Postal banking a win-win for Canada

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Last weekend I attended a banking symposium in Ottawa. In attendance were representatives from the United Kingdom, France, Italy, New Zealand and the United States. They gave presentations on the success of postal banking in their countries. 

As in Canada, each country was faced with declining mail volumes, but instead of reducing postal services and closing post offices, they came up with another option, and that is postal banking. 

Although models vary, postal banking has increased the post office’s revenue while giving rural people additional services including banking. Some examples of services offered are: savings accounts and low-fee cheque accounts, low-interest credit cards and prepaid debit cards, insurance products, driver’s licensing, special new products for low-income people, as well as a wide range of retail products such as cell phones. 

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) concluded a study entitled “Why Canada Needs Postal Banking.” This study makes a powerful case for preserving postal services and improving Canada Post’s financial future through the addition of financial and banking services.

Canada Post already provides some financial services, such as postal money orders, money grams, bill payments, prepaid Visa cards, as well as selling phone cards and processing student loans. We wouldn’t even have to change the legislation to go this route because the Parliament of Canada adopted the Post Office Act, establishing a post office savings bank system just after Confederation in 1867. The system began operating as a bank in 1868 and was operating until it was decided to abandon the Post Office Savings Bank in 1968. However, the legislation is still there if Canada Post should decide to adopt a postal banking model.

Postal banking would be very beneficial to communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. As there are more than 240 communities with no bank in the province, this would add new life to those communities. The post office in many communities is the only federal presence, and it adds to the viability and sustainability of a community. Postal banking and other services would ensure the future and profitability of the post office while providing much needed products and services to people right there in their own community. In fact, it would be a win-win.

Canada Post did conduct a study into postal banking, however; they rejected the idea. We asked for and received a copy of that report only to discover that the majority of it was blanked out. We are seeing our postal system dismantled bit by bit by Canada Post, as they have chosen to cut services and close post offices rather than adopt a financial model that is proven to be successful in other countries. When asked for their report on postal banking they blanked out most of the report. What an insult! Why is the government allowing Canada Post to destroy our public postal system?   

Since January 2014, Canada post has cut 75 post offices in rural communities by 25 per cent. We are told that Canada Post is currently compiling another list of 20 plus post offices for the next round of reductions. Approximately half of the group post offices in Newfoundland Labrador have been reduced, and we are only April. This fast race to reduce postal service leads me to believe that all group post offices will be reduced in 2014.

In my last letter to the editor, I said that the tactic of reducing postal service in rural Canada will achieve the goal of one of the points of the Five Point Action Plan, and that is to see more franchise postal outlets in communities. In order for this to happen the local post office must be reduced to the point of inconvenience or closed altogether. I also predicted that the reductions would force some postmasters to give up their position because it would no longer be feasible for them to continue to provide the premises for the post office. This has already happened as six postmasters have given their notice.

Canada Post has changed their rules and procedures to facilitate post office closures. Post offices are closing at an alarming rate. In 2012, we had four post offices closed. In 2013, we had 11 post offices closed. The changes are around staffing. No more than five years ago, you would never see a post office temporarily closed. In the past, Canada Post would look at other options to keep a post office open after a postmaster retired. Today, a group post office will be temporarily closed, and in most cases, the temporary closure becomes a permanent one.

It was also unheard of for Canada Post to close a post office if an employee had failed the interview. Usually they would give the employee another interview or appoint that employee and give them extra training. Not so today. They would rather close the post office. Due to Canada Post changing their rules, they were able to close 15 post offices in the last two years. One post office, Red Bay, was closed and made way for a franchise outlet. This tells me that Canada Post is not sincere when they say in the Five Point Action Plan that they will honour the Moratorium and the Canadian Postal Charter.

The Conference Board of Canada was commissioned by Canada Post to conduct a review, in spite of the fact that there was one already scheduled in 2014. What was the rush? The fact that Canada Post’s CEO Deepak Chopra sits on the Conference Board and they released a report with input from very few Canadians is suspicious. The fact that Canada Post refused to share their entire report on their study on postal banking is also suspicious. The wool is being pulled over our eyes by Canada Post, and if allowed, there will be very little left of our public postal service in the future.

There was a press release on Apr. 09, 2014 from our national CPAA office in Ottawa that talks about the results of a recent study conducted on the franchise outlets that were installed to replace some of the over 1,700 rural post offices closed by Canada Post Corporation in the 80s and 90s. The study shows that the majority of those franchises today are closed, leaving the communities with no postal service. This study is important because it tells us that if Canada Post is successful in closing our post offices and replacing them with franchises, it is unlikely that we will have a post office in our communities in the future.

Canada Post is rushing toward privatization at a breakneck speed. The Harper government is behind them 100 per cent and is not willing to listen to Canadians who have sent petitions to government asking that they direct Canada Post to halt the erosion of postal service.  Canada Post is refusing to look at other options to increase the viability and profitability of the postal service. When other countries were finding ways to increase services and ensure that their postal system was sustainable, Canada Post was developing the Five Point Action Plan to cut services and dismantle our public postal system.

Under the Mulroney government, Canada Post tried to close and privatize rural post offices. When that government was defeated, we believe that closing post offices was a contributing factor to their downfall. Will history repeat itself in the elections of 2015?

People of Canada are fed up with the Harper government agenda of cuts, cuts and more cuts. Why doesn’t the government direct Canada Post to adopt new initiatives to ensure the growth of our postal system instead of supporting the road to privatization?  I want my rural community to thrive and grow, not be beaten down to obscurity. I know where my vote will go. Do you?

Louise Ade, president

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Organizations: Canada Post Corporation, Visa, Parliament of Canada Post Office Savings Bank Conference Board of Canada

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Red Bay Ottawa

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  • Grand Banker
    May 14, 2014 - 09:16

    What the headline should have said is that "postal banking" is good for postal unions and by extension - given a large portion of it funding is from unions - it is also good and self serving for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Even in these developed countries where there is some form of postal banking service being provided, this is not slowing down or reducing the impact of reducing letter postal service and in certain countries the road to privatization has advanced further along than in Canada. The real issue here is that the traditional postal service operating model can not compete with electronic communications media and increasing the scope of the services offered through postal outlets can not compensate for this. In addition, there is no evidence to suggest that Canadians - rural or urban - are under serviced as it relates retail banking services. Also, the providing of "onsite" services that you are proposing - money orders, bill payments, credit cards, etc., is reducing in significant numbers due to the increasing usage of online or electronic banking services and further confirms the impracticality of your alternative solution. As a tax paying Canadian, I strongly believe that my there is greater value in using scarce and competing public financial resources on more important issues such as health care and youth employment. Supporting or propping up postal services that are in decline due to a significantly reducing public need would be an irresponsible use of public funds.