Katie McKenna, organizer for the Leap Manifesto and Mike Palecek National President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, say Canada’s post office can be the engine of a post-carbon economy that includes postal banking, local farm to table food delivery, and care for the elderly.
NADIA KANJI, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Nadia Kanji in Baltimore. 2016 is a leap year, a time for a leap to a post-carbon economy, according to author and activist Naomi Klein. On February 29, activists across Canada launched a campaign called Delivering Community Power, a proposal to turn post offices into green community hubs to power Canada’s next economy. Joining us to discuss this campaign are two guests: Katie McKenna and Mike Palecek. Katie McKenna is the engagement lead for the This Changes Everything project, and one of the main organizers behind the Leap Manifesto. Mike Palacek has been national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers since May 2015. He hails from Vancouver, where he worked as a letter carrier. Mike has long been active in the labor movement and in social justice communities. Thank you both so much for joining us. MIKE PALECEK: Thank you. KATIE MCKENNA: Thanks, Nadia. KANJI: Katie, can you talk about how exactly post offices can act as the engine for a new economy? MCKENNA: So the idea is that in Canada, the postal network is the biggest retail network in the country. So there’s this incredible, untapped resource right now that can be used to transition the country very quickly into the next economy that we know we need to build after the commitments that have been made in Paris. Post offices are in almost every community in this country. There are 6,000 of them currently, compared to about 3,500 Tim Hortons, for example, just to give you a sense of the scale. And they really are the center of the communities that they’re in. so the idea behind this proposal is how can we use that infrastructure to push the energy transition, first by greening this infrastructure itself, by changing the vehicle fleet to electric, putting solar panels on the roofs of the post offices, but also making them a hub for others to enter into the transition so that people can come through, get information about how to green their own houses, get involved in community energy projects, and at the same time address other social issues. So this is really an integrated proposal that’s not just about the clean energy transition. We’re talking about introducing postal banking, which would, you know, bring banking services to thousands of Canadians that don’t have them currently anywhere near their homes in an affordable way. And it also involves elements of, you know, talking about food delivery, local farm-to-table food delivery, having the postal network be involved in that, as well as elder care. Checking in, door-knocking on elders who ask for it. So it really is an integrated proposal for a more localized economy, and the kind of thinking that we need to do as we think about how we’re going to switch off of fossil fuels in Canada. KANJI: Right. And Mike, I wanted to ask you specifically about this, postal banking. What exactly is it, how did this idea come about and, I mean, aren’t there already lots of banks in Canada? Why is this useful? PALECEK: Well, postal banking is something that’s actually done around the world. Most countries, the post office also acts as a public bank. In the United States there’s been a campaign for a postal bank for some time. I believe the postmaster general has come out in favor of it, and folks like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are both pushing for postal banking. So it’s not a unique idea, but it’s something that hasn’t been in place here since 1968. And essentially, we think the post office should be operating a public bank, which can both serve rural communities, which the big banks here have abandoned, but also play a social role in the cities where the urban poor are not able to open bank accounts. So they’re forced to use these dodgy check-cashing and loan sharking operations. So we’ve put another lens on that, and we’re saying that this can also be used as a green infrastructure bank to fund the projects that need to happen in order to transition to a more sustainable economy. KANJI: And Katie, this sounds really interesting, of course. I’m curious as to how feasible it is. Has this occurred elsewhere? Has it been implemented in other regions? MCKENNA: It’s one of the neat parts of this project, that actually it really is drawing on best practices from postal networks around the world. Like Mike was saying, postal banking is incredibly common in dozens and dozens of countries around the world. In Japan they have, the post office workers are checking in on the elderly who ask for those types of services. In France they’re already doing farm-to-table food delivery. So this really is a way of bringing in the best of what’s happening in all these different countries, and also drawing on some of the lessons from Germany’s energy transition, where they were able to very aggressively transition to bring in a huge chunk of renewable energy into their mix, and create 400,000 jobs at the same time. So that’s the great thing about this proposal. Although it can feel radical when you first think about it, it’s drawing on stuff that’s already working in other countries and adapting it for Canada’s needs. KANJI: Wouldn’t this cost a lot of money? Has the campaign outlined some sort of budget to finance this? MCKENNA: This is coming out in the context of a time where Canada has just made massive commitments to lower its emissions in Paris, and at the same time has committed to massive infrastructure investment here in the country. So it’s–within the context of those commitments, you know, we know there’s a huge gap between the emissions that we need to reduce and what there’s actually a plan in place to do. So this comes out in that context, that there’s already money committed to this work, and we’re throwing this into the mix. KANJI: Okay. And how could this affect community economic development overall? PALECEK: Well, I think certainly in terms of rural communities you’ll find the banks have been picking up and leaving over the last decade. And those communities need access to banking services in order to actually develop their economies. But in addition to that, the green lens that we’re putting on this will be an engine of the economy in and of itself. This green transition that we need to achieve here isn’t something that’s going to hurt the economy. Rather, it should be helping. And the Canadian Labour Congress just this week has unveiled a plan to create a million green jobs across this country. We would very much like to be part of that plan. MCKENNA: So, just concretely, we’re talking about making electric vehicles in Canada that would serve the postal network. We’re talking about boosting the production of renewables in every community across the country. We’re talking about bolstering farming and local food security. And there will be all sorts of opportunities for local, small-town entrepreneurs to get involved in this as the post office becomes more and more of a gathering place. Other businesses are going to benefit from that, very clearly. KANJI: Great. And lastly, Katie, can you tell us where people can learn more about your campaign? MCKENNA: Yeah. So the website is DeliveringCommunityPower.ca, and there’s, that’s the place where you can download the new pamphlet, that kind of gives you an overview of what’s happening. We’ve already gotten a lot of interest in this from other countries. And we want to hear from people. So there’s an email address on that site, and if people have ideas for how to push this forward, or if they want to bring this to their communities, we’d love to hear from them. KANJI: All right. So be sure to check that out. Katie and Mike, both joining us from Canada, thank you so much for joining us. PALECEK: Thanks. MCKENNA: Thank you. KANJI: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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