Killing Canada Post: Trudeau’s Turn

By David Bush, Gerard Di Trolio, and Doug Nesbitt

In early September the Canada Post Task Force, promised by Justin Trudeau during the last election to review the postal service’s future, released its discussion paper. The paper was the committee’s preliminary thoughts about the future of Canada Post based on stakeholder meetings, expert opinion and polling. The discussion paper is designed to set the limits of the debate about the future of Canada Post before the public consultations even get underway.1bdyer

The paper hews very closely to the management narrative of a crisis at Canada Post. It warns of drastic losses of revenue, major decreases in postal volume and a looming pension catastrophe at the crown corporation.

While Canada Post faces challenges in the future as letter volume decreases and parcel volume increases, the public service is far from in crisis. It has turned a profit every year but two in the past twenty. The supposed pension shortfall is actually the result of a solvency deficit calculation of $5.9 billion if the plan were terminated and every person was paid out in full all at once. In reality the pension plan is actually quite robust, with a $2.7 billion surplus in 2015.

Failed right-wing ideas

The solutions to the problems facing Canada Post put forth in the discussion paper for the most part read like a laundry list of failed right-wing ideas: increasing the cost of postage, continuing the installation of Community Mailboxes, charging people for home mail delivery, dropping delivery down to three days a week, closing more postal offices and attacking workers’ pensions.

While the task force did consider the possibility that the post office could become community hubs offering WiFi in remote areas or distribute marijuana, it was very cool towards postal banking which has been pushed heavily by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and groups like Friends of Public Services.

Writing off postal banking

The report believes that the start-up costs to postal banking are too high to generate any revenue and the financial services market is already competitive in Canada. Apparently the $9.87 billion in profit the big five banks pulled in last quarter is taken as a sign that market is already saturated!

It doesn’t take much for Canadians to get angry about the usurious fees charged by banks and their outlandish profits. Offering a cheaper service with numerous service outlets whose dividends could go back to the public coffers rather than offshore tax havens is undoubtedly beneficial to all Canadians.

There is strong potential in Canada, if properly promoted, for a low cost alternative to the big banks, especially among those in remote communities and people with low and fixed incomes. Canada Post’s own internal study showed it to be a winner, but this study has been heavily-redacted and management tried to keep it under wraps. Postal banking exists in many other similar western countries, has proven to be highly profitable while offering superior banking services, all the while creating a solid foundation for the maintenance of robust public mail systems.

There was also no mention of using Canada Post to green Canada’s economy unlike CUPW’s ambitious plan that it has come up with in consultation with Indigenous and environmental groups.

Managed decline

The discussion paper, minus a precious few ideas, is an exercise in the managed decline of a public service. Worker benefits and the services to the public will be cut, while service costs will go up through increased user fees. If the Canada Post Task Force follows the path it’s proposing, it will set Canada Post on the road to ruin and privatization.

The major problem we now confront is that this Liberal-appointed task force is making the crisis at Canada Post look objectively true, instead of just an ideological agenda driven by Canada Post’s Harper-appointed management. But the facts haven’t changed, even if the government is changing the window-dressing on the same neoliberal agenda.

We only need to look at the make-up of the Task Force to understand why it is adopting the same agenda the Harper government was pursuing. What we have is a trio of corporate executives with no convincing expertise or credible experience in public service.

A Corporate Task Force

François Bertrand is the Task Force chair. She’s a former President and CEO of the Quebec Chamber of Commerce and former chair of Quebecor’s board of directors. These are deeply anti-labour groups with deep pro-privatization interests.

Krystyna Hoeg was a former CEO in the booze industry has been a generous donor to the Ontario Liberals, a political party that is on a privatization and austerity binge.

Jim Hopson is the former CEO of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He has been widely praised on turning around the franchise into a highly profitable and successful enterprise. But it appears that Hopson’s success in professional sports has not translated at all into expanding and improving a major public service that millions rely on.

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CUPW members protesting in front of Justin Trudeau’s constituency office in Montreal

Finally there’s Marena McLaughlin who, as director, couldn’t keep the 45-year-old non-profit Memramcook Institute in New Brunswick from declaring bankruptcy and folding with 80 jobs lost.

So it is not surprising that this task force of executives came back with some recommendations like an annual fee for door-to-door delivery, resuming that community mailbox program, closing or franchising some of its rural post offices, and only offering home delivery on alternating days. This are regressive suggestions that would find Canadians paying more for basic services and puts jobs at risk.

Consultations?

Starting this week the task force moves on to its public consultation phase. Community groups, unions and all people should be attending the consultations as they move across the country and demanding something better than what the task force has offered up.

However, as we’ve seen from the TPP consultations, the consultation process for the Liberals is largely for show. The government will try push through its agenda. This means people should be looking beyond the consultations. Organizing in our communities and bringing pressure upon MPs to demand a strong Canada Post is still the best to way to fight the cuts. The experts be damned. It’s time for the public to come together and articulate a vision of strong and progressive public services for the 21st Century.

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2 thoughts on “Killing Canada Post: Trudeau’s Turn

  1. Their pay equity deal mediated by the Liberals ans signed by Canada Post and CUPW is a farce also. If they find a wage gap with the pay equity study, they are not allowed to sue for compensation.

  2. Lucille J. M. Falkner

    Reply

    The fact that the government says they are consulting with Canadians with these meetings, is a slap in the face of Canadians! You have to apply to speak at these hearings and if you are lucky enough to be one of 12 people picked, you have approx 5 mins to speak and then they spend the rest of the 10 minutes in a question and answer forum. I realize they can’t let things ramble for hours but seems very limited to me. For our Windsor standing committee meeting it was mentioned in a very small article in the Windsor Star on page three, the day of the meeting – Sept. 28th. The meeting was held from 8;30 AM – 11:30 AM, on Wednesday, so if you work days and had no prior knowledge of this meeting coming to town and you would not had much of a chance to get there to attend. Fortunately I was in the know and was able to attend, so disappointing that there was barely anyone there in the audience from the community. It would seem to me that these meetings are definitely more of a horse and pony show than actual independent consultation with Canadians. I am not surprised; but deeply disappointed in the lack of true consultation with the public, especially with those who truly depend on the mail like seniors, the disabled and rural people who do not have the luxury of computers and internet. They told us not to be skeptical at the meeting that the committee was completely independent of all government bodies, but after reading their report that they released ahead of time before these meetings were to start; the views expressed in their report did not make me feel like they were open-minded and already felt to me that they had made up their minds on all the different options available. I hope to be pleasantly surprised by their consultation finds, but I am sadly afraid the my skepticism will be justified.

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