Liberals’ hypocrisy on home delivery and a universal postal service

Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough announced on January 24 what she called “the government’s vision for renewal at Canada Post.” Minister Qualtrough declared on behalf of the government that its “new vision is that of a renewed Canada Post that will provide high quality service at a reasonable price to Canadians no matter where they live.” The Minister did not elaborate the meaning of this “new vision” and “renewed Canada Post.” Notable as well was her refusal to refer to any of the reports or thousands of views submitted by Canadians on what they would like to see with a renewed Canada Post. Nor did she mention the problems postal workers have raised within their struggle to defend their working conditions against the corporation’s demands for cutbacks, elimination of postal services, and attacks on their wages and benefits.

The Minister announced that Canada Post’s program to eliminate home delivery and replace it with community mailboxes will be “terminated effective immediately.” However, where community mailboxes have already been installed, the program eliminating home delivery will not be reversed. In other words the program to eliminate home delivery is being paused. This means close to a million households have now permanently lost home delivery. Is anyone to believe that the Liberals are not just working with Canada Post to figure out how to finish the job in the future? The government is also asking Canada Post to set up a panel of experts and advocates for seniors and people with disabilities to do a study and provide advice on “development, implementation and promotion of an enhanced accessibility program.”

In addition, Minister Qualtrough announced she will be seeking changes to the Financial Administration Act to reclassify Canada Post. She said, “Currently, under its listing in the Financial Administration Act, Canada Post has a legal obligation to pay a dividend to the federal government. I intend to seek the Governor in Council’s approval to move Canada Post Corporation from Financial Administration Act, Schedule III Part II to Schedule III Part I to remove this obligation. This change also means that Canada Post is now legally required to, along with its annual corporate plan and capital budget, submit an operating budget for Government approval.”

The government is also directing Canada Post to “better promote” its remittance services and provide more information about postal money orders and the digital remittance service it provides through Moneygrams.

Disregard for review of Canada Post and consultations

In May 2016, the newly elected Liberal government announced a review of the Canada Post Corporation for which it created the Canada Post Corporation Review Task Force. Within this review the Minister in charge asked the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates to consult Canadians on the future of Canada Post.

The review was to be completed by the end of 2016 and to include “extensive consultation with Canadians.” Nearly two years later, it appears the Liberal government has chosen to ignore the report of its own Task Force, including the hundreds of submissions it received, as well as the results of the public consultation and report of the Standing Committee entitled, “The Way Forward for Canada Post.”

The formulation of the Minister about a “new vision” of a “renewed Canada Post” is problematic and difficult to explain given the existing regulations already in place within the Canadian Postal Service Charter. Those regulations govern the functioning of Canada Post Corporation and outline the kind of service the company is required to provide Canadians. The first article of the Charter is titled “Universal Service” and states:

Universal Service

Canada Post will maintain a postal system that allows individuals and businesses in Canada to send and receive mail within Canada and between Canada and elsewhere. Canada Post will provide a service for the collection, transmission and delivery of letters, parcels and publications.

The provision of postal services to rural regions of the country is an integral part of Canada Post’s universal service.

Affordable Rates

Canada Post will charge uniform postage rates for letters of similar size and weight, so that letters to Canadian addresses will require the same postage, regardless of the distance to reach the recipient.

As required by the Canada Post Corporation Act, Canada Post will charge postage rates that are fair and reasonable and, together with other revenues, are sufficient to cover the costs incurred in its operations.

Canada Post will provide advance notice of and publicly advertise proposed pricing changes for regulated letter mail products and consult with consumers during the rate-setting process.

Does the Minister’s announcement mean that the Liberal government intends to change or violate the Charter in some manner to implement its “new vision” for Canada Post?

Qualtrough’s very feeble announcement means that the Trudeau Liberals have chosen to ignore the work of the Task Force and the Parliamentary Committee and the views submitted by Canadians, including postal workers, on the direction of the post office. It refuses to explain what their plans are for a “new vision” for a “renewed Canada Post.” This directly ignores and contradicts the overwhelming demand of Canadians during the last elections and since for a strengthened public post office. The results of all the consultations, online surveys, town halls and public hearings bear out the demand for a reinvigorated public Canada Post and reversal of the years of privatization and cutbacks in service.

The Liberal government is not touting what Canadians have said they want and is deliberately keeping silent on its own unilateral plans. On January 24, in addition to her public announcements, Minister Qualtrough also sent a letter to the new Chair of the Board of Directors of Canada Post with the grandiose title “Innovations and Best Practices for Implementing Renewal.” These “Best Practices” demanded by the Federal Cabinet come right in the midst of negotiations with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers for a new collective agreement within which postal workers, with the support of Canadians, want the cutbacks in postal service stopped and reversed. But the Trudeau government has its own neo-liberal agenda. The Minister’s letter in part directs the corporation as follows:

“The Review has identified various areas of opportunity for Canada Post. In this context, the Government is asking Canada Post to undertake the following as it develops its program for implementing renewal:

“Consider the applicability in Canada of best practices and successful innovations in other countries, particularly various models of alternate day delivery.”

What hypocrisy the Liberal government displays. Under the guise of preserving home delivery for those households that still have it, the government is directing the corporation to reduce home delivery from five days to alternate days or less. These demands to cut services to eliminate more jobs will not save the post office as the government claims, as they directly run counter to its founding charter and obligation to Canadians. These measures to reduce service will further undermine and weaken the ability of Canada Post to provide a universal postal service to which all Canadians are entitled. This is not renewal and nation-building but a continuation of the wrecking of a public institution and treasured asset that Canadians need and want to see strengthened in new ways. The Trudeau Government must be held to account and denounced for its duplicitous stands.

Canadians should judge the situation for themselves. The postal workers are defending their working conditions and the public post office. There is broad public concern about the attacks on the post office and broad demands that the public postal service not only be maintained but expanded. This was amply demonstrated in the widespread support for the just stand of postal workers during the 2011 strike and lockout. The current discussion on the state of the post office and any review of Canada Post at the very least should take these stands as their starting point. Postal workers and all working people need to discuss what is going on, how to defend the public post office and the public interest, and assess the remarks of Minister Qualtrough and the plans of the Liberal government on this basis.

Workers’ Forum, February 8, 2018

*Louis Lang was twice president of the Ottawa local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).

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