Paper cuts: Feds' paper-free policy puts Ottawa firms in a pinch

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The federal government’s shift to paperless mode is already having a significant impact on at least two local Ottawa printers.

Jacques Cyr is the vice-president of St. Joseph Communications.

By Reid Parker

The new policy, which came into effect on June 1, is expected to significantly reduce the costs and amount of large volume printing, Treasury Board president Tony Clement said in a release. The government spent about $19 million on printing, distributing and warehousing of communications materials in 2011 and 2012, Clement said.

Under the new policy, government publications will still be available in printer-ready formats and printed upon request, but volume printing will be restricted only to certain situations, such as for publications which inform the public about key issues in health, safety and security. Senior departmental managers are even being directed to avoid colour printing, unless it is deemed absolutely necessary.

The effects of the new policy were “already embedded” even before the official announcement was made, said Jacques Cyr, vice-president of business development with St. Joseph Communications, one of the country’s biggest printers.

Since that time, said Mr. Cyr, the impact has been “swift,” with government business falling between 20 and 25 per cent on the offset printing side alone. The company anticipated this decline in business by moving equipment that is more suited to handling shorter printing runs from its Toronto headquarters to Ottawa.

Mr. Cyr said the drop in government business has mirrored similar trends in the private sector, where the economic downturn and new technologies have led to a change in the business landscape.

Management at Bradda Printing Services, a smaller local company that also provides services to government, say the impact has been just as dramatic on their business.

John Beaton, Bradda’s vice-president of business operations, said government opportunities are down “substantially,” and what procurement orders there are tend to be smaller. That has forced the company to move to a four-day work week over the summer following two consecutive quarterly declines.

While Mr. Beaton pointed out that the losses are not entirely due to the new government policy, he said he sees “nothing good coming from this … A negative ripple effect is taking place that affects us and the subtrades like bindery and finishing companies.”

Mr. Beaton noted government printing work has been a building block for Bradda’s business, providing “good, steady work, reasonable margins and guaranteed payment within certain time frames.” He said Bradda is taking a “wait-and-see approach” for now, but is concerned the general slowdown in business from both government and the private sector could potentially influence whether Bradda invests in new hires and equipment.

Those types of uncertainties were highlighted in a March 2011 survey of more than 100 printers by Industry Canada and the Canadian Printing Industries Association. The report found there has already been “significant upheaval” in the traditional offset printing sector due to the sluggish economy and the growth in consumer access to new digital technologies. The report found that the most significant issue facing the industry is whether printers will be able to change strategies and business models to adjust to the changing environment.

That shifting business environment likely was a factor in the 2009 bankruptcy of Tri-Graphic Printing, which public records show was awarded a $200,000 contract to print the 2006-’07 Auditor General’s reports.  Despite that contract and a reputation for producing high-quality books, the 2008 recession hit the company hard and it was forced to sell its assets to Quebec-based printer Solisco in August 2009. Two years later, Solisco’s former Tri-Graphic facility in Ottawa filed for bankruptcy.

Over at Bradda Printing, Mr. Beaton wonders whether the feds have taken too big a step and whether the new policy will make doing business in a government town that much less stable.

For his part, St. Joseph’s Mr. Cyr hopes the government’s next step includes a streamlining of its own in-house printing operations and eventually the outsourcing of printing that is still necessary and permitted under the new regulations, rather than keeping the work for in-house government printing shops.

Organizations: Treasury Board, St. Joseph Communications, Bradda Printing Services Industry Canada Canadian Printing Industries Association Tri-Graphic Printing

Geographic location: Ottawa, Toronto

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