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.
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.
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.
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.
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.