May 31, 2013

Rural Canada under attack by Canada Post Corporation

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 Canada Post 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 Corporation 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 nothing.

For the first time, Canada Post announced a financial loss for the year 2011. It claimed that this 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 suggests. During labour negotiations, Canada Post locked out their workers, and invested billions into new sorting machinery. If letter mail is truly in a historic decline, why 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, claiming that this rebound was due to 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.

Based on a report issued by The Conference Board of Canada, a corporate think tank, Canada Post projects a return to a loss position for next year and into the future. 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 such "studies," and the gradual decline in letter mail, to justify dramatic cuts in both jobs and services. Rural Canada and Quebec have been hit especially hard. Small villages and towns have seen local post offices close or reduce their hours.

Canada Post also provides decent jobs in rural areas which often have few employment opportunities, and the post office is still a hub of activities in many communities. Rural mail delivery has a long and proud history. Rural and Suburban Mail Couriers (RSMCs) deliver mail to residents in every corner of the country, in all types of weather.

One prong of the attack has been made under the guise of health and safety. Canada Post has sent so-called safety inspectors to evaluate mail boxes on rural routes. Out of a feigned concern for employees, Canada Post has declared many such mail boxes to be unsafe. Residents who may have received mail for decades at the end of their driveway have had their mode of delivery changed to a community mailbox, which can be kilometres away. Many rural routes have lost significant numbers of points of call, costing jobs and forcing 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 then, local mail would be cancelled and sorted in its office of origin, and usually delivered the next day. Now mail is being sent to urban centres to be sorted, and returned to the local destination address. Canada Post has tried to maintain that these changes do not impact 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, and 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 model involves the downsizing from the standard two wickets, to one single wicket. This prevents relief staff from assisting when necessary, and creates 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, 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.

Rural Canadians deserve to have mail delivery. But there is a clear agenda by the Corporation's management and the Harper Conservatives to dismantle and destroy Canada Post as a public service. The decisions 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.

Your public post office delivers for now!

R. Mark Hamilton is a member of CUPW and a YCL activist in Nova Scotia.
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