Authors: Mike Palecek, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers & Brenda McAuley, president of the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association
On May 5th, the federal government announced its formal review of Canada Post. This is a welcome move, fulfilling the election promise made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to revisit the issue of cuts to door-to-door mail delivery. It’s also heartening to see that this review will examine the full scope of the postal service’s operations. Public Services Minister Judy Foote has indicated “all options” will be looked at, including postal banking. This is a great opportunity to expand a vital public service that connects us all.
Our post office has been through some tough times. Under the Harper Conservatives, Canada Post set out to gut home delivery and shut down 260 rural post offices. Canadians everywhere voiced their anger at losing a beloved public service; signing petitions, attending community forums, turning to their MPs. Some even resorted to less traditional methods: Montreal mayor Denis Coderre famously jackhammered the concrete footing of a community mailbox as news cameras rolled.
This groundswell of opposition turned into a popular federal election issue, and Canada Post finally declared a moratorium on its plan to kill door-to-door delivery late last year. As the Trudeau government prepares to undertake a comprehensive review of our postal service, Canadians are asking: what now? The answer is bringing back financial services in post offices coast to coast.
Postal banking’s long and forgotten history in this country takes us back to Confederation and ends in 1968, when the Postal Savings Bank closed its doors. Postal banks have caught on in the rest of the world, meeting success in France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Japan and across the industrialized world. More than sixty countries currently have postal banks; those banks are turning profits. In Canada, our big six private banks are also turning profits - $35 billion last year, up from $29 billion in 2013 – but they aren’t sharing those profits with Canadians, who pay some of the highest banking fees in the world at ATMs and elsewhere.
South of the border, U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders supports the creation of a postal bank to give low-income Americans access to the banking services they can’t get at a traditional financial institution. Our banks aren’t any better. While they close their doors on millions of Canadians, we’ve allowed the payday lending industry to mushroom, plunging vulnerable people into a cycle of debt they often can’t escape.
In light of recent leaks implicating prominent Canadian banks in tax avoidance, the creation of a postal bank would send a strong signal to the industry that socially irresponsible practices will not be tolerated. As a public institution, a Canadian postal bank has the opportunity to set new standards of transparency and lead the way in responsible financial practices.
You don’t need to take just our word for it. Canada Post spent years researching diversification strategies, including postal banking, before it decided to pursue a scorched-earth policy of picking fights with its workers and shutting down services. The Crown corporation tried to keep their own report on postal banking under wraps, and when investigative journalists got to it, they discovered 700 out of 800-odd pages had been redacted. What remains leaves little room for doubt: postal banking can play a big role in the post office’s future.
To quote an uncensored tidbit from Canada Post’s own buried report, postal banking is a “win-win strategy.” A postal bank could ensure profitability for years to come while offering accessible financial services in more communities than all other banks combined — including rural Canada, where hundreds of branches have closed in recent years but the tiniest of villages has a post office.
Here’s the twist: instead of lining shareholders’ pockets, the profits made by a public bank would return to Canadians’ pockets and empower community-based initiatives. Isn’t it time we had a bank for everyone?
As Canada looks into the future of our post office, we’re faced with a simple choice. We can let the doom-and-gloom preachers continue their demolition derby. Or we can take the path of optimism and harness the incredible potential of over 6,300 post offices across the country, allowing the post office to expand its role from delivering our parcels and letters to banking and beyond.
Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Foote, it’s time to give Canadians the same alternative to greedy banks and payday lenders that other people across the world already enjoy. It’s time to build a bank for everyone.