Publisac: a report that could change the future of circular distribution

Waited impatiently or received with irritation, religiously consulted or immediately thrown into the recycling bin: Publisac seems to be part of the furniture in the Quebec consumption landscape. But a much-awaited report Thursday in Montreal could change the future of flyer distribution and snowball in the province.
In recent days, several mayors in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region have renewed their support for Publisac, which provides a living for part of the forest industry. Even the former Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change, David Heurtel, delivered a plea for the flyer industry in a public opinion letter published in the media. Many community organizations have also emphasized the importance to them of circulating flyers. Meanwhile, TC Transcontinental, owner of Publisac, continues an advertising campaign, particularly in newspapers, to “debunk the myths” associated with its commercial activities.

To understand the source of all this turmoil, we must turn our eyes to the Montreal area. A petition signed by 15,000 citizens in the spring led to a public consultation on the distribution of flyers in October. The report of this consultation is to be presented to City Council on Thursday.

At the origin of this petition, we find a man, Charles Montpetit, who decided to take matters into his own hands. The citizen of Rosemont continued to receive his circulars despite the sticker affixed to his mailbox indicating his refusal.

It is currently the preferred way by the company, an automatic distribution except in case of refusal ( opt-out ). Despite several complaints with the company, nothing has changed, he told the Sun .

He then undertook a review of the municipal by-law infractions that “each bag must be slipped into a mailbox [or hung on a suitable hook]”. Very soon, he realizes that the rules are not applied, and that the bags of circulars hang at the bottom of the steps, on the banisters, in front of doors, in short, everywhere. He then tries to apply at the municipal level for this regulation to be respected, but the steps do not have the desired effect.

Propre.org Movement

That’s where the Propre.org movement was born, also named Antipublisac on its Facebook page. From the outset, Charles Montpetit wishes to recall that the approach concerns the distribution of all circulars, and not only the company Publisac, which however represents a big part of this industry.

The requests that his movement made to the City of Montreal can be summed up in three points, “all equally important,” says Charles Montpetit. “If only one of these solutions is retained by the City, there will already be an impact,” he notes.

The first point concerns the method of distribution of circulars. The current system, which operates on a distribution model for all except opt-out , should be changed to an opt-in distribution system . A measure, he said, which would be in the same logic as the federal anti-spam law, passed in 2017, which prevents the distribution of circulars online unless authorized by the client.

The second request of the group is to prohibit the distribution of flyers in plastic bags, consistent with the regulation that banned the use of plastic bags in businesses in Montreal. For Charles Montpetit, it is not enough that the bags are recyclable, and even now made of recycled material, since the problem is that they are often not separated from their contents before being put in the recycling bin.

The third point in the process is to urge the City to enforce its bylaw on flyers, and to fine offenders, which is not done now, says Montpetit.

The end of Publisac?

“In terms of the distribution of free mass, it is not possible for us to set up this system” distribution with consent, told the Sun Patricia Lemoine, spokesman TC Transcontinental, owner of Dealstreet. Already in March, the company’s president and chief executive officer, Fran├žois Olivier, said the model “would not be viable because of its complexity and the prohibitive costs it would incur”.

At Transcontinental, it is argued that 9 out of 10 people consult their circulars, a figure that would have been confirmed by the studies of the City of Montreal, argues Patricia Lemoine. For Charles Montpetit, this is proof that asking people to consent to the distribution of flyers with a sticker rather than marking their refusal would not lead to a major drop in distribution for Publisac. “If Transcontinental thinks it forces them to close their doors, that’s their decision,” he says. It seems absurd to me to say that, but it’s up to them to say that if we do not give them everything they want, they shut up. In such a context, it is they who threaten to deprive all the people who are interested in this service, it is not me, and it is they who threaten the weeklies to deprive them of this means of distribution. It’s up to them to take those people hostage. ”

For Patricia Lemoine, the company is already working to reduce its footprint by producing a Publisac 100% recyclable and made of recycled materials, even plastic bags since this year. There is also a reduction of waste at the source with the possibility of refusing flyers, which 200 000 people have already made as a choice. She argues that the system works, and that the company is constantly working to improve it. “On the number of doors that are distributed, it is normal that there is a certain percentage of error,” she added. “We have more calls for those who wish to receive it and have not received it than those who do not want to receive it and have received it.”

The spokesperson says that the flyer industry employs 10,000 people across the province, and also allows weeklies to continue to exist. “We hope for a productive dialogue with the municipalities,” she added. She also wishes that the many people who spoke out for the distribution of the circulars during the commission in Montreal be considered. “People are turned to Montreal, it can have a ripple effect,” admits Patricia Lemoine.

Charles Montpetit confirms that people from all over Quebec joined the movement he created and contacted their municipal governments. “They are told that everyone is waiting to see what will happen in Montreal before applying something similar in their city,” he notes. “We hope the City hears us and that it will snowball.”

The only city to have legislated right now is Mirabel. Since the beginning of October, citizens who want to receive their Publisac must indicate it by means of a sticker on their mailbox. TC Transcontinental filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court to annul the settlement, arguing that it is discriminatory and violates its freedom of commercial expression since it does not apply to the distribution of other circulars, including Canada Post.

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