We have all been told that Canada Post is facing an impending crisis and that there is no alternative but to simply accept dramatic price increases, the end of home mail delivery and the loss of 8,000 living-wage jobs. We now know that this is a lie. A recent Access to Information request to Canada Post reveals that the crown corporation spent four years studying the idea of postal banking, declaring it a "proven diversification strategy." As it turns out, Canada Post management had developed a plan to save Canada Post -- and they decided to kill it instead. Why?
The actual documents retrieved by Blacklock’s Reporter through requests under Access to Information legislation are incredibly vague, yet sufficiently damning. Over 700 pages of the 800+ page report were completely censored. Of the roughly 100 pages they did release, most had the content deleted and are simply titles on blank PowerPoint slides. But even with this redaction these pages tell us a lot about the depth of the work Canada Post had undertaken. Several pages which are completely blank except for the headlines show that there were weekly reports on the progress of the postal banking initiative.
Canada Post management declared it a "win-win" option, allowing them to leverage their bricks-and-mortar infrastructure to become the most accessible bank in Canada. Their 6,000+ locations would rival every major bank combined. They had even discussed a "clicks-and-mortar" strategy utilizing their physical infrastructure, but also developing online banking services to complement the financial services they already offer such as money transfers and online bill payments.
But postal banking is not just a way of shoring up the financial stability of the post office; it would also play an incredibly valuable social role. Financial institutions are increasingly denying bank accounts to those without substantial incomes. HSBC has gone so far as to inform small businesses and non-profit organizations that their existing bank accounts are being closed because the bank is trying to focus on larger clients. The poorest in our society are forced to use cheque-cashing businesses that take a big cut of every paycheque. A postal bank could change this overnight. There are hundreds of small communities in Canada that do not have a single bank branch, but do have a post office. These communities would be well-served by a post bank.
This is exactly what the Canadian Union of Postal Workers has spent several months campaigning for. Even before Canada Post’s announcement that they intend to end home mail delivery, shut down corporate retail outlets, and eliminate up to 8,000 jobs, CUPW had been pushing for postal banking as a way of securing the financial future of the public post office. We now know that Canada Post management was planning to do exactly that. So what happened?
The first question one might ask is why a crown corporation, which is owned by the Canadian public, would be hiding their agenda from the very people that own it. The simple truth is that there is no justification for this deception. Canada Post has long been known for its refusal to properly deal with Access to Information requests. The Information Commissioner has given them an "F" in in this regard. But this situation reveals a much deeper deception at work. These documents prove that the Canadian public is being consciously deceived.
And if Canada Post management were seriously considering this option, why are their spokespeople insisting that there are no alternatives to the cuts? Why was this plan suddenly dropped last fall? Why are they refusing to release 701 pages of this 811 page report? What role did the government play in this decision? Often when a big scandal breaks, it begins when there are more questions than answers. The only context in which this situation seems to make sense is if the bosses and the government are preparing Canada Post to be broken up and privatized. Canada Post management and Conservative MPs claim that this is not the case. The biggest question is: why should we believe them?
Mike Palecek is a National Union Representative with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.