade Organization required the cost of the program to be incurred by Canada Post Corporation.

The library book rate is not a government program and is not currently financially supported by the federal government. Members of the library community all across Canada, as well as in my constituency, continue to be concerned about its sustainability, given that Canada Post is a crown corporation with a mandate to generate a dividend for its shareholder, the Government of Canada. Yet the rate contributes to the public policy goals of literacy, lifelong learning, inclusion and vibrant rural and remote communities.

The library book rate remains very economical and will continue to be substantially lower than the most discounted commercial parcel rates. Consider this. A package weighing about 1.3 kilograms mailed at the library book rates today costs about 97¢ to cover both the sending and returning of a book. This reflects an increase of about 5¢ in January 2012. However, if we did not have the library book rate, the same service of sending and returning the book would cost $18 if mailed at a post office.

As I have gone across my riding, I have spoken at many libraries and to volunteers who have expressed their concern about what may happen to their libraries if this legislation does not pass. This is a legitimate concern, because this is a musing from Canada Post that comes about from time to time. Of course, as soon as that happens, virtually every library across the country contacts its member of Parliament and brings this issue forward with deep concern.

Many people believe an unfair library service, as those who can afford to pay to expand their libraries will, and those who cannot afford the shipping costs would be left in the dark. This is an issue of fairness. It is making sure that all Canadians have access to those materials and that Canadians in small communities are not prohibited from using their libraries to expand their knowledge in the information economy of the 21st century. Not only that, but the level of service libraries provide would be reduced if the program were forced into a cost-recovery basis, with patrons and distance learners having to bear the cost.

As a matter of fact, my colleague from Brandon—Souris was out in my constituency to talk to people at libraries. We stopped at the Blackfalds Public Library, and I congratulate Yvonne Ketcheson and her staff. Ron Sheppard was there from Parkland Regional Library. Later on in the day we went up to the Pigeon Lake Library at Ma-Me-O Beach and we met with Opal and her staff as well as some folks from the board. We had municipal councillors come out, who are on the various library boards. They talked about the impact it would have on their communities if they lost the library book rate. Someone would have to pick up the difference, which could be so great that it would be hard to imagine the continuation of some of these small libraries in some of these small communities.

Every so often Canada Post muses over raising this rate to make it on par. However, one of the things my colleague and I heard was that if Canada Post were to raise the library postage rate to make it on par, then instead of paying to mail a DVD out and receive it back via mail, a library would be further ahead to send the person the money for the DVD. A person could go out in their local community, buy the DVD or the reference material and keep it, if the postal rate were conducted at cost. We can see the dramatic expense it would be if, every time a person went to the library, the library actually bought the person the material rather than lending the material. This is the impact that an on-par cost for postage would have for libraries. It would simply become unaffordable.

Thankfully, Bill C-321 proposes that before Canada Post could increase the library book rate it must receive approval from the Government of Canada. This would ensure that the opinions of the constituents of every member of Parliament in the House can be expressed. If that were to come about, members can be assured that every MP in this House would know right away that the library book rate was proposed to change, because the libraries in their communities would be the first to let them know.

Just as technology improves and as innovation goes on, our laws need to be updated to keep up with the pace. I am very pleased that this bill not only proposes to ensure Parliament is aware of any proposed changes but it also broadens the definition of what library resource material is. Right now it includes only books. However, as we move into the digital age, it is not unreasonable for someone who is visually impaired to order a library book in Braille or in large print, an audio book or a book formatted for a computer screen or reader. These are the kinds of things the bill proposes.

It makes complete sense for Parliament to pass this legislation. I would again like to thank my colleague from Brandon—Souris for bringing this forward. I urge all members of the House to speak up and make sure they do the right thing and vote in favour of Bill C-321.

Canada Post Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on Bill C-321, An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act (library materials). It is an important bill.

I know this bill may not be the flavour of the month, so to speak, in terms of being a bill that people across this country can sink their teeth into, and is controversial, and so forth. That is a good indicator, though, of a Parliament that is functioning well, that we can actually move legislation forward that we do agree on.

New Democrats do agree with this and congratulate the member for bringing this forward yet again. It has been through this House a number of times. Unfortunately elections have interrupted its actual final delivery for Canadians.

It is important. We do live in a technology-based age. At the same time it is really good to see the Conservatives actually supporting good solid public institutions today, be they the library or the Canada Post Corporation, which is a public institution. They were formed because the private sector cannot do everything. To assume that the private sector should or could do everything is a fallacy not only in our country but across the globe.

We founded the Canada Post Corporation to provide for those services to be done efficiently, so Canadians could communicate from coast to coast to coast. We continue to do so because of the principle that we need to communicate amongst ourselves and bind ourselves as a nation in a way that is cost effective. It is not just about making money. If it were just about making money, then we would charge as much as we could for a stamp, for example.

Canada Post Corporation does do very well. It is an important employer for our country. However, the principle element behind it is to make sure we continue to be able to communicate as a nation. Whether or not we live in Windsor, Ontario, in my riding and want to send a letter to a relative who might have had to move out to British Columbia or somewhere else, like Alberta, we can actually do that.

I know the digital age has taken up a lot of the different types of communication, whether they be email, Skype, electronic books or video games that people can play online at the same time. However, we still have the old-fashioned written letters, as well as distribution of hard materials that takes place.

As a former job developer for persons with disabilities, I can say it is very expensive to keep some of the library content available. For example, large-print books, talking DVDs or CDs and audio books are very expensive. This bill actually defines those materials as library content so they can be shared with other libraries, be they rural or urban. That is important because, again, as a former job developer for persons with disabilities, I know it is really important for those large-print books to be shared. Often they are more expensive, and different titles are not available across the country. This is an opportunity to be able to share them with other people.

The intent of the bill is to enhance public institutions, enshrining the fact that libraries are a critical component for Canadian learning and should be enhanced. I know a lot of municipalities are under a lot of strain right now, including my own, with regard to keeping these institutions going. If they disappear or we withdraw services, the institutions will be weakened and Canadians will be weakened.

When we look at and think about the bill, on the surface we might think it is just a convenience to be able to have the latest book available, but it is actually the learning experiences necessary for training, education, employment, health and safety and a series of different things that are key to the materials that are out there.

I think it is important to really home in on a couple of things. Canadians do support this. It is interesting that it was unanimously passed in the last Parliament. Every member of Parliament recognized that these institutions are critically important to the foundation of communities.

In my own community of Windsor West, we are going through a process right now with our library where there is the possibility of the re-districting of it. It is generating a lot of interest and lot of different types of commentary. It is all based on trying to enhance it, not actually withdraw services.

The municipal politicians are under difficult financial constraints with regard to their budgetary process right now, but at the same time there is a loud voice out there saying that the library is very important to it.

What is interesting is that we have moved beyond libraries just being a place to go to pick up books. I remember when I used to go as a kid. It was essentially a place to go to get books and bring them home. Now, they are tapped in with the Internet and with computer resources and they support learning services. Our main library has a wood carving museum as well. Libraries have public meetings and functions that take place. They have become social places where people gather. There is a café and all those different things.

The bill would provide that repertoire of enhanced services to other places. I remember in university, as well, going down to the book store and the library. We had a choice to make. If we could find that book in that library or someone else's library, we could order it and it would only cost about $1 or $2 as opposed to paying $20 to $40 for a resource we only needed for a week or two. This would provide, again, an opportunity for people to do that at low cost.

The service part of it is really important too, because this would also protect jobs at those institutions. I am glad the Conservatives are protecting the jobs in the public institutions in this particular case, because it would provide more need for staffing and more need for services, but the value we would get out of that is way more than the actual cost to Canadians. In fact, there is no real way to estimate what this would cost, but it would be modest in the overall budgetary picture for Canada. What it would do is re-enhance some of the services necessary to keep these institutions going.

Some countries have moved to privatize parts of their postal services, and that has been to the detriment of the public purse. It sounds good on the surface to privatize some of these services, because we say we will get that revenue stream at the immediate point, but at the same time we weaken the overall organization, so then it appears to be a failure because it is doing the hard work and heavy lifting that the private sector will not do.

Therefore, this would provide more work and activity to enhance that service and also to provide some stability, which is necessary.

We on this side of the House have been fighting significantly to maintain postal services over the last number of years. In Sandwich Town, for example, the management of the Old Sandwich Town post office actually tried to build a business case to move a lot of the services to the University of Windsor, which would actually damage the service to the Sandwich Town area and cost the businesses, the community, seniors and even some of the students a number of services, which they might eventually employ.

I was thankful the union came forward with leaked documents that it provided me. These showed that when it looked at the business case of the closing of the Sandwich Town facility, it saw that the regional manager's salary was included in the business plan, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, when the manager was not even at the Sandwich Town post office but at another location. However, his salary was included to make it appear much more costly than it was. Thankfully, we were able to reverse the trend, and that post office is still open today. It has been open for a couple of hundred years in that area, and we are very proud to have that now as another stable point.

The member has brought the bill back to the House of Commons several times. We have seen a few of these bills where that has taken place. I am hopeful the Senate will dispose of this bill rather quickly, that it will move rather expediently and we can be done with this. We have a majority government and more stability now with more opportunity to finish legislation.

As I conclude, unfortunately, there have been several bills that have gone to the unelected chamber that have not been passed. I hope that will not happen to this bill and it will get through rather quickly.

Canada Post Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, having been a former board member of the Toronto Public Library, libraries are one of the most important services for many Canadians. In fact, the Toronto Public Library is the second most popular library in the world, second to Hong Kong in terms of its per capita population.

A tremendous number of people use libraries. Whether in small towns or big cities across Canada, libraries provide the kinds of services that for some are almost like a lifeline. Some Canadians do not necessarily have the space for a lot of books or have the money to them. They may not have the financial wherewithal to have ongoing subscriptions to magazines or newspapers.

My house in Toronto is about 20 steps away from the library in my neighbourhood and I have seen people line up to get into it. Some go there every morning to use the Internet to look for jobs. I have seen young and old having a grand time in the library, borrowing books, cassettes, videotapes, DVDs, just name it. It is not just a place for people to read, it is also a place to gather.

Canadians who are shut-in, or are disabled, or are from rural Canada or live far away have no access to libraries and cannot borrow books. What do they do? They probably go online. For example, another book of poetry by Margaret Atwood recently came out and I imagine Canadians will ask their local libraries to send them the book. However, if the mailing rate is too high, it can be prohibitive for some to access these tremendous collections from their libraries.

There are more seniors in our country and I imagine, especially for homebound seniors, that it is very important for them to have discounted mailing services available to them, and the bill deals with this. There are also distant learners who want to finish their degrees, or post-secondary education or high school. They too would need library books mailed to them. In addition, people who are disabled or have various challenges cannot go to libraries.

Over a million people per year use this kind of mailing service from libraries all across Canada. This bill would impact 2,000 libraries across Canada.

This is not just about the users, it is also about the collections in libraries. Some libraries focus on certain areas. I would imagine that libraries in Brandon, Manitoba would have different kinds of books than some of the collections in Toronto, for example. I know for a fact that libraries loan books to each other. It is very important for libraries to access collections from each other. This is good for the libraries and it is good Canadians.

Why is the bill important? It would provide the guarantee of a reduced postal rate for libraries and Canadian users. We want to ensure that the term “library books” used in the bill is changed to “library materials” so it will include DVDs, CDs, et cetera.

This is the third time the bill is in front of the House and I am sure the member for Brandon—Souris will ensure it passes in the Senate after the House of Commons and that it will be fast-tracked at the transport committee so it can become law and the one million users will feel confident that the reduced book rates will be made available to them.

Canada Post Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper. The hon. member for Trinity—Spadina will have four minutes remaining when this matter returns before the House.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

Noon

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe you will find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That the following change be made to the membership of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs: Nycole Turmel for Chris Charlton; and, Nathan Cullen for Phillip Toone.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.