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Canada Post Not There

by Doug Nesbitt

Protest at Lisa Raitt's riding office, Milton, Ont, Sept. 12, 2014.  Photo: Dave Bush
Protest at Lisa Raitt's riding office, Milton, Ont, Sept. 12, 2014. Photo: Dave Bush
Ottawa Pride Parade.  Photo: Dave Bush
Ottawa Pride Parade. Photo: Dave Bush

Ottawa residents will not be escaping the first round of service cuts by Canada Post.

The cuts, announced last December, will result in the complete elimination of all home delivery in Canada over five years, as well as increased costs to consumers and 8,000 job losses through attrition.

Kanata will be losing home deliver this September, and Barrhaven is scheduled to lose it in December and January. Orleans is up next spring. In place of home mail delivery, Canada Post is installing large community mailboxes (CMBs) which dwarf the size of community mailboxes already found in some suburban and rural neighbourhoods.

Meanwhile, the Canada Post processing plant, visible from the Hurdman transit station, is being closed. This means anyone mailing a letter within Ottawa will have it routed through Montreal first, resulting in service delays. Eighty jobs at the plant are on the line.

Unlike over 70 Canadian municipalities, including Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Montreal, Ottawa city council has yet to pass any motion opposing the elimination of home delivery. Mayor Jim Watson claims that a joint statement by Canada’s big city mayors suffices as Ottawa’s position.

In the absence of such discussion and debate that might generate mainstream media coverage, Ottawa residents remain in the dark about the major problems created by CMBs.

The CMBs are being installed without municipal or property consultation. Curbside properties, public and private, are being dug up and filled in with concrete to anchor the CMBs. The CMBs will become new focal points for car traffic, producing major noise and air pollution. Junk mail may litter the surrounding area instead of making it to a recycle bin. Property values surrounding CMBs will likely decline.

Meanwhile, Canada Post requires elderly and disabled Canadians to provide a doctor’s note for continued home delivery. The Canadian Medical Association described the proposal as “irresponsible” and an unnecessary burden on the healthcare system.

Last but not least, the centralization of mail processing in a handful of massive sorting plants, and the delivery of all mail by truck, not foot, will increase Canada Post’s overall carbon footprint.

The rationale provided for the cuts has been a decline in letter mail and a supposed increase in the prospects of Canada Post going bankrupt. However, while letter volume has declined slowly but surely, parcel delivery continues to climb. While email fuels the former trend, internet shopping drives the latter.

But Canada Post remains profitable. Sixteen of the past 18 fiscal years have seen Canada Post turn a profit. The crown corporation, which does not rely on taxpayer subsidies, has channeled over a billion dollars in profits into federal government revenues since the mid-90s.

In the latest fiscal quarter, Canada Post turned a $53 million profit. As recently as 2010, Canada Post turned a record annual profit of $443 million.

Critics of Canada Post, notably the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), argue that Canada Post is being prepared for privatization. The evidence is difficult to ignore. With the largest retail network and infrastructure in the country, and a highly profitable parcel delivery service (which includes Purolator), Canada Post or its component parts would be a lucrative asset in private hands.

Canada Post’s current CEO Deepak Chopra came to Canada Post from his position as President and CEO of Pitney Bowes in Canada and Latin America. The corporation is the world’s largest private mail service. Pitney Bowes is well known in the United States as a leading force behind efforts to privatize the United States Postal Service, a government service explicitly authorized by the US Constitution.

Chopra remains on the board of the Conference Board of Canada, a think-tank which produced a widely-cited pro-privatization report in April 2013. Using faulty mathematics, the report predicted Canada Post losses of $250 million in 2012, and mounting to a billion dollars in 2020. Canada Post in fact turned a $98 million pre-tax profit in 2012.

Meanwhile, Canada Post’s previous CEO, Moya Greene, presided over Britain’s Royal Mail

privatization in 2013. The Royal Mail privatization is now under investigation as wealthy investors who bought up the company did so at bargain prices that were well below the value of the company.

The future of Canada Post remains very uncertain. Many people are focusing on the 2015 federal election to oust the Harper government, which supported the appointment of Chopra as president along with the cuts themselves. However, neither the NDP opposition or the poll-leading Liberals have promised to repeal what is being lost. Meanwhile, widespread public opposition has yet to translate into any sort of effective action as the CUPW has been unable to advance a winning strategy to defeat the service cuts and elimination of jobs.

Rank & File Interview with CUPW President Denis Lemelin

Rank and File: How is the campaign to save Canada post going so far? What kind of actions have you been doing?

Denis Lemelin, CUPW President: I think it’s going really well, because the announcement of Canada Post’s 5-Point Plan about raising the price of stamps, eliminating door-to-door, there was a lot of reaction. There was outrage of the public, people with disabilities, seniors, and municipalities. People say we need a debate around it, and we organized the campaign Save Canada Post and it’s going on everywhere in the country. Everywhere in the country there’s activities like this one we organized in front of Lisa Raitt’s office. And people are organizing, people are meeting with municipalities, meeting with MPs. We met with the opposition parties. We have the support of the NDP. We met a couple of times with the Liberals, and Justin Trudeau. We’re pushing them to really move on this issue. I think it’s going really well. It’s the kind of campaign where momentum will build with time. Now, we are approaching the election. That will be the real moment that this debate will be more out.

Rank and File: Are you trying to make this an election issue for 2015?

Denis Lemelin: Absolutely. Maintaining the public postal service is a political fight. If Canada Post does not decide to stop the cuts and have a public debate, or if the government is not pushing them, it is clear for us that we will make it an electoral issue.

Rank and File: Some of the recent announcements by Canada Post around requiring a doctor’s note [for home delivery], is there a campaign around that?

Denis Lemelin: There is more to come, because I think what people are seeing is that Canada Post is not consulting. They just want to roll over people, roll over municipalities, and they don’t care. They don’t care about the public, they don’t care about the service, and there’s more and more people aware of that.

Rank and File: Both the Liberals and NDP have taken positions against the cuts at Canada Post. But I haven’t seen the NDP saying that they would reverse the cuts.

Denis Lemelin: I think the most important thing is to stop the cuts, and to have a public debate. What the government now is afraid of is having a public debate, because the people like the postal service, they want to keep the postal service. If there is a public debate, people will say we need an expansion of services instead of cuts. For the opposition parties, if they get elected and decide to stop the cuts and have a public debate, that’s what we are mostly asking first.

Rank and File: What role does postal banking play in the debate?

Denis Lemelin: Postal banking is about a vision of the future. Because everybody understands that letter mail is going down, that there are adjustments with e-commerce and the parcel industry, but everywhere in the world people are saying, ok, the postal service is a large network, it’s a good brand, so banking is something. Banks are getting out of municipalities, but postal services are staying. So banking is part of the future. We can raise the revenue of the postal service.

Rank and File: There is a narrative spun by Canada Post, that we are going bankrupt, and soon. Can you comment on their last quarter results released a couple of weeks ago?

Denis Lemelin: The last results show a surplus, they have around $60 million surplus. It shows that they already made a lot of adjustment, because since four or five years ago they are changing all of the technology to process the mail, they have new methods to deliver the mail, and at the same time, the fact that the mail is going down, there is an adjustment of the labour force. They have a profit now, and the fact that the price of the stamp is going up is there too. They are in a situation with parcels increasing, e-commerce increasing, to say we can stop the cuts and see, with the changes, with expansion of services, if we can continue to profitable. And I think that’s why we’re seeing them profitable now, and they will continue to be profitable, because the fall is coming, and the best quarter is always the fall.

Rank and File: Last winter we saw the cuts announced on Dec. 11, and in January there was a big demonstration in Ottawa. Are there plans for another day of action or coordinated demonstrations across the country?

Denis Lemelin: The fact that we are united, that the labour movement is united, this question of public services is so important. I think now the labour movement has to really stand up and say we will organize as a whole. All the unions, all the supporters should organize days of action. I think we have to organize this and we will organize some.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 7, No. 1

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Topics: Labour
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