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House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was union.

Topics

Privacy CommissionerRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I have the honour to lay upon the table the special report of the Privacy Commissioner entitled “Checks and Controls: Reinforcing Privacy Protection and Oversight for the Canadian Intelligence Community in an Era of Cyber-Surveillance”.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(h), this report is deemed permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

Canada-Honduras Economic Growth and Prosperity ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the reports of the Canadian group of the Interparliamentary Union respecting their participation at the 129th IPU assembly and related meetings in Geneva, Switzerland from October 4 to October 9, 2013.

Access to Information ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-567, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act (transparency and duty to document).

Mr. Speaker, I thank my seconder.

I rise today to introduce the bill to amend the Access to Information Act to strengthen the powers of the Information Commissioner. Conservative members present may recognize the elements of the bill, as they are all taken directly from the Conservative election campaign of 2006, when Conservatives purported to believe in open government.

The bill would give the Information Commissioner the power to order the release of documents and to have those orders enforced as if they were judgments of the Federal Court. It would codify the duty to create and retain documents and would introduce a public interest override to oblige disclosure of documents when the Commissioner determines that public interest outweighs the need for secrecy. It would make cabinet confidences an exclusion subject to the opinion and review of the Commissioner, and it would ensure that all exemptions from disclosure are justified only on the basis of harm and injury that would result from disclosure, not from blanket exemptions.

Freedom of information is the oxygen that democracy breathes. It is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy that the public has the right to know what its government is doing, and that right should be subject only to a very few and specific exclusions.

It is our hope that these simple reforms would help shine the light of day on the workings of government, and in doing so elevate the standards of ethical behaviour and good public administration.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Former Canadian Forces Members ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-568, An Act respecting former Canadian Forces members.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to introduce a bill that will allow our veterans to get the best health care, even after they have left the Canadian Forces.

It is important to remember that too many of our young heroes, particularly those who served in the hell that was Afghanistan, came home physically and psychologically broken, and too many of them made the ultimate sacrifice.

This bill will allow our military personnel to continue receiving the same level of health care after being honourably discharged from the Canadian Forces.

I am encouraged by the fact that the government and Conservative members never miss an opportunity to remind us how much they support our military personnel and their families.

This is a tremendous opportunity for the members of all parties to turn words into actions by supporting a change that would provide justice to those who have made sacrifices for us.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Corporate Social ResponsibilityPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions. The first petition calls upon the Government of Canada to mandate corporate social responsibility. The petitioners are appalled by the activities of the extractive industry, particularly in the eastern Congo, where they see the iron fist of Canada against indigenous populations.

They would allow the CSR to be legally binding here, and they would reinvigorate Bill C-300, which was a vote that was lost in the last Parliament.

Corporate Social ResponsibilityPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is signed by literally thousands of Canadians, again concerning the implementation of binding legislation with respect to corporate social responsibility, the rule of law and good governance and democracy.

The petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to adopt legislation which would be binding upon the EDC and other Canadian corporate bodies and be contingent upon compliance with corporate social responsibilities. They also call upon CIDA, which is of course now defunct, to comply with the—

Corporate Social ResponsibilityPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I would like to remind the hon. member that members are supposed to provide a very brief summary when they are presenting a petition and certainly not to read it.

It looks like the member has some other petitions, so I will ask him to keep that in mind as he tables them.

Corporate Social ResponsibilityPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will take that admonition seriously.

Experimental Lakes AreaPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the third and final petition concerns the Experimental Lakes Area. The petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to recognize the importance of the Experimental Lakes Area and to reverse the decision to close and defund the Experimental Lakes association.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Oral Questions--Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

January 28th, 2014 / 10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

On December 9, 2013, the House leader of the official opposition raised various issues relating to question period. Other members from all parties in the House have from time to time voiced similar concerns. In view of the desire for clarification regarding the rules and practices governing the conduct of question period, I undertook to return to the House and I would like to take a few minutes now to address the principles that govern this proceeding.

A good place to start is Chapter 11 of the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, which describes the evolution of question period from an historical perspective. What is immediately apparent is that the practice of members posing oral questions to the government has been a part of our daily proceedings since before Confederation. The longevity and staying power of this practice flows from the very principles that underpin our system of parliamentary democracy.

As House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, states at page 491:

The right to seek information from the Ministry of the day and the right to hold that Ministry accountable are recognized as two of the fundamental principles of parliamentary government. Members exercise these rights principally by asking questions in the House. The importance of questions within the parliamentary system cannot be overemphasized and the search for or clarification of information through questioning is a vital aspect of the duties undertaken by individual Members.

That is not to say that it is only recently that the conduct of question period has become a topic of public debate. On the contrary, virtually every Speaker at one time or another has had something to say about question period.

In the 1870s, for example, when question period was still in its infancy, Speaker Anglin declared that members ought to confine themselves to seeking information from the government and that it was not appropriate to "proceed to descant on the conduct of the Government" . By the 1940s, Speaker Glen was pointing to the need for questions to be brief and that these "must not be prefaced by any argument". It was always understood, of course, that questions were to relate to matters that were "urgent and important". Other guidelines came and went, depending on the times.

In the early 1960s, Speaker McNaughton unsuccessfully tried to enforce several long-standing unwritten rules regarding the content of questions.

In 1964 a report by a special committee set out certain guidelines respecting questions and went so far as to say that “answers to questions should be as brief as possible, should deal with the matter raised, and should not provoke debate”.

In the 1970s, O'Brien and Bosc tell us at page 495, question period became “an increasingly open forum where questions of every description could be asked”, this despite Speaker Jerome having identified several principles underlying QP and issuing guidelines for its conduct. Many attributed these developments to the advent of the television era, but whatever the cause, this trend to a more freewheeling question period continued unabated by a statement made by Speaker Bosley in the mid-1980s aimed at curtailing the lack of discipline.

A simple review of the section entitled “Principles and Guidelines for Oral Questions”, found at pages 501 to 504 of O'Brien and Bosc, shows just how many of these “guidelines” have fallen into disuse, some fairly recently. Throughout all these changes, one thing remains clear: the Speaker, as the servant of the House, can enforce only those practices and guidelines the House is willing to have enforced. Very often the particular circumstances of the moment dictate how far the Speaker can go without unduly limiting the freedom of speech of members.

But when content causes disorder, the Speaker must step in, all the while acting within the confines of our rules and practices. This is particularly necessary given that this House is one of the few Westminster-style deliberative assemblies where neither the question nor the topic of the question need be submitted beforehand. While this certainly makes for a lively and much watched parliamentary exercise, it does little to make the Speaker’s job any easier.

The main purpose of question period is undoubtedly the opportunity it provides to the legislative branch to seek information from the executive and to hold the government to account. This opportunity is particularly important for the opposition parties. We all recognize that the opposition has the right and, indeed the duty, to question the conduct of the government, and every effort must be made in the enforcement of our rules to safeguard that right. But the government can only be held to account for matters that fall within its administrative responsibilities.

For example, that is why my predecessors and I have frequently ruled out of order questions regarding election expenses. Elections Canada is an independent, non-partisan agency of Parliament. While in a technical sense there is a government minister responsible for Elections Canada—the minister transmits the agency's estimates, for example—the fact remains that the Chief Electoral Officer reports to the House through the Speaker. As Speaker Milliken noted in a ruling given on October 22, 2007, at page 209 of Debates, it is difficult to ask questions about Elections Canada to the government unless there is a link to the administrative responsibilities of the government—a link such as questions about changes to the law respecting Elections Canada, for example.

It is for similar reasons that questions that concern internal party matters or party expenses or that refer to proceedings in the Senate or the actions of senators, or indeed of other members, risk being ruled out of order. On the latter point, as Speaker Milliken stated in a ruling on June 14, 2010, found in Debates at page 3778, “...the use of [...] preambles to questions to attack other members does not provide those targeted with an opportunity to respond or deal directly with such attacks.” Thus, unless a link to the administrative responsibilities of the government can be established early in the question to justify them, such questions can be and indeed have been ruled out of order by successive Speakers. I discovered this myself once, when in my early days in the opposition a question of mine was ruled out of order by Speaker Milliken.

As always, however, the Speaker faces many challenges in applying the rules the House has set out. Any time a speaker rules a question out of order, the member concerned will claim a legitimate reason for asking it: will claim that it is in the public interest, will claim it is something that Canadians have a right to know, will claim that there is no longer a distinction between acting as party leader and leading the party in the House, and the list goes on.

But the Speaker must adhere to the longstanding principle that question period is intended to hold the government to account. I have to look at whether the matter concerns a government department, or a minister who is exercising ministerial functions, as a minister of the Crown, and not just as a political figure or as a member of a political party. The Speaker must ask whether the question was actually touching upon those types of government responsibilities, or whether it was about elections or party finances or some other subject unrelated to the actual administrative responsibilities of the government.

These principles apply to everyone who gets an opportunity to pose questions in question period, including backbench members of the governing party. Indeed, because the fundamental purpose of question period is to provide a forum for the legislative branch to hold the executive to account, it is meant to be an opportunity—for those government members fortunate enough to get the floor—to ask probing questions of the government on matters that fall within its administrative responsibilities. That said, it is not surprising to hear what might be called “friendly” questions from these members, since they are, after all, supporters of the government.

However, lately we have witnessed a growing trend: we hear preambles to questions that go on at some length to criticize the position, statements, or actions of other parties, members from other parties, and in some cases even private citizens before concluding with a brief question about the government's policies.

What we have, therefore, is an example of a hybrid question, one in which the preamble is on a subject that has nothing to do with the administrative responsibility of the government but which concludes in the final five or ten seconds with a query that in a technical sense manages to relate to the government's administrative responsibilities.

The House needs to ask itself if, taken as a whole, such a question—a lengthy preamble and a desultory query—can reasonably be assumed by a listener to respect the principles that govern question period. I would submit that it is because this formulation is actually about other parties and their positions, not about the government, that I have had to rule such questions out of order from time to time.

To complicate matters, as I said on December 1, 2011, (Debates, p. 3875), the Speaker is called upon to make decisions about the admissibility of questions on the fly. In that regard, since members have very little time to pose their questions and the Chair has even less time to make decisions about their admissibility, it would be helpful if the link to the administrative responsibility of the government were made as quickly as possible.

Accordingly, these kinds of questions will continue to risk being ruled out of order and members should take care to establish the link to government responsibility as quickly as possible.

With this approach in mind, let me turn now to the issue of answers to questions.

There has been much discussion recently about the nature of answers during question period, with calls for the Speaker to somehow intervene, citing practices in other countries.

It is true that there may be slight differences in the way question period is managed elsewhere due to each country's unique set of traditions, but it is equally without doubt a widespread practice and tradition in Westminster-style parliament that the Chair does not judge the quality or relevance of answers.

For instance, it states on page 565 in Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand, third edition, that:

While Ministers are required to “address” the question asked in their replies, whether the reply provided actually “answers” the question asked is a subjective judgment. It is no part of the Speaker's role to make such a judgment.

In South Africa, a similar practice prevails and, according to the National Assembly Guide to Procedure, 2004, on page 211, “the Chair regulates the proceedings in the House, (but) it is not possible for the Chair to dictate to Ministers how they should reply to questions”.

In the United Kingdom, Erskine May's Treatise on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 24th edition, at page 356 states:

The Speaker's responsibility in regard to questions is limited to their compliance with the rules of the House. Responsibility in other respects rests with the Member who proposes to ask the question, and responsibility for answers rests with Ministers.

Each parliament has its own traditions. Successive speakers in our House have maintained our tradition of not intervening in respect of answers to questions, and I do not intend to change that. For me to deviate from this long-standing practice would require an invitation from the House, probably stemming from a review of our rules by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Given the widespread concern and commentary about question period, all members may want to consider how the House can improve things so that observers can at least agree that question period presents an exchange of views and provides some information. The onus is on all members to raise the quality of both questions and answers.

While the framework, mechanisms, and procedures associated with question period have evolved with time, its raison d'être and core principles have remained intact. All members, both in government and in opposition, need to ask themselves: Is question period a forum that Canadians can look at and conclude that it constitutes a proper use of members' time?

The principle of responsible government is that the government has to provide an accounting for where the money goes and to provide reasons for why decisions are made. In the Chair’s view, it takes a partnership between the opposition and the government to demonstrate a willingness to elevate the tone, elevate the substance, and make sure that question period is being used to do the job that we were elected to do, which is to represent our constituents, advance ideas, and hold the government to account.

In conclusion, I will continue to rule questions out of order that do not establish a direct link to the administrative responsibilities of the government. In the same sense, so-called hybrid questions will also continue to risk being ruled out of order when this link is not quickly demonstrated. Members should take care when formulating their questions and establish this link as soon as possible in posing their questions to ensure that the Chair does not rule what may be a legitimate question out of order.

The onus is on all members to raise the quality of questions and answers during question period. The Chair notes with interest that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has been instructed to undertake a review of the Standing Orders. As the servant to the House, the Chair will endeavour to implement any changes to the Standing Orders or to question period that the House chooses to adopt.

I thank all hon. members for their attention to this important matter.

Letter to the Hon. Member for Terrebonne—Blaineville — Speaker's RulingPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the member for Terrebonne—Blainville on December 9.

I would like to thank the hon. member for raising the question, as well as the hon. House leader of the official opposition and the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader for their interventions on the matter.

The hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville has shared with the House her view that a letter widely distributed by Senator Dagenais has unjustly impugned her character and reputation. She also decried what she described as the belittling, sexist, misogynistic, personal, and hostile tone of the letter. Finally, citing House of Commons Procedure and Practice, she called on me to find a prima facie question of privilege on the grounds that this attack on her reputation constituted an impediment to her ability to perform her parliamentary functions.

The Chair is of course cognizant that these sorts of communications, whatever their origin, always have the potential to be hurtful and damaging, but the Chair is also obliged to access such situations in the light of parliamentary precedent.

O'Brien and Bosc, at page 109, contains a passage that illustrates that a direct link must exist between the situation giving rise to the complaint and the ability of members to perform their parliamentary functions:

In order to find a prima facie breach of privilege, the Speaker must be satisfied that there is evidence to support the Member's claim that he or she has been impeded in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions and that the matter is directly related to a proceeding in Parliament. In some cases where prima facie privilege has not been found, the rulings have focused on whether or not the parliamentary functions of the Member were directly involved.

In the current case, the member herself cited a ruling by Speaker Fraser that stresses the importance of the link to the performance of parliamentary functions and distinguishes between statements made in the House and statements made outside. Clearly, the communication which has given rise to this situation did not occur on the floor of the House, and so the normal channels remain available to the member.

Speaker Milliken, in a ruling given in February 2009, said as much. There are, in fact, many Speakers’ rulings in a similar vein, as has been noted.

Without minimizing the seriousness of the complaint or dismissing the response by the hon. member, it is difficult for the Chair to determine, given the nature of what has occurred, that the member is unable to carry out her parliamentary duties as a result. Accordingly, the Chair must conclude that there is no prima facie question of privilege.

That being said, as the member herself has pointed out, she has the same recourse as any other citizen faced with attacks on her reputation or attacks she considers defamatory. That is a decision she will have to make. In the meantime, the Chair is constrained by the many precedents that establish that a direct link with parliamentary functions is essential in such cases.

I thank the House for its attention.

Opposition Motion—Canada PostBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, door-to-door mail delivery is a valuable service provided by Canada Post, and that this House express its opposition to Canada becoming the only country in the G7 without such a service.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to split my time with the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

Instead of mailing out a holiday greeting card to brighten the lives of Canadians in December, the government sent a grim and dismal message. It allowed the CEO of Canada Post to announce a five-point plan to disaster. It is a plan that includes slashing services to over five million Canadians while hiking up prices, cutting jobs, and harming the economy. It is a plan that will hurt not only ordinary Canadians but small businesses and even major corporations as well.

On Friday the National Association of Major Mail Users met in my riding of Trinity—Spadina in Toronto. These are major corporations and businesses such as Canadian Tire. They too rely on Canada Post. They too are calling on the government to set aside this destructive plan.

They will be hit hard by the outrageous 15% increase on bulk mailing, which means higher prices for lower service. Their mailings will no longer go door-to-door to their prime customers in densely populated urban areas. That will directly affect their profits, and it will directly affect the price they must charge consumers to protect their profits. It will make them less competitive. Consumers will be hurt and business will be hurt, but will Canada Post gain? Probably not, because business will resort to other ways to reach their customers, and Canada Post revenues will die. Again, it is a five-point plan to disaster.

Here are the words of Kathleen Rowe, president of the National Association of Major Mail Users:

Transaction Mail is 50 per cent of Canada Post’s revenue, and large volume users are over 80 per cent of that. An accelerated migration forced by conditions imposed by Canada Post means small and medium business will suffer from even greater increases on this as well as the many competitive products of Canada Post. This is a lose-lose scenario.

That is what the National Association of Major Mail Users said: it is a lose-lose. Urban seniors and people with mobility issues said it is a lose-lose. Hundreds and thousands of people have been able to live in dignity in their own homes, but without mail service, they will be vulnerable. Therefore, it is a lose-lose situation for them. They deserve better.

The CEO keeps saying he is looking for robust services for seniors. I think he believes that all seniors are robust people themselves, or at least will become so when they have to hobble out on icy sidewalks in sub-zero weather like today to collect their pension cheques from a community mailbox in some back alley.

I invite him to come to my neighbourhood to see how people would manage. My mother and thousands like her would say it is a lose-lose. That is what Canadian families are saying as they face an increase of over 50% in the price of stamps, as ordinary Canadians are hit with the highest increases in this mockery of a plan. Mail will become an unaffordable luxury. That is a lose-lose situation.

That is what charities and small businesses also say. That is what people living in cities like Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, and Vancouver are saying from coast to coast in cities where there is no convenient room to start building and securing community mailboxes.

That is what people living in remote regions and rural areas are saying as they see post office hours cut back and a few post offices even closed. These are people who stay connected by mail and who need it for everything from medicine to school supplies to electronics.

That is what police said, who are concerned about protecting the security of community mailboxes and protecting against fraud in urban neighbourhoods. They say it is a lose-lose situation. Also, that is what postal workers said, whose efforts have enabled Canada Post to earn a profit in 16 of the last 17 years. It is a lose-lose situation.

There is only one tiny group of winners in this five-point plan to disaster, and that is the CEO of Canada Post and his 22 vice-presidents. He is earning over $0.5 million and a 33% bonus. Wow, he is the winner. They think they can get away with this travesty because the government is turning a blind eye. However, the Prime Minister and the minister will surely win nothing by following this course. They may use their majority to defeat a motion and allow this disastrous plan to stand, but in the next election they will truly understand the meaning of “lose-lose”. The current government must be held to account. That is the purpose of this motion today.

However, it does not have to be a lose-lose situation. I spoke to the major mail users on Friday, and I noted that there are so many opportunities. If we look at other models around the world—other models in the G7 where every country still provides door-to-door delivery in urban areas while facing the same challenges as Canada Post—we see there is an excellent business case for the return of postal banking, providing services and meeting needs not met by the traditional banking sector. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, one million Canadians do not have banking services. They rely on payday loan companies such as Money Mart to access funds and are paying enormously high interest rates. France's La Banque Postale, New Zealand's Kiwibank and Switzerland's PostFinance all provide banking services and thus increase their profit and revenue. There is no reason why Canada Post cannot consider doing the same. This would mean competitive new banking services for Canadians, giving diversity of choice and reaching people who fall through the cracks. At the same time, it would generate revenue and stability that would boost and strengthen Canada Post and support our postal services.

Why is the government not looking at this? It works in other countries. I do not mean just postal banking, but truly innovative approaches to support e-commerce, not the half-baked plan provided by the CEO of Canada Post. Why would Canada choose failure rather than success? We can strengthen and expand our postal services, rather than slashing them and letting them bleed. Canadians deserve a win-win proposition from this House and from Canada Post, from the current government.

Let us deliver. Let us pass my motion and move forward.

Opposition Motion—Canada PostBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Essex Ontario

Conservative

Jeff Watson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member with some interest here. If they want to look at what international examples there are, since the member raised a few, they will see that in the EU they are fully competitive and have no postal monopoly. Many are privatized. Many slashed their workforces by up to 40%, and they have expanded franchise counters significantly. Canada Post has not even proposed doing most of those things.

However, I do have a question on postal banking, which she raised as a possible solution. In the example of New Zealand, the post office created the bank there and then had to capitalize the bank out of postal revenues to the tune of about $360 million. Sure, while Kiwibank may be profitable, in the end New Zealand just announced it is slashing service delivery, closing post offices and, as a result, laying off about 1,000 postal workers. Is that the example the member is thinking of?

Can the member tell us, since the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives could not, who will capitalize a postal bank? How much capitalization will come out of postal revenues? Does she think Canada Post can afford to create a bank?

Opposition Motion—Canada PostBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, let us talk about our postal service and Kiwibank. I have the information here. Canada Post is proposing to slash 4,000 jobs. This is just for Canada Post. In addition, the hike of 15% in bulk purchasing price will result in the laying off of workers in small and medium-sized businesses. It said so itself. In New Zealand the bank made an after-tax profit of $79 million for the year ending June 30, 2012, 276% more than 2011, when it made $21.1 million. It is extremely profitable.

The government refuses to look at other examples. It is not just New Zealand. There is Italy, France's Banque Postale, Switzerland and all of them, which are post financed. The postal banking in Switzerland started in the 1900s and, in fact, has a workforce of 22,000 employees and is the second largest employer in Switzerland. Here is a model of success and, instead, the Conservatives want failure.

Opposition Motion—Canada PostBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, last December we heard from the government through Canada Post that its intentions are to implement significant slashbacks to prevent mail delivery. This is at a time at which we have an incredible workforce within Canada Post, whether they are letter carriers, mail distributors, sorters or so forth.

It was interesting to listen to the previous question, in which the member seemed to say that we should be looking at huge slashes in the post office. When I look at it, the government's response to all the slashing and the cutbacks at Canada Post seems to be that seniors will get more exercise. That seems to be the logic that the government or Canada Post was using. How bizarre.

My question to the member is this. Could she maybe expand upon her comment with regard to the 22 vice-presidents now in Canada Post? What does she think they do?

Opposition Motion—Canada PostBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure precisely what the 22 vice-presidents do, but I know what Canadians want. There was a poll recently that said close to two out of every three respondents—which is 63%—to a Stratcom poll supported Canada Post expanding revenue-generating services, including financial services like bill payments, insurance and banking. They want expanded service, not slashing, burning, increasing fees, hiking rates and killing jobs.

Opposition Motion—Canada PostBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the unending saga of the Conservatives as they continue to lay waste to public services is sadly unfolding before our eyes. This time, it is our postal services that are the target of their ideology.

Let us look a little more closely at the magical and extraordinarily brilliant plan that has been concocted to—as they put it—“save” Canada Post and guarantee its future. First, thousands of good jobs will be eliminated. Second, services to the public and businesses will be cut. Third, costs are going to jump 15%. This is quite a recipe for success.

In the private sector, this would certainly work very well; therefore, there can be no doubt that these measures will ensure the success of our postal services in the future! What is the justification for all these cuts that are affecting our fellow citizens, as well as our SMEs? Canada Post is said to be on the verge of collapse; ruin is just around the corner. If we do nothing, disaster will befall and we will have to cut everything.

The Minister of Infrastructure was making alarmist comments yesterday on CBC radio. He went as far as saying that Canada Post is now losing hundreds of millions of dollars, and if nothing was done, the losses would amount to one billion dollars per year. Let us get back to the facts. Canada Post has been profitable for 16 of the last 17 years. That is not bad. During that period, it accumulated $1.7 billion in profits. That is not a disaster; things are not that bad.

In 2012, the Canada Post Group of Companies had profits of $127 million, while the Canada Post sector made $98 million. The only year in the last 17 that showed a loss was 2011. Well, what did the Conservatives do in 2011? They locked out the employees of Canada Post. That, of course, does not help generate revenue. The year 2011 was rather exceptional, because Canada Post was also obliged to make pay equity payments. That is a good thing, because we are in favour of pay equity, but it is not representative. This was a one-time expense.

Yes, mail volume is down, but parcels are up. Yes, there are more online purchases, but that does not mean there is less mail. There are fewer letters, but if a consumer buys a Christmas present for their child online, the package still has to be delivered to their home. That is what Canada Post is there for. There are ways of investing in what works best, that is to say parcels, and also in the online services Canada Post has begun to offer. The idea is that we should be looking for new ways of generating new revenue. We should not dismantle a public service that Canadians value and rely on.

They confront us with the Conference Board of Canada study, but it is based solely on the only year in the past seventeen that showed a loss, namely 2011. In our view, this is not representative, and the billion-dollar loss expected in 2020 is not a sure thing. On the contrary, we would do well to look at Canada Post’s successes over the last 17 years and decide to focus on new kinds of revenue. For example, banking services are a significant part of the solution.

I would like to point out that, by the remotest of chances, the CEO of Canada Post is on the board of directors of the Conference Board of Canada. There is every appearance of a slight conflict of interest. Other studies point to a better future for Canada Post, with no need for drastic cuts. I will come back to that.

We are talking about the possible elimination of 8,000 jobs. That is no small thing. That is 8,000 good jobs that will not be available for our young people who will soon be on the job market. It is a hard blow for our communities. Those 8,000 jobs at $50,000 a year represent a loss for our communities of $400 million in terms of payroll. That will hurt our businesses, our cities and our villages.

With regard to the impact on service, if the Conservatives go through with their plan, 5 million Canadians will no longer enjoy home delivery of their mail. That is huge. According to Canada Post, this is not that serious, because already, two-thirds of Canadians do not receive their mail at home. That depends on how you juggle the numbers. Again, we can set the record straight.

Canada Post now considers that if you live in an apartment block, with a little mailbox in the lobby, you do not have home delivery. That is the case for most of the homes in Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, for example. This means that if you are inside your building and you go downstairs to get your mail in the morning, you are not deemed to have home delivery because the mail did not come directly to your door. Canada Post includes you in the group that does not get home delivery, which is rather absurd.

My brother lives in Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu, by a concession road. His house is some distance back from the road, with of course a mailbox at the side of the road. Again, that is not regarded as home delivery, because the letter carrier does not come to the door.

So you can make numbers say many things. In fact, two thirds of Canadians and of Quebeckers currently receive their mail at home, and these people will be deprived of an important service.

This is going to cause problems for seniors. We live in a northern country. Freezing rain, ice and snow banks are commonplace. It is not true that all seniors will be able to get out every day to get their mail. They will be cut off from this contact. People with reduced mobility are worried. How can we ensure that these people get the essential information and mail that they need?

The Advocacy Center for the Elderly, FADOQ, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities have all voiced their concern about this reform. The reform will also have a negative impact on SMEs, as well as on charities, which hold a mail-out fundraising campaign every December. Their mailing costs will jump by 15%.

Here in Ottawa, the Ottawa Food Bank has expressed its concern. Even the Canadian Federation of Independent Business is wondering how its members will cope.

If Canada Post goes ahead with its plan to dismantle postal services, Canada will be the only G7 country that does not have door-to-door mail delivery. I am sorry, but that is not really something to be proud of.

Canadians like their postal service. They appreciate this public service, this link with the rest of the community. Citizens do not want to scrap 8,000 good jobs for our youth. We do not need to cut services. Right now, seniors are worried. People with disabilities are worried. It is not Deepak Chopra's bad joke about the benefits of taking a walk for exercise that will reassure them.

Canada Post has challenges, but there is no reason to panic. In the last 17 years it has generated profits for 16 years. In that period it has made more than $1.7 billion, which is not too bad.

For the future we need to seek new revenues for Canada Post. Why not look at banking services like a few countries already have, countries like the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Japan, New Zealand, or Brazil?

People know which side NDP members are on. We are on the side of seniors, small businesses, charities and ordinary citizens. Let me guess that Conservatives are on the side of the president and the 22 vice-presidents of Canada Post who are paid more than $10 million per year. We are on the side of postal workers and young people of this country who are looking for a good job.

The Canada Post reform that has been presented will create a serious mess. Canada Post is making things up as it goes along. It is true that the community boxes Canada Post is proposing to set up everywhere work fairly well in new residential neighbourhoods. Why? Because things were planned that way. The community boxes were a result of consideration and planning. In densely populated urban areas, such as Rosemont--La Petite-Patrie, such a thing would be practically impossible.

I have a very simple question for my Conservative friends. Where are they going to put these boxes? They need to come to the corner of Beaubien and Christophe-Colomb and show me where they are going to put these community boxes. That is why the City of Montreal is opposed to the changes proposed by Canada Post and has already passed a resolution in this regard.

What Canada Post needs is new revenues. Sixty-three percent of Canadians agree with that option, which already exists.

Japan Post Bank is the world's largest savings bank, with $2.15 trillion—that is $2,000 billion—in deposits in Japan's postal system. New Zealand set up a postal banking system called Kiwibank, which is the largest New-Zealand-owned bank. Kiwibank generates 70% of the profits from this public service. In Italy, postal banking services generate 67% of Poste Italiane's profits. In Switzerland, PostFinance generates 71% of Swiss postal revenue.

A 2005 Library of Parliament report supported the idea of having Canada Post establish banking services and said that they should exist. Three of Canada Post's former presidents agree.

If the Conservatives want to save this public service and avoid privatization, Canada Post needs new tools and new revenue. Post offices should offer banking services.

Opposition Motion—Canada PostBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the previous two members describe the situation of losing door-to-door service. As they mentioned in their speeches, a third of Canadians currently do not have door-to-door delivery. In his speech, the member talked about it being planned and it therefore being okay for the person who is disabled and for the senior in the new development who wants to own a new home.

The question I am driving at here is what is this advocacy really for? Is it to increase door-to-door delivery for every Canadian? I ask because for decades, in certain communities, and especially that of the member for Trinity—Spadina, new developments have had communal mailboxes. They work because neighbours, communities, and organizations recognize the need of seniors and the disabled and take care of them within the community. It happens right now for a third of Canadians.

I wonder what this is all about. Is this all about supporting the big militant union that Canada Post has? Or is it about Canadians who, when they buy a new home, currently go to the communal mailbox and take care of their seniors and disabled neighbours? I know that because I have a son who is in that situation.

I ask you, what is this really about?

Opposition Motion—Canada PostBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

I would ask all members to direct their questions and comments to the Chair, not to other members of Parliament.

The hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

Opposition Motion—Canada PostBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is about preserving good public services. That is what it is all about.

According to the Conservatives' logic, if one-third of Canadians do not have home delivery, then it is only fair that no one get home delivery. That way, everyone is equal.

Just because people do not have home delivery does not mean that things are perfect and that the community is well served. We are saying that we need to look ahead, to the future, and ensure that Canada Post is financially viable.

I would like to talk about banking services. For more than a century after Confederation, banking was part of Canada's postal services. From 1867 to 1968, post offices offered banking services. In 1908, there was $47 million in deposits, which is the equivalent of $1 billion today.

It should be noted that the regulations governing post office savings accounts are still part of the legislation. We would not even need to make any legislative changes to exercise that option and move forward.

Opposition Motion—Canada PostBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I just came back, as we all did, from visits in my constituency. I held town hall meetings in eight locations and had over 1,300 constituents come. At every single meeting, the question of losing postal service and what is happening to Canada Post came up everywhere. People are desperately concerned that they are going to lose the ability to get their mail at home .

For those members across the way, it is true that some places have community boxes, as it is, but many of my constituents are looking at these changes and cutbacks in other areas. For instance, Fulford Harbour is losing some its hours within Salt Spring Island.

Canadians deserve postal service.

Could the member expand on the excellent point he made that in other countries, postal services are diversifying to remain competitive, that there is more than one model of cutbacks and higher stamp prices to be able to have a viable postal service.