Madam Speaker, I rise with pleasure to participate in the discussion on this private member's bill, Bill C-509.
I, too, thank my hon. colleague, the member for Brandon—Souris, for his numerous introductions of the bill and his commitment to this cause. I realize that he has introduced this bill several times since 2007, and his tenacity needs to be commended.
I have worked with the member in his capacity as the chair of transport, infrastructure and communities committee. He has always shown fairness in his rulings and has a strong understanding of procedure.
As my party's critic for crown corporations, I will be supporting the bill at second reading and have suggested that my caucus do the same. My party does support greater service for and more affordable access to library materials for Canadians, Canadians in rural areas, in remote areas and seniors, and Canadians with disabilities. We support a reduced postal rate for all library materials and we support the new definition of library materials to include modern media.
I do, however, have a few concerns that I will address later.
The substance of the bill is two-fold. First, that Canada Post receive approval from the Government of Canada prior to any increase in the library book rate; and second, that the library book rate include the shipping of new media materials, such as CDs, CD-ROMs, DVDs and other audio-visual materials. I will be addressing both issues in that order.
First, I will deal with maintaining the library book rate. I have a letter from the Canadian Library Association, CLA, dated May 14 of this year. In the letter the association shows its full support for the bill, and rightly so. It goes on to explain its reasoning, and I could not agree more.
Over 2,000 libraries across Canada rely on the library book rate for transferring materials back and forth. Canadians from coast to coast, especially students, the disabled, seniors and those living in rural areas, should be able to take full advantage of this system. Quite simply, the fact that libraries can share hard copy materials with one another at an affordable rate allows people to obtain information on a more regular basis.
As we know, information is king, knowledge is eternal and we in the Liberal Party stand for lifelong learning. As the CLA pointed out, it is imperative that we retain the library book rate for many reasons. Without a sustainable library book rate, the CLA has the following concerns: First, that it would create a two-tiered service for Canadians; simply those who can afford to borrow material and those who cannot.
Second, that material would be difficult to obtain if it were not regularly transferred between libraries. This would make things very difficult for the elderly, students, the disabled and rural residents.
Third, that it would put added pressure on libraries to reckon costs and remain viable due to lower supply and, ultimately, fewer visitors.
Finally, that it would strain smaller libraries. Their ability to loan would be in jeopardy due to lower supply and lead to diminished lending.
Those reasons alone are good enough for me to support the bill. However, another concerning issue in the CLA's letter is the fear that the current library book rate is scheduled to end unless it is renewed by the end of the year. If this is true, we as parliamentarians must do what is right and extend the library rate without hesitation. The timing of the bill is impeccable and it is the perfect vehicle for doing so.
As the member pointed out in his opening statement in his speech back in May of this year, the library book rate has been in existence since 1939. Libraries have become dependent on the rate and it has allowed them to transfer materials affordably around the country. Although Canada Post has kept the rates at reasonable levels through the years, it has periodically increased them in order to keep up with inflation or for other economic factors.
The bill addresses the concern that Canada Post could, ad hoc, increase the library rate by requiring it to obtain a mandate from Parliament prior to doing so. I am in agreement with this notion but once again I have some concerns with costs.
On the matter of sustaining the library rate and costs, I would like to get some friendly clarification from the member for Brandon—Souris, which I will seek at the conclusion of my time. The second half of his bill deals with the addition of modern media, such as CDs, CD-ROMs, DVDs and other audio-visual materials to the library book rate.
I am in full agreement that as technology advances, Canadians will have a desire to keep up with current trends. The need for advanced information grows.
It is imperative that our libraries are well stocked with modern media. Without such measures, the growing concern is that this material might be hoarded at larger metropolitan libraries and not shared with smaller rural libraries, because they simply cannot afford to transfer them. Smaller libraries would definitely suffer as a result.
In this modern day of Internet, speedy file transfer, email, social media, and large broadband, it is refreshing to know that I can still walk into a library and borrow or lend a tangible item like a book, a newspaper, a music CD, a movie DVD, or even an ebook.
I know that my constituents feel the same way. For this reason, we have a responsibility to maintain this fundamental right for all Canadians.
I have spoken in favour of this bill and will continue to support it. However, I have some concerns regarding the sustainability of the library book rate, its effectiveness, and compensation measures and subsidies.
For the benefit of speedy passage of this bill to committee, I will not be putting forward any amendments today. However, I would like to express my thoughts as this bill continues to move forward through committee.
First, I ask the hon. member if he has considered ensuring that Canada Post maintains a library book rate in perpetuity.
Second, how often can Canada Post seek an increase in the library book rate? What is the time frame? When will this bill confirm that Parliament's approval is necessary before the rate can be increased?
Third, I want to address compensation to Canada Post for the loss in revenue. In speaking to representatives of Canada Post, I have learned that it currently loses $5 million to $6 million per year as a result of the reduced library rate. While I agree that this is a cost of doing business, a small cost to pay for maintaining such an important aspect of our society, I would like to know if the hon. member has considered compensating Canada Post for the losses through an order in council.
Finally, we need to look at the matter of subsidy. Has the hon. member determined the value of the subsidy that Canada Post provides to libraries? This important question was raised in the first hour of debate last spring.
Once again, I will be voting in support of Bill C-509. I have urged and will continue to urge my caucus colleagues to do the same. In fact, I urge every member to follow suit.
Before I end, I need to voice one final concern. This concern has to do with party principles and policies.
To my knowledge, the question of the library book rate came to light in 2006. While I commend my friend, the hon. member for Brandon—Souris, for taking the lead on this issue, I do not understand why the government would not simply have addressed the issue of the library rate in a more responsive and timely manner.
Why has it taken four years? Many options were available to them: adopting it as a government bill, making a regulatory change, or seeking an order in council.
Unfortunately, this speaks volumes about the government's lack of connection with average Canadians, as well as their lack of direction and execution.
The hon. member for Brandon—Souris has my full support for this bill at second reading and for sending it to committee. I look forward to seeing the bill in committee and raising the concerns I have mentioned.