Is Canada Post Canada past?

Instead of fighting each other for the past month, Canada Post and its unionized employees should have been fighting for their future.

Instead of fighting each other for the past month, Canada Post and its unionized employees should have been fighting for their future.

Long before the union’s rotating strikes and the corporation’s subsequent lockout crippled the delivery of paper mail in this country, the revolution in electronic technology had completely changed how Canadians communicate, and along with that their need for a traditional post office.

Email, texting, Twitter, online bill payments — all are faster ways to send a message or do a job than putting a piece of paper in a stamped envelope and dropping it in a letter box. And Canadians have embraced the new technology and abandoned the old, sarcastically dubbed, “snail mail” in droves. In the past five years alone, letter volumes handled by Canada Post have dropped by 17 per cent. Yet even as this happened, the corporation was responsible for delivering to one million new addresses.

The labour disruption was, in part, a response to these trends: As management struggled with the massive decrease in public demand, its responsibility for serving more customers and a multi-billion-dollar pension shortfall, the unionized workers fought to save hard-won contract gains.

Canada Post had to save money. Workers felt compelled to save livelihoods. Yet in the end, their failure to find common ground only accelerated the public’s stampede away from traditional postal service and into the electronic universe.

It’s true that June’s mail disruption seriously hurt many small businesses and charities while greatly inconveniencing a lot of Canadians who are elderly or live in remote regions. Yet for many other Canadians, the strikes and lockout were only a reminder of how little they needed the post office and what alternatives are, literally, at their fingertips.

In the past 21/2 weeks, for instance, at least 350,000 customers of the bank ING Direct moved exclusively to online banking.

The loss in stamp revenue for this change alone could cost Canada Post $2.3 million a year. We’re sure the same story was repeated, with different names, across the country: lost customers who will never come back.

There will, as the flow of mail resumed last week, be legitimate debate over whether the federal government should have legislated the postal employees back to work and with a partially imposed settlement. It’s understandable that such a derailment of the collective bargaining process will trouble many fair-minded individuals. Yet there should be no debate that Canada Post must change.

The corporation, the union and the government would all do better to focus their energies on the future than dwell on what has just passed. Together they need to create a transitional plan to reform Canada Post and make it sustainable. Perhaps we should re-examine service levels. Could Canadians live with mail delivery two or three times a week? Those who think not need only remember that a quarter of all residences now rely on the so-called super mailboxes instead of the traditional household delivery.

Other countries around the world have already done far more than Canada to modernize their postal systems. Britain is in the process of privatizing its Royal Mail. Germany, the Netherlands and Austria have privatized their postal systems entirely or in part. Every one of the 27 nations in the European Union now allows in its postal market something too rare in Canada’s — competition.

These may sound like radical solutions. But the status quo is no option. Canada Post is in danger of becoming Canada past.

— An editorial from the Waterloo Region Record.

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