Canada Post scraps 'northern flat rate box' after charities decry unfair treatment for the North

Canada Post’s 'if it fits, it ships' pilot program became an issue for charities and not-for-profits sending goods to the North.

‘An equitable postal service is a step toward reconciliation,’ says Friends of the North

The post office in Iqaluit. Canada Post's flat rate box pilot program recently introduced, then scrapped, its higher-priced flat rate box for the North, after backlash from charities and not-for-profit groups. (Vincent Robinet/CBC)

When Canada Post introduced a special "Remote Northern Canada box" last month to ship items up North at a flat rate, it didn't last long.

That's because the pilot program's box was higher in price and smaller in size than its Canada-wide counterpart — the regular flat rate box — which gives Canadians the option to ship anything that fits in the box, and is less than 5 kg, for a flat rate.

Southern charities and donors that send food and goods to the North suddenly had to reckon with the new northern boxes, and they weren't impressed.

"We're paying more for less," said Susan Fahidy, executive director of the not-for-profit Friends of the North based in Kitchener, Ont.

The regular flat rate boxes are still available, but only in 60 post offices out of 6,200 across Canada. (Submitted by Susan Fahidy)

The northern box was introduced on Dec. 18 last year. It cost $34.99 for a medium-sized box (no other sizes available) to ship to coastal B.C., parts of Labrador and "the Far North."

That compares to the flat rate of $14.99 for a small, $19.99 for medium and $24.99 for a large-sized flat rate box to ship to the rest of Canada. Those boxes were introduced as a pilot program in November 2016, and are only available in certain post offices in major regions (60 out of 6,200 Canada Post offices carry the boxes). The prices increased recently from the original 2016 prices.

'We're just moms,' says Fahidy

Fahidy says Friends of the North relies 100 per cent on volunteer donations; the original flat rate box program had been saving the group a lot of money, despite having to drive several hours to a post office that has them.

"It was a huge difference. It dropped our costs down by about two thirds," said Fahidy. 

The group has been sending items to food banks in communities since 2015. It ships mostly to Arctic Bay, Nunavut, but also to several other remote Nunavut communities such as Hall Beach, Sanikiluaq, Grise Fiord and others.

The shipments typically include non-perishable foods, warm clothing and new mom kits — which include bottles, baby clothing, diapers and hygiene products.

Friends of the North sends non-perishable foods, warm clothing and new mom kits (which include bottles, baby clothing, diapers and hygiene products). (Submitted by Susan Fahidy)

The Northern flat rate boxes meant her group and other charitable organizations weren't able to help as many people.

"It's taking our resources and they're stretching them to a thinner level," said Fahidy.

"We're just moms ... We are doing this on our spare time, on our dime ... so we could help our fellow Canadians," she said.

"An equitable postal service is a step toward reconciliation."

Canada Post officials declined an interview with CBC, but said in an emailed statement that they "quickly saw what had been a simple self-serve transaction for consumers … had become much more complex with the additional box."

The Northern box rates were intended to offset the cost of shipping to remote locations, the company says, but complaints from a few small charities prompted a re-think. The northern boxes were quickly scrapped, and Canada Post reinstated the same flat rate price across Canada.

Yogurt, cheese and apples — that kind of stuff can't be mailed.- Dana Barker-Sheaves

Other options for donors

Dana Barker-Sheaves says she understands why Canada Post wanted to increase its costs to ship North.

Barker-Sheaves is the director of Feeding Nunavut, a non-profit that advocates and aims to fund various programs across Nunavut to combat hunger.

Living in Igloolik, she says the costs to get anything to her community by plane is hefty.

Dana Barker-Sheaves is a director with Feeding Nunavut. She says monetary donations could help with immediate assistance. (Submitted by Dana Sheaves)

She suggests that people who want to help address hunger in Nunavut would be better off sending money.

"Food needs are immediate," said Barker-Sheaves. She says Feeding Nunavut is able to provide immediate assistance through food voucher programs or breakfast programs.

"Yogurt, cheese and apples — that kind of stuff can't be mailed," said Barker-Sheaves. She added that buying from local stores helps keep jobs in the communities, and fuels the local economy.

Igloolik's Co-op manager Larry Gray says shipping food and items to the North and storing them is challenging.

"We deal with that all the time," said Gray. "The food gets misdirected to another location, or it just spoils.

"Then it's not a good feeling for the good donor, or the family receiving it."

He says there's another alternative for southern donors: calling the local food store in a Northern community.

The Igloolik Co-op in 2015 started offering basic care and healthy fresh fruit or meat packages for southern donors to buy with a credit card. The Co-op then delivers the package to a local family.

Gray said he had a few donors call during the Christmas season.

"[The families] were very happy," he said.

With files from Michelle Pucci

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