Ms. Chris Charlton (Hamilton Mountain, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to stand in the House today to again speak in support of Bill C-509, An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act (library materials). I commend the member for Brandon—Souris for bringing this important issue forward.
It is important to begin by reiterating what the book rate is and the important objectives that it serves.
Since 1939, libraries in Canada have been able to exchange books at a reduced postage rate, the so-called “book rate”. It allows libraries in our country, particularly smaller branches often in rural Canada, to access the much larger collections of urban centres at manageable costs. It also provides all Canadians with access to specialized local collections held in particular branches.
The bill before us today seeks to ensure that continues to be the case and, in so doing, that public libraries across the country continue to thrive and grow.
With apologies to Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a reader in possession of a curious and lively mind must be in want of a library. Public libraries are the lifeblood of Canadian communities and nowhere is this more true than in the many thousands of smaller and remote communities that dot our country. Libraries mean all Canadians, regardless of geography, language, income or ability, have access to novels and magazines, information services, textbooks, CDs, DVDs, Wi-Fi and computers, and often, as well, to local cultural treasures and specialized collections.
However, more than this, public libraries are meeting places. This is where toddlers and their exhausted parents gather to enjoy a story or a puppet show together; where teenagers come for movies and music and, occasionally, even to study; where workers explore career or travel options; and where seniors attend a seminar or find that perfect book to help them build their granddaughter's tree fort. Libraries promote social inclusion, literacy, skills development and lifelong learning. Libraries are a safe haven. Somerset Maugham said, “To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life”.
In my hometown of Hamilton, we are blessed with an incredible library system. The Hamilton Public Library offers an extraordinary range of books, programs and services. With its 24 branches, two bookmobiles and virtual branch system, here is just a taste of what the Hamilton Public Library has to offer our community: resume writing workshops, pottery painting classes, storytime for newcomer families, youth advisory group meetings and reading and homework clubs for teens across the city. It also houses the Leonardo Sciascia collection, the collected works of the famous Sicilian novelist, essayist, short story writer, non-fiction writer and dramatist.
The Hamilton Public Library, like thousands of others across the country, is more than just bricks and mortar and books. A library is the sum of the wealth of knowledge that every patron brings to it. A library is a classroom, a playground, a neighbourhood and a sanctuary.
I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone at the Hamilton Public Library, the staff, the volunteers, the board and the patrons for making our library a centre for all that is good in our community.
If the House will indulge me for just a moment, I will share author Philip Pullman's eloquent telling of his own love of books and libraries. He said:
But what a gift to give a child, this chance to discover that you can love a book and the characters in it, you can become their friend and share their adventures in your own imagination.
And the secrecy of it! The blessed privacy! No-one else can get in the way, no-one else can invade it, no-one else even knows what’s going on in that wonderful space that opens up between the reader and the book. That open democratic space full of thrills, full of excitement and fear, full of astonishment, where your own emotions and ideas are given back to you clarified, magnified, purified, valued. You’re a citizen of that great democratic space that opens up between you and the book. And the body that gave it to you is the public library. Can I possibly convey the magnitude of that gift?
Public libraries are, indeed,a central thread in our very social fabric but, as with so many aspects of our lives, libraries, too, are facing a rapidly changing landscape. We live in the world of the Internet, Kindle and other e-books. Technological change has brought a huge transformation to the library system that I spent so much time in, both as a kid and as a student.
That change has been embraced by our public libraries and they have risen to the challenge of innovation. That is why it is so important that the bill before us today broadens the definition of library materials to ensure that audiovisual materials, such as cassettes, CD-ROMs and DVDs, are also eligible for the book rate, which currently applies only to books.
However, it is not just about adapting to new technological formats. In the knowledge-based 21st century economy, it is essential that libraries continue to provide access to their immense collections.
In the information age, it is critical that libraries are able to provide a breadth and depth of research and reading material to meet the needs of a richly varied demographic, speaking a multitude of languages. And, because each of Canada's libraries, obviously, cannot house the enormously varied inventory that Canadians need to access, public libraries must be able to share their inventories.
Canada's library collections are a national asset and, thanks in part to the library book rate, they are accessible to all Canadians through a resource-sharing network among branches. Inter-library loans ensure equitable access to a composite Canadian library collection of some 465 million items available to all Canadians through their local libraries.
As the Canadian Library Association explains:
The Library Book Rate provides special postal rates for libraries to ship books to other libraries and to readers, allowing libraries to loan more books and encourage more reading. The Library Book Rate is especially important to Canada’s rural and remote libraries by helping Canadians borrow books regardless of where they live. Special rates for shipping library books have been in place since 1939 but are subject to regular review. Without the special Library Book Rate, libraries would pay over $10 for the same service they receive for $0.81 today.
That kind of increase in expenses for individual libraries would clearly be disastrous. As legislators, we must act to ensure that never happens. That is why this bill is so important.
As members in the House will know, the book rate expired in 2006. Since that time, Canada Post has continued to offer the book rate but without a formal agreement with the federal government. With the amendments introduced at committee, this bill would ensures the book rate is protected by legislation and that, in turn, will allow libraries the financial certainty they need to plan for the future.
I was particularly pleased to see an amendment made to the bill in committee that would require Canada Post to seek approval of the House of Commons before there is any increase in the rate. As members will recall, this was the one issue that I was deeply concerned about when I took part in the debate at second reading.
As it was originally drafted, it was the Governor in Council, which is really the cabinet, that had to approve requests for a rate hike. Such decisions are made behind closed doors and without the benefit of any public input. It was important to me that local institutions as important as our public libraries had the benefit of participating in the decisions that will ultimately affect them. By returning the decision-making power to the House of Commons, such participation is not only possible, it will be actively sought out. I commend the member from Brandon—Souris for agreeing to that important change.
A further amendment to the bill would ensure that the definition of library materials will be reviewed at least every 10 years to keep the legislation as current as possible. With the fast-changing technological advancements that we are seeing, this amendment is as welcome as it is necessary.
Access to learning and information is fundamental to society and to a knowledge-based economy. For that reason, it is critical that all Canadians, regardless of where they live, must have access to a broad selection of books and media.
Public libraries are the great social equalizers and promote essential public policy we can all agree on: literacy, knowledge, learning and community. It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest”.
In closing, I have one final quote from everyone's favourite author, Dr. Seuss, who said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go”.