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Cutting Canada Post: It’s About More Than Mail

December 17, 2013

4-minute read

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Door-to-door service is obsolete.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.

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