This past Monday morning in what Stéphane Lacroix, Communications and public affairs director of Teamsters Quebec, termed an “historic” front of “patronats et syndicats,” unions, distributors and publishers — including The Suburban — came together at the Centre Mont-Royal to defend Publi-Sac and the free flow of information from an attack by Montreal’s Standing Committee on Water, the Environment, Sustainable Development and Large Parks in a report that would ban distribution of Publi-Sacs unless homes had a specific “opt-in” sticker and called for newspapers to be distributed only in depots in public buildings and spaces. The Committee was made up of six Projet Montréal councillors and two from Ensemble Montréal.

The current system in place for decades is an “opt-out” option. If a door has a “no circular” sticker then nothing is delivered. The commission’s hearings have gone on for the better part of the year. Despite uncontested evidence demonstrating that all flyers and bags of Publi-Sac are made of recycled and recyclable materials, that some 1.9 million Quebecers of modest income depend on the coupons for their weekly budgets and that between 1,000-2,000 jobs would be lost if these recommendations were adopted, the Committee held firm to its decisions. Perhaps most disturbing was the Sec.8 recommendation of the report which not only demands that newspapers not be delivered to doors but be placed only in depots in public buildings and spaces. It also proposes that the city of Montreal should work to convince Canada Post not to allow the mail to be used for flyers and newspapers. Municipalities have no authority to lobby or deal with Canada Post which is purely in federal jurisdiction.

In response to a question from The Suburban on the Sec. 8 matter, Benoit Chartier Board Chair of Hebdos Québec representing some 100 publications, stated that the commission was, “dangerously infringing on freedom of expression.” He said that, “Leaving newspapers at Plaza Cote des Neiges or a pool in Ville d’Anjou is not something acceptable in a free society.”

Mr. Lacroix and the other union leaders — Renaud Gagné, Québec Director of Unifor, Luc Vachon, President of the Centrale des syndicats démocratiques (CSD) and Alexandre Guérette, Union Representative of the Syndicat des travailleurs industriels et commerciaux (STIC) — all voiced concern as to why a supposedly progressive municipal administration insisting that it is operating in “good faith” would jeopardize thousands of jobs when there is clearly no environmental hazard.

The alliance was organized by Transcontinental Chair Isabelle Marcoux and Preaident François Olivier. Olivier called the commission’s recommendations, “insensitive to the needs of Quebecers,incoherent in its recommendations in light of the data which it chose to ignore and impractical in the possibility of execution.” Marcoux pointed out that the current opt-out system is working and being respected. Out of several million Publi-Sacs being delivered, only some 200,000 doors have a “no circular” sticker. “Why change what is working,” she stated. She also pointed out that the consultations of the commission were not done in an inclusive manner but rather an adversarial one. “And there was no need for that,” she underlined. She was saddened not only by the process’ refusal to recognize incontrovertible environmental evidence, but also by an almost dogmatic insistence on not even examining the “brutal” economic and job impact that would occur if the Committee’s recommendations were accepted.

Both Marcoux and Olivier stressed that they still hope for a “positive collaboration” with the city and that they had a “polite” meeting with the Mayor. When asked about possible legal remedies, Olivier answered that Transcontinental is not a litigious company and believes there are sufficient federal Charter protections to stop these recommendations from being realized. The Suburban asked whether the company had considered appealing to the Quebec Minister for the Metropole since the Quebec Charter is even stronger on this issue and cities and towns in Quebec are creations of the province which maintains a veto power over all actions.Olivier answered that overtures had been made and they are keeping this option in mind.

Other members of the alliance were Pascal Cloutier, Mayor of Dolbeau-Mistassini and President of the Alliance Forêt Boréale,Andrew Mulé, Vice-President and General Manager of Metro Media the Conseil de l’industrie forestière du Québec, the Conseil du patronat du Québec (Québec Employer Council), the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec (FCCQ), the Fédération de l’industrie manufacturière (FIM-CSN), the Fédération nationale des communications (FNC-CSN), the Table des élus du Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean, the Table des élus de la Manicouagan, and the Table des ainés Vivre et vieillir dans Rosemont . A joint declaration stated that Publisac is irreplaceable at present for households, local newspapers and merchants who use it, in addition to generating thousands of direct and indirect jobs in Québec and that despite importance of ecological transition, believe that Publisac is a responsibly managed product. They ask the City of Montréal not to act on the recommendations of the Committee but instead establish a dialogue between the City of Montréal and all interested parties. Such a dialogue should identify the best ways to achieve reduction at source within the current distribution system, while taking into account all aspects (environmental, social and economic) of sustainable development and the democratic role played by local information. They firmly believe It is up to the people to determine the future of Publisac, by exercising the opt-out option if desired, and that the decision on free flows of information is a matter for government or any public authority.

Mayor Valerie Plante has six months to reach a decision on the Committee’s report.

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