Mr. Speaker, as this is my first opportunity to speak after returning from holiday break, let me state the very obvious, and that is how much I enjoy being back in my riding for more than just a Friday and a Saturday.
Let me state the other obvious, my shock at being back in the polar vortex when the daffodils in my yard are already about four inches tall and the first ornamental fruit trees bloomed in our neighbourhood this week.
More seriously, I welcome the fact that the holiday break gave me a chance to talk to my constituents. It gave me the opportunity to do important things like visit the Edward Milne Community School in Sooke where, as usual, I faced tougher questions from high school students than from people almost anywhere else I go.
While some have questioned the seemingly cynical timing of Canada Post's announcement of service cuts, strangely, it facilitated my dialogue with constituents. That is what they wanted to talk to me about all through the break period. Wherever I went, the most common topic was the Canada Post proposal to eliminate home delivery.
This is a loss of a service very important to seniors and those with mobility issues, but I also heard from small business owners in my riding who communicate with their customers through Canada Post and who fear that their mailings will not make it from that community box into the house. It is hard enough to get people to pay attention to mail between the mailbox and the recycling bin, but if it never gets to the house at all, small business are quite worried that it will take away one of their main ways of communicating with customers.
Canada Post has the obvious mandate to deliver mail. It has been doing so profitably, returning $1.7 billion to public coffers in 16 out of the last 17 years. It is a bit rich for the Conservatives to stand up and talk about a crisis we are having with Canada Post when it is a profit-making corporation. Yes, things have changed and Canada Post has to change with the times. However, we are not in a crisis situation that caused this drastic reduction in public services. Why did Canada Post not turn a profit in one year? That was the year Canada Post locked out its employees.
It is true that in my riding not everyone has home delivery service, but it is also not true, which the Conservatives seem to conclude, that those people would not rather have home delivery than community boxes. In fact, I appeared on local radio right after this decision was made, and we heard from a disabled resident in a part of my riding that does not have home delivery. She cannot access the mail in a community box due to her disability. She contacted Canada Post and asked what she was supposed to do. She was told to get someone to get her mail for her. Her right to have access to mail was being denied by the fact that community boxes are not accessible to most people with disabilities.
Conservatives have tried to divide Canadians on this issue by putting forward the false statement that only one-third of Canadians have home delivery. They have forgotten about the 5% who have rural delivery at their boxes and those who get delivery at apartments, somehow saying that this is not home delivery.
In fact, only 25% of Canadians get delivery at community boxes, and I bet that most of those, if they had a choice, would choose home delivery.
Why is this wrong-headed idea of the Conservatives going ahead? They have put forward a number of excuses that we have heard over and over here today.
The first of those, of course, is that Canada Post is an independent crown corporation and it made this decision without any reference to the government. I find this a bit strange when we all know that the public owns Canada Post, and the Conservatives have filled the board of Canada Post with people who are not known supporters of public services, including a president and CEO who is a director of the Conference Board of Canada, a group that, coincidentally, issued a pessimistic report on Canada Post in the spring of 2013.
What were the options in that report, which forecast a $1 billion deficit? They were ending home delivery and increasing the price of stamps. Now we find out, of course, that the report was in fact commissioned by Canada Post, by the CEO of Canada Post who sits as a director on the Conference Board of Canada's board. Here we have an obvious conflict of interest, as well as a report that projected a shortfall of $1 billion. However, in the first year after the report came out, it was wrong by more than $350 million on the performance of Canada Post.
Canada Post appears to be at arm's length when it is convenient, but not at arm's length at other times. I remember when we first came into the House of Commons in 2011, those of us who were first elected then, and the government used its legislation to end the labour dispute. Why was that an emergency that required all-night debate? It was because it would halt mail delivery.
Now we have the same government back in the House saying that it is okay to halt mail delivery. There is a bit of inconsistency here in the way we treat the issue of Canada Post.
The second excuse is that it had already consulted Canadians. We know that the consultations were done primarily online. In British Columbia, the only communities that were invited for consultation were Nanaimo, Vancouver, Coquitlam and Kamloops. No one in my riding or in any of the ridings near the area I represent was asked to be part of that consultation. Interestingly, the results from that narrow consultation are not being released by Canada Post, so one would think that it did not hear what it wanted to hear since it is not willing to even tell us what that limited sample told it.
The third excuse I have already touched on, that being that Canada Post's business plan is necessary to avoid a future crisis and losses that might extend to $1 billion a year. If it really were faced with this crisis, as my colleague from Trois-Rivières said, those with even basic training in business would say that a good strategy would not be to raise prices and cut services. That would dig a deeper hole. Instead, other nations have looked at how they use the largest retail outlet network in the country, something that spans urban and rural Canadians, to make more profits to support maintaining this essential service.
We have the example of New Zealand Post, which got into the proposal for postal banking. Earlier, I heard one of the members ask how we would capitalize that and pay for it. New Zealand Post had no trouble doing that. It is making a profit off this business, in addition to maintaining its essential service.
One of my personal favourites is that we might have seen Canada Post bid on the broadband auction. It could have used its retail network to provide real competition to the big three telecom companies by entering the cell phone service business. Competition would have been a good thing for the big three. Of course, with a board at Canada Post dominated by private sector business people, it is not an option it even looked at.
A closer look at the business plan for Canada Post reveals something else that is interesting. It has a president and CEO who is paid nearly $500,000 a year. This is an organization with two group presidents, whatever that means, seven senior vice-presidents and twelve vice-presidents. According to its 2012 annual report, the senior management group of 22 people received more than $10 million in annual compensation, not including $2 million in termination benefits. The CEO of Canada Post did say it would look at cutting some of these 22 presidents and vice-presidents after it finished eliminating up to 8,000 family-supporting jobs across the country. This is a curious economic strategy at a time when the Conservative finance minister keeps reminding everyone that the economy remains fragile. How will eliminating thousands of stable, full-time, well-paying, family-supporting jobs, distributed in communities all across the country, contribute to our economic recovery? The answer to that is obvious.
On this side of the House, we are definitely hearing from our constituents on this issue. Several of my colleagues have held town hall meetings like the ones in Victoria and North Delta, which had standing-only crowds, including seniors who are concerned about maintaining their independence. This week I heard from the daughter of a man who is still living on his own at the age of 95. His ability to access his post and take care of his own business is an important part of his independence and dignity as a senior. This is very much threatened by putting up a box. In my community there is certainly not room on every block so it would be two or three blocks away from this senior who would lose his ability to take care of himself and his independence.
We heard from people with disabilities at these meetings. I mentioned earlier the very concrete example of the difficulties that people with disabilities have when it comes to accessing community mailboxes.
We heard from members of the public who do not want one of these in front of their house. The municipalities in my riding have taken up the concern as to how they would install community mailboxes safely and conveniently in existing neighbourhoods. It is a real problem. Who would bear the expense of the planning and construction? How would they accommodate traffic around those in existing neighbourhoods? The municipalities in my riding have promised to pass resolutions asking Canada Post to reconsider this idea of ending home delivery.
In conclusion, this is not just an urban issue. My colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior shared with me a letter he wrote to the minister almost immediately after the cuts were announced.
In this letter, he makes many of the same points I have made in my speech, but he emphasizes the impact of the elimination of home delivery in rural communities in B.C., like Nelson and Trail, which not only have steep hills but have something Victoria does not have, and that is regular icy winter weather to deal with. He also pointed out that in most rural areas in British Columbia there was no consultation of any kind and that job losses in rural communities would be very hard to make up and they would have a severe impact.
This leaves me with a question. The Conservatives say they are not really hearing an outcry against this policy, which would make Canada the only developed country without home delivery. Are they really not hearing the outcry or are they just not listening?