- Our Town
Postage-free mail for MPs questioned
By Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - As Canadians anticipate a future of slogging through snow, rain, heat and gloom of night to get their mail, they can take comfort in knowing their community mail boxes will continue to be stuffed with wads of postage-free political propaganda.
And they can congratulate themselves that their tax dollars helped produce and deliver that junk mail.
Canada Post has hiked postal rates for regular mail and plans to cut up to 8,000 jobs as it phases out urban home mail delivery over the next five years — all in a bid to reverse the tide of red ink at the money-losing Crown corporation.
But one thing isn't being cut: free parliamentary mailing privileges, known as franking.
Canada Post declines to say whether it has given any consideration to ending the practice. Nor has any parliamentarian raised the idea, even as they're embroiled in controversy over almost 2 million allegedly improper partisan missives mailed, for free, by New Democrat MPs.
Under the Canada Post Corporation Act, there is no cost for mailing letters between citizens and their MPs, the governor general, the speakers of the House of Commons and Senate, the parliamentary librarian and the Commons ethics commissioner.
As well, MPs can send up to four flyers — known as unaddressed admail, in post office-speak — free of charge to their constituents in each calendar year. And they can send lots more flyers if they want at "a deeply discounted postage rate," according to postal service spokesperson Anick Losier.
Losier would not say how much revenue Canada Post could be earning if it charged politicians the going rate for letters and flyers.
But consider that in 2013, the corporation delivered some 6 million franked letters from parliamentarians (not including postage-free mail sent to them from their constituents) and almost 132 million pieces of unaddressed admail.
At last year's regular postal rate of 63 cents, those 6 million letters could have added almost $4 million to cash-strapped Canada Post's coffers.
At the new rate of 85 cents (assuming stamps are bought in packs; it's now $1 for individual stamps) that's more than $5 million in forgone revenue.
Canada Post receives an annual subsidy of $22 million from the federal government to help defray the cost of free government mail and free mailing of materials for the blind. That subsidy hasn't changed since 2000, although the corporation argued in 2007 that it fell far short of covering actual costs.
It presumably falls even shorter now, seven years later.
The Crown Corporation predicted this year that Canada Post and its subsidiaries would lose $274 million before tax in 2014
Among the most vociferous opponents of the move to end home delivery is CARP, an advocacy group for seniors, some of whom still rely on written letters to maintain contact with family and friends but who could have difficulty getting to a community mail box to retrieve them.
Finding out they're losing their home delivery service while politicians continue to send millions worth of postage-free partisan junk mail is "really going to get up their noses," says CARP vice-president Susan Eng.
"For some people, this mail service is an essential service and if (Canada Post is) crying poor, then where are their priorities?" she said.
"Is it to get the senior her pension cheque to her home, so that she doesn't have to beg a friend to get it for her, which erodes her independence? Or, (is it) to make sure that MPs get to send their propaganda to us?"
Eng noted that the government is moving to direct bank deposits for all its payments to Canadians, in a bid to save paper and postage, yet it is not ending the practice of MPs sending reams of unwanted, postage-free paper to constituents.
Neither the minister responsible for Canada Post, Lisa Raitt, nor government whip John Duncan, a member of the multi-party Commons committee that is investigating the NDP's allegedly improper mailings, responded to requests for comment on whether it's time to end or curtail MPs' franking privileges.
NDP postal critic Alexandre Boulerice said there must be a public consultation and comprehensive review of all Canada Post's services — and he wouldn't exclude MPs' free mail from that review.
He suggested that perhaps the volume of free parliamentary mail could be reduced. But Boulerice said he would not support ending the practice of allowing citizens to send postage-free letters to MPs, noting that the whole point of franking was to ensure easy communication between Canadians and their elected representatives.
Liberal House leader Dominic LeBlanc said his party "would welcome any review that would ensure mailings are limited and parliamentary in nature, and not partisan or electoral."
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