Cutting Canada Post: It’s About More Than Mail

I admit it—I probably don’t use the post office as often as I could. But there’s no doubt I appreciate that it’s there when we all need it, regardless of our socioeconomic situation or location. I also appreciate the fact that it provides good, steady, well-paid employment with benefits to so many men and women across the country.

The recently-announced changes to Canada Post impact us all—and some more than others. But we should all be concerned about what it means for our national commitment to universality, and how it will further contribute to the slow erosion of our democratic institutions and sense of social cohesion. Especially when the justification for the radical restructuring of Canada Post relies on such weak arguments.

Sure, it’s nice to have someone deliver the mail. But we just can’t afford it anymore.
Actually, no. Canada Post has turned a profit in each of the past 17 years except in 2011 when a labour dispute resulted in rolling strikes and an eventual lockout. A pay equity settlement also impacted the 2011 bottom line. It literally makes money for Canadians (even though it is a public service). Yes, mail volumes are down—although there are more addresses being serviced—but package delivery as a result of online shopping is increasing exponentially, as Canada Post bragged in a recent media release.

But I hear the pension fund is unsustainable.
Unless Canada Post has to wrap up its pension plan tomorrow because the entire Crown corporation is going under (which we’ve established is not the case), the pension fund is fully-funded. If, however, Canada Post is shut down, the pension fund will indeed be in deficit and taxpayers will be on the hook.

Door-to-door service is obsolete.
Obsolete? You sure? Because Canada just became the first country (woo! We’re number one!) in the G7 to eliminate door-to-door mail delivery.  And rather than implement cuts that are much more likely to lead to its eventual demise, there’s certainly room for Canada Post to pursue expansion and development opportunities such as postal banking.

Come on! Nobody uses the mail anymore. Because technology.
Look, the interwebs are awesome (emoticons have added so much to our lexicon). And I admit in my house we do a bit of the online banking from time to time. But try as I might, I simply have not figured out how to get packages delivered through my computer screen. And (‘tis the season, after all) my kids are stoked when they get their letters from Santa that the postal workers volunteer their time to write each year. They also love sending their school photos and hand-drawn cards to relatives—and we look forward each month to getting the magazines we subscribe to. Clearly the reports of the death of mail delivery have been greatly exaggerated, even by those who should really know better.

But only one third of Canadians even get door-to-door service.
According to a handy table on page 21 of Canada Post’s 2012 Annual Report, fully 63% of Canadians have their mail delivered to their homes, apartment building lobbies, lane ways or driveways by either a letter carrier or a rural route mail carrier (and another 12% use PO boxes or another form of general delivery). Only 25% currently use superboxes. As others have already pointed out, this decision is not about bringing a small minority of indulged Rosedale homeowners in line with current trends, as the debate has currently been framed. Phasing out direct delivery not only impacts businesses, it will affect a tremendous number of Canadians across the country—and as a result, already-vulnerable populations will be further marginalized.

But no one’s losing their job: 15,000 postal workers will retire within five years.
Even if it does not directly result in layoffs, we will all be affected by this decision to radically downsize. As many as 8,000 decent, secure, well-paying jobs will be eliminated, resulting in less money collected in taxes, less money being spent in local communities, and the continued reinforcement of the trend towards further job market precarity and socioeconomic inequality.

Eliminating door-to-door service for elitist urbanites just makes everything equal.
For the record: universality is about ensuring we all have access to the same quality services; not scaling back services to the bare minimum leaving us to make up the difference based on our abilities (or, you know, our privilege). Making things “the same” does not ensure “equity”—in fact, it undermines even the pretense of it.

Don’t be so lazy! Superboxes will encourage people to get out of the house and meet their neighbours.
While I agree that our sense of cohesion is being decimated through the steady erosion of social programs and the rise of precarious work, I somehow doubt—in light of increasing inequality, more job market precarity, and the continued undermining of our democratic institutions—that a superbox on the corner is going to restore our spirit of community.  Not even if they throw in wi-fi and foosball.

But: unions!
Postal workers have among the highest rate of injuries in the federal sector. They also make a decent, solidly middle-class salary and have benefits and a pension. These are good things, and we should fight to ensure more of us have access to them because they enable people to have a decent quality of life and work-life balance, savings and a house, as well as allowing them to contribute to their local economies and not retire in poverty. Yes, there have been strikes—two in the past 20 years (one of which was rotating, so service was not suspended until management locked out its workers), to be exact. And thanks to their job action in 1981, postal workers won top-up pay for maternity leave—which has since been adopted by many public and private sector workplaces, benefiting thousands of families. Turns out their fortitude (and foresight) was worth it for a whole lot of Canadians.

Cet article est disponible en français.

12 comments

  1. One thing I am puzzled about is packages. Even with the new communal mailboxes, wouldn’t packages still be delivered to individual homes? They can’t very well leave the packages on top of the communal mailboxes, can they? And if as the article states, packages are the source of the upturn in Canada post revenues, and they will still continue to be delivered door-to-door, then increased profits from packages cannot be an argument for keeping the status quo.

  2. Hi, Cymry, and thanks for your question. First, a clarification: this is not an endorsement of the status quo; however, it is an attempt to dispel the myth that Canada Post is in financial difficulty. That said, there is still some confusion as to whether restructuring will change package delivery and, if it does, how package delivery will be accommodated: superboxes do have a locked compartment for smaller packages (accessible to anyone with a key) but there’s less known about what will happen with larger packages–if they’ll end up at the nearest postal outlet or if they’ll be delivered to individual homes.

  3. To clarify the point of where packages would be delivered with CMB sites, the current Canada Post policy is to deliver to the door if a locked compartment is not available. That policy could change but as it currently stands, you’d get a knock at your door. If nobody is home and the package cannot be left in a secure location (i.e. garage, back door, etc.), a call-for card is left.

  4. I’ve lived with the superboxes. The only time I met the neighbours was when the superbox was broken into again. Parcel delivery? Never happened. And I lived 6 houses down the street. Not impressed.

  5. Neighbourhood mailboxes: an impossibility for anyone with a disability or mobility problem, especially now that cities are cutting back on snow clearance, but a bad situation any time of the year.

  6. I am sad that all these well paying jobs will be lost, and add an addional financial difficulty for so many more people. I say if it ani’t broke don’t “FIX’ it. We need all the well paying Jobs here in Canada that we can find, we cannot live on $12.00 / hour

  7. Of course Canada post is going to scale back its operations in the light of modern technology that delivers your bills, flyers, news, and personal messages electronically? What else are they supposed to do? Everyone should quit thier whining. People with disability or mobility problems will get all thier mail delivered electronically. C’mon.

  8. Okay, See it. Excuse me. I’ve been dealing with a lot of frustration as I search for info that I expect to find and then don’t. Try finding a single site that lists all Canadian unions for example.

  9. I am a letter carrier with a Canada Post. I have what is known as a “foot walk”. I deliver door-to-door within both an urban and business sector. I do deliver packages, as well as letter mail, magazines and ad mail.
    I have also had experience on a “mobile route” driving the CP van about town to CMB’s (Community Mail Boxes), delivering larger packages to the parcel compartments in them or taking larger parcels directly to the address. The process is the same as on a foot walk, if you are unable to deliver the parcel (for whatever reason – no one home, no one willing to sign for the item, no safe/secure/large enough place to leave the item*) I scan it into my handheld device and leave a “Delivery Notice Card” and bring it back with me to the depot to be sent out the next morning for pick up at a local RPO (Retail Postal Office) such as you might have at the back of your nearby pharmacy chain.
    And as far as “everyone” getting their mail by electronic delivery”, I deliver to 2 retirement villages. Very few of those folks use computers but they do write many letters and send many cards. I do my own banking online but my computer doesn’t print money so I still need to visit the bank, and not just to visit the ATM. They don’t provide the loonies, toonies and $5 bills I need for my Saturday morning trip to the farmer’s market.

    Canada Post does have a lot of information on their website: https://www.canadapost.ca/web/en/home.page
    or call the General Inquires number 1-866-607-6301 (Outside of Canada: 416-979-3033)
    Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. – 11 p.m. ET
    Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. ET

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