Canada·In Depth

Canada Post lockout: More than an inconvenience

Although the government says it will end the Canada Post strike with back-to-work legislation, the stoppage and the uncertainty is having an impact on a number of Canadians.
Canada Post trucks are parked behind workers demonstrating outside a sorting facility in Ottawa on June 15, 2011 after the corporation locked them out. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

While the past 12 days of rotating postal strikes saw little in the way of widespread public outcry, the disruptions did have an impact on some Canadians, particularly the blind and those in the direct mail businesses.

Now, with Canada Post having locked out its employees on June 14, effectively ending mail service across the country, these groups — and a few others like printers and wedding planners — expect to feel the pinch even more. In fact, some printing companies and direct mail operations are talking about immediate layoffs in the face of the current uncertainty.

On Wednesday, the government said it intends to introduce back-to-work legislation  to end the impasse.

However, because it must provide a 48-hour notice and Parliament isn't sitting on Friday, the earliest any legislation could be debated is Monday, meaning the lockout is likely to continue for a number of days.

Essential for the blind

The lockout will likely have a dramatic impact on the blind, many of whom depend on Canada Post to receive audio recordings and assistance products from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, says CEO John Rafferty.

The CNIB is now considering using private couriers to ship supplies to 63 centres across the country and then asking volunteers to take the packages to individual clients.

It is an expensive but necessary plan, Rafferty said.

On top of the increased costs, the CNIB also expects to face a funding crunch as a result of the stoppage, Rafferty said. The charitable organization receives about $30,000 a day, about 70 per cent of its donations, through the mail, mostly from seniors.

"With a complete lockout in place that gets switched off," he said. "I can tell you that with a prolonged strike we're going to be dealing with costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

For the 863,000 Canadians who are blind or partially sighted, Canada Post remains an essential connection to the outside world, Rafferty said.

The government needs to step in and bring an end to the lockout, he said. "I can't emphasize enough that we need back-to-work legislation.

"This is an essential service for many segments of society."

Layoffs within 48 hours

Meanwhile, at Smart DM, a Toronto-area direct-mail organization, David Dunnett, vice-president of operations, said the lockout would also have a dramatic impact on his industry.

"We'll start laying people off within 48 hours," he said.

Smart DM can print and store packages in anticipation of a resolution, Dunnett said. But this is tricky for a time-sensitive industry where the delivery of paper fliers is often part of a broader, national campaign.

"Particularly the large campaigns," Dunnett said. "They take months of planning in coordination with other media. If they can't depend on being able to send it out, they're not going to set up call centres and do media buys," he said.

Some companies may opt to deliver their flyers through local newspapers or they may rely more heavily on email but others will just put a halt to promotions.

"If this went for two weeks, we're looking at 50 to 60 people being laid off" from the company's 165-plant staff, Dunnett said. Some have already been laid off as a result of the rotating strikes and a normal summer slowdown.

Although Dunnett said he would prefer to see all parties negotiate an end to the dispute, the longer it drags on, the more people move away from Canada Post and into the arms of private couriers and e-billing.

"This is something that both sides have to realize, you're just driving more clients to online billing, those type of things," he said.

Rushing brides and courier grooms

Another offshoot of the lockout may be to put more stress on an already stressed group of Canadians — soon-to-be brides and grooms.

April Ware, who runs a wedding invitation business in Toronto, said the lockout will not affect her day-to-day operations — because she doesn't use Canada Post — but it will create a headache for those about to send out their wedding invites. 

"There are a lot of different options available, they're just more expensive," said Ware, the owner of Classic Elegance. She estimates the cost to deliver the average run of 120 invitations by private courier would be twice as high as using Canada Post — or about $300.

She said hand delivery may be an option for some — albeit an inconvenient one. But, in her view, using the internet just wouldn't cut it for wedding invitations. Well, not yet anyway.

"I don't see anybody switching to email but they might have to," Ware said.