Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to debate the government's attempt at privatizing Canada Post part two. Part one was Bill C-14, which was introduced about two years ago, and to refresh people's memories, it was not that long a bill. Neither is Bill C-44, the one now before us now. They are exactly the same bills. It is important to state, as my comments will show, that they are exactly the same bills with different numbers and dates on it. The sole purpose is to privatize part of Canada Post.
Interestingly, however, we hear government members stand and say that they do not agree with privatization. It is in their famed report, the strategic review that says that they do not agree with privatization. In this case, however, all they need is a little deregulation and they automatically get privatization because it is already there. Talk about a major flip-flop.
The government began its tenure in government supporting the fact that all mail delivered within Canada is the responsibility of Canada Post and any mail delivered anywhere is the responsibility of Canada Post. However, as I will show, the government flip-flopped and I am not sure where the Liberals are. I will mention them a couple of times but they are, as a Liberal colleague said, skating on this one and the skate is set to music in this case.
I wanted to mention the strategic plan early on because the Conservatives did a strategic review of the Canada Post Corporation. There may be some members of the government who are tempted to say that they are going for this because of the recommendation in here. We need to understand that the first bill, Bill C-14, was introduced before this report was done. Who is really surprised that a government hand-picked committee came up with a report that, get ready for the shock, endorsed the government's position? Wow, who would have thought that a group of people selected by the government would recommend a major change in the way Canada Post operates and it just happens to line up beautifully with where the government is? It is a wondrous world. I will come back to that report.
I want to begin with the Canada Post Corporation Act, one small part of this law. Part 1, Objects, section 5.(1)(b) reads as follows:
the need to conduct its operations on a self-sustaining financial basis while providing a standard of service that will meet the needs of the people of Canada and that is similar with respect to communities of the same size;
The operative language is “on a self-sustaining financial basis”. If we were not there, there might be some kind of argument that the government could make that it should make this change. If we were on a trend line that showed that in the near future Canadians would need to start either increasing the cost of postage or, worse yet, giving direct subsidies to keep it afloat.
What is the reality, one might ask, so we know the context. The reality right now is that Canada Post makes a small profit so it is currently meeting the mandate of a self-sustaining basis. It sounds like it is meeting its mandate. Why would we make this change? Will the change do any harm to the ability of Canada Post to meet its mandate of being self-sustaining financially?
Let us go back to the last review. We have the government and its current review which says that we ought to stop giving Canada Post the exclusive privilege of dealing with all mail.
What the last report in 1996 said about this very idea, the whole purpose of this bill that we are dealing with right now, about that singular idea that is the singular purpose of Bill C-44, is:
Removal of the exclusive privilege would be tantamount, in effect, to tossing Canada's postal system up into the air, allowing it to smash into a random assortment of pieces, and hoping that those pieces would somehow re-arrange themselves into a coherent whole that was better or at least as good as the current system.
What has changed since 1996? I know. The government, and the official opposition which used to be the government so they might not want to laugh too hard yet until we get to the bottom line. There will be time for them, so they should not get too upset.
In 1996, there was no mistake, the government of the day did support keeping Canada Post intact. Another review came up with that conclusion. Is that the only conclusion? No. This is so critical; there is lots of evidence. I wish I had much more than 20 minutes to get it all on the floor of the House of Commons about why we ought not do this and what the experts, the people with the experience, have had to say about this idea over the years. However, I will do my best to get the main pieces tabled.
What did Canada Post say at that time? It is a little quieter these days. It does not say as much, certainly not as much in support of the Canada Post that most Canadians want. At the time, Canada Post said:
For as long as it is the public policy of Canada to provide universal letter service at uniform rates, it will be necessary to maintain the limited exclusive privilege for letters.
This bill undoes that.
Now who else might have something to say about this? Well, cabinet ministers who are responsible for Canada Post often have things to say. What did the Conservative cabinet minister responsible for Canada Post say in a letter dated July 25, 2006? He said:
The activities of international remailers cost Canada Post millions of dollars each year and erodes the Corporation's ability to maintain a healthy national postal service and provide universal service to all Canadians.
That was a Conservative minister of the Conservative government on record, in writing.
I will introduce one more piece to the foundation of our position on this. The situation is that these private enterprises started encroaching into this business and then started getting into it in a big way. Canada Post told them to stop but they did not. it tried a negotiation process but that did not work. So, given the mandate that it has under law, it did what any Canadian or any Canadian corporation would do if somebody was wronging them, it took them to court. Canada Post won.
However, because these international remailers are so committed to the Canadian postal service, they appealed that decision. On May 8, 2007, the Ontario Court of Appeals brought down its ruling. Justice McFarland wrote on behalf of the three judge panel who had a unanimous decision. They said:
The purpose of the statutory privilege can only be to enable CP to fulfill its statutory mandate or realize its objects. It is meant to be self-sustaining financially while at the same time providing similar standards of service throughout our vast country. Profits are realized in densely populated areas which subsidize the services provided in the more sparsely populated areas.
Is it that hard to understand? We have a huge, beautiful country but it does present serious challenges in terms of presenting and providing the same level of service in downtown Toronto as in downtown Hamilton, Vancouver, Halifax, Yellowknife and, quite frankly, all the other far flung reaches of this country. It is expensive and has challenges in addition to money in terms of having the human resources.
We have this great formula in Canada right now whereby there is enough money being made to tell Canada Post to do it all but that we will regulate it, that it will be responsible to Parliament through a minister, that we will provide the law and regulations, but that its purpose is to provide this service at a world level and be self-sustaining.
Nobody likes an increase in the price of postage stamps or anything like that, but the fact is that currently Canada has one of the lowest cost postal services in the world. That would be one kind of a brag if we are talking about Austria, but to make that brag when we talk about Canada is pretty darn good and it has been pretty good.
There are always problems. I am sure that is not a person in this room who does not have one postal or letter story or another, so be it, but in a large corporation that size that is not surprising. The reality for most people is that the service is okay. It can always be better but it is not horribly broken and inefficient. It is quite the contrary. It is efficient enough to generate a little profit.
What is on the floor now would have the effect of taking that ability away. Why is the government doing it? It did not have that position before and now it has it right after the judge's decision.
This is what it looks like. It looks like a group of entrepreneurs, and there is nothing wrong with that, got into this business, struggled with Canada Post, lost the struggle, went to court, lost, appealed it, lost and then found friends in the Conservative government and said, “We cannot seem to get our argument past the courts with that darn monopoly that Canada Post has that lets it generate this modest profit, so what we would like is for you to change the law and then we will not be violating the law. We can keep on doing what we are doing and whatever happens to Canada Post, that is your problem”.
It is similar to a lot of the issues at the core of privatization. They cherry-pick the things that make the most money, privatize that and make bags of money, usually with non-union workers, but it is a free country but that is a little point to make, and leave the expensive parts, like delivering mail to Yellowknife or Iqaluit, to the government, which will be the first one to talk about how much it costs and how outrageously inefficient the system is.
We have a system that is not perfect but the financial structure allows us to maintain and expand our service to pay the workers a decent wage and benefits. It is not as good as what they deserve for the work they do but it is a decent wage and benefits. All that is done and Canadians do not need to give it a thought. It is taken care of because of the way it is structured.
In effect, by deregulating this particular section, by taking it out of the existing law, the government would make legal the privatization of Canada Post work that is prohibited under the current law. One little change and suddenly what is not allowed in the front door comes merrily bouncing through the back door. That is what is going on.
The government is going to stand and talk about jobs and this, that and the other thing, and the reality is the question is not whether there will be jobs. The question is whether those jobs are going to be outside Canada Post and therefore deny Canada Post the financial ability to provide the service and to be financially self-sustaining, as the law mandates and as it has been doing. That is the real rub.
If this thing were broken and nothing were working and Canada Post were running a massive deficit, one could make arguments for some kind of fix and correction. However, that is not the case.
The people who will be celebrating, should this bill pass, are the owners of the companies doing the re-mailing. That is why I mention the official opposition because I do not know where the Liberals are. They supported Bill C-14, which was the exact same bill, word for word. The current critic is listening to the member for Toronto Centre and skating up and getting ready to go. What I heard was that they put out some nonsense that they were going to support it at this hearing so they could get it to committee and then at committee, they would worry about the jobs that should be at Canada Post and about where the money was going to come from. It is all just a scam.
The fact of the matter is this is a straight-up question. My colleague from the Bloc spoke in the last go-round and made it very clear that there is no nuancing here; there are no maybes or ifs or any kind of dodging. It is very simple: we either support the right of Canada Post to maintain the exclusive privilege and therefore to have the ability to be financially viable, or we do not.
I say to the official opposition, if they join with us and the Bloc, we could kill this. We could save Canada Post. There are a lot of people who use Canada Post and who work for Canada Post and are beneficiaries of the services of Canada Post who do not want this to happen. They do not want it to happen for the very practical reason that it does not make sense. It only makes sense if we think about the owners of these corporations that are doing the re-mailing, the mailing outside Canada, mostly to the United States, right next door. That is where the money is. That is where the volume is. That is where the big bucks are. Of course they want this.
They are going to talk to us about the jobs. Move those jobs out of where they are now and put them in Canada Post and I will bet that every one of those employees will be making more money than he or she is today, and Canada Post would still turn a modest profit. There is a win-win-win situation.
However, the owners of the companies that are currently illegally doing this work would be so heartbroken to see this die. It is the best Christmas present they could ever get, and they would have received it because of the handiwork of the Conservatives and, until I hear differently, from the support of the Liberals, who will have changed their position from having supported Canada Post the way it was to supporting this nonsense.
We can stop all of that. Do Canada Post, Canadians and Canadian business a big favour by voting this bill down and out.