The New Vancouver Mail Processing Plant—Whose Interests Will It Serve?

This discussion paper explores the international role of the new Vancouver Mail Processing Plant within the context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations for a free trade agreement currently underway.

Less than two years ago, on October 21, 2011 Canada Post announced in a press release that it planned to move forward with building the new Vancouver Mail Processing Plant at the Vancouver International Airport on Sea Island in the City of Richmond, British Columbia.

Canada Post had previously sealed a long-term lease with the Vancouver Airport Authority of an undisclosed amount for a 42 acres site next to the airport to build the 700,000 square foot new postal facility.

The new Vancouver Mail Processing Plant will consist of “state-of-the-art” mail sorting equipment, two storey office area located in the front of the plant for administrative staff and a 40 foot clear height structure with a total of 60 high dock loading bays for shipping and receiving.  There will also be 8 distribution sorters and conveyance structures installed at the new facility.

The plant will process letters, parcels, packets and advertising mail all under one roof.  The construction commenced late in 2011 and according to Canada Post, all building plans are on schedule and the new mail processing plant will be fully operational by 2014.

Canada Post said it will invest $200 million to build the postal facility to be taken from the $2.4 billion fund reserved for its “Postal Transformation Initiative”.  This initiative, Canada Post says, will make for a more efficient postal service resulting in a cost savings of $250 million a year from 2017.

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The new Vancouver Mail Processing Plant is expected to house approximately 1,200 plant workers and administrative staff.

Canada Post will be transferring its operation from its downtown operations from the current mail processing plant at 349 Georgia Street West and the Vancouver Parcel Delivery Center located in Richmond, B.C. to the airport.  Canada Post says it will continue to operate at Georgia Street West until 2015.

Bird Design-Build Construction Inc., a major mega-project builder, was chosen by Canada Post following a competitive Request for Proposal (RFP) process to build and design the new facility.  The   building contract is said to be valued at more than $115 million.  When Bird was announced as the successful candidate, it shares rose by 2.3% to $10.39 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

In the summer of 2011, Bird acquired H.J. O’Connell, a 600-employee firm involved in heavy construction, civil construction and surface mining.  Prior to that deal, Bird had 700 employees on staff and offices all over Canada.  Bird has reported gross revenue of $947.47 million.

vmpp4The old Vancouver Mail Processing Plant sits on an entire block in Vancouver’s downtown core and has been recently sold for an undisclosed amount to the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (bcIMC), a pension and government fund management company.

According to the Globe and Mail, the fund manager has $92 billion in holdings around the world.  The building is going to be redeveloped as a large-scale mixed-used site, but only after extensive planning, said B.C. Investment Management Corporation spokeswoman Gwen-Ann Chittenden.

The 1958 modernist old Vancouver Mail Processing Plant had been designated as an endangered historic site by Heritage Vancouver, ever since Canada Post announced two years ago that it was building a new mail processing facility close to the Vancouver International Airport.

The building is situated on prime real estate land long ago paid for.  This was an asset that belonged to postal workers and to the Canadian people.

Further in its October 21, 2011 press release, Canada Post stated: “building a processing facility at the Vancouver International Airport is a strategic decision that will improve Canada Post’s access to vital transportation links, and allow Canada Post to continue to grow its eCommerce business, process the mail faster, improve its delivery logistics and better provide customer service”.  Vancouver is responsible for postal delivery in British Columbia and the Yukon, and accounts for 10% of national mail volumes.

The press release also pointed out: “Vancouver is particularly important to Canada Post’s operations as the city is a gateway to Asia-Pacific and a critical component of the company’s western operations.  Vancouver is one of three international access points for Canada Post and plays an increasingly important role in facilitating trade with Asian countries.  With its international role, the new Vancouver processing facility will house a Canada Border Services Agency operation to better service western Canadians”.

In another Canada Post news release dated April 12, 2012 it is said that Steven Fletcher, Minister of State (Transport) and Canada Post President and CEO Deepack Chopra revealed the strategic role of the $200 million facility “as a gateway for e-commerce shipments from Pacific Rim economies entering Canada’s largest home delivery and retail network”.

“Our government’s top priority is jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, that’s why we have invested in the Asia-Pacific Gateway to strengthen Canada’s competitive position and international commerce” said Steven Fletcher. “With e-commerce in Canada growing rapidly, creating new businesses and jobs, it is important for Canada Post to effectively serve this growing market and the economic engine within Canada”, he said.

“With the growth of e-commerce, we are positioning ourselves as a strong and reliable link between Canada and the Far East”, said Deepak Chopra.  According to the same news release, a study by eMarketer published in 2011, showed that Canadians are set to spend almost $31 billion on line by 2015, doubling the current rate.  Within Canada Post, volumes from the 20 largest e-customers grew by more than 20%.

These statements made by Minister Fletcher and CEO Deepak Chopra were made even before Canada officially joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA).

What is the Trans- Pacific Partnership (TPP)?

The TPP was founded in 2005 by Brunei, Chili, Singapore and New-Zealand, then joined by Australia, Peru, the United States, Vietnam and Malaysia.  It is a free trade “super-agreement” that is expected to supersede all the trade agreements already signed among the Asia-Pacific countries in order to achieve long-term Asia-Pacific “economic cooperation”.  Canada and Mexico are the most recent countries to join the negotiations and Japan has participated in consultations with the partner countries about the possibility of joining.  The TPP would be the largest free-trade agreement in the world and the largest U.S. FTA to date by trade value.

There is also a distinct possibility that in the future other countries that are part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) such as China may also become members of the TPP.  At the same time, part of the U.S. intention for the TPP appears to be to build a coalition of monopolies to compete against China and undermine APEC.  This will create greater conflict, including the possibility of war.

In a paper supporting Canada’s participation in the TPP talks, Laura Dawson from the CD Howe Institute International Economic Policy Advisory Council and former Senior Economic Specialist at the US Embassy in Ottawa wrote: “And the TPP is about more than trade.  It is tied to the politics of how Canada, the United States and others will manage future economic relations with China.  The momemtum for TPP may be generated by Asia-Pacific countries’ fear of the regional dominance of China, and the US desire to establish the economic underpinning for long-term US military and security commitments in the Asia-Pacific region”, clearly alluding to the United States geo-political interests in the region.

Specifically, the paper recommends appealing to the U.S. broader strategic interests through state department officials, appealing to specific Congressional interest, and emphasising continued progress on bilateral Canada-US issues.

The pressure from this monopoly right think-tank has been that Canada needs to cater to the US imperialist ambitions in the Asian-Pacific region and show a willingness to cooperate on the basis of “shared common grounds” if it wants a seat at the TPP talks.

In another report, this time a Report for Congress prepared by Congressional Research Service Brock R. Williams, Analyst in International Trade and Finance, dated January 29 2013 entitled “Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Countries:  Comparative Trade and Economic Analysis”, Williams points out “that the TPP negotiations are of significant interest to Congress since it will eventually consider legislation to implement the final trade agreement”.

According to the report, “the proposed TPP and its potential expansion are important due to the economic significance of the Asia-Pacific region for both the United States and the world”.

It is said that the region is home to 40% of the world’s population, produces over 50% of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and include some of the fastest growing economies of the world.  With the addition of Canada and Mexico, TPP negotiating partners made up 31% of U.S. goods and services in 2011, and the Asia-Pacific economies as a whole made up over 56%.

The report also points out that the United States is the largest TPP market in terms of both GDP and population. In 2011, non U.S. TPP partners collectively had a GDP of $5.7 trillion, 37% of the U.S. level, and a population of 346 million, slightly larger than the U.S. population.  Japan’s entry would increase the economic significance of the agreement on both of these metrics.

The U.S. is also advocating a “deep integration” of all the economies of the participating countries.  The trade agreement would eliminate nearly all tariffs among participating countries and commit governments to unprecedented regulatory reforms on a number of domestic policy issues.  Member countries must also agree to strong protections for foreign investors, enhanced safeguards for patent holders and limitations on subsidies to domestic state-owned enterprises for example.

As of October 12, 2012 the Harper government has formally joined the TPP trade bloc talks and was at the table for the 15th round of negotiations held in December 2012 in Auckland, New Zealand.  Canada participated as a “second-tier negotiator”, which gave it less power in the talks than other members.  Canada had to sign on, sight unseen, to texts already negotiated in the first 14 rounds.

During round 15, more than 300 individuals from over 200 organisations is said to have participated in a “stakeholder” engagement programme on December 7, where “stakeholders” had an opportunity to meet with Canada’s negotiators and negotiators from other TPP countries.

Canadian goods exports to TPP members in 2011 reached $340.8 billion, equivalent to more than 76% of Canada’s global total.

An atmosphere of secrecy and executive rule pervades Harper’s international trade negotiations and agreements, without input even from most Members of Parliament.  No meaningful discussion on the TPP negotiations has occurred within Parliament and all TPP negotiations are being held in secret.  At the same time, a leaked document has revealed that 600 representatives of the largest U.S. monopolies met behind closed doors in San Diego from July 1-7, 2011, for the purpose of hurrying the TPP negotiations to conclusion, clearly showing in whose interests the TPP is being put together as well as why the Harper government is acting behind the backs of the people.

On October 9, 2012, in a government press release announcing that Canada had formally joined the TPP, Minister James Moores on behalf of Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway said: “Joining the TPP is good news for hard working families.  Opening new markets and increasing Canadian exports to fast growing markets throughout the Asia-Pacific region is a key part of our government’s plan to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.  We look forward to helping develop a 21st-century agreement that advances Canadian interests.”  He further added: “ The region is a priority market for Canadian businesses, offering enormous opportunities to our exporters”.

In less than six years, the Harper government has concluded trade agreements with nine countries:  Columbia, Honduras, Jordan, Panama, Peru and the European Free Trade Association member states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.  Canada has also begun deepening trade and investment ties with the largest markets in the world, including the European Union, India   and Japan.

On December 9, 2012, in The Star business section, Michael Geist, chair of the Canada Research in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa wrote: “Despite growing opposition in Canada, Ottawa has begun formal participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, aimed at establishing one of the world’s most ambitious trade agreements”.

He further wrote: “Moreover, the price of entry may be high, since leaked documents suggests the deal might require a major overhaul of Canadian agriculture, investment, intellectual property and culture protection rules”.  He adds: “While the substance of the TPP is cause for concern, the more immediate issue is the lack of transparency associated with both the negotiations and Canada’s participation in them.  The talks remain shrouded in darkness, with a draft text that is secret; public interest groups are largely banned from where the negotiations are being held”.

This state of affairs raises a very important question as to whose interests will be served by the new Vancouver Mail Processing Plant.

Aside from having enriched many monopoly businesses and friends through the selling of assets which belonged to the postal workers and the Canadian people in the first place and through the awarding of various contracts to build, design and equip the new facility, Canada Post and the Harper government will ensure that the very filthy rich and the monopoly right of the TPP are provided with a completely free public infrastructure to move their goods and services in and out of the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific region.  Shipping and handling fees are always shifted onto the consumers.

Many people at the place of work think that the new Vancouver Mail Processing Plant should have never been constructed.  They say that there was a period in Canada where the post office played a crucial role in nation building and served the public good.  Much of its infrastructure was developed following great expansions in the Canadian economy.  Today, this is not the case.

Today, monopoly right trumps the public right and all the benefactions from the economy are placed at the disposal of the monopolies.

Canada Post is currently facing an operating deficit of $327 million.  Throughout the last round of negotiations with the CUPW, Canada Post claimed that accepting the demands of postal workers would jeopardize the financial viability of the corporation.  With the help of the Harper dictatorship it imposed one of the most vicious back to work legislation imposing a final selection arbitration process that placed wages and working conditions in peril.

Through blackmail and coercion, a deal was reached with the CUPW containing severe contract concessions and a two-tier wage system.

The new Vancouver Mail processing Plant also comes at a time where Canada Post is closing post offices, retail outlets and affecting cuts to services to the Canadian people.

Depriving Canada Post, the Harper government and the world’s monopolies of their monopoly right to trade freely without restrictions, so that they are no longer free to oppress and exploit the peoples of the world and their national resources, would open up public right to have cooperative trade for mutual benefit and would provide us and the world with the right to live in peace and security.

In solidarity,

Danielle Desormeaux

*Danielle Desormeaux is a postal worker at the Ottawa Mail Processing Plant in the Communications Short and Long Section on day shift.  To comment or simply to share your views, you can reach her at hoffddesormeaux@gmail.com

Feel free to add to the discussion.