Editorial Comment

Canada Post Joins the New Millennium

    It has been a long time since I received a letter in the mail. Bills I still get with regularity, not trusting myself to catch emailed demands for my money. I have missed too many important emails due to computer glitches than I want to trust my household heat with. Granted, snail mail isn’t perfect, either. Taking a week to get a document from Toronto to Calmar is not an average but a hope. Of course, these firms in Toronto believe it should arrive in three business days as they have been told. 
    No wonder it is all email now.  Even greeting cards have become electronic. For those with a computer and the inclination, the post office hasn’t really been relevant for years.
    Not everyone has a computer, though. Certainly many seniors are online as the plentiful supplies of grand-baby posts on Facebook are any measure. (It was great when grannies were limited to the size of their photo “brag book” capacity, not how many gigs of memory they have in their smart-phone.)
    Not all seniors have access, however. Some are just too old to have caught the cyber train. Hopefully these people have someone to help with their snail mail correspondence, but surely there are those between that crack, too.
I can appreciate Canada Post’s situation. Only a third of their customers currently receive the door-to-door delivery which is supposed to be the mailman’s hallmark.  I often wondered, living in a small town as I do, why I should be paying for city folks to get daily door-to-door delivery.  I reasoned that it had to do with economies of scale and that it just wasn’t cost effective to offer it in small towns. Our letter carrier funds were expended just getting the mail to town. 
    In urban areas, however, where the “super-mail boxes” have been placed, these people can rightly complain they are directly subsidizing door-to-door delivery with no distance excuse like we in the hinterland. How has this unfairness lasted so long? 
    Now those economies of scale are starting to strain at the seams for door-to-door delivery. It is becoming too expensive a proposition for the revenue they can expect, to continue with the status quo. They are called letter carriers but they carry precious few letters. 
    It’s not just financial considerations that have to be considered, either. Being a mailman is a hazardous job. Canada Post has reported over 600 postal employees are bitten by dogs annually. Who knows how many trip on obstacles or slip on ice in their rounds. The milk companies realized years ago home delivery was an anachronism of a different time and the milkman became a quaint image from a bygone era, just as mailmen soon will be. 
    Another aspect to consider is that it seemed there were more and more conditions put on home owners to make sure postal employees could get to their mailbox. Sidewalks and steps had to be shoveled to a degree as specified in the postie safety handbook or a postal worker can unilaterally decide not to deliver the occupant’s mail  Their rules have become so stringent, however, it has led to altercations between delivery people and homeowners. There was a report recently of a young man who was sent to prison for two years for throwing a snowball at a postie. You don’t want to anger a postal worker, as everyone should know by now. 
    For those concerned about the letter carriers, Canada Post claims they will be able to handle the change through attrition. That is something, at least. No one wants to see a whole layer of society simply peeled off in one stroke.
    Comparisons will be made to Britain, of course, where the Royal Post would deliver mail twice a day and once on Saturdays. Recently, they have cut back to once a day and none on the weekend, so the writing is on the wall for them, too. They, however, don’t have our climate to contend with. Of more import, they also manage to cram 85 million people on an island one-third the size of Alberta. They’re all so much closer together, it is far cheaper to deliver anything from and English Point A to Point B, compared to Point Eh and wherever the next point might be.
    Having identified that it is not cost effective to have door-to-door delivery, nor is it appropriate to give one set of customers a higher level of service paid for by all of your customers, what can we do about the cracks. The people that will fall into the crack labeled “no computer access”? Maybe email terminals in post offices might help.  There are already computers in libraries and internet cafes for people to use. This issue is not one they can ignore, however.
    The other thrust of the Canada Post’s austerity strategy is to make stamps cost considerably more; almost half again as much. This is a huge jump and will be felt by those that still use snail mail in their businesses. Speaking with one entrepreneur who sends between 100 and 300 pieces of mail a month, this is a sizeable chunk of change. The reality is the price should have been hiked aggressively for years. 63 cents to send a letter potentially the thousands of miles in this vast land is craziness. The low price obviously had little effect anyway, since most households only purchase a couple stamps per month, according to postal data. Rather than complain in a 50% increase, my business friend should be thankful it stayed as artificially low for as long as it did.
    Given the annual losses suffered by the corporation, the changes being proposed are long overdue. Making the system cost effective, safe and fair for all is a great start. 

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