Thank you very much for inviting us to appear before the committee today.
My name is Réal Couture and I am the President of the Chambre de commerce et d'industrie de Thérèse-De-Blainville.
We have a number of organizations in our territory, including the Chambre de commerce de Bois-des-Filion / Lorraine. Unfortunately, Guy Barbe is away, but, in his place, we have Michel Limoges. Christian Fréchette, from the Association des gens d'affaires de Blainville, is with us as well.
Our three organizations decided to conduct a survey. We have about 800 members and we sent out a survey to which 10% of the members replied. That means we received replies from 80 members, which we find very good as a response rate. We asked them four questions.
First, they had to indicate their level of satisfaction with Canada Post services before the changes. Second, they had to indicate their level of satisfaction after the changes. Third, they had an open question about how they saw Canada Post services and fourth, people could make any comment they liked about Canada Post.
After about a week, we received all the information we required. Mr. Fréchette will give you the conclusions we drew from the four questions.
I will now turn it over to Mr. Fréchette.
Thank you very much, Mr. Couture.
If you would like to have all the details of this online survey, we can send them to you afterwards.
As Mr. Couture mentioned, our intention was first to talk to business people. Mr. Limoges will talk to you later about the residential aspect.
In terms of a business plan, people have suffered little impact; they brought up four major reasons for that.
First, there are already other parcel-delivery services. Canada Post has a presence in that market and there is competition. People use Canada Post, but they also use other suppliers. Those who do their business online are generally satisfied with the services, but I am sure that Mr. Alacchi will tell you more about that. The lack of flexibility is a shortcoming. There is also the matter of the complexity companies encounter in doing business with Canada Post.
Second, most of the businesses in our region already have a mailbox. The changes were not really changes for them because they were already in the habit of operating that way.
Third, a number of businesses in the region use ad-mail and therefore do direct mailing and marketing. For them, taking their mailings to various Canada Post offices was not an issue. However, they had to deal with some changes, but, for them, the changes did not amount to a lot.
Fourth, we are in the Web 3.0 era and we will soon see Web 4.0. More and more companies use email instead of sending packages and they have moved their information online. In particular, sending invoices by email is done more and more.
Mr. Limoges will take over now.
I'm going to be presenting from the point of view of an e-commerce company.
At L'Encrier, we manufacture and sell ink and toner consumable products, and we do so 100% online. Some 76% of everything we sell is exported: 70% to the United States and 6% globally. We are a true e-commerce company. The future of retail, as you know, is becoming more and more e-commerce. It's fast-growing, and e-commerce will play an important role in the Canadian economy.
Canada Post is the only carrier that covers every household in Canada. It's the only carrier that will take our parcels throughout the country. Canada Post is therefore a vital infrastructure that drives the e-commerce industry.
I don't know if this committee is aware of the international agreement called the Universal Postal Union. I'm not an expert on the agreement, but I know that when a parcel arrives in a country, the post office of that country must deliver it to any address within their country for the same fixed price, and the price is determined by the agreement, which for a rich country like Canada turns out to be quite low.
Our competitors abroad will bring in packages, and regardless of where they appear in Canada, the post office has to deliver to the final destination, whether it's Toronto or Nunavut, for the same low fixed price, whereas Canadians who sell online must pay very different prices depending on where it's going in the country.
Price fluctuation is very bad for e-commerce, because we can't predict what it's going to cost. I don't know if anyone here shops online, but no one wants to pay for shipping. They want to see free shipping. That's the new thing that's happening. So we are forced to put the cost of the shipping within our parcels.
I would like to also discuss the disparities with our biggest trading partner, the United States. The Americans have made changes to their post office, and they continue doing it to enable e-commerce. An example would be that it takes two to three days on average to deliver a package between New York and California, but it takes four to six days with a comparable product in Canada between Montreal and British Columbia.
The price fluctuation in the U.S. is a lot less. They have fewer zones. There's less fluctuation in prices between the zones, and they've introduced flat-rate boxes. Their motto is “if it fits, it ships”, at one low price regardless of where in the country: Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, California, it doesn't matter. They realize that price fluctuation is not good, and they've standardized for their country.
Typically, an American can ship a package to Europe for about half the price a Canadian can. When a Canadian ships a package to the United States using Canada Post, it costs about two to three times our domestic rates. I know they're trying to do things to improve it, but still it's at least 200% more.
Americans who want to ship to Canadians are paying about 30% to 40% above their domestic rates to do so. Again, that's another disadvantage.
How can we compete? Why am I still in business? Why am I here? It's because I'm doing everything that all the other e-commerce companies are doing. Thank God we live near the border, because we're putting all our packages onto a truck and we're going across that border every day and putting everything for delivery internationally and within the United States into the United States Postal Service. So 76% of everything we do in L'Encrier ends up in the hands of the United States Postal Service.
That only solves half the problem. The other half of the problem is Canadians buying. If you live in a remote region, it is cheaper for you to buy from an American who is going to offer free shipping into Canada, or a Chinese company directly, than it is to buy from your own Canadian companies, because they don't face this large price fluctuation that is created by this Universal Postal Union.
We have a paradox, which is my last point because I know I'm taking a bit of extra time. The paradox is that we want Canada Post to be efficient, effective, and provide all the services we need for e-commerce, letter mail, and everything else. On the other hand, we want it to be profitable.
How can a company be profitable when you have all these parcels coming in internationally that have to be delivered? By the way, the number is going up. The statistic I heard is that as many as 50% of Canadians are buying products from abroad instead of from other Canadians.
If e-commerce grows and that trend continues, we're going to have more and more packages that have to be delivered across the country cheaply as opposed to packages from our own domestic market. It's obvious that in order to cope with this problem, Canada Post has to raise prices elsewhere, maybe international shipments, maybe across our own country, to compensate because they have to balance the books at the end of the year.
The point is, do we consider Canada Post a service or do we consider Canada Post part of our infrastructure? If we consider Canada Post to be part of the Canadian e-commerce infrastructure, then, like any other infrastructure, like paying for a bridge or paying for a tunnel, we need to invest in that kind of service. If it could be done by the private sector, it would be, and it's not. Only Canada Post goes across the whole country.
The conclusion is, the United States do subsidize their post office because they provide all these great services, but they do it at a deficit, and it's an important deficit. I don't know the exact numbers, but I'm sure it's in the billions of dollars. We don't want to create deficits in Canada for no reason, but we do need to do something to normalize the e-commerce platform before we're inundated by foreign imports. At the end, I believe we too must invest in our e-commerce infrastructure.
My thanks to the witnesses for coming to see us today for this important exercise of mutual information sharing.
My question is quite a basic one and you have actually alluded to it briefly. In your opinion, is Canada Post two businesses?
You are representing the commercial side today but, at the same time, the survey deals with the residential side. The commercial side never does anything that does not affect the residential sector, unless you are telling me that you do business only with other companies. Residential customers always buy products from other companies.
I would like to hear your opinion about whether there are two businesses inside Canada Post. When we go to major urban centres, we hear about quite significant differences. We have come from Montreal where clearly the reality is quite different from the North Shore and from other suburbs. I am talking about companies and about being close to the border, but also about new residential developments where community mailboxes are installed from the outset.
I would like to have your perspective. I have raised a number of points. I don’t know who wants to start an answer.
From the questionnaires, we saw that companies, individuals, parcels and the related business, the rates, all fit together well. Yes, sometimes it takes a little longer, but no one is saying that they hate Canada Post and no longer want to have anything to do with it. No one is saying that.
When individuals think about what it means for them, it becomes a little different. Yes, there are two businesses in the minds of ordinary mortals, but for business people, it is one company. When a businessman goes home and hears that his mother-in-law no longer has this or that and has lost such and such a service, it has an effect on him. But as a businessman, he sees Canada Post as two distinct companies.
I am an accountant by training. This is as if someone asked me whether a tax accountant is different from a regular accountant. The answer is yes. It is completely different.
I echo the comments of my colleague, Mr. Couture. They are clearly two different companies. The reason is not complicated. I am not an accountant by training, I am a marketer. So you don't deal with a business and a consumer in the same way. I have no option but to tell you that there are two distinct companies.
As Mr. Couture mentioned, our survey showed us that, in general, people who use Canada Post services a little or a moderate amount are satisfied with them. However, the hesitation, the dissatisfaction, on the part of the customers—especially those with reduced mobility—is about the mailboxes. For most young people, it is not a problem. They are still healthy and they can move around. However, the population is aging and becoming less and less mobile. We are going to have to find a service that corresponds to their reality.
Canada Post also has a significant role to play in this. If it does not provide services for people with reduced mobility, smaller companies will fill that gap. It will then be up to Canada Post to decide whether it starts using subcontractors and letting those services into the market, or whether it chooses another solution.
Yes, that is so. However, I would not say that it is one of the only ways.
More often than not—and this is confirmed in the surveys—people are no longer getting bills at home. That’s so in my case. We get them by email and we print them ourselves. It saves a stamp. We have to use a sheet of paper, but that is not a big deal. We still pay some bills by mail, but there are fewer and fewer of them.
So what Canada Post has left are the circulars, the flyers, as most people call them, important documents that have to be signed, and cheques. However, even cheques are not delivered by mail anymore. They are often deposited directly. I work in a big accounting firm and, with Canada Post, we have the proof that the document was delivered. That's right, Canada Post. The item has to be delivered quite quickly but there is no need to do so the same day. If we really want it to be delivered the same day, we will call a taxi if we have to. The fact remains that Canada Post provides the proof that the document has been delivered.
No, I never said that. Maybe the person this morning said that.
Mr. Kelly McCauley: Okay.
Mr. Andréa Alacchi: What I said was that it's cheaper for foreigners sometimes than it is for us to send to remote areas in our country. Canada Post does provide a very good service. If we use UPS or other carriers, we will do so only on larger packages and only when we really need the tracking, because this is something Canada Post doesn't do very well. They don't really track the packages that well. If it's expensive, if it's fragile, if it needs to be insured, we'll go with the other carriers.
I would say that 99% is Canada Post. It's not a bad service. It's a good service. If it weren't, we would ship it from the U.S. like we used to. The reason we don't do that anymore is that the exchange rate helps, but it's also the image. How would you like to buy something on lencrier.ca en français and get it shipped from New York? It doesn't look good. We take the hit to preserve the corporate image. Even on our Canadian website, inkpot.ca, we're not going to take a hit on our image. We're Canadian. We ship from Canada.
If it ever gets as bad as it used to be at one time, we'll reconsider that policy, but for now that's the policy.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I'll pick up on that point because I also want to flesh it out.
Regarding this idea about the Universal Postal Union and differential rates, Canada gets access to the U.S. Postal Service on the basis of the treaty we have with them under the UPU. We get access to Europe.
The U.S. Postal Service is subsidized to the tune of about $18 billion U.S. per year. When you get your products into the U.S., you're taking advantage of that subsidy. The counterpoint would be that Canada could increase its rates for foreigners using our service, but then we wouldn't get access to the same preferential rates if foreigners had to use our service at the true cost.
Do you think that Canadians should up the prices that we charge foreigners to use our internal postal service and no longer be able to access their subsidized service to sell to U.S. customers or Chinese customers, or do you think that Canada should subsidize our postal service to the tune of about $1.8 billion U.S. a year to provide the same level of universal service, if we could do it?
I'd like to hear from everyone on that point because, if selling to the U.S. is such an important concern, that's the money issue.
I'll have a crack at it.
When you say subsidized, from a business point of view it means that you're losing money and you want to do something. When you start doing the math and listening to the comments from our members, especially when they're in the residential mode, people are very well paid. When you are a truck driver for UAP, the average salary in Canada is $22 an hour. That's $44,000 a year. Postmen are probably higher than that. A truck driver for UPS is lower than that.
Let's not kid ourselves. I come from Saint-Michel-des-Saints. That's two hours away from here. The asphalt stops there, and when you send something out there UPS, he'll drop it in the village. He won't go three miles further than that because they won't make their money. They drop it in the village, and that's it. All that to say that, when you subsidize, people have to have the idea that they're subsidizing a good cost structure. I don't know what that means, but it's a good cost structure.
First, I would like to extend greetings to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.
We must thank the Liberal government for holding a public review of Canada Post so that its future can be discussed and solutions can be found. Instead of useless cutting, deregulation, not to say privatization in disguise, as the task force report seems to favour, we think that it is high time to launch a 21st-century postal service that is prosperous and that meets the needs of Canadians. In order to do this, we are proposing the creation of new sources of revenue such as from banking services and the numerous other avenues we mentioned in the brief we presented last week.
The Save Canada Post campaign represents more than 600 municipalities and regional municipalities that condemn Canada Post's five-point plan. It includes more than a hundred organizations, both Canadian and international, including First Nations, labour federations, retiree associations in various areas, associations of those with reduced mobility, federal and provincial political parties, even chambers of commerce, to name but a few. We have gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures from Canadians on petitions that also condemn the same five-point plan and that have been tabled in the House of Commons on several occasions in the last three years.
In addition, more than 600 municipalities all across the country have adopted another resolution supporting the establishment of a postal bank, as well as the addition of new services for Canadians. Before I give the floor to my colleague Magali Giroux, I would like to take some time to rectify certain information presented in the task force report and which, curiously, Canada Post also mentions.
That information, about the number of Canadians getting home delivery, indicates that 26% get their mail in the lobby of their buildings, 4% get it from a roadside box on their property and 27% get it at home. Those figures total 57%. The figure takes into account the 800,000 households that have been converted to community mailboxes. So more than half the population—not one third, as the task force states—get home delivery of their mail. In our view, receiving one's mail on one's property or in the lobby of one's apartment building is still definitely home delivery.
Thank you. I will now turn the presentation over to Mrs. Giroux.
As I have very little time, I am going to go right to the point and talk to you about a solution that the task force seems to have discarded, the idea of a postal bank.
Unlike the major banks, a postal bank has a much more social purpose and can reinvest its profits into its communities. The main excuse that the task force used for discarding the idea of a postal bank is that the Canadian banking system is very healthy. It is so healthy that the six major banks made profits of $35 billion last year, in addition to handing over $12 billion in bonuses to their executives.
According to Radio-Canada and Le Devoir, three major Canadian banks—RBC, Scotiabank and CIBC—are widely reported to be among the banks dealing with companies in the Bahamas. Is that what we call a healthy banking system?
The portfolios of the CEOs of the major banks may be very healthy, but the same can unfortunately not be said for the public and the communities. Canadians pay among the highest banking fees on the planet. A million Canadians have no bank accounts, more than two million Canadians have to go to payday lenders like Insta-Chèques, and a number of towns and villages have no banking services. By contrast, post offices are everywhere. There are 6,300 postal counters in the country. By way of comparison, that is twice the number of Tim Hortons.
A postal bank is much more oriented to society and to the community. It could provide a new source of revenue for Canada Post and reinvest part of its profits into communities. In France, the postal bank puts part of its profits back into building social housing. In Italy, the postal bank has chosen to invest in the country's infrastructure and its regions. The postal bank in Canada could support local small businesses, as well as investing in energy-saving transformations through loans or subsidies.
A bank like that could go back to the original mandate of credit unions. Don't forget that credit unions were established to support regional economies, farmers and the working class. Unfortunately, credit unions in Quebec have moved away from their original mandate and we are seeing them disappear from the regions more and more.
Of the $35 billion that the banks made in profits last year, I would like to know how much was reinvested in communities. A societal choice must be made: either we continue to protect the excellent financial health of our major banks and their executives at the expense of Canadians, or we begin to seriously concern ourselves with the financial health of our people and our communities, health that is becoming more and more precarious.
I am asking the parliamentary committee to make public the secret study conducted by Canada Post, in which 700 out of 811 pages were redacted, and have people with no conflict of interest conduct a serious, fully transparent study on the establishment of a postal bank in Canada.
The government asked Ms. Bertrand to study all viable options for Canada Post. Ms. Bertrand is the president of the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec, and she sitteth at the right hand of a number of directors and vice-presidents of major banks. The same can be said about Deepak Chopra, the CEO of Canada Post, who is on the board of directors of the Conference Board with the President and CEO of RBC. There is a real conflict of interest there, as I see it. I doubt if any of those people want to talk about a postal bank.
When Canada Post announced the mandate, it said that everything would be studied except privatization. The task force document excludes everything except privatization and deregulation.
A postal bank is only of one a number of services that Canada Post could provide. Post offices could become real focal points, providing services to the community. Canada Post is a public, universal service. That is the perspective from which the crown corporation must be studied, not from the perspective of a private company.
Canada Post is a source of pride for Canadians, and so it must remain.
Thank you for allowing the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec—the FTQ—to make its case.
The FTQ is the largest trade union in Quebec. We represent 600,000 workers in all economic sectors and regions of Quebec. Its affiliate, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, represents 10,500 employees at Canada Post. The FTQ supports the efforts of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to maintain and improve the postal service. We speak for all our members and the people who care about keeping this essential public service.
Although the current government has clearly ruled out the privatization of Canada Post, we find that the options considered and adopted by the working group responsible for reviewing the corporation, taken together would lead to a form of deregulation and privatization of postal services. Unlike the general thrust of the document submitted by the working group, we firmly believe that Canada Post's survival depends on the expansion of its services, as is being done in dozens of other countries.
That is why, overall, we are not satisfied with the working group’s findings, which include: reducing the frequency of mail delivery; replacing home mail delivery with community mailboxes; charging people who want home delivery; charging fees based on the number of kilometres for the letters being sent; changing the moratorium on the closure of post offices; converting post offices into franchises; and reviewing the labour and pension costs. Those are not solutions that we wish to study.
According to a European study, opening up postal administrations to competition has turned out to be a disaster. Proponents of deregulation have dangled the promise of lower prices, better services and new jobs. The reforms have not had the desired effect. Worse still, they have caused job losses, deteriorating working conditions and lower compensation for workers in this sector. Postal deregulation is not in the best interests of either citizens or workers.
We must not forget that, were it not for the one-time events or the lockout in 2011, or the changes to accounting practices in 2013, Canada Post would be in its 22nd year of profitability. So why throw Canada Post in front of uncertain, radical choices?
As for the decrease in the number of letters being sent, the working group suggests ending daily mail delivery. We think this option would weaken public services and make Canada Post less competitive. This would indirectly open the door to privatizing Canada Post. We are therefore asking that the complete and daily delivery be maintained.
In terms of jobs, let me highlight the importance of postal services for employment. All over Canada, there are dozens of thousands of employees working in the postal sector. In its election platform during the last election campaign, the Liberal Party wanted to promote the middle class and quality jobs. Well, middle-class people work for the corporation, and I think they need to be considered. These jobs come with good working conditions and are well paid across Canada.
In Quebec, as I mentioned, 10,500 people are employed at Canada Post. In Canada, there are over 60,000 people. Canada Post's plan was to eliminate positions, but far more cuts seemed to be in sight than announced. In our view, any revision of Canada Post's mandate should not only seek to protect jobs, but also to create more by providing a wider range of services.
Mrs. Giroux mentioned services that could be put forward, such as allowing the Canada Post Corporation to provide banking services. That's the case in 60 countries around the world. We think Canada Post could learn from what is being done elsewhere. It's no secret that rural banking services are shrinking more and more. We believe that Canada Post could play an extremely important role in this area.
As for green economy, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and a number of other civil society groups have developed a vision of what Canada Post could become in a document entitled “Delivering Community Power: Launching a bold vision for the green transformation of the post office”. The solutions proposed in the document would address the needs of communities, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and would promote local and regional development. In other words, they are part of truly sustainable development.
The document contains several measures, including expanding home delivery service, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions; mandating Canada Post with the last portion of parcel delivery, which again would reduce GHG emissions; setting up charging stations where there are post offices; replacing delivery vehicles with electric or hybrid vehicles manufactured in Canada; granting loans to individuals, particularly for activities such as eco-energy retrofits; bringing together consumers—Mrs. Giroux talked about this—and local producers, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stimulate regional economies.
That's what we wanted to share with the members of the committee in the few minutes we had. We hope to be able to share more ideas with you.
We would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
On that last point, Mr. Boyer, I will say to you what we've said to all of our witnesses who have come before us. Should you have any additional information that you were not able to impart to this committee, you can certainly make submissions to our clerk, directly, if you feel that there is more information that would be of benefit to all committee members.
Similarly, if committee members have more questions of you, would you permit us to contact you with questions that we may feel were unanswered when you were here?
I'll take those nods as concurrence on that.
We'll now go into our seven-minute round of interventions.
Mr. Ayoub for seven minutes, please.
My thanks to the witnesses for joining us.
I am a positive person. I think the comments are positive and that we are trying to find solutions. You are in solution mode when you are talking about solutions and a postal bank.
However, I would like to backtrack a little. Canada Post published a five-point action plan, and this is nothing new. Based on all the testimony that we have heard, I have noticed something about the communication, transparency and the way business is conducted between the various entities, be they unions, Canada Post employee representatives or senior management. There is a lack of communication and trust in passing on information about Canada Post's strategic planning.
Has there been any communication since the action plan was published? The Canada Post leaders had a vision in mind, but perhaps not the same as yours.
Mrs. Giroux, what do you think?
I don't think there should really be any doubts about the skills of the postal workers.
In terms of expanding Canada Post's range of services, that would be fantastic for the simple reason, as mentioned, that bank services are less and less accessible in the regions. In addition, we heard this morning on the radio that the Laurentian Bank was going to announce on Wednesday that there would no longer be teller services.
Credit unions first eliminated the number of service counters and then the number of ATMs. In the regions, there are fewer and fewer banking services, while we have 6,300 postal outlets across Canada, which could make those services available to remote communities.
If we no longer want the regions and we want to concentrate everything in large centres, that's one thing, but I don't think that's what we want either in Quebec or in Canada. We hope that our regions will be revitalized. We want local and regional development. Canada Post can play a significant role in providing banking and many other services.
I would say that the impact is major, especially in small, remote villages. The post office is often more than just a place where people go to buy stamps or mail a letter.
Today, we often rely on the fact that everyone is doing business on the Internet and that everything is done through the Internet.
About two weeks ago, I was in Coaticook at a public consultation organized by MP and Minister . Some people said they don't have Internet in their village. It is not that they don't have high speed Internet, they have no Internet service at all in that area.
For those people, the post office becomes a vital necessity. It is a means of communication that is important and that must stay. People identify themselves with the post office. That is why we stress the importance not only of protecting post offices, but also of providing more services.
Among the 6,300 outlets in the country, there are unused spaces, both inside and outside. In small communities, why couldn't post offices become focal points? Why couldn't local merchants and artisans set up shop there to sell their products? At the same time, that could stimulate the local economy. I think it is important to keep the moratorium on post offices. There is a need.
Over the past few years, Canada Post has gone ahead with privatization. The post office is being shut down; Canada Post makes sure that it is shut down so the people no longer use it—we see this in large urban centres—and franchises are opened in pharmacies across the street. Slowly, the post office's hours of operation are reduced, it is deemed to be no longer needed and it is shut down. We all know that having postal services in pharmacies is privatization. The employees are not trained or unionized and they are paid minimum wage.
Thank you very much, all of you.
It's an interesting conversation we've had in Montreal and now here. When I look at myself as an accountant or as an operational consultant, the moment I hear “cost savings”, “effectiveness”, and “streamlining”, I know what that means, and you know what that means. We've had those conversations with Canada Post. We've had them with the task force.
Madame Giroux, you've brought in a very different perspective. You brought in a perspective of human capital and you brought in, I would say, a social justice agenda, which I think we have missed out when we were doing it because we were looking at profit from a P and L statement rather than the human impact. Again, the corporation and the task force have left that element out. So we are now, in this study, trying to bring that element back in.
I looked at what the postal union and some people have given us as to the road forward. You've come up with interesting ideas. I wonder where those conversations went.
Did the union ever have those conversations with the corporations? You talked about banking. I'm wondering why the task force even said banking was not feasible. You talked about $35 billion that the banks make.
Are the banks afraid that you'll be competition like a caisse populaire, or a credit union, or things like that?
Good afternoon, everyone.
My name is Michael Leduc. I'm the general manager of FADOQ-Région Laurentides. We cover the administrative territory of the Laurentian region, from Mille-Îles River to Ferme-Neuve and a little further.
A post office is an essential service for many members of our organization. However, as in many places in Quebec, the Laurentian region clearly contains both urban and rural areas. Many of the five points of the action plan that Canada Post wants to put forward have already been implemented in the rural part of the Laurentian region, and a start has even been made in the somewhat more urban areas.
As for daily door-to-door home mail delivery, I think the public's needs have changed in this respect. Personally, I have been living in Mont Tremblant for over 35 years. Where I lived, I had a post office box. I never had a mailbox at my home.
So perhaps I am a little biased toward letter carriers. I need to return to my childhood, when I lived in Saint-Bruno, and the letter carrier came by every day. Some arguments have been made about letter carriers and the useful social role they play, the least of which is with the Senior Aware program. It helps to recognize if someone hasn't been there for some time, which is good. A lot of people, in addition to the letter carrier, can take on this responsibility. Still, I think the service is important.
A reading of the documents shows that some interesting points have been raised. Sometimes we read a document that fuels a certain perception of the situation, then we hear other interventions and that view may change. From that perspective, the work you are doing now must be very interesting.
I think the cost of payroll and the service seems to be a major concern for Canada Post management, to the point that it might put much more time into trying to change the situation, instead of developing new directions.
Yes, it's a fact that people are sending fewer and fewer letters by mail. I no longer send Christmas or holiday cards. I use social media. Since the most recent increase in the cost of sending a letter, I've started avoiding sending them.
I think that Canada Post would do well to position itself in the digital world. A Canadian cloud might be worthwhile for Canada Post. A growing number of companies will have significant needs for data external to the office. For example, people use clouds in California or elsewhere in the world. It might be worthwhile for Canada Post to grow in that direction.
People could also benefit from Canada Post's expertise and knowledge about where Canadians live for various things. Surely there are markets that can be developed in this respect, even digitally.
I think it's important that there be some development in service for people with reduced mobility who have difficulty getting around, such as seniors, to ensure that they don't lose these services. I think Canada Post understands this vision in that respect.
I listened to the previous presentations. They were very technical. Mine won't be technical, but will be totally based on people's needs.
I prepared a document that I will read. I will try to be as clear as possible.
As president of the Association de l'Âge d'Or de Bois-des-Filion, I am appearing before this committee to share with you the opinion of the association's members on Canada Post's services and on the corporation's intentions, as reported in the various media, including on TV and in print. Before going any further, I would like to share some facts about our association.
The Association de l'Âge d'Or de Bois-des-Filion has 430 members between the ages of 47 and 94. It's a wide age range, but they are all seniors. They live in the following cities: Bois-des-Filion, Lorraine, Terrebonne, Sainte-Thérèse, Rosemère, Laval, Montreal, Saint-Jérôme, Saint-Eustache and other small municipalities. These people are seniors and shine on a good number of people around them, including their immediate family, their friends, the people they do business with, and so on. It's still a fairly large group in terms of the local population.
On Tuesday, September 20, I consulted them at a meeting, where 100 of the 430 members gathered. I will describe the consultation's outcome.
The vast majority of the people present said they were very satisfied with the services provided and the rates charged. They didn't have a problem with it. The only sticking point was home delivery. I think you might have suspected that.
Canada Post intends to install community mailboxes everywhere. It's also talking about imposing additional fees of some hundreds of dollars a year if Canadians, including seniors, want to continue to receive mail at home. That's a real problem.
First, let's remember that the postal service is a service that the federal government must provide to Canadians according to their needs. It isn't a service people choose. No, it's an essential service, like health care, road maintenance, old age security, and so on.
Certainly the federal government has its reasons for making the former Post Office Department a corporation that is managed like a private company that tries to find any means possible to make its activities profitable. However, it's especially important not to lose sight of the fact that the postal service is an essential service for Canadians. Trying to make a profit by decreasing the service is a little backwards.
Let's talk about the need as it has been defined. It's important not to lose sight of the characteristics of many Canadians, including our members and all seniors. Age brings all sorts of problems with it. Mobility is reduced as people age. That's the way it is. Financial means dwindle. People can't work anymore or take well paying jobs, and they receive a small retirement pension. The social environment gets smaller.
Everyone consulted feels that ending home mail delivery is a very bad decision for seniors. Many of them are isolated or housebound or have lost some mobility. The financial situation becomes more difficult as people age. Many seniors have only their old age security cheque and, for some, their Quebec pension plan cheque. Charging these people a couple of hundred dollars so that they can continue to receive their mail at home—which is essential—is the same as a surtax that would have a dire impact on their already meagre budget.
We don't have great solutions to recommend. But we are asking that Canada Post guarantee home mail delivery service for anyone 65 or older who requests it, without asking them to pay additional fees.
It's important to understand here that, out of all the seniors, the potential number that would make this request isn't as high as you think, since many of them live in retirement residences. Still others have sold their homes to buy a condo or another property, and many others live in apartment buildings, where there is a community mailbox. Many people aren't concerned about what we're presenting.
What we're trying to say is that this service is essential for some seniors and that the cost to provide it to them shouldn't be as high as it seems. Everyone consulted told me unanimously that mail doesn't need to be delivered daily, as it currently is.
Most of the mail they receive is advertising. We're suggesting that the mail be delivered to homes only twice a week. Surely that would be real savings for the Canada Post Corporation.
To sum up, I must again stress that the postal service isn't just a “business”; it's an essential service, first and foremost. For many seniors, home delivery remains an essential service, too.
I represent an association called the Club Lorr « Aînés », a name that was created from the words “Lorraine” and “aînés”, or “seniors” in English.
Our club is affiliated with FADOQ. You will understand that our technical research services aren't very sophisticated, so the report we are presenting will be fairly qualitative.
FADOQ has very fairly described the concept of an adequate quality of life for seniors. Health, safety, well-being and belonging are the fundamental pillars. Quite naturally, home mail delivery seems to us to be a very important aspect of the quality of life.
At a time when the government is making an effort, still insufficient but real all the same, to keep seniors who want to remain in their homes at home, ending home mail delivery seems to be purely counterintuitive.
In May 2014, the Club Lorr « Aînés » asked the City of Lorraine to put pressure on Canada Post to keep this service. In August that same year, we sent a letter to the federal minister responsible for Canada Post, Lisa Raitt, and to the Government of Canada, requesting a stop to the changes to services announced and to consider new sources of revenue. We know that these actions failed.
Community mailboxes have slowly started to appear, but this solution is far from adequate for people with decreasing independence, no matter how slight. We are seeing that winter maintenance of the area around community mailboxes leaves much to be desired. Remember that people deemed to be independent can't get up alone after a fall.
After pressure from some local organizations, a few concessions were made. For example, a 98-year-old woman, who is a member of our club, obtained mail delivery to her home once a week, without having to undergo a medical exam. That is a small consolation.
What can be considered for the future? Bringing back home delivery twice or three times a week? A minimum would be to provide home delivery twice a week to all people considered to be at risk and anyone over 80 who requests it.
I will read some excerpts from the notice submitted by FADOQ in 2015 because it contains some aspects that have just been mentioned.
|| WHEREAS Canada Post wants to encourage Canadians to use online services, seniors are penalized through their lower rates of connectivity and digital literacy;
|| According to the Institut de statistiques du Québec, close to 32% of seniors age 65 [only 32%!] and older use the Internet. In that same age group, 44.5% use it to pay bills or perform bank transactions. Although seniors increasingly tend to use the Internet, the figures are telling. More than half of them do not use the online services of the various institutions, therefore relying on the mail.
|| WHEREAS we are strongly defending the right of seniors to remain independent at home for as long as possible;
|| FADOQ has been maintaining for many years that it is fundamental for seniors and the government to encourage home support and extending individual independence by strengthening outreach services.
I'd like to thank the three of you for joining us for another round of questions.
Mr. Flanagan, your comments about services spoke for themselves. It's important to know what the opinion on the street is. Along with Mr. Boisclair—who had a front row seat—I have experienced the loss of home mail delivery, especially in Lorraine.
Many changes have been asked of a population that had no say. The more we learn about the consultations, the more confirmation we get that there weren't any beforehand. Still, there is a great willingness. Listening to you today, we are seeing that opinions differ when it comes to solutions. In some cases, we're being told that the mail should be delivered to homes once citizens reach age 65. In other cases, that age is 80. According to stakeholders, it's about delivering the mail two or three times a week. You're suggesting improvements despite the ongoing loss of services.
I'd like your opinion on the situation that existed before services were cut back and the current one. In the past, a certain service was provided. Now that it has been taken away in our region, which is part of the Lower Laurentians, how are people managing? How did they react? Obviously, they may not have been happy with the change, but what has been the impact of this removal of the service and how are citizens managing in their daily life?
I'm sorry. Once a week.
The mailboxes are placed strategically so that they look nice. They are on a small path near a wooded area with a nice slope. Come winter, and the first ice, it may take one, two or three days before people can get to the mailbox. Some days, they can't open the box because of the ice, but it isn't a huge deal. They say that they'll come back the next day, that there will be a slight thaw and they'll manage to get it open.
The criticism I often hear is that snow removal around the boxes isn't always done properly. Near my home, near a school, people park near the community mailbox. When the snow plow goes by, the driver obviously doesn't get out of the vehicle with a shovel to clean around it. He moves on to the next place. That means that we are stuck for a week or two with a pile of ice on top of the snow that was already on the ground. Obviously, this irritates people.
As I said earlier in my presentation, the older people get, the more precarious their financial situation becomes. I don't know if my colleagues agree with me, but that is a fact. Those are the very basic facts.
The former secretary-treasurer of my organization is also an accountant. He prepares the income tax returns of many seniors. Most of them have annual incomes that fall between $17,000 and $18,000. These people have serious health problems and are isolated, for the most part. It is hard to imagine how we could impose these fees on them, since their income is comparable to the minimum wage. In my opinion, we should not impose such a surtax on them. If they apply and are 65 years of age or more, and their financial situation is precarious, we should not even consider the idea of imposing fees on them.
Everyone recognizes that the postal service is essential, but for these people, door-to-door mail delivery is equally essential. Canada Post could develop a list of criteria in this regard, and the income of seniors who applied to receive door-to-door delivery should be taken into account. A person whose annual income is $17,000 cannot increase his or her expenses.
We can now automatically recognize those who are eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement because of their low income. They can receive it without even having to apply for it. In fact, over 40,000 Quebeckers do not receive this supplement even though they are entitled to it, because they have not been informed about it.
Regarding mail delivery, perhaps a link could be made between age and financial situation. Perhaps we could ask for a supplement from someone who still lives in their house with a value of $400,000. This is a societal debate. In this case, we would have to find a way of distinguishing among persons, which would be a type of positive discrimination.
Be that as it may, it is clear to me that people for whom door-to-door mail delivery is necessary should not have to pay fees to receive that service. However, people for whom this service is a luxury they want to afford could be considered as user-payers.
However, how to establish a policy that would allow us to clearly distinguish between the two groups is another story.
I thank all of the witnesses for their openness and for sharing their members' experience. I think this is really interesting.
Mr. Flanagan, I took good note of your idea of providing services for persons of 80 or more. Choosing a certain set age would probably be less complicated than asking those who are 80 or more and who can still get around to go and obtain the certificate. We know that people who are in good shape want to walk. Making things more automatic for those who have mobility problems is an avenue that Canada Post should explore.
Snow removal is also an issue in winter, and finding a mechanism or investing a bit more money into that and seeing to it that snow is removed would help a lot of people. Even when you are 50, walking on ice is not safe. In this regard, Mr. Boisclair, you are entirely correct.
All things considered, your testimony indicates that things are not going too badly. As for twice-a-week mail delivery, I think that the current situation is tolerable. There are fewer letters today, and we don't necessarily expect bills every day. Whether we receive them on Tuesday and Thursday or Monday and Wednesday will not change much in people's lives. In any case, given the digital age we are in, 70% to 80% of messages arrive by electronic mail.
Is there anything else you would like to say to Canada Post? Do you want to suggest that they be careful with any given sector? Have you covered all of the issues?
Clearly, comparisons were made. It's an accounting matter.
I believe that insofar as our members are concerned, and the document mentions this, Canadians in general think that the services Canada Post provide are good. Clearly, home mail delivery should not be eliminated for the clientele that needs it. I think that people can survive with once-or-twice-weekly mail delivery. Pension cheques are no longer delivered by mail but rather by direct deposit. The Admail service loses a bit of money, but it seems to be becoming a flagship product, much to the dismay of many seniors who feel this is junk that just goes into the garbage. Perhaps we will be become more ecologically responsible by emptying our mailbox twice a week rather than five times a week.
I think it is a good thing that the urban dynamic is very different from the rural dynamic. The document explains this well. Obviously, it is not a good idea to install superboxes on very busy streets, and Canada Post seems to have understood that well.
We could see to it that post offices deliver Service Canada services. There are three Service Canada offices in our area, in Mont-Laurier, Sainte-Adèle and Saint-Jérôme. I don't know if there's one in the Lower Laurentians. In fact, the population of various communities could go to the post office to obtain various documents provided by Service Canada.
As to the possibility of turning post offices into businesses, the available space precludes that. Already there is not much space left over for marketing, given the little banks and the stamps. I doubt that that could be a profitable avenue.
To conclude, I think that Canada Post, which has reached the digital age, could carve out a good place for itself with a digital cloud per post office. Without competing with current telephony, it could offer WiFi service. There is a market to be explored there, especially in rural areas.
Thank you very much.
The next question is, do any of you have any corporate offices in your region where people go to those offices, because Canada Post was planning to franchise those offices? When we were talking about external or expanding the services, you talked about banking not being very feasible, but you could go to the cloud. But then we heard only 32% of the population, the aging population, has access to it.
Number one, have you got a corporate office in your region, in your area?
So you haven't been to that, and you wouldn't be able to access any services. In the rural areas, that's what they are trying to see. In the urban centres, we don't need it because we have banks that are accessible and we have services that are accessible.
Has anybody done a MoneyGram transfer via Canada Post?
I'm trying to figure out what would be the most feasible service that Canada Post can provide, because the picture that has been painted for us, for the task force, and for Canada Post, is a bleak picture and we want it to survive.
You said if it streamlines itself or creates more service.... What sorts of services do you think it should provide?