Saturday, December 14, 2013

The changes at Canada Post: What they mean for Canadians

With the reduction in the volume of  "snail mail" and a severe loss of revenue, changes at Canada Post became inevitable. Unfortunately, this country's postal service is facing a massive deficit of one billion dollars by 2020.  The use of email and the Internet is, of course, greatly responsible for the crown corporation's woes. What should be deeply disturbing to Canadians, however, is the sudden and sneaky manner in which the changes were made.  It is also unsettling is that ordinary Canadians were not consulted.  These changes were foisted upon the public quickly and unilaterally, one day after the House of Commons adjourned for the Christmas break.  That's quite a coincidence, isn't it?  Surely the Harper government was not trying to avoid debating the issue in the House of Commons, particularly after being raked in coals by the opposition over the Senate scandal?  No, it couldn't be that, could it?

As Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau commented on the timing of the announcement, it was "a demonstration of a tremendous level of cynicism."  He said that more vigorous discussion was required before axing such "an important service" as home postal delivery.  “If this happens, it would be the end of an era for Canada Post,” union president Denis Lemelin declared.  "We recognize that Canada Post needs to change, but this is not the way," he remarked.

Nevertheless, on December 11, 2013, Canada Post announced that the following changes will be implemented:

* Door-to-door mail delivery will be phased out over the next five years, beginning in mid-2014. About one-third of Canadian households (over five million people) will be affected.  Rural households will not be affected. (It's worth noting that a great deal of Conservative support comes from rural areas).  Door-to-door delivery will be replaced by community mailboxes.  (Our cities are gong to be littered with community mailboxes.  Gee, won't they make Canada's urban landscape look more attractive?) 

* The price of stamp will increase from 63 cents to 85 cents for bulk purchases or $1 for individual stamps.  The increase will come into effect on March 31, 2014.

*  Canada Post plans to scale down its labour force by between 6,000 and 8,000 workers.  It maintains that this can be done by attrition since approximately 15,000 employees are poised to retire in the coming years.  (It's difficult to believe that no jobs will be lost.)

From a purely business point of view, these changes seem to make sense.  According to David Stewart Patterson, a Conference Board of Canada executive who predicted this spring that Canada Post could lose almost $1 billion annually if it didn't make operating changes, this new business plan will achieve "very significant results" with regard to Canada Post's fiscal stability.

Not surprisingly, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt also defended the move by Canada Post.  She stated, "The Government of Canada supports Canada Post in its efforts to protect taxpayers, while modernizing its business and aligning postal services with the choices of Canadians." (As if the choices of Canadians were ever really considered or that they were even consulted about the matter.)

Canada Post seems to have acted prudently if you believe, as the Harper government does, that government should be run like a business and that profitability is the bottom line.  The problem is that government actions affect real flesh and blood people.  The actions of crown corporations such as Canada Post also affect real human beings.

The elimination of door-to door postal delivery and the increase in the cost of stamps will have the most impact on elderly, disabled and lower income Canadians, particularly in the winter months. Isn't that always the way?  The most vulnerable and the most marginalized are always hurt more severely by misguided cost-cutting measures.  Laurie Beachell, national co-ordinator for the Council of Canadians expressed her concerns when she stated, "This will seriously disadvantage people with disabilities.   Couple that with access issues and climate issues, it will further isolate people, making them dependent on family and friends to pick up their mail."  As NDP MP Olivia Chow put it, "These job-killing and service-cutting measures will isolate seniors, the poor and the disabled living in urban areas."  She also said, "You don't save a business by cutting services, driving away customers and raising costs."

Small business is also going to be hurt by Canada Post's plans.  The increase in the price of stamps will be too burdensome for many small businesses to survive and many will go bankrupt. The high cost of stamps with also further discourage people from using the postal service and Canada Post will lose even more money until the day that it will be no longer be sustainable.

Why are such stringent measures being adopted so quickly without proposing alternatives?  Why can't the Canadian postal service be modified and modernized without gutting the whole operation and eliminating all door-to-door service?  Here's the reason why. This is Stephen Harper's Canada.  It's leaner and meaner and it's losing  its sense of community. The ultra-conservative creed is "everyone out for themselves."  People with low incomes are viewed as lazy welfare bums and the gap between the haves and the have-nots keeps widening into an ever-larger chasm. Stable employment is a thing of the past for the majority of Canadians. Many of the jobs available are contract or temporary jobs with few benefits and without the security of a pension.  More and more social programs are being cut every day.  More and more children are being drawn into the cycle of poverty in a nation rich with resources.

When did you last hear a Canadian politician make a strong statement about fighting poverty, protecting the environment or dealing with the problems of unemployment.  Which leader has had the courage to talk frankly about these issues?  Which leader has the gumption to say that sometimes higher taxes are necessary provided that the money is spent responsibly?  Why are conservative zealots being allowed to set the agenda?  What has happened to more moderate voices?  Do Canadians need to be reminded that Stephen Harper's Conservative party is not the more reasonable and compassionate Progressive Conservative Party of John Diefenbaker, Robert Stanfield and Joe Clark and yes, Brian Mulroney.  Mulroney showed concern for the environment and he was a leader in the fight against apartheid in South Africa.  Stephen Harper's Conservatives can be described as The Tea Party North or the Tea Party of Canada.

Who has the courage to strongly challenge the Harper government's priorities?  Who will tell Harper that tackling the deficit is not more important than creating jobs for the unemployed?  Who will tell him that it is an unnecessary waste of taxpayers' money to build more prisons in order to demonstrate a commitment to law and order?  It hasn't worked in the United States and it won't work here.  Who will tell him that it is better to concentrate on preventing poverty and crime than suffering the huge human, social and financial costs associated with poverty and crime?

For over six years, the Harper government has been chipping away, slyly and stealthily at our social fabric. It's been happening bit by bit so that this country is becoming unrecognizable.  Now we are about to lose door-to-door postal service.  Why must this happen?  Why must we become the only industrialized nation to allow this to occur with such little complaint and so little indignation?  Where is our backbone?  Why do we just accept this with bland resignation.  Why are we not bombarding our MPs with emails?

This is my warning to my fellow Canadians.  Our country is being transformed by a government that received only 40 per cent of the popular vote.  60 percent of those who bothered to vote did not vote Conservative. Where are those 60 percent?  I lament for this great nation!  I lament for what we have lost and what may never be regained, at least until Stephen Harper's government is voted out of office.


- Joanne