Canadians must say if Canada Post is more precious than junk mail: Don Pittis

Despite the growth of email, to many Canadians Canada Post is a precious asset, but only if it does what Canadians need it to do. Don Pittis says that in its effort to make money, the Crown corporation seems to have forgotten who owns it. And suddenly we have another opportunity to make that clear.

Brief window is open for demanding the kind of service needed

Junk mail accumulates at house near the University of Ottawa. Don Pittis says the federal election has opened a brief political window to let Canadians say what they need their postal service to be. (Don Pittis/CBC)

The young Ottawa man gave me a start when he walked up behind me. 

"Why are you taking pictures of my house?"

I'd been caught red-handed earlier this summer snapping his overflowing mailbox, one of several on the street. On the other hand, it was a perfect opportunity for me to find out why he never checked to see if there was ever anything useful amidst the junk mail. A royalty cheque? A birthday card?

"I get everything by email," he said.

If post boxes are nothing but eyesores, perhaps it's time to get rid of them. But at least now we have a chance to decide. 

With the change of government, suddenly the future of Canada Post is no longer set in concrete. Canadians have a brief window to demand the kind of mail service they need. And it may not last for long.

The fact is while some Canadians are so electronically connected they can afford to ignore their mailboxes, others depend on the service as a lifeline.

Recent figures show that while 95 per cent of Canadians in big cities are linked to the net, the number plummets to 62 per cent among the poorest quarter of Canadians and less that 20 per cent in some rural communities 
Canada Post's future is no longer set in concrete. During the federal election campaign this summer, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre took a jackhammer to a foundation laid for community mailboxes at the entrance to Anse-a-l'Orme Nature Park in Montreal. (The Canadian Press)

During the federal election campaign, there was a backlash against the move from home delivery to community mailboxes.

Backed by a federal government that seemed to have given up on support from dense urban areas, where home delivery works best, the post office appeared to have stopped listening to Canadians. 

Owners not customers

Canada Post may think of itself as a business. Its literature shows it thinks of us as customers. But unlike the Royal Mail in Britain, which has become a listed profit-making company, Canadians are not customers of Canada's postal service. We are owners.

The service Canada Post provides is based on a charter.

The opening line of that charter, that you can read on page 28 of the Crown corporation's latest annual report, says that it "was created to provide a standard of service that meets the needs of the people of Canada."

It is up to Canadians, through their governments, to decide whether Canada Post is meeting those needs.

Do you need junk mail?

Canada Post is currently paying highly reliable postal workers civil service wages to deliver us junk mail. Even if you ask them to stop, you will still get the kind of addressed junk — begging letters, credit card offers — that if you got by email, you would immediately label spam and never see again.

Do you need to receive addressed and unaddressed junk mail? Or is that just a way for corporate Canada Post to make higher profits and higher executive salaries? Do you need Canada Post to have higher executive salaries?

Canada Post has a valuable business model that has worked around the world for hundreds of years. It makes us pay for stamps and promises to deliver mail to any address in Canada. As part of our national duty, those of us mailing wedding invitations down the street subsidize letters to isolated communities in Nunavut. The duty of Canada Post is to do it efficiently. 

The fact is, for those rare occasions you need to send a paper letter, stamps are pretty cheap.

Time to say what you need

Do you need home delivery? Do you need a group mailbox on your tiny urban lawn? Do you need to have municipalities cut out of the decision-making process on where to place those mailboxes? Do you need disabled and infirm Canadians walking on icy streets to get their mail from boxes they can't reach?

In an era when most of us receive emails and texts within seconds of them being sent, do you need daily postal delivery? Or would once a week do?

Earlier this year, Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra said making millions of dollars in profits, partly due to a boom in parcel deliveries from increased online shopping, would not make him change his mind on home delivery.

Clearly Canada Post managers must make difficult decisions to keep the postal service affordable. Group mailboxes in places like apartment buildings are only reasonable. A similar case could be made for spacious rural or suburban locations where distances between houses are large and people drive everywhere anyway.

But changes to our postal service must be done with the consent of its owners, based on the needs of its owners. The window is open. Now is your chance to step up and tell Canada Post what you need.

Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis

​More analysis by Don Pittis

About the Author

Don Pittis

Business columnist

Don Pittis was a forest firefighter, and a ranger in Canada's High Arctic islands. After moving into journalism, he was principal business reporter for Radio Television Hong Kong before the handover to China. He has produced and reported for the CBC in Saskatchewan and Toronto and the BBC in London. He is currently senior producer at CBC's business unit.


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