Canada Post to end community mailbox conversions as part of Liberal reforms

The Liberal government is scrapping a program to replace door-to-door mail delivery with community mailboxes as part of a broader plan to renew Canada Post.

Existing conversions won't be reversed, advisory panel to seek options for people with accessibility problems

The federal Liberals have announced a number of planned changes at Canada Post, including an end to the conversion of door-to-door delivery to community mailboxes. (CBC)

The Liberal government is scrapping a program to replace door-to-door mail delivery with community mailboxes as part of a broader plan to renew Canada Post.

Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough announced the changes at a Canada Post plant in Mississauga, Ont., this morning, calling the corporation an "iconic Canadian institution."

Since 2014, about 840,000 households had their door-to-door delivery halted, and were instead required to walk down the street to a community box. The plan, brought in as a cost-saving measure under the previous Conservative government, was to convert some five million addresses. It caused a massive public backlash, with seniors and Canadians with disabilities angry about the changes.

As part of the current revisions, a national advisory panel will be struck to seek options for serving people with accessibility issues who have already been converted to community mailboxes, as they will not be reversed.

"We decided to adopt a forward-looking vision for Canada Post," she said. "We're not going to put the toothpaste back in the tube. We're not going to reverse these decisions that were made by the former government."

Converting the remaining 4.2 million households was expected to save about $350 million.

Minister of Public Services and Procurement Carla Qualtrough says the latest vision for Canada Post will not affect those who need home delivery. 0:20

The Liberals promised during the 2015 election campaign to "save home mail delivery." 

"By ending door-to-door mail delivery, Stephen Harper is asking Canadians to pay more for less service. That is unacceptable," the platform read.

"We will stop Stephen Harper's plan to end door-to-door mail delivery in Canada and undertake a new review of Canada Post to make sure that it provides high-quality service at a reasonable price to Canadians, no matter where they live."

The conversions were suspended shortly after the Liberals took office.

On Dec. 7, 2015, then-public services minister Judy Foote told the House of Commons those converted to community boxes would have their door-to-door delivery service restored.

Minister of Public Services and Procurement Carla Qualtrough discusses the government’s move to end Canada Post community mailbox conversions but not restore door-to-door delivery to those communities who have already converted. 6:26

"We certainly can commit that there will not be any more roadside mailboxes installed. We have put a stop to that, which means that anyone who did have roadside mailboxes would get their door-to-door mail delivery resumed," she said. "We are in a position where we have committed to home delivery."

'It's not acceptable'

The new plan includes changes to the financial rules so Canada Post can reinvest its profits in service and innovation so the corporation can remain financially self-sustaining, efficient and responsive to customers.

The minister said she expects Canada Post to examine trends, innovations and best practices that have been adopted in other countries. Scaling back the frequency of mail delivery and establishing lock boxes for weekend parcel delivery are some options for consideration, she said.

Opposition MPs Peter Kent and Charlie Angus weigh in. 7:33

NDP MP Charlie Angus called Wedneday's news "the old Liberal status quo."

"We're gonna run on something and then we're gonna abandon our promise. It's not acceptable. It's certainly not acceptable to the seniors I talk to who have difficulty at these post office boxes," he said.

Conservative MP and former industry minister Tony Clement said Canada Post's business model doesn't work.

"Canada Post has to stand on its own two feet and have a business model that works, but this is another day where Liberals have broken promises," he said.

"Apparently drones are going to be dropping [packages] at our doorstep or what have you, so these kinds of things mean that Canada Post has to continue to evolve its business plan if it's gonna survive." 

'Service-first' approach

The "service-first" approach comes at a time of major transformation, where traditional letter mail has decreased dramatically in the digital age, while parcel delivery has spiked due to e-commerce.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers vowed not to give up on the 840,000 households who have switched to community boxes.

"We're not going to give up on those who unjustly lost their service," said union president Mike Palacek. "These issues are coming to the bargaining table."

CARP, an advocacy group for seniors, welcomed an end to the community mailboxes, saying it proved to be a "barrier" to accessing important communications in a safe and timely manner.

Ian Capstick, Supriya Dwivedi, Tim Powers and Althia Raj discuss. 5:59

"We are pleased that as well as stopping future conversions, the government has committed to providing door-to-door delivery for those who currently have a community mailbox but, through age or disability, cannot safely access it," said advocacy vice-president Wanda Morris. "We will work to ensure the government follows through on that commitment."

Leadership turnover

Senior leadership at the post office, which is in the midst of a large-scale turnover that includes a search for a new CEO, will also be mandated to establish more cordial labour relations.

As well, officials say the government will push Canada Post to promote its remittance services, encouraging more customers in Canada to use the postal service to send money to friends and family abroad.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has called instead for a reintroduction of banking services at postal outlets as a way to make money, an idea that has been rejected by the agency.

While mail deliveries by postal workers have been declining drastically in recent years, Canada Post has seen parcel delivery volumes soar, up by almost 39 per cent in the third quarter of 2017 alone.

With files from The Canadian Press