Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate today.
The NDP believes that prior to even getting to the point of whether we agree with the bill or not, there ought to be a follow through on the commitment to do a review of the entire mandate of Canada Post. Then we would have a better idea of how this fits into what we collectively expect from Canada Post going forward.
It is a shame that is not happening. I suppose it is possible there is a good reason why it is not happening. The government may not like the way it looks in the context of a mandate that has just been reviewed, but I will leave that where it is. We will continue to push for this mandate and we will continue to oppose the bill.
I cannot seem to find anything on what Canada Post has to say about Bill C-14. I can only hope Canada Post is not being gagged. I hope very soon, either at the end of today or tomorrow at the latest, we will get some idea of what one of the largest crown corporations in our nation has to say about a bill, a bill that goes directly to the heart of its ability to raise revenue and meet the mandate given to it by Parliament.
Let us remember, as we go through this whole discussion, that Canada Post, in addition to the services outlined in the legislation, has also been mandated to raise revenue on a self-sufficient basis. In other words, Canada Post cannot come back to Parliament and ask for money. It has a good enough service and product that it should be able to raise enough money through revenue to pay for all the costs.
Let us remember that we have one of the lowest universal letter rates in all the industrialized world. Canada is the second largest country, land mass wise, in the world. That is a pretty good achievement. For all the kicks that everybody likes to take at Canada Post from time to time, for whatever reason, at the end of the day that is a pretty good accomplishment. Canada Post is raising revenue without running a deficit. It is not coming here and asking for money.
The absolute key to Canada Post being able to provide a service that is recognized around the world and serves the needs of Canadians at a cost that they can afford is the whole notion of the exclusive privilege. It either has an exclusive privilege or it does not. The government wants to have it both ways. It does, but maybe not everywhere: Conservative government, public service, money to be made.
At this point, the NDP and the Conservatives start walking down a different road. Our sense is the reason the government is doing this is part ideology. The Conservatives do not like public services. If there is a dime to be made, one of their buddies ought to make it.
The notion of what is best for the public interest does not appear on a balance sheet. It does appear in a crown corporation, but it does not in private enterprise and nobody suggests it should. The Conservatives want this business because there is money to be made. That is the only reason, and from all accounts, there will be more and more money to be made each year.
We have a situation where some private enterprises have started to do work that is exclusively the mandate of a crown corporation. Whatever happened to the law and order party in our country? Under other circumstances, if people broke the law, flagrantly no less, and went ahead and started conducting business that was the rightful business of somebody else, the Conservatives would be holding them to account. They would go after them because they broke the law according to the Conservatives. They would be considered a law-breaker of the whole nine yards.
What do we see in this case? The Conservatives are going to change the law because there is lots of money to be made so law-breakers are now complying with the law. That is a pretty good trick if someone can get them to do that.
Let us take a look at some of the meat in the legislation. I agree with my Bloc colleague that one cannot believe for a minute that just because it is a small bill, and it really is, it somehow will not have a major impact. This is a smooth process. They are not allowed to do something by law. They go ahead and start to do it. The people who have the exclusive right to do what they are doing call them on it and they keep doing it.
From what I understand, Canada Post spent a few years working with the Universal Postal Union trying to come up with a way to square the circle in terms of what that organization represented and the law, which gives the exclusive right and privilege to Canada Post. It did not work.
Therefore, Canada Post said that it would go to court to make it very clear that the work done by the private companies encroached on business that was the lawful mandate of Canada Post. Canada Post won. These corporations, I guess because they care so much about public service and the delivery of mail, appealed it. They lost again.
It is interesting what the judges said in this case. Justice MacFarland, who wrote on behalf of a three judge panel that ruled unanimously, 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.
This is not a new challenge that we face as a country. Because of our values, we believe Canadians, no matter where they live in the country, should be able to find, with reasonable closeness, a reasonable facsimile to the services they would enjoy anywhere else in Canada.
Do we achieve that wholly? No, we do not. We can ask anybody. Ask my friend from Sault Ste. Marie whether the health services are the same in Sault Ste. Marie as they are in Toronto. Notwithstanding the difficulties in Toronto, they are that much greater in Sault Ste. Marie. Why? Because it has a smaller population and it is spread out so far.
I have not even begun to talk about the territories and the extremities of the country. It is a massive country. We believe that things like health care, transportation services, environmental protection and other government services should, as much as possible, be the same, or at least as close as one can reasonably get, never backing away from pushing to get there.
Quite frankly, we do not have to go all that far even in my own province. There are a lot of rural areas just outside Hamilton. If we based our profit margin, as a postal service, on the amount of business that came out those small areas, they would not get any. They would be an afterthought, but that is not the case right now.
For the same price, we can mail a letter or a package from anywhere in Canada to anywhere in Canada at a reasonable rate. Why? Because the exclusive privilege allows the post office to take profit from parts of its service, which allows it to offset the cost to provide, as close as it can, the same service in rural areas as we get in downtown Toronto. Again, in the second largest country in the world, that is not an easy feat.
What is proposed in the legislation will water down the ability of Canada Post to do that. Some might say that it is not doing the work at all right now. As I understand it, that is not factually correct. Some of the work is being done by Canada Post. Some of it is being done by people who should not be doing it. It is unlawful.
We are running a surplus right now. Overall, not in manufacturing but in many other areas of the economy, things are not going too badly. Profits are being made.
But what about tomorrow? What about next year? What about in five years, in ten years? Once we begin down the slippery slope of eating away at exclusive privilege we undermine the ability of Canada Post to provide the world class service that it does.
It is that simple. That is why we ought to be reviewing the mandate. If we do not want it to do that, then let us stop kidding ourselves and build a whole different kind of post office.
This is not really about whether we believe in privatized services, whether we believe in the private sector or the public sector and which one should be bigger, more important, first dibs on it. Really that is not the issue. It is a side issue. Really what is in front of us is the issue of how we want to handle postal services in Canada. If we want to continue them along the same vein that we have started, then we need to make sure Canada Post has the means to do it. It is that simple.
I certainly do not know of any commercial entity that wants to take over rural postal services only, or other aspects of delivering anything in Canada that is difficult, not to mention our weather. No. There is big money in it and that is why big money was prepared to hire high-priced lawyers to go to court to try to get it ripped open. When that did not work, they looked up at the sky, counted all their lucky stars and said, “We have a Conservative government in power. Let's just get the law changed”, and here we are with Bill C-14.
It takes just a handful of lines:
1. 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.
It might as well say that where Canada Post has a chance to make a decent buck, we are going to privatize it, because that is what is going on.
I know the Conservatives are going to jump up and flail their arms and say, “This is not privatization. No, no. This is its sibling deregulation”. It is the same thing.
Make no mistake, if this bill passes today and we keep a like-minded government in power--and I cannot say anything about the official opposition; I have heard two speakers and they both took each side of the issue, which is pretty traditional so far, so it is hard to say whether this could only happen with the Conservatives. The Liberals are close enough that they may get what they want from either one.
The fact is if they win this, why would they not be back for more? Why not sit back in the boardroom and say, “Okay. Here is how this works. Let's find out other profitable areas of Canada Post and start doing it. When Canada Post gets upset, we will not even have to take it to court this time. We'll just go straight to the government and the government will stand up and say, 'Why are you doing this to these poor small businesses?'”
By the way, a lot of these poor small businesses have a huge global reach. This is big money. It reminds me a bit of WSIB, workers compensation in Ontario, where the private insurance companies are still standing outside the borders of the province drooling at the prospect of getting their mitts on all that money.
If this works, why not identify something else, go through the whole process again and eventually water it down to the point where we are in this place one day where there is an attack on the fact that Canada Post is running a deficit. Then they will go looking for scapegoats. And then what? My good friend from Ottawa Centre asked, “Then what?” That is exactly the right question. If Canada Post starts running a deficit, either this place starts to give it money that we have not had to do before because that profit is now not in the pockets of Canadians through the public service, it is in private pockets.
I hear one of the members heckling and asking “Is that bad?” I would say it is bad when either the cost of stamps and postal services goes up, taxes are increased to provide the subsidy or cut the service. Those are the options. I would say to you, Mr. Speaker, with regard to what the hon. member said, that yes, it is bad.
Maybe if I were lying on a nice deck chair on a great big yacht somewhere being taken care of by those who got all that money, I might feel differently. But as somebody who cares about postal service in Canada and is here to fight for the rights of ordinary Canadians, this is the structure that works.
The government did not even have the guts to say that it was going to change the mandate. No, it takes away the financial means to achieve the mandate. It is deceitful in some ways, if that term is allowed to stand, and it seems that it might be.
There is a sham being perpetrated here. We hear the argument that we are picking on people and why would we do this when it is already being done and all this stuff that suggests it is not a big deal and not to get all upset, that this is just the Bloc and the NDP fighting for those working people again or public services. At least some of the Liberals are saying that. I am waiting to get clarification of exactly where they are, so I will not comment. It does not really matter anyway, because they do not vote. They are just a debating society.
I want to read something in support of this notion about the slippery slope. Either we leave the exclusive privilege in place in its entirety or we say, no, revamp the mandate and build something completely different. It is one or the other. I agree with my Bloc colleague when he said that this is a vote up or down; there is no mitigating, no amendments, we either believe in this or we do not.
This is what was said in a report 11 years ago, the last time there was a Canada Post mandate review: “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 rearrange themselves into a coherent whole that was better or at least as good as the current system”.
At that time Canada Post did not seem to have as much difficulty finding its voice and it said that 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.
That is what this is about. This is about legitimizing and legalizing something that is currently outside the law. It is no different from Microsoft, or Disney, or any other big player. Canada Post is protecting its revenue stream, its market.
Why on earth would we tinker with a system that for the most part serves Canadians well and does not cost Canadian taxpayers anything beyond the money it costs them to buy the service at the postal station? Why would we mess with that? Why would we tinker with it? There is only one reason and this is my opinion. I am saying this in here, and this is pure speculation, but it is my right to say it and I am going to. It looks an awful lot to me like these private entities could not win in the courts, so they did the lobbying routine, lobbied the government and now the government is prepared to do their bidding to legalize tomorrow what is today illegal.
I will be interested to hear better arguments, particularly from my friend over in the corner who has his laptop and I am sure that all the information is being fed from central command about what his questions to me are going to be and how he is going to attack those wild-eyed New Democrats again. I await that moment, but what I await more than anything is the remote possibility that they might come up with an argument that actually holds.
Do not give us this stuff that we do not care about those private sector jobs. Of course we do.