By Jesse Robitaille
After more than 12 years at the helm of Canada Post’s Stamp Advisory Committee, Robert Waite announced he will resign from his post in February 2018.
Waite, who said he viewed his role as “that of a facilitator and a consensus-builder,” recently informed Canada Post President and CEO Deepak Chopra of his intention to resign.
“Chairing this committee has been a great privilege and has brought me into contact with some of Canada’s pre-eminent designers, historians and collectors. I was especially fortunate to have (Canada Post Director of Stamp Services) Jim Phillips and his team supporting me through my 12-plus year tenure,” said Waite, who also served as vice-president of the Crown corporation from 2005-10.
For the past eight years, Waite chaired the committee on a volunteer basis at the request of the two most recent CEOs, Moya Greene as well as Chopra, the latter of who is also slated to step down from his position on March 31, 2018.
Under his direction, Waite said the committee’s membership “was refashioned to be more representative of Canada’s growing diversity,” something that has also been reflected in Canada Post’s yearly stamp programs.
“When I came on board there were no set term limits; some of the committee members had served a decade or more. I set term limits – three-year terms, which could be renewed only once.”
Waite added the committee was “diligent in recruiting Canadians from a variety of communities,” as well as more women.
“We did all of this while maintaining geographic and linguistic balance. And we try to have a good mix of historians, designers and philatelists. It felt a bit like putting together a puzzle, but it was a pleasing puzzle once assembled.”
He also lauded the collecting community for its constant suggestions about forthcoming stamp issues.
“One of the real pleasures of this voluntary position was the opportunity to hear from many of you and meet some of you at various stamp events and shows. I want to thank you for your advice, suggestions and comments over the years.”
THE PERMANENT STAMP
Waite said he was a “huge proponent” of the Permanent stamp, which launched in 2006.
“For me it was all about customer satisfaction; with every rate change, customers had to either buy new stamps and/or buy a two- or three-cent stamp to add to the old one. This really annoyed people, including my spouse, who was not shy about saying so,” he said, adding he actively lobbied for the Permanent stamp as a member of Canada Post’s management committee.
“I think it was a great innovation, but like most innovations, people rapidly took it for granted, which is fine.”
Waite added he was also “especially keen” to introduce the Permanent stamp before the U.S. Postal Service could launch its own non-denominated stamp, which is known as the Forever stamp and didn’t see its first release until 2007.
HONOURING LIVING CANADIANS
While a proposal to recognize living Canadians on stamps predated Waite’s arrival as chair of the Stamp Advisory Committee, he said he “certainly endorsed it.”
“The idea was controversial at the time; change is not always welcomed by the philatelic community or most communities, for that matter,” he said, adding the reason no living people other than the Queen and “some representative Canadians, including hockey players,” were honoured on stamps was two-fold.
The first reason was to avoid promoting individuals who were seeking personal aggrandizement.
“To use an extreme example, Spanish stamps for years featured General Franco, the fascist dictator of that country. We certainly didn’t want to feature political figures and it was thought best not to have any living Canadians at all.”
The other reason was to avoid commemorating someone that would later embarrass Canada Post or the country at large.
“This seemed a legitimate concern. For that reason – and this did happen during my tenure – we had tight criteria. If someone was to be put on a stamp, he or she needed to have a ‘mature body of work’ – so not be a one-hit wonder, to use a musical term – and they had to be vetted through either the Order of Canada process or the Governor General’s Awards scheme. Both have robust vetting processes.”
Waite said the criteria worked well, recalling the 2013 stamp featuring The Tragically Hip and Gord Downie.
“He was truly moved by the honour, and we were so pleased to do so while he was still with us.”
12 SAC MEMBERS
The 12-person Stamp Advisory Committee meets three times a year to discuss topics and themes for future stamps.
“Canada Post gets hundreds of subject suggestions each year, but of course, only about two dozen can be selected,” said Waite.
The topics are chosen based on several criteria, including marketability and mass appeal, among others. 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. 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.
NEW COMMITTEE CHAIR
The selection of the new Stamp Advisory Committee chair is the responsibility of Canada Post’s president and CEO and needs to be ratified by the Crown corporation’s board of directors.
Waite’s final meeting is in February 2018, and the following committee meeting will be held in June.
“So they need not rush things,” he said. “I, as outgoing chair, have no formal role in the selection – nor should I – but I did throw out a couple of suggestions. I do think it is time for a fresh face and a fresh outlook and I am sure they will move in that direction.”