Canada is a massive country, a huge swath of land stretching to the eastern, western and northern extremes of the North American continent. Being such a geographically large country brings about unique challenges that require unique solutions, and sometimes technology isn’t enough to overcome the gaps that exist. Also as a country we’ve seen the make up of our population change, with more and more people living in a few larger cities and less and less people living in rural and northern communities.
With that change in population distribution, we’ve seen life in many of these smaller communities change in drastic ways; major employers leaving, schools closing and key services being uprooted, if they ever had them to begin with. And in many of those communities they’ve never had the newer infrastructure that many in the rest of Canada have come to take for granted, like broadband internet. That’s left those people calling those communities home looking for unique solutions. But today I wanted to focus on one particular problem that many of these communities are facing, and a potential solution:
Banking, it’s something that you don’t realize how important it is until you’ve lost it. A lot of us who have broadband internet almost never walk into a branch anymore, using either an ATM or a banking app to do most of our banking. But that’s not the case for everyone, especially in those communities where the lack of broadband hurts or for seniors, who may not be able to access banking services online. And then there are those in crisis, like the video above quotes, talking about women trying to leave a violent spouse. Banks have been a cornerstone for communities for generations, so each time we see a bank close a branch and leave a community bankless, that creates big problems.
I think of the community my mother grew up in and where I did my last year of high school, Rainy River. Growing up there was one bank in town, the CIBC, and a credit union which moved into the area later in my youth. But the town has been in decline for decades; a community built around the CN railway has been hit hard over time, with stores packing up and people leaving town in droves. Finally a few years ago, that local CIBC branch did the same. That meant that the closest bank for that community was now almost an hour down Highway 11 in Emo. And this is in a place where there is no regional transit and no way to get to that branch unless you can drive yourself.
There are communities all across the country that know that story well, so what is a possible solution to this problem that isn’t dependent on broadband internet? It’s an older idea that’s used in other countries to some success. That idea? Postal Banking.
Yes folks, this is an idea that I have always been partial too and one that I believe makes so much sense on so many levels. For starters, in almost every community across the country, no matter how big, smaller, urban or remote, there is a Canada Post outlet. Canada Post has infrastructure in place and unique expertise in serving these communities and isn’t going anywhere. And we have a history of it in Canada. Under the Post Office Act of 1868, the government of the day created the Post Office Savings Bank, which operated until 1969. For a hundred years, Canada Post offered this service across the country, giving Canadians access to reliable and secure banking services regardless of where they lived. And to this day countries such as France, New Zealand and Italy still offer Postal Banking services.
Not only would providing banking services through Canada Post be helpful for rural and remote communities, it could also help make Canada Post itself more viable. How many times have we heard that in the age of the Internet that Canada’s postal service was going the way of the dodo? How many times have we been told that we should expect less and less from our postal service in this country? It’s a constant refrain, especially from those on the right. But if we enacted Postal Banking in Canada, it would give Canada Post a big boost, more revenue and strengthen this important crown corporation. As for concerns about competing with the big banks, I would simply point out that it is them who are closing branches all over the country and abandoning the market, leaving space for new competitors to come in. If anything, Postal Banking is about stepping into a void in the market created by the banks, not about taking them down.
While this won’t be an issue that will define this election, this is one that is increasingly on the radar of voters who live in rural, remote and northern communities. It’s something that they are asking their MPs and candidates about and are looking for change. It’s something that organized labour will keep pushing for and, in my mind, is an interesting litmus test for the progressivity of the platforms of different parties. The New Democrats have been leading the charge on this for years, but will others pick up on it? We’ll see, but in the Kingston Whig-Standard piece shown above, the Liberal MP quoted in the piece has completely back away from his support for Postal Banking. He pointed to a parliamentary study done on the topic this parliament that didn’t even consult experts from countries currently operating postal banking systems, whom they could have asked how their systems have worked. So instead of looking for a solution, it seems that the Liberal members on the committee in question (and I assume the Liberals because they held the majority and they controlled the results) decided to try to quietly silent an idea worthy of proper study.
But going ahead, I believe that this is an idea that deserves some very serious consideration going forward. To me, politics is the art of the possible and in my opinion, Postal Banking is a potentially elegant solution to a few problems faced by Canadians from Coast to Coast to Coast. We’ll see what traction, if any, it gets during this election campaign but in my mind, this is another idea whose time has come.