Mr. Speaker, I have to say from the outset that we oppose the principle of Bill C-14.
As we know, this bill seeks to deprive the Canada Post Corporation of its exclusive privilege with respect to letters intended for delivery outside of Canada.
We are surprised that an advisory committee was recently set up, in April 2008, to review this issue. The committee is going to table its report in December 2008. Therefore, this bill seems premature at this point.
Why was that committee established? Why is the government introducing this legislation? As the member for Abbotsford wondered, why is the government implementing both measures at the same time?
It seems incredible that the government would decide to set up an advisory committee, but would not take the time to listen to it. The government has decided to draft its own legislation, because its ideology is well established and its principles are very clear: it only thinks about the private sector; the rest is no good.
Incidentally, I was surprised to hear the member for Abbotsford say, somewhat naively, that we would lose 10,000 jobs in one fell swoop. At no time did he think or say that, among these 10,000 jobless people, perhaps 9,000 would go to Canada Post. And why not, if there is a need? If 10,000 people are working in remailing companies, it means that a need exists.
It is certainly possible that some of the offices in communities close to the United States would move there. This does not mean though—and the advisory committee will enlighten us on this—that when the mail leaves the United States, Canada Post will agree to deliver mail posted in Hong Kong, for example, at a quarter of the cost of posting it here. It certainly would not bother Hong Kong to put stamps on it because all they do is put it back in the boxes and away it goes. When it only costs a quarter of the price, they laugh their heads off. When the mail arrives here, though, Canadian Post Corporation has to deliver it without getting anything in return.
These consultations should also make it possible to assess the situation of Canadian mail that is turned over to a foreign postal system, that is to say, how it will be delivered. These are things that the advisory committee will surely study, although the government does not want to wait for it.
We are convinced that if Canada Post were to lose the exclusive privilege it currently enjoys, its revenues would be endangered because, contrary to what was just said, remailing would grow exponentially. Even little things within Canada would be affected, and this would have dire consequences. It is unrealistic to think there would not be any repercussions because mail delivery would be re-organized in rural areas. There would certainly be a second-class delivery system because revenues would decline.
Earlier, someone mentioned that Canada Post has been making fabulous amounts of money. It should be said, though, that this is a very recent development. We feel that this is a very ill-advised bill at a time when Canada Post is starting to make money, and deservedly so. We should remember that the money it makes produces a dividend that goes directly to the government. The government does not put this money in the bank or in its pockets but redistributes it to Canadians in general through the services it provides.
Rather than having a dividend flow back to the government to the benefit of all, some people want one or two or three individuals to make money and pocket it. That is the difference between the private sector and the public sector.
The post office is currently a public service. We fail to see why private enterprise should make money and redistribute it outside Canada instead of our government redistributing it inside Canada to meet the needs of Canadians and investing it in various services. The surpluses that Canada Post generates could be used for this purpose. We would not want to see too many surpluses. What is most important to us is high quality mail delivery in Canada.
I represent a rural riding and I see the extent to which the quality of services provided in rural communities is being threatened. Small post offices are being closed. In my own municipality, the post office has not closed yet. Why? I have been told that there were some rather important people in the riding, for which I am glad, who are able to get Canada Post to bend. Post offices were the traditional, cultural gathering place for people to meet, to pick up their mail and to have a chat. It is too bad they are being closed. It is not the Internet that is doing this. It is the desire to make as much profit as possible and keep fewer and fewer post offices open. Today, delivery to rural mailboxes is threatened because of safety. We agree that some roadside mailboxes were not safe for letter carriers. We agree on that. But to say that two thirds of the boxes in Quebec will be eliminated is going a bit too far.
There is something that has not been grasped here. One imagines that they want to save money like this so they can make a company even more profitable for private enterprise when it gets privatized. A little earlier, there was talk about Atomic Energy of Canada. The intention is to privatize everything. They want to privatize the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. All of this because of the dogmatic principle that it is more profitable, which is totally false. They are forgetting that the money that goes to the government gets redistributed to everyone and not merely to two or three people.
In 1981, the federal government gave the new postal authority the autonomy it needed to adopt business objectives that would allow its services to be self-funding. That is why I said a moment ago that Canada Post has not always been profitable. It has only been profitable for a few years. If it is profitable now, why are they so bent on eliminating so many rural mailboxes? It seems that it is precisely to cut back letter carriers’ delivery times, so that mail can be consolidated in a few locations.
A moment ago I was going to say that this hurts private enterprise. A rural mailbox is not used only by Canada Post, it is also used for commercial delivery of leaflets, advertising and local newspapers. Those people will no longer have anywhere to leave that kind of mail, which is often very bulky, if there are no more mailboxes. Someone will tell me that they need only send it through Canada Post and that way it will end up in the community mailboxes, the green boxes. Well no, because often the postage for that much mail, the kind of volume that the weekend advertising flyers or daily newspapers represent, would cost so much that people would not be able to pay for it.
On the other side of the House they were talking about job losses. Taking away rural mailboxes is going to result in jobs being lost.
What about older people who can not get out any further than the end of the road to pick up their mail? I have some of those people in my riding. They get out once a week when their son or daughter or a neighbour takes them to do their errands. As a result of this system, they get their mail once a week. That is really inhuman and unthinkable.
Why did someone think of putting the mail into boxes mounted on posts in front of people’s homes? Because, in the country, people are far from each other and because it was a good system. Often, a mail box could be moved a few metres—at the most, 30, 40 or 50 metres—and the box would no longer be a danger, since it would not be on the edge of the road. Or, the mailbox could be put on the other side of the road.
I made the rounds with some people from Canada Post who told me that if the box were on the other side, people would have to cross the street. However, they prefer to force them into automobiles to drive to a community mailbox, in a place that is often just as dangerous, in order to collect their mail. We see very clearly that their arguments are convoluted and give no assurance that they will provide the same quality of service as they did previously. It is all to ensure that Canada Post makes the most money possible so that they can sell this crown corporation at the highest price.
At present, despite all of Canada Post’s profits, this corporation quite properly still provides the equivalent of $60 million in free postal service to Parliament and the military. Often, it is the only way for members to keep in touch with their fellow citizens. Many of our voters do not buy a newspaper or watch the news on television, but when we mail them a pamphlet, they read it. This service is open to everyone in the House. That $60 million per year is money very well spent. If it were privatized, that might be something we would lose.
It goes all over the country. It is an extraordinary service. There are also services for the blind and other services that deliver to the far north at the same price. That is something very important in our country: to be able to provide the same quality of service to everybody at the same price. Just because someone lives far out in the country does not mean that it should be different. People are useful in the country. If you are a farmer, you should be able to correspond with all the other people and receive things from other people at the same price.
In my view, the purpose of this bill is to prepare for privatization, not to protect jobs in Canada. Those jobs would be saved in any event. Canada Post would open new buildings and get them back that way.
A few years ago, Canada Post initiated legal proceedings against several remailers. Earlier, someone said there were never any problems. Not so, the dispute has been going on for years. Between the proceedings and the appeals, the issue was brought before several courts. We know how long this all takes. In every instance, the courts upheld Canada Post's interpretation of the act, under which it has an exclusive privilege.
This exclusive privilege ought to be maintained, and the committee that was put in place must be allowed to review the issue and report back to us. Should we ever happen upon an appropriate middle course in the legislation, we will take it. Currently, I believe that Bill C-14 is really far from meeting our expectations regarding a universal postal service for all Canadians.
In fact, the Ontario court ruled in 2004 that section 14 of the Canada Post Corporation Act gives the corporation the exclusive privilege of collecting mail. It was first determined in 2002, then confirmed in 2004, and again in 2005, not to mention that the court of appeal for Ontario upheld the interpretation of the Canadian legislation. Proceedings have been underway for several years, seven or eight years maybe. Over a 20-year period, it is fair to say that there have been proceedings underway half of the time. We have heard that there had never been any problems in 20 years. Sorry, but there have been problems for the past eight years.
This is an attempt to deregulate the market, but the Conservatives would like us to believe that this is not deregulation.
What is their conception of deregulation, if they claim that this is not deregulation? When something is rigid, when it is dismantled and when everyone can get their hands in the cookie jar, we think it is because deregulation has just occurred. The government lets those hands get in the cookie jar. Until then, that was not allowed. This is what deregulation is about. At least, it seems to me that this is what it is. Otherwise, I did not understand how people get their hands on the cookies.
The Bloc Québécois feels that before restricting or eliminating the exclusive privilege of Canada Post, the government should conduct a public and rather exhaustive review of the issue, and not simply decide whether we are in favour or opposed to private business, as we hear in this House. We must also assess the impact on the requirement to provide a universal and affordable public service. That is the whole issue.
If we privatize and sell Canada Post, postal rates will no longer be controlled by the government. They will be controlled by private enterprise, and we know what the consequences of that have been in other areas. Private businesses apply various rates and keep increasing them. They obviously do not deliver mail in the far north, or in small remote communities, for the same rate.
Canada Post is making money. With operating profits amounting to $300 million, as someone said earlier, the corporation pays income tax as well as a dividend. This is a money-making operation for Canada. Of course, companies would also pay income tax, but we all know that people would not have a hard time avoiding it.
We have to assess how a legislative change like this one would directly or indirectly affect the financial viability of the Canada Post Corporation and its ability to keep providing a universal, affordable service. Universal because it is everywhere and affordable because it is provided at a reasonable cost. It is not at all clear that this would be the case if things change.
The Canada Post Corporation must also devise a plan to ensure the survival of its rural service. There is a reason the corporation is trying to get rid of roadside mailboxes and has closed almost all small post offices. In response to an inquiry by the minister responsible, the Canada Post Corporation said that such an operation costs between $475 million and $640 million over more than five years.
The corporation needs money to carry out these transformations. It is not news to anyone here that the corporation is moving toward full automation for mail sorting, and when that happens, major changes will take place. These changes are already in the works, and we believe that the government needs to take control of the changes that are about to happen, not leave it up to private enterprise.
I would like to propose an amendment to the motion for second reading of Bill C-14. I move, seconded by the member for Richmond—Arthabaska:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act, be not now read a second time, but that it be read a second time this day six months hence.