By Jesse Robitaille
Working about 24 months in advance from concept to completion, Canada Post’s Stamp Advisory Committee has the sometimes-arduous task of reviewing and recommending ideas for Canada’s stamp program.
While it can be a daunting responsibility, it’s one that’s also cherished by those who are lucky enough to participate in it.
“We’re very honoured to be able to have that role at Canada Post, and we take that role very seriously,” said Director of Stamp Services Jim Phillips, who added he often corrects people who refer to Canada’s stamps as “Canada Post stamps.”
“Those are Canadian stamps. Those are the stamps we’re issuing for Canada, and we cherish that role and try to do the best we can to meet all the different needs for all the different communities who are interested in postage.”
While explaining Canada Post’s stamp-issuing policies and guiding principles during an hour-long educational seminar at the National Postage Stamp and Coin Show on March 25, Phillips also shined a light on what he calls the “inner workings” of the Stamp Advisory Committee.
THE UNIVERSAL POSTAL UNION
Canada entered the Universal Postal Union (UPU) on Jan. 7, 1878, nearly four years after the union was established by the Treaty of Bern.
“Canada Post has been a member of the Universal Postal Union since almost the beginning of the union, and there are a number of guiding principles that we abide by,” said Phillips, who listed lettermail conventions and letter-post regulations as some of the more significant concepts.
“We’re also working under the Universal Postal Union’s guide of ethics,” he added.
Established in 1999 at the 22nd UPU Congress in Beijing, China, the Philatelic Code of Ethics offers nine recommendations to its member countries, including, Phillips said, “making sure they issue the right amount of stamps for the market, making sure they don’t create rarities on purpose, and making sure their countries are celebrating things that are primarily related to their host country.”
“That’s why you don’t see Canada Post issuing Elvis Presley stamps, let’s say, even though sometimes we might stretch the bounds,” he said, recalling the recent Star Trek series, which he added has a “pretty strong Canadian connection.”
STAMP SELECTION POLICY
Canada Post’s stamp selection policy was created when the Stamp Advisory Committee was established in 1969, only 12 years after the U.S. Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee was formed.
“The vast majority of our stamps still come, to this day, from suggestions from the public,” said Phillips, who added this would include institutions, associations, and lobby or interest groups.
“Other areas come from my team, who’s always looking at what’s going on, and some series come from committee members, who are allowed to present ideas to the committee as well.”
He said one of his team’s more significant projects was the six-stamp issue released in 2013 to mark the 75th anniversary of Superman.
STAMP ADVISORY COMMITTEE
The 12-person Stamp Advisory Committee meets three times a year, usually in Ottawa – “just for economic reasons” – but sometimes in Toronto, Phillips said.
“The topics are chosen based on the criteria that we have in the committee, so do they represent a cross-section?; are they marketable?; do they represent Canada?; do they have broad base appeal?; do they have a regional balance in the committee?; and can we sell them at the end of the day? These are all considerations that we take into play.”
The committee’s members are appointed by Canada Post’s board of directors to a maximum of two three-year terms, allowing for six years in total. They are appointed based on recommendations from the committee chair, a role currently filled by Robert Waite, past vice-president of Canada Post.
Phillips said the committee’s members generally come from three walks of life: philately or stamp collecting; art or design; and history, each of which are almost always represented among the 12 members.
“Right now we have two historians on and one archivist from Nova Scotia,” he said, adding the trio is especially helpful when it comes to decision time.
And when it comes time to fill openings on the committee, “It depends on what we’re looking for at any given time,” Phillips said, of filling openings on the committee.
“Because whether they’re a collector or a philatelist, often they’ve worked somewhere as well – they’ve had a whole career in marketing or some other expertise that they also bring to the table – and that really helps.”
Check the next issue of CSN for a continuation of this story, beginning with a look at who designs Canadian stamps as well as security features used by Canada Post.