In the winter of 2014, Blacklock’s Reporter, a small news outfit based in Ottawa, released an explosive story. For years, Canada Post management had been quietly putting together a well-documented report on postal banking. The report, which ran over 800 pages long, included a section entitled, “Banking: A Proven Diversification Strategy.” Its conclusion left little room for doubt: postal banking was “a win-win strategy” that would secure the future of the postal service while providing accessible banking services to all Canadians. As new challenges cropped up, Canada Post needed to diversify. What better way forward than to follow dozens of countries where postal banking had already found success?
As it turns out, Canada Post decided the way forward was to ignore years of research and go for the slash-and-burn strategy instead. The Harper Conservatives stood by as Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra cut home delivery and picked fights with the posties we rely on to get our mail. It gets worse. When Blacklock’s obtained the report, 701 of the 811 pages were redacted and Canada Post management was unavailable for comment — or smugly answered that the big banks already catered to Canadians’ needs. Canada Post, a public institution, hid this study from us all, and then refused to divulge most of their own report when they were caught red-handed. Without Blacklock’s work, this study would have never have come to light. Even today, it paints an incomplete picture.
What survives of the report praises other countries’ postal banks, only one of which didn’t reliably turn a profit. Instead, postal banking is a profitable alternative to the brutal downsizing Canada Post currently favours. As Blacklock’s reported, "the documents identified no obvious risk to banking” for our postal service. Meanwhile, Deepak Chopra and Canada Post executives stuck to their story: ‘Canada Post is in a rut, let’s cut, cut cut.’ Theoretically, they answer to Canadians through our government. Unfortunately that government was an ideological opponent of public services. Canada Post was serving the Harper Conservatives what amounted to privatization on a platter.
Perhaps that’s why they left a similar report rotting on the proverbial shelves. “Canada Post Corporation as a Provider of Financial and Government Services: The Way of The Future?” was published by the Library of Parliament in 2005. Looking at the future of our postal service, it described a potential sink-or-swim situation. Either Canada Post would complain and do nothing (sink) or diversify (swim). On postal banking, it granted that "others have taken on the challenge with great success.” "The financial services option,” read the report, "would seem to be the logical way to ensure the Canadian postal system’s viability.” Sounds like a plan, right? Not so. The Harper government and Canada Post chose “sink.”
Fast-forward to 2016 and the upcoming postal review, which we have been promised by the new federal government will include serious consideration of offering new services. Services like postal banking.
Our Parliament has new tenants and support for postal banking is picking up steam from coast to coast to coast. It’s time to make up for lost time: the Trudeau government has an opportunity to distinguish itself from the Harper Conservatives by meeting this challenge head-on. It shouldn’t take long to conclude postal banking is the way forward: after all, Canada Post has already done all the research. Now they just need to take those reports off the shelf.