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Rural Canada under attack by Canada Post

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Retired Mail Truck outside of Agassiz [Photo: contessak]
Retired Mail Truck outside of Agassiz [Photo: contessak]

By R. Mark Hamilton

The Canada Post Act (1981) mandates the maintenance and expansion of our public post office.  Canada Post is a public service that belongs to all of us, connecting communities both large and small; from isolated locations like Pictou Island to downtown Vancouver.  The services provided by our public post office are invaluable for individuals and businesses, even in this ‘digital age,’ especially in rural areas.

Contrary to what many have been led to believe, Canada Post has made consistent profits, year in and year out.  For a full sixteen years, the post office returned handsome dividends to the federal government, costing the taxpayer absolutely nothing. 

For the first time, Canada Post announced a financial loss for the year 2011.  It was claimed that this loss was due to a major and continuing decline in letter mail volumes.  Certainly, letter mail has declined, but not at the exaggerated levels presented by the Corporation.  The real reasons for the loss in 2011 differ from what Canada Post has been suggesting. 

During labour negotiations, Canada Post decided to stop negotiating and locked out their workers.  Also, Canada Post invested billions into new machinery to sort letter mail.  If letter mail is truly in a historic decline, why did Canada Post invest so much into machinery to sort an ever diminishing volume of mail?

Despite plenty of fear mongering, Canada Post once again returned to profits in 2012.  The Corporation has claimed that his rebound was due only to the cost savings achieved through the last collective agreement.  The mistakes of management were paid for by the postal workers themselves in direct cuts to benefits such as sick leave and two-tier wages for new hires. 

Canada Post is projecting a return to a loss position for next year and into the future.   These projections are based on a recent report issued by the corporate think tank, The Conference Board of Canada.  This biased report was funded by Canada Post and Deepak Chopra, the current President and CEO of Canada Post, sits on the Board of Directors of the Conference Board. 

Canada Post and the Harper Tories are using the gradual decline in letter mail, and “studies” like the Conference Board report, to justify dramatic cuts in both jobs and services.  Rural Canada and Quebec have been hit especially hard.  Small villages and towns have seen their local post offices close or reduce their hours.  Besides mail delivery, Canada Post provides decent jobs in rural areas which often have few employment opportunities.  The post office is still the centre of many communities and a hub of activity.

Rural mail delivery has a long and proud history in this country.  Rural and Suburban Mail Couriers (RSMCs) deliver mail to residents in every remote corner of the country in all types of weather.  One prong of Canada Post’s and Harper’s attack on rural Canada and our post office has been made under the guise of health and safety.  Canada Post has sent so called safety inspectors to evaluate the safety of mail boxes on rural routes. 

Out of a feigned concern for employee safety, Canada Post has declared many mail boxes on rural routes to be unsafe.  Residents who may have been receiving mail for decades at the end of their driveway have had their mode of delivery changed to a community mailbox, which could be many kilometres away.  Many rural routes have lost significant numbers of points of call.  This will lead to future job losses.  Rural Canadians deserve to have mail delivery, and we should not expect seniors and those with disabilities to travel to get their mail.

In December of last year, Canada Post made changes to how local mail is processed.  Until this time, local mail would be cancelled and sorted in its office of origin, usually being delivered the next day.  Now mail is being sent to urban centres to be sorted and returning to the local destination address.  Canada Post has tried to maintain that these changes are not impacting delivery standards, but the truth is otherwise. 

For example, almost all mail in the provinces of Nova Scotia and PEI, will be sent to Halifax to be sorted, returning later.  The deterioration of service was immediate, as were job losses- with huge numbers to come as more workers retire and more services are cut.

A new smaller, retail model is being implemented by Canada Post.  All postal outlets are to be reviewed, many of the first targets are in rural Canada.  In Nova Scotia, some of the offices to make the first list are Truro, Yarmouth, Pictou and North Sydney.  This new retail model involves the downsizing of wickets from the standard two, to one single wicket, thus preventing relief staff from assisting when necessary, creating long wait times for customers.  The postal clerk is left to work out of a hole in the wall, with the products hidden behind the counter.

While there are challenges facing the post office, the solution is not to be found in reducing jobs and services, but rather through an expansion of services.  Canada Post has the ability and

infrastructure to reach every household in the country.  The post office should be actively competing with private courier companies.  Postal banking and financial services are another promising avenue for revenues.  Many postal administrations around the world have successfully moved into banking, like Germany, New Zealand and China.  Canada Post should do the same.  An expansion into banking would be a great asset for rural areas, many of which no longer have access to banks.

There is a clear agenda by Canada Post management and the Harper Conservatives to dismantle and destroy Canada Post as a public service.  The decisions being made point in the direction of privatisation; which would be a disaster for postal workers and the public.  Stay informed and participate in local actions organised by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.  Tell your Member of Parliament and Canada Post that you want an expansion of services!  Canada Post has an online site where you can provide your thoughts on the future of the post office.  This site may be accessed through www.canadapost.ca.

R. Mark Hamilton is a member of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. This article first appeared in People's Voice.

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