Mr. Speaker, as the new Liberal critic for crown corporations, it gives me great pleasure to stand today to join in the debate on Bill C-44. I look forward to this opportunity, my maiden debate as critic, and I look forward to many more.
I rise today to state our concerns with Bill C-44 and the government's attempt to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act and to legalize the activities of international remailers. While we have specific concerns about the bill, we will be determining as a caucus in the coming days how to best deal with it.
Crown corporations were created to provide standardized and essential services from postal delivery to energy development, resource extraction to public transportation. Crown corporations serve in binding our expansive, sparsely populated country, providing services where they would otherwise be inefficient and uneconomical for the private sector to operate. Providing universal yet affordable services to all Canadians, whether rural, urban or in remote areas through our crown corporations is one of those principles that bind us as a nation. Social cohesion in Canada rests on the shared institutions in which we can have pride.
Canada Post, through its very mandate, is dedicated to providing Canadians with reliable, affordable, accessible and universal services. For 158 years, Canada Post has been a pillar of the Canadian economy, connecting Canadians with their communities and their businesses. Each and every day, it processes some 45 million pieces of mail to nearly 15 million residences and businesses. It continues to meet or exceed delivery standards 96% of the time. It provides the lowest cost of sending a letter among all the industrialized nations, and it costs the same amount to send a letter from Halifax to Vancouver as it does to send a letter from Montreal to Ottawa. That will not be the case if the government is successful in its attempt to deregulate or privatize this public corporation.
Canada Post is a well-managed business that does not rely on taxpayer support and has been profitable for 13 consecutive years. It is one of Canada's largest corporations, employing almost 55,000 workers across the country, including 3,800 or more in rural and remote areas. It is a brand and an institution that Canadians trust.
Even before being elected to the House, I have always looked at Canada Post as one of those corporations that deliver, literally. Its motto is, “On land, online, we deliver”. I have often considered that to be true. Canada Post is award winning and world leading in its online services and second to none in its door-to-door service. To quote our friends from south of the border,“Through sleet, through rain and snow”, and, I will add, “from coast to coast to coast, it delivers”.
As the new critic responsible for crown corporations, I have studied this issue, consulted with former critics and I have heard from the minister of state and my other hon. colleagues. The issue in my mind is that the Supreme Court has ruled that Canada Post should maintain its exclusive privilege for domestic and international mail. Allowing remailers to continue to operate would cannibalize letter mail, reduce mail volume and revenue, and would erode the trusted corporation's ability to provide service in remote and rural areas.
In a letter to Canadian postal workers, CUPW, on July 25, 2006, the then minister of transport stated:
The activities of international remailers cost Canada Post millions of dollars each year and erodes the Corporation's ability to maintain a healthy national postal service and provide universal service to all Canadians.
As we understand it, the problem hinges on the difference between the English and French language variations of the Canada Post Corporation Act, section 14. The English version restricts Canada Post's exclusive privilege to letter mail for addresses within Canada, while the French version expands the exclusive privilege to mail directed to international addresses. This discrepancy between the English and French version has allowed an industry to develop outside the intentions of the act. We are debating Bill C-44 because of this discrepancy.
As we know, for the past 20 years, private international mailers have entered the market undeterred and have capitalized on the language discrepancy and the lack of clarity within the act. What is a remailer? Private remailer firms collect international mail daily from Canadian customers and fly it as cargo to other countries or foreign destinations, either for direct entry into their domestic postal operations or to an intermediary postal administration, bypassing Canada Post altogether.
The U.S. postal service estimates that it loses 5% of its international mail volume each year to remail companies. Canada Post president, Moya Greene, has estimated that the illegal activities of the international remailers results in a loss of revenue for the corporation of between $60 million and $80 million annually.
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in Canada Post's favour, stating:
...any one or more of the activities of “collecting, transmitting and delivering” letters is the exclusive privilege of Canada Post in Canada, including letters addressed to foreign destinations.
In 2007, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-14, which died on the order paper because of an unnecessary election that the Prime Minister called. We remember when the Prime Minister broke his own fixed date election law. Not only does the Prime Minister obviously break his own laws, but he also ignores the laws of the Supreme Court of Canada.
The ruling cannot be clearer. When the highest court in the land clarifies an ambiguous section of an act, we must respect it. The court granted Canada Post an exclusive privilege over both domestic and international mail delivery. We have an obligation to respect its decision. In fact, section 14 was ambiguous and allowed new players to enter the market for a 20 year period. That fact does not make those actions legal.
In December 2008, a strategic review of the Canada Post Corporation was released, examining all aspects of Canada's postal service and providing some 60 recommendations. The report recommends against deregulation of our public post offices. Page 8 of the executive summary states:
Canadians remain deeply interested in postal matters and intensely committed to the maintenance of a viable and effective universal postal service. There appears to be little public support for the privatization or deregulation of Canada Post and considerable, if not unanimous, support for maintaining a quality, affordable universal service for all Canadian communities.
The advisory panel received submissions from individuals, businesses, community organizations and municipalities. An overwhelming majority of them opposed the deregulation of Canada Post.
In 2008, an Ipsos Reid poll suggested that 69% of respondents strongly opposed deregulation; that is, allowing private companies to deliver letter mail in Canada.
Yet, does Bill C-44 not propose to deregulate postal service by allowing remailers to compete for the international share of the business? It is a slippery slope. Once competition is permitted in one segment of the business, what prevents the government to privatize, spin off, sell off or open competitions in other sectors of this crown corporation or in other corporations? What is the government's true agenda?
The government made a commitment to stakeholders and the industry that it would engage in future consultations before commenting on the recommendations of the report. Instead, the government acted unilaterally to introduce legislation to potentially deregulate the industry and that could create two standards of service: one for urban and one for rural communities.
What would the impact of open competition be on domestic delivery? Let us speculate on that for a moment. We know for certain that service to remote communities in rural areas would be jeopardized. Deregulation would raise prices, reduce services, destroy jobs, hurt the environment and reduce the security and privacy of mail.
Municipalities from coast to coast have written letters to the strategic review panel stating that postal deregulation would be bad for their communities.
A moratorium has existed since 1994 that protects the approximately 3,800 public post offices in rural and small one post office towns. Of the 647 municipalities that made a submission, only one municipality, Ponoka, Alberta, supported deregulation and, hence, is willing to eliminate its rural post office.
Unfortunately, the strategic review report also recommended that the current moratorium on post office closures in rural and small towns be replaced with new rules and procedures, including the ability to replace public post offices with private outlets. By eliminating small town post offices, we would kill jobs, isolate communities and deny them a vital link to the rest of Canada. Closing post offices in small rural and remote communities would prevent seniors from sending letters to childhood friends, disabled Canadians from accessing postal services easily and children from sending letters to Santa Clause at Christmas.
Despite this electronic age of instant messaging, email, Facebook and Twitter, Canadians still value a stamped and sealed envelope, which carries strong sentimental value for their most special occasions: birthdays, weddings, funerals and/or other holiday greetings.
Seniors need accessible and reliable postal service that meets their needs. They are aware that with deregulation they would face higher postal rates. When the Swedish post office was deregulated, the standard rate increased by 90%.
Disabled rights organizations also oppose deregulation. Organizations representing blind people are concerned that deregulation would result in service cutbacks. Canada Post provides free mailing of braille documents and sound recordings. It is no secret that deregulation would result in cutbacks to these types of services because they are not profitable, but we engage in them to serve Canadians because it is our public service mandate.
Small businesses, too, would face rising costs and suffer difficulties as a result of a lack of postal services in their communities. These businesses would have no choice but to pass on increased costs to their customers in the form of higher prices.
Thus, deregulation jeopardizes high quality, affordable, accessible and universal postal delivery in rural and remote markets.
In fact, the revenue Canada Post generates by operating in large urban centres subsidizes the more costly services to rural farms, villages and isolated northern communities. Deregulation would open competition in lucrative urban markets and lead to the dismantling of rural delivery.
In other markets that have deregulated postal delivery service, we have seen increased prices. The cost of a stamp in Finland is $1.35; in Germany, 93¢; and in Sweden, 92¢. In countries that have not deregulated, the price of domestic mail has remained affordable, like in Canada, 54¢. It is the same in the United States.
The final point is the issue of jobs, one of the key and critical issues. The government has a dismal record of creating and protecting jobs. The introduction of this bill is no exception. Instead of putting forward meaningful legislation dealing with the creation of jobs, we find ourselves debating a bill that has the power to potentially eliminate thousands of jobs and destroy an industry.
The remail industry is driven primarily by subsidiaries of foreign postal interests that operate in a bulk mailing system designed for transnational overseas markets. Still, it is responsible for a not so insignificant number of jobs in Canada, some 2,000 or 3,000 according to some estimates. These jobs are generated from gross annual revenues ranging from $40 million to $80 million, depending on who presents the figures.
At any rate, it is a number that pales compared to the 55,000-plus workers who are employed by Canada Post Corporation, more than 3,800 of them in remote and rural communities employed in rural post offices. These positions are often the only jobs in some villages that are helping people connect across our nation. The value of these jobs goes far beyond the simple wages and benefits. These rural postal workers are envied by those who are seasonal workers in resource communities facing contracting industries and job losses.
Although the minister, in his introduction of the bill, neglected to mention or touch upon the special relationship that rural Canada has to postal service and to rural post offices, we on the Liberal side value that relationship. If the Conservatives are prepared to dismiss and abandon Canada Post's connection, indeed obligation, to rural Canada, Liberals will not stand idly by.
Those 3,800 jobs in rural Canada represent the viability of a people and a culture in Canada becoming increasingly urban, but the minister did not even mention that. He made no reference to the economic weight these jobs carry in rural Canada. He ignored entirely the impact the bill could have on those communities, despite the fact the Conservatives have received ample warning from communities across the country.
He referred scantily, almost dismissively, to the Canada Post strategic review, preferring to simply note that closing rural post outlets was one of the recommendations emanating from it. He would address the others. He did not make the connection between the impact of the bill and the implementation of the recommendations on the viability of Canada Post and its employees.
I would not blame him. His finance minister wants to privatize the corporation and his abilities to guesstimate the economic health of the country and the finances of the government would embarrass any six year old.
As we know, in 1994 the Liberal government imposed a moratorium on the closures of rural post offices. I remember the quote as though it were today, “As long as this Government is in power, no rural or small town post office will close”. We promised at that time not to make any changes to rural service without first undergoing a full and comprehensive consultation with Postal Customer Councils and that has not been accomplished today.
Many Canadians are worried about the true long-term agenda of the Conservatives. Is it to weaken the government and crown corporations slowly, incrementally but determinately, so that eventually mass deregulation and privatization is the only answer?
Weakening Canada Post by opening a profitable area to unfair, unlevel competition is a recipe for the long-term degradation of Canada Post and its continued viability and sustainability.
The bill needs work and further discussion to ensure that it will not lead to the deregulation and demise of rural and remote post delivery. At this time, we are agreeing only so far as to send the bill to committee.