After repeated denials from the Conservative government that their service cuts and rate hikes at Canada Post have anything to do with privatization, we now know the opposite to be true. An access to information request by Blacklock’s Reporter reveals that the Prime Minister’s Office conducted a secret study into privatization only months before Canada Post announced their five-point plan to cut services, jobs and increase prices. It would appear the government has deliberately misled the public.
In what has become a typical lack of transparency surrounding anything regarding the post office, this brief for the Prime Minister is stamped “SECRET” at the top. It was never meant to be viewed by the public. Indeed, even the version released under an access to information request is heavily redacted with large portions entirely blacked-out. The refusal of the Conservative government to come clean on its plans for the post office demonstrates their contempt for the views of the general public on this issue. They simply don’t care that there is overwhelming opposition to their plans, and intend to proceed anyway.
This is the second major document regarding Canada Post that Blacklock’s has revealed this year through access to information requests. The last one was an 800-page study about postal banking and its potential to expand services rather than cut them.
Canada Post management had declared postal banking a “proven diversification strategy” and a “win-win” situation. It appears that the crown corporation was moving full-steam-ahead with a plan to join other postal administrations around the world in offering banking and financial services through the post office. They would leverage their 6000+ retail outlets to become the most accessible bank in the country. The revenue brought in by such a plan could be used to expand postal services rather than cut them.
The information contained in these documents paints a damning picture. Canada Post was moving towards implementing postal banking as a way of securing the long-term viability of the corporation.
In September of 2013, the Prime Minister received a study that he ordered about privatization of postal services. In October of 2013, all work on the postal banking project suddenly and mysteriously ceased. On December 11, 2013, the day after parliament adjourned for the holidays, Canada Post management announced a plan to massively cut services and jobs.
These steps would make Canada Post Corporation much more attractive to private investors. Canada Post is both the largest retail network and the largest distribution network in the country: quite a prize for any company. By reducing service obligations to the public, they would diminish the risk associated with a privately run post office and increase potential profit margins.
It seems that the Conservatives are manufacturing a crisis at Canada Post, in order to sell it off cheap. The new owners would then leverage the existing infrastructure to offer new services, driving profits through the roof. The Conservatives could then paint this massive theft from the public purse as a success story.
From an investment perspective, there is only one thing standing in the way of the privatization of Canada’s postal system. Any potential buyer would be wary of taking on the liability of Canada Post’s pension plan, which currently has a six billion dollar solvency deficit. No private company would want to be left holding the bag for a pension that is at the whim of the market.
The Harper government has already announced that it intends to introduce legislation in the fall that will remove this liability, so that if the plan is underfunded it will be retirees who suffer. The writing is on the wall. Despite their denials and massive public opposition, Stephen Harper’s government is planning to privatize Canada Post.
Now the only question left is, what are postal workers and the general public going to do about it?
Mike Palecek is a National Union Representative with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.