Motion M-166 Postal Banking for Canada

 

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP)  

     moved:

 

    That a special committee of the House be appointed with the purpose of conducting hearings and proposing a plan for a postal banking system administered under the Canada Post Corporation; that this Committee consist of ten members of which six shall be from the government party, three from the Official Opposition, and one from the New Democratic Party, provided that the Chair is from the government party; that in addition to the Chair, there be one Vice-Chair from each of the recognized opposition parties; that the Committee have all the powers of a standing committee as provided in the Standing Orders; that the members to serve on the said Committee be appointed by the Whip of each party by depositing with the Clerk of the House a list of his or her party’s members of the Committee no later than a week after the adoption of the said motion; that the quorum of the Committee be as provided for in Standing Order 118, provided that at least one member of each recognized party be present; that membership substitutions be permitted from time to time, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2); and that the Committee report to the House no later than 12 months after the adoption of this motion.

    She said:

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure, as the NDP critic for Canada Post, to bring Motion No. 166 forward for debate today.

    In a country as vast and diverse as Canada, Canada Post is the jewel in the crown of public service corporations, providing the vital service that keeps us connected. While the corporation and its workers have come under attack over the past few years, Canada Post continues to deliver. It is the first choice of countless vendors who, in this digital age, ship parcels ordered online from coast to coast to coast.

     We should recognize that the work of Canada Post is accomplished by workers, members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association, who, despite the pressures of neo-liberalism and globalization to privatize, continue to deliver quality public service that is accessible and affordable to all.

    I am proud to be a member of this NDP caucus, which has always supported labour rights and which understands that, absolutely and without exaggeration, upholding those rights is fundamental to democracy. None of us can forget the spring of 2011 when the summer recess of the House was delayed because freedom of association and the right to organize and collectively bargain was under threat by the Conservative government of the day, a government that imposed back-to-work legislation on CUPW members who had been locked out by Canada Post.

    I encourage all members of the House to familiarize themselves with the speech given here by NDP leader Jack Layton in defence of the workers and in opposition to the legislation. In the meantime, I would like to quote from Jack's praise of the workers at Canada Post. He said:

 

     I do not think a more diverse group of Canadians could be found anywhere. They come from absolutely every background. Maybe that is why there is a certain appreciation of the importance of the mail. In a way it is a part of the democratic communication process that brought them to Canada in the first place, the notion that people can communicate freely, that they can speak their mind and that there is a public postal service to make sure people can communicate with each other.

 

     Many of them will mention the charter of rights and so on that we have here in Canada, and how proud they are to be Canadians and to be working on behalf of Canadians. That is why I found it very distressing to see them being partitioned off as though they were somehow not part of the 33 million Canadians. They are as much a part of the 33 million Canadians as anybody else.

    They have connected Canadians across the country. Their labour supports an important service for all.

    Members may recall that, despite opposition by the NDP, the undemocratic back-to-work legislation passed, forcing the workers to accept a less than satisfactory agreement. The good news is that in April of 2016 the Ontario Superior Court ruled that the Harper government had “infringed the [Charter] freedom of association of union members” by abrogating CUPW members' right to strike.

     It is heartening to me to know that, while it may not consistently be said of Conservative and Liberal governments, the courts at least appreciate the value of public service and the protections we have put in place for free and democratic association.

    It is indeed ironic that the Conservatives named their back-to-work legislation the Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act, particularly in light of the fact that they proceeded to enact legislation to suspend home mail delivery to Canadians. The Conservatives did this despite overwhelming opposition to the change, most notably by seniors and disabled Canadians who would find traversing to a community mailbox difficult.

    Who can forget the insensitivity of Canada Post president and CEO Deepak Chopra who responded to these objections with the statement that seniors could benefit from the exercise? It is shameful, and the callousness of that dismissal of seniors' concerns is breathtaking.

     The corporation and the government argued that the suspension of home delivery was necessary in order to balance the books. The Liberals under their leader, the member for Papineau, campaigned vociferously and unapologetically in 2015 to restore home mail delivery, saying that they would be the champions of those for whom home delivery was essential.

     We know now that this promise was only one in a long line of promises crafted to court votes, and just like the Liberal campaign promises to enact electoral reform, tax reform, and protect the environment, restoration of home mail delivery was thrown on the trash pile of broken promises once the Liberals had cashed in the votes of hopeful Canadians and won their majority government.

    New Democrats know we can do better. New democrats know the value of affordable, accessible, and sustainable public services that are vital to the healthy community and healthy democracy we want, where everyone has a voice. This brings me to Motion No. 166, calling for the formation of the special committee to study a system of postal banking delivered by the Canada Post Corporation and propose a plan for the implementation of postal banking within a year.

    However, please allow me to first share some relevant facts and figures. Over 600 municipalities have passed resolutions that support postal banking. Almost two out of every three respondents, 63%, of the 2013 Stratcom poll supported Canada Post expanding revenue-generating services, including financial services like bill payments, insurance, and postal banking.

    A number of former Canada Post presidents including Michael Warren, André Ouellet, and Moya Greene, have considered and even promoted the notion of the corporation getting more involved in financial services. The UPU, a United Nations agency, thinks post offices should be looking at expanding financial services. It has produced a global road map for the future. This road map calls for the continued development of postal networks along three dimensions: physical, financial, and digital or electronic routes.

    In 2014, the Liberal Party critic for Canada Post said the merits of postal banking should be explored in the context of several different options for the future of the corporation. The Liberal and Conservative members of the House will say that we have already studied postal banking and found it to be non-viable.

    The Harper government suppressed a 2014 study indicating postal banking would be a win-win endeavour for Canada Post and the communities it serves and generate revenues to support other vital services, including home mail delivery. However, in 2016, the government operations committee conducted a blanket study of Canada Post including a section on postal banking and deemed it non-viable. All very strange, particularly when New Democrats, labour, and civil society had reason to believe the committee's evidence and analysis was flawed and incomplete. It leads one to wonder whether the analysis of postal banking as a viable option for Canada Post conducted in 2016 was influenced by interests other than those of the public good.

    Postal banking was part of the fabric of Canadian life for over a hundred years. Just following Confederation in 1867, the federal government passed legislation establishing a post office savings bank in order to provide a savings service to the working classes and small town residents.

     The Canadian postal banking system began operations in 1868 with 81 locations and grew quickly to 343 post office savings banks. Within 16 years it had a balance of $13 million in almost 67,000 accounts. However by the 1890s, Canada's postal banking system faced challenges from chartered banks, which were facing a recession. The banks suddenly became interested in the smaller depositors using post office savings banks and actively worked to undermine postal banking. Gradually the chartered bank lobby was successful in having the interest rate paid on deposits at postal savings banks lowered from 3% to 2.5%, and all but eliminated advertising by postal banks. This was the final straw. The post office savings bank system was closed down in 1969 under the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau. It was an unfortunate situation.

    Much like any business whose bottom line is profit over public service, corporate banks are content to remain in small communities and remote areas as long as the profits generated meet their expectations, but as we have learned with the selling off of public services provincially, federally, and municipally, reliance on a market-driven public service has its downfalls. When we consider access to banking services, history shows us that as soon as profits diminish, even if they still exist, corporate banks deem them not worthwhile and pull up stakes, affecting remote and rural communities, first nations communities, and economically depressed areas.

    Even a co-op such as Desjardins, a proud Quebec institution, has moved services, leaving not so much as an ATM where it deemed it not worthwhile. Much the same as selling off public resources such as our rail lines, power lines, seniors' services, and highway systems has demonstrated, the end result is a widening of the gap between those who have and those who have not, making life less and less affordable for everyday Canadians.

    Every Canadian deserves access to financial services, and never has this been more evident than today, when social benefits are delivered by direct deposit. Lack of access to banking services literally results in an inability to pay the bills.

    We heard testimony at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women earlier this month from Francyne Joe, president of NWAC, who reported that family members of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada have been unable to attend inquiry hearings because they lack the resources to pay their costs up front and do not have bank accounts for the inquiry to reimburse them. In this very tragic circumstance, lack of access to banking services literally means justice denied to families that have hoped and waited for it for so long. We can do better.

    When we view this gap in service through an intersectional lens, we know that women in remote, rural, and economically depressed regions of Canada suffer negative economic and social impacts disproportionately compared to men. Equalization of access to banking services in all these areas would allow women better access to financial autonomy. A postal bank could become part of the transformation of the post office branch into a real centre for delivering community power. A post office location offering banking could help by offering loans for environmental refits for housing and businesses. Better accessibility to these kinds of services would empower women to become equal community partners.

    Communities like my own in London, Ontario, have been deeply affected by globalization and unemployment resulting from the government's inability to keep good jobs in Canada. Payday lenders prey on Canadians of low income, charging outrageous interest fees. Postal banking would be a sustainable solution that would provide accessible banking services across Canada where no service is currently available and to those who cannot afford to, or choose not to, use corporate banks. Postal banking could generate income to allow Canada Post to provide increased services, such as the restoration of home delivery to the communities that demand it and count on that service.

    Communities like my own have also been deeply affected by the insensitivity of corporate banks to their needs. Just this past year, the Toronto Dominion Bank at the corner of Highbury Avenue and Hamilton Road in London—Fanshawe closed, leaving residents of that community with no banking alternative. The nearest branch to them is over 12 kilometres away. This is a community of seniors and people with limited incomes, and they now have no bank. TD abandoning them puts these people at the mercy of payday lenders. A Google street view search of the location shows a boarded up building where the branch used to be, with a Canada Post outlet in the very same strip. We can and should do better. Let us make that postal outlet a centre for postal banking for all the people in the neighbourhood.

    If passed, my motion would allow for an impartial and objective study on postal banking conducted by a special committee, which would prove what the rest of the world already knows: postal banking works. The committee would also be charged to table a plan for the implementation of postal banking under Canada Post within 12 months of the motion being adopted.

    The Liberals claim to know what is best for Canadians, when in fact, they only serve their corporate and powerful friends. Their tax cuts serve the rich. They refuse to close loopholes that allow billions in revenue to be hidden in offshore tax shelters, they have broken their promise on electoral reform, and their infrastructure bank will put public services under the control of private corporations. Liberals claim to have studied postal banking already and found it flawed, chiefly because it would cut into profits for their corporate banking and business friends.

    New Democrats know that postal banking is a solution that works. I ask this House to please support my motion and create equal, accessible, and just banking services for Canadians.

Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.):  

    Madam Speaker, I am a bit surprised by the manner in which the member concluded her remarks. She tried to give a false impression, as if the Liberal government is supporting corporations and not providing tax breaks, when the record will clearly show that nothing is further from the truth. In fact, if anyone has been voting against tax breaks for our middle class and those aspiring to be part of it and supporting lower-income people through the child benefit and so much more, it is the NDP in the House.

    Let me get to the subject. With regard to Canada Post, again we hear misinformation. The Liberal Party, prior to the election, said that if we formed government, there would be a moratorium. That moratorium was put in place when we formed government. We are no longer seeing door-to-door delivery continuing to evaporate. Those who are receiving it, continue to receive it.

    There was a public task force. First, could the member tell the House what the conclusions were from that public task force on Canada Post, if she is aware of them? Second, has the member approached any other committee with this resolution to see if any other standing committee of the House would be interested in pursuing what she is asking us to do?

Ms. Irene Mathyssen:  

    Madam Speaker, the only false impression was the one the government created when it led people to believe that if they voted for this government, they would get their home mail delivery back. Sure, they put on a moratorium, but 800,000 people, including seniors and people living with handicaps, cannot access the community mailboxes when the snow is piled high. If anyone knows about piling it high, it is the government. In terms of its so-called tax breaks, those who have the most got the most. Tax havens and loopholes are still there.

    In fact, in 2005, there was a study, and that study said that postal banking would be an important thing to pursue. The government squashed it. In 2016, there was another study. I asked for it, and it was all redacted. They are terrified, because their banking friends do not like it.