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Transcontinental CEO calls bid to ban flyers in Montreal ‘impractical’

The CEO of Transcontinental Inc. says a proposal to drastically cut down on mail flyers is "insensitive, incoherent and impractical.".
The CEO of Transcontinental Inc. says a proposal to drastically cut down on mail flyers is "insensitive, incoherent and impractical.". Cory McGraw/Global News

A proposal by a Montreal municipal committee to drastically cut down on mail flyers is “insensitive, incoherent and impractical,” according to the CEO of Transcontinental Inc.

Francois Olivier said Monday a recommendation last week by the municipality’s environmental committee to distribute the discount flyers only to residents who opt in fails to take into account Quebec consumers’ needs and hands a flyer monopoly to Canada Post.

Publisac is “particularly essential for low-income households and senior citizens,” he said, “the vast majority of whom prefer the paper format to digital, and for whom the internet is often a luxury.”

“People are still reading flyers on paper because they save money every week. It’s as simple as that.”

The head of the packaging and printing company joined with union members and media Monday to call for further consultation with Mayor Valerie Plante.

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The committee’s recommendation Thursday, that followed a petition calling for consultations on the ad packages, said the environmental costs of the blanket delivery system are too high.

READ MORE: Montreal to hold public consultations on future of Publisac

TC Transcontinental distributes the flyers to about 800,000 homes on the island of Montreal, generating 20,800 tonnes of printed material and packaging annually, according to committee estimates.

Transcontinental said it also delivers more than 100 local news weeklies across Quebec along with the flyers, prompting concern from media outlets over higher distribution costs should the service collapse.

The flyers, dubbed Publisac, contributed about $130 million to Montreal-based Transcontinental last year — about five per cent of total revenue — said analyst Drew McReynolds of RBC Dominion Securities.

Olivier acknowledged that not everyone wants to receive junk mail, but said residents can phone the company or go online to opt out.

“Ten years ago we didn’t have anybody who didn’t want to receive the Publisac. Today we have 200,000 people. Tomorrow if there’s 250, 300, half a million, we have the system to get that done,” he said.

“That’s why we’re wondering, why change everything?”

Publisac flyers — distributed to 3.3 million Quebec doors daily — represent an average of between $1,000 and $1,500 in annual savings for Quebecers who live in households earning less than $35,000 per year, according to Transcontinental.

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READ MORE: Will you sign this petition against the Publisac in Montreal?

The bags are made from 100 per cent recycled material, Olivier said, though he did not deny that the packaging eventually ends up in landfills.

“This is not a Publisac issue; this is a plastic issue,” he said.

The flyers are “entirely recyclable,” said Renaud Gagne, Unifor’s Quebec director. “The big problem in the Montreal area is transport. More work should be done to electrify transportation rather than cutting jobs,” he said.

Metro Media, which counts on Publisac for the distribution of its community newspapers that it bought from Transcontinental in 2018 — expressed concerns over the future of local weeklies if the recommendation was put into effect. Twenty of the firm’s journalists would lose their jobs if the status quo is not maintained, according to vice-president Andrew Mule.