Mr. Speaker, the final vote approaches on Bill C-321, which amends the Canada Post Corporation Act and allows for a continued lower postage rate for library materials.
I am strongly in favour of the bill, and I thank the member for Brandon—Souris for his continued efforts, as this is indeed his third attempt. New Democrats unanimously supported the previous versions of the bill, including in committee, so we are pleased to rise today to renew our support for the bill at third reading.
This bill hits close to home, for two reasons. First, as my colleagues undoubtedly know, I am a teacher, which is why I will always vigorously support this House's efforts to encourage lifelong learning—through reading in this case—and to support culture and the dissemination of knowledge everywhere in Canada. I could tell a great many personal stories involving the students I had the chance to work with for 25 years, but seeing as time is limited, I will have to move on.
The resource materials provided by our libraries contribute to the learning and education of every Canadian.That is why we hope books can be distributed and shared at a low cost across Canada.
I would like to remind my honourable colleagues present that, since 1939, Canadian libraries have shared books at a reduced postal rate. It is vital that a federal institution such as Canada Post, which must serve all Canadians, provide such a service.
We cannot deny that we are pleased to support this bill, which is rather unique in that it places more emphasis on cultural and educational aspects than on economic considerations. It is quite rare for the government to do so, and I wanted to highlight this historic first.
I am also pleased to see that the bill retains the broader definition of library materials, which includes audiovisual and reading materials, of course.
Today, a library is much more than just a place to store books. Libraries are cultural hubs that provide a great variety of documents in very diverse formats. The nature of books is changing and will probably continue to do so in the decades to come. By passing this bill, we are maintaining access to library materials for all Canadians and we are maintaining fairness within the national network.
We also encourage small libraries to lend their collections and their archival documents to larger libraries in urban centres and vice versa. We would also point out that this exchange of documents allows Canadians who might be far away from one another to get to know each other better and recognize commonalities among their diverse fellow citizens.
The second thing that drew my attention in the bill was the key role played by the Canada Post Corporation. I must express a number of concerns I have about this.
Under the direction of the Conservative government, the Canada Post Corporation is closing a number of post offices and transferring certain services to private sector outlets. In the first six months of 2012, at least 16 post offices closed or received a notice of closure. In the next few months, Canada Post is expected to close another 40 or so post offices across the country. I just received an email informing me that the post office in Durham will be closing, and the list will probably grow over the next few weeks.
The NDP strongly opposes this quiet privatization, which has a negative impact on service to Canadians and businesses, and jeopardizes the Canadian economy. This modernization of Canada Post, if you can call it that, is troubling in the context of the bill currently before the House.
Because of the Conservatives, more and more isolated towns and communities are losing their Canada Post services. How will they receive the books that this bill refers to? How can this bill achieve its objectives if Canada Post services continue to dwindle?
It seems ironic, and even illogical, to see some Conservatives rise to support our libraries—something we agree with—and to support maintaining reduced postage rates, while others—or even the same ones—are in the process of reducing the number of post offices across the country.
Bill C-321 is an important bill. If we lost the reduced postage rates for library books, we would end up with a two-tier library system, based on the user's means and wealth. That is unacceptable in a country where access to knowledge is the key to prosperity and future economic development.
Bill C-321 also shows that it is not a mortal sin to require a business to guarantee something that could be considered an essential service in terms of culture and education.
That is why, while the Conservatives are busy making budget cuts—such as the ones to Library and Archives Canada—I will vote in favour of this bill.
However, this does not mean that Canadian libraries are in the clear. Far from it. We must stop privatizing the Canada Post Corporation and ensure that our heritage collections are accessible to as many Canadians as possible.
Canada Post currently offers Canadian libraries a reduced rate for library books, and there is no reason to believe that the corporation could not continue to offer this reduced rate in the future.
This provision would prevent Canada Post from unilaterally changing its reduced postage rate, which could cut interlibrary loan services in rural regions and remote areas of the country.
We must act now to ensure that our library system remains fair and accessible to all Canadians in all communities, especially official language minority communities.