Opposition to Canada Post 'super mailboxes' fanned by election

The federal election campaign appears to be fanning opposition to Canada Post's plans to end door-to-door mail delivery in favour of neighbourhood super mailboxes, right up to the spectacle this week of Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre pulling out a jackhammer in protest.

Lack of consultation by Canada Post a common complaint by several cities

Canada Post's plans to install more super mailboxes have sparked controversy - and lawn chair sit-ins - across Canada. (CBC)

David Heap has knocked on a lot of doors over nearly five decades, but the community activist in London, Ont., can't remember ever getting a response like the one he's received about Canada Post's plans to end urban door-to-door delivery and put up neighbourhood super mailboxes in many places across the country.

"People come across the street … and say: 'Hey, could we have that sign about saving door to door? Have you got a letter I could sign?' says Heap, an organizer with Londoners for Door to Door.

The community group hit the streets in January to protest against plans that would see about 42,000 postal addresses in the southwestern Ontario city shifted from door-to-door delivery to super mailboxes this year.

"People opened their doors and opened up on this issue in a way that I have rarely seen," Heap says. "People love their postal service and this really hits home to a core value."

Beyond the importance of that "core value", however, is also the fact that the country is immersed in a federal election campaign, which appears to be fanning opposition to Canada Post's controversial plans, right up to the spectacle this week of Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre pulling out a jackhammer in protest.

"There's little question in my mind that, particularly in the case of Montreal, it's a very clear way of setting apart politicians from the Conservative government," says Tim Abray, a teaching fellow in Canadian politics and political psychology at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

Coderre, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, pulled out the power tool and the rhetoric on Thursday, making clear his strong opposition to what he has described as a lack of consultation by Canada Post over placement of the community mailboxes.

"It's the perfect photo, to be honest," says Abray, calling Coderre's actions the "classic example" of a local politician trying to show he is standing up for local interests against a big, impersonal power.

Abray says the mayor's actions play out well for him at the local level, but he also sees a larger target.

"He has done a very good job of making it clear that for him this is about cities having control over their own planning, but you know it would be very difficult to dismiss suggestions that he's playing this for a broader audience for sure."

Liberal, NDP promising restoration

Terry Whitehead, a city councillor in Hamilton, Ont., also sees the fact that Canadians are about to go to the polls playing into the current buzz around super mailboxes.

"If this wasn't a federal election I'm not sure we'd have the same noise that we're hearing now," he says.

The NDP have promised to restore door-to-door mail delivery by Canada Post if elected. The Liberals have called for a moratorium until after the election and say they would stop the plan to end the door-to-door service and launch a review of the Crown corporation.

And Whitehead says that "people are becoming much more vocal because they think they have a chance to be heard through this election call."

That might be especially true for older Canadians who might have a rather romantic connection to a letter landing in a box or falling through a slot by the door.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre took a jackhammer to a concrete pad that Canada Post had installed to support a super mailbox. (CBC)

"The idea of people delivering letters from loved ones from a long way away has been a part of our national narrative for quite some time," says Abray.

"Even if people aren't thinking about it that way directly, that kind of narrative is definitely in the background, informing their attitudes about it and informing their reactions to announcements like the ending of door-to-door services."

There are less emotional, more practical, factors at play, too. At the heart of much of the opposition is the complaint made by Coderre: the sense that Canada Post is not taking any consultation it does with residents or municipalities into account.

Working with municipalities

The Crown corporation says it is willing to work with municipalities to find the best locations and discuss concerns.

"Our goal is to find sites that are safe, accessible and convenient for the households in each neighbourhood. We would be happy to discuss any suggestions they may have for alternative locations," the agency said in a statement to CBC News.

But such responses find little favour with the likes of Heap or Whitehead.

"If you look at the experience across municipalities big and small, [Canada Post will] say whatever they think they need to say and then they don't necessarily follow through on it," says Heap.

Installations for the concrete pads that sit under the super mailboxes began a couple of weeks ago in London, despite city council passing a resolution asking the Crown corporation to wait, Heap says. The resolution was "because they hadn't completed the consultation as promised and they hadn't come back to report to city council as promised."

Whitehead also feels Canada Post is not co-operating or consulting with municipalities, a situation that he argues could put residents who will have to leave their homes to get their letters at boxes on city rights of way at greater personal risk.

Canada Post doesn't have the safety records, the engineers and the traffic flow information that a municipality has, Whitehead says.

"They don't have any of that expertise. All that expertise falls back to the city. For them to be putting super mailboxes in areas that are exposing people at risk is very concerning."