Is the Post Office still important in the age of e-mail?
On Cross Country Checkup: postal strike
There was a time when a postal strike brought the country to its knees. Now, though small businesses and charities are hurting, many people don't even notice.
How important is the post office in the age of e-mail?
With host Rex Murphy.
Toll-free number 1-888-416-8333 (works only during the broadcast)
There was a time when a postal strike was serious business. The entire country would hold its breath ...hoping the strike would be short before too much damage was done to the economy. In previous strikes, workers were frequently legislated back to work. In 1978 the union president at the time Jean-Claude Parrot was jailed for calling on workers to ignore the legislation.
Today with e-mail, fax machines, and a network of courier services ...it seems, for many, that life goes on pretty much as normal. But not for everybody. Many small businesses and charities are hit hard by a postal strike. The new technologies have not proven to be adequate replacements for their needs. Also there are many people in rural and remote areas in the country who do not have the option of the new technologies simply because the infrastructure is not there. And don't forget the sizeable number of elderly citizens who have not adopted the newer technologies for reasons of cost or unfamiliarity.
With such different approaches it should not be surprising that there are very different reactions to the current rotating strike by postal workers. People with little use for the Post Office say why bother with the service at all ...it's out moded ....let's privatize the whole thing. They are angered too that a public service sector should be seeking rich pay and benefits in a time of recession.
Others say, on the contrary, the service is still essential and public money should ensure that it remains vital, stable, and available. They insist a government should guarantee equal basic services to citizens in all corners of the country ...whether it be through an institution such as the Post Office or by building better technology infrastructure or both.
What about you? Has the post office faded in significance as the new technologies have developed? Or are you still depending on Canada Post for certain essential services? What should be done about communities not well served ...should we look to improving the new technologies there or bolstering the services that already exist?
Our question today: "How important is the post office in the age of e-mail?"
I'm Rex Murphy ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 159 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.
- Ian Lee
Professor at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business who did his PhD thesis on the origin and evolution of Canada's postal service.
- Conrad Richter
President of Richters Herbs, a mail-order nursery that has been shipping plants and seeds to customers in every province and state in North America for more than 40 years.
- Cathy McFee
Director, Services and Operations The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Calgary
- Robert Campbell
President of Mount Allison University and Chair of an advisory panel as part of a 2008 strategic review of Canada Post and its future.
- Postal strikes to continue over weekend
- Canada Post to cut mail delivery: Postal workers strike in 13 communities
- In Depth Strike issue: The battle lines over Canada Post's $2B modernization
Globe and Mail
- Postal strike 'completely different kind of situation'
- What a postal strike means
- E-services are a good substitute for the mailman
- Would anyone care if postal workers strike on Thursday?
- Postal strike hits Calgary, Edmonton
- Canadians mailing half as much since strike started
- Will Canadians go postal over a CUPW strike? by Tasha Kheiriddin
Winnipeg Free Press/Halifax Chronicle
Victoria Times Colonist
Canadian Union of Postal Workers
The postal workers' strike is not only about postal workers. The results of it, if negative, can relay directly to all federal employees, private unions, banks, telecommunications and so on.
It's all about new workers taking home 30% less wages, as well as reduction sick leave and retiree benefits. While non-unionised workers may be down on the postel employees, they would do well to realise that union benefits hold up private wages too and in a wholesale deregulation of unions they will be the first to suffer.
White Rock, British Columbia
It's important to remember that the postal service does more than deliver letters, handling the shipment and delivery of packages. While the email system may be more convenient and affordable when it comes to letters, it's incapable of replacing the shipping capabilities of Canada Post. And while today's courier services also handle this task, it's not necessarily more affordable.
I work in customer service in the utilities sector, and from what I have heard thus far, the majority of people who are worried about the strike are the elderly, and people in rural Canada, who don't have the option to pay their bill online, or can't make it into a bank branch to pay it. But by and large, there haven't been a lot of complaints. Most are perfectly content to use their internet or telephone banking, and check their bills on our website. I am 27, and can honestly say that as much as I love receiving a package in the mail, I can completely live without the service if need be.
At present, the only mail I regularly receive are advertisements and bills. With most companies looking to reduce their own costs using the "green" banner and encouraging e-billing, the post office is seeming less essential every day.
However, I think the most telling fact is you reading this EMAIL correspondence in response to a postal strike.
Yes, I still depend on Canada Post for my utility bills, so that I can write cheques and return them the same day. We in B.C. are expecting our HST ballots in the mail starting this week. I order items from overseas suppliers and receive them in the mail. I choose not to use electronic everything. Every day, we hear about companies being hacked, including the IMF.
Victoria, British Columbia
My family lives a couple of proviences away, and I often mail large packages of goodies to them. Yesterday, I called Greyhound and inquired about the cost of delivering my parcel, $35.,before taxes. Then I went to Canada Post. $21 and change, including taxes. I have had experince with both Canada Post and couriers. For me, making connections with Canada Post has been easier every time. As well, I love getting letters in the mail from my grand children.
Penticton, British Columbia
I heard the businessperson who said Canada Post's rates are 20 percent higher than private couriers. Our experience is the reverse, with FedEx and Purolator coming in a minimum of 50 percent higher than Canada Post. Sometimes close to double. When we ship within our province we use our provincial bus line, but for the rest of our shipping we use Canada Post. We ship mostly items in the 1 to 8 kg range across Canada and internationally. Because of the risk posed by the strike, we have offered private couriers to our customers, but so far the cost has been prohibitive - we have continued to play roulette and put parcels in the mail.
I send documents and computer systems items internationally. FedEx has well-engineered 'packaging systems' for example, boxing and envelops that properly fit the contracts or hardware.
Canada Post still uses 8x10 envelops - exactly 8x10, which is very limiting for international document sizes. With regard to hardware, FedEx provides laptop packages that are exceptional. Canada Post does not.
In Japan, Japanese are very loyal to Nippon Express. For this reason, I try to similarly use Canada Post, but the services offered by Canada Post are simply poorly thought out. This is a management problem. There is no excuse for poor competitive practices. The Canada Post dead wood should be axed out of the corporation.
John D. Smith
I don't use Canada Post for mail. I keep in touch with friends and family through email, Facebook and Skype. I get almost all of my bills by email (the one that I do get in the post is from a local utility, and they hand delivered all of their bills this month because of the postal strike), and pay them all online. My mailbox is primarily a source of junk mail.
However, I do buy a fair amount of products online. I try to specify Xpresspost for shipping. They are the only courier that provides the reliability and convenience that I expect from online shopping. With Canada Post, the package is usually left in my mail box. With Purolator I usually miss the delivery and have to pick up my package from a copy shop in town. Fedex is worse - if I miss the delivery, I have to drive to Barrie, an hour and a half round trip to pick up a package that I paid to have delivered to my door. With the commercial couriers the quality of service depends on the size of the community.
That being said, receiving a physical letter in the post is still a more exciting experience than "you've got mail."
Post delivery to my home is still required, however much less important. So mail delivery once a week would be adequate. Allow customers to opt out of daily service, with the promise of uncapped internet service at reasonable rates for those that do. By-product would be removal of the digital divide and ubiquitous internet access across Canada.
1. Unless I am mistaken, no one is required by law to possess and maintain any electronic communication device, be it television, radio, telephone, or computer for email. I cannot legally be billed by email notice. I cannot recieve a summons by email. In print on paper still has this legal value.
2. As a musician I have copyrighted several compositions of mine by simply mailing the pieces to myself registered mail, which of course I wouldn't open, a judge would if you dared steal my intelectual property - something digital media and email cannot offer.
There will always be a place for mail.
My husband and I have lived in a suburb of Markham, Ontario for over a decade. We were very surprised to learn after buying our new home that we would not be receiving home delivery of our mail; we would be getting our mail via a 'Super Mail Box' and would never get to-the-door-delivery, despite the fact that older houses less than two kilometers away from us do.
For physical mail, mis-deliveries are commonplace if not frequent; and for packages, the carriers often don't even attempt delivery - they just leave a note saying to pick the package up at my local retail postal outlet (and even in that situation, on multiple occasions we have received a "final notice" for pickup, before getting a "first notice" or "second notice.")
Given the low and unreliable service we've been getting, we've been correspondingly transitioning to alternative services over the years; and so we really haven't been terribly inconvenienced by the current strike.
I don't think that Canada Post really has much motivation to make their Canada Post Courier services any better. Since they own 94% of Purolator Corporation, I suspect they purposefully make their postal courier options more expensive and slower, in the hope of driving that business into Purolator's more-profitable arms.
With all the talk of the post office being mismanaged, (and in the last while I certainly believe it has been), isn't it strange that Moya Greene (the former CEO) was hired away by the Royal Mail, and has now deserted to London, England. She did up the profits of the corporation during her tenure, but anyone can cut costs by decreasing services, and, for those of us who use the post office on a regular basis for both personal, and business mail, we can see the difference over the last few years. Not from the front line staff, but certainly how they have to, now, do their jobs.
It'll be interesting to see what she does to the Royal Mail, and what kind of report card that they will, eventually, give her.
Fort McMurray, Alberta
There is more to life than business, buying and selling. I know email can be used, as well as webpages. However, an email card from a relative or friend is NOT THE SAME as a real card and letter. And many relatives who need contact don't have computers.
Canada Post just put out expensive fancy new mail-boxes, complete with expected delivery times. But, they don't deliver! It took 7 days for an important letter to come to me from an Edmonton business, and I live in Edmonton! It took 10 days for important mail to get from Edmonton to Saskatoon; I was sending a young student some valuable clippings from the Edmonton Journal for a school project display!
The service at many sub-post-offices is dismal, slow, with less-than-wonderful PR skills.
I am very disappointed in their service at this time, and I don't think a strike will fix up some of the problems they have to face!
I am a retired letter carrier. I worked 32 years delivering mail, flyers, Eaton's catalogues. My day started at 5:30 a.m. sorting mail and ended most days at 4pm. I feel that the post office shot themselves in the foot when they got the courier companies to deliver most items. Along with the technology today there is less mail to be sent out. The mail that is put into mail boxes on a Friday is either not picked up until Monday or if it is nothing is done with it until Monday. When I worked at the post office we worked 6 days aweek.
Canada Post (in conjunction with the United States Postal Service) does a marvelous job in parcel post across the border. Whoa be to us if we have only the courier services for cross-border shipments. Why? Canada Post acts as its own Customs broker, free of charge! You may not be aware that every courier service (UPS, Fedex, etc.) charges a bogus customs brokerage fee that is a sliding scale of the parcel's value, starting at 30% of the total. I have been asked to pay $45 customs brokerage for shipments valued at $125. And because of Free Trade, brokerage services are actually a ticking of a box on a customs form! I have heard of someone receiving an expensive camera from a US seller via courier service and being charged over $300 in brokerage fees.
Couriers services hide this by sending out invoices weeks after delivery so their drivers do not have to deal with angry customers. If your parcel is dropped off at a depot, with a neighbour, or at the door, you may not even have opportunity to refuse delivery.
I have been a big fan of Canada Post for this reason alone.
Squamish, British Columbia
Canada Post has a mandate to serve the whole country at affordable rates. Much of Canada is rural or remote and expensive to serve. Private companies such as FedEx can and do restrict service to areas where it is profitable.
How can callers argue that Canada Post must "enter into competition with the competition" when Canada Post's obligation to serve the whole country makes it impossible to compete on a level playing field?
Vancouver, British Columbia
I have lived most of my life in the North. I am a young professional who came of age in the digital era, and use all forms of digital communications. I rely heavily on e-mail and skype to keep in touch with family and friends, and do banking, shopping, and research on-line. I also use Canada Post on a daily basis. In this community, many parcels sent by courier companies arrive by Canada Post, because no couriers have a local office!
However, parcel post costs approximately twice as much for parcels sent to or originating in an air freight only community (i.e. we don't have a road), and this can be pretty expensive.
And for a small business in Nain to send products to the rest of Canada, Canada Post is prohibitively expensive. In fact, the lack of a cost effective parcel delivery service effectively eliminates the possibility of a local business accessing markets beyond the local community.
I think Canada Post is still relevant, and essential for at least Northern Canadians. But the service needs to be improved in order to lure back some of the customers who no longer use the service, and to keep the rest of us happy.
After one of your listeners expressed her thoughts on the importance of real, physical cards and letters for many people divided by distance, I remembered a time when a lipstick "kiss", a teardrop, or a faint whiff of lavender reached out and stirred the mail recipient in a way that email never will. We must not become even more 'virtual' by letting our postal service shrivel and die.
In Woss we have no cell phone coverage and limited postal hours, but the post office is most important for those of us who only have dial-up internet and the older members who do not use the internet.
The library is a life-line for us, and we order books to be delivered by mail. None of the courier services will stop here without a contract which we can not afford. Without the post office, we would not have access to many books as our library is surely one of the smallest.
In the U.S., the post office will not give a customer any date for delivery of mail, letters included, to Canada, though they will give one a date for delivery to England, India, etc. They say the Canadian mail is so bad they just don't know when the mail will be delivered. To a friend in Washington State, my letter took 3 days; to my Mom in Ontario, it took 10 days. There is a message here.
Woss, British Columbia
My six-year-old grandson, William, lives in New York City, and I live in Kingston, Ontario, so I don't see as much of him as I would like. I hate the "jerkiness" of Skype, so I prefer to keep in touch by phone and by writing letters, usually with hockey cards enclosed. William loves receiving his very own mail. He puts the hockey cards in a kind of scrapbook, and my letters into his "memory box". I also send magazine subscriptions to William and his younger brother, Miles, and their mother sends me The New Yorker, which also comes online, but isn't as easy to read or as portable.
Canada Post is an important part of our nation's infrastructure. When I order items, including gifts, online, they are delivered through the mail system.
Moreover, I make my living as a letter carrier. In that capacity, I have seen some very silly top-down directives, particularly this business of letter carriers being expected to juggle multiple bundles of letters, magazines, and unaddressed admail, while navigating porch steps, often in windy, rainy, snowy and icy conditions.
If Canada Post has to cut costs, those cuts should be made across the board. It would be instructive to know the salaries and benefits of the top Canada Post Corporation executives and if they are willing to accept roll-backs comparable to those they want to impose on the front-line workers. Also, in my view, every person at the negotiation table should have spent at least one stormy winter day delivering mail on a foot walk.
What you haven't talked about is the fact that postal workers were originally in a position of taking job action at the end of April but were prevented by doing so by the fact that the government cannot hold an election without a postal service to deliver voter cards and election flyers. Following that and throughout the past week we have delivered millions of of census forms. Coming up here in BC we will be delivering the HST ballot forms. None of those things could have been done as cheaply and efficiently without a public post office.
Victoria, British Columbia
To inmates, snail-mail is often the sole lifeline to family and friends. Without internet access, and limited access to phones, letters are the only way to keep in touch. Many inmates are incarcerated in institutions far removed from family, so regular visits are an impossibility. One inmate I know said I was his first visitor in 15 years!
As someone with a number of federal inmate friends, I receive and send letters frequently. Nothing beats the joy of seeing a real-life letter drop through the letter-box - and then reading a creative writing piece, or the latest volley of jokes.
In turn, I take great pleasure in writing back - often enclosing photos, sports magazines, newspaper/magazine articles, etc.
Any curtailment of Canada Post services would necessarily mean that inmates would be deprived of yet one more means of not only keeping in touch with loved ones; but also preparing - by spending "normal" time with them, in the form of exchanging letter - for their eventual release back into society.
Vancouver, British Columbia
The most essential service of the post office to me, however intangible, is the presence of the actual letter carriers in our neighborhoods across Canada. I grew up in the day of milk and bread delivery, my father's starched shirts dropped off by Canadian Linen, the knife sharpener ringing his bell as his drove his truck along neighborhood streets. Most of these local eyes and ears on the ground have disappeared now, save letter carriers. There is a sense of security, of connectiveness between neighbours that only they remain to provide. I shudder to think of a street where seniors live that isn't visited by a single person throughout the day. Maybe it's a romantic outdated notion, but having someone drop by my front door everyday, even if only to deliver dreaded bills and unwanted advertising, gives me a great deal of comfort.