As hundreds lined up for MP Michael McLeod’s community barbecue earlier this month, many may have noticed a union campaign that promises to be the future of the post office.
Members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), who are negotiating a new contract with Canada Post, were handing out colourful brochures headlined Delivering Community Power.
The campaign, ongoing since 2016, is included in the union’s demands and encourages the public to imagine upgrading Canada Post and using it to meet the everyday needs of communities. Included in the demands are adding charging stations for electric cars, providing senior care watch by mail delivery people, providing food mail and delivery, having postal outlets act as community hubs with wifi and providing postal banking services.
Advocates say it’s postal banking – having everyday financial services performed by postal workers – that would have the most impact in the North.
Lynda Lefrancois, president of CUPW local 858 Prairie Region, said there’s no doubt that Canada Post revenue and letter carrying are down across the country, but if the organization were to pick up postal banking, additional revenue and relevance could be gained. This could make a difference in the North, where financial services are represented by either the big banks or payday money lenders.
Canada Post provided banking services between 1868 and 1968, but has since left that domain exclusively to private industry, she said.
“The big banks’ problem is the rates they charge,” Lefrancois said. “Canada Post has been in the banking industry for 100 years. They are already set up in the communities and we can help the people out.”
In the North, she said some people are reliant on payday loans and it can be very expensive. If some of that money was generated by Canada Post postal banking, it could be redirected to social purposes like having a more green economy, she suggested.
Irene Mathyssen, an NDP Member of Parliament, has a private member’s motion asking MPs to support creating a committee to look at installing postal banking. A vote on the motion is to take place during this fall’s federal parliamentary session, and Lefrancois is asking Northerners to pressure McLeod to support the motion.
McLeod was unavailable for comment this week.
In many remote communities, Canada Post is a place to pick up mail and ordered food, meet neighbours and find out local news through bulletin boards.
David Bob, president of the Northern Territories Federation of Labour, agreed with Lefrancois that postal banking could go a long way to assist banking needs throughout the North. Often, Northerners have no choice but to pay expensive fees for banking needs, he said.
“For the North, there aren’t banks in all of the communities and often (residents) have to use NorthMart to cash the cheques if they don’t have a bank account,” Bob said.
NorthMart charges transactional fees to cash cheques for those without a bank account, such as $15 for a $100 cheque or $35 for an $800 cheque.
James Hutt, coordinator of the campaign, said the North is a high priority area of the national effort and that the union’s proposed changes could have positive impacts for this region. Indigenous peoples, he said, would be greatly helped by these efforts since statistically they lack banking services enjoyed by most Canadians. The campaign brochure points out that on top of the “hundreds of thousands of Canadians” that do not have a bank account, the service could be applicable to Indigenous peoples since only 54 of 615 First Nations in Canada are served by local bank branches.
“We are saying we would like to work with Canada Post to roll these out and we know that not everything can be done overnight,” Hutt said. “Some can be done quickly and we can probably start rolling out by region. Postal banking would be one of those areas that would be of primary importance.”
The union is also promising that upgrades would provide jobs. Some of the bigger items, like retrofitting Canada Post locations that already exist, would be a major job creator, according to Hutt, as would adding infrastructure needed for wifi and electric car plug-ins.