Post Script

Recently, Canada Post announced that they will be ending all remaining home mail delivery in urban centers, phasing out over the next few years, though no firm timeline appears forthcoming. What will replace this service will be community boxes, though again with few details as to what this will look like, or what accommodations will be made for the elderly and disabled, so Canadians are left to trust that something of some kind will replace their current service, eventually. Yesterday, Canada Post’s CEO made a statement that included the claim that “seniors have told the corporation they want more exercise and fresh air in answer to an MP’s question about how the elderly will be especially hard hit by the cancellation of home mail delivery,” and used this as part of his argument supporting the move to make Canada the only developed nation in the world with no home mail delivery.

At the heart of the matter, in my view, is the nature of Crown Corporations in Canada, and their role in providing services to our citizens. While many Crowns do make money, this is not their sole purpose, and for some it is not the purpose for their mandate at all. Never mind the slap in the face of doubling the price of a stamp while cutting services many Canadians rely on, the question Canadians need to be asking is whether our postal service is something we view as a public service, or just another money-making venture that happens to be owned and operated by the Crown. One of the problems that comes as a result of looking at government and evaluating it on business terms, as if we were all shareholders or employees of Canada, Inc., rather than Canadian citizens with more than a purely financial stake in the running of our nation. Our postal service is a public good, and one that we will not receive at the hands of the private sector, or they would be providing it right now. Aside from being a public service, it is our corporation, and Canadians ought to have a say in how we want our Crowns to provide their services to us. The complete lack of public consultation (or even a hearing in Parliament until the Opposition MPs demanded it when the announcement was made after Parliament went on winter recess) on this matter is hugely disrespectful to Canadians, and people ought to be concerned that our public sector is being run on private sector principles.

For the moment, set aside the matter of whether urban seniors and people with disabilities will be well served by this move (they won’t, and aren’t in smaller centers where they need to make special arrangements to get their mail already), this large a shift in policy for a Crown without proper warning or consultation is something Canadians should be concerned about. Rule by fiat is not something Canada was built on, and it is not in keeping with this country’s character. The lack of leadership on the part of Canada Post’s executive has resulted in 8,000 well-paying, union jobs being put on the chopping block, and what’s more, the union members weren’t even given the courtesy of getting notice before the story was on the national news. While other countries’ postal services branched out into postal banking and other services, Canada Post has rested on its e-commerce cash flow and apparently ruled out following the examples of other successes; for people giving the public arguments about decreased profitability, the CEO and his management team doesn’t seem too motivated to do much besides cut jobs and increase fees. Of course, Mr. Chopra was still able to see his way clear to accepting a 33% bonus in his compensation package for captaining a sinking ship, but that’s the cost of getting top-tier people in your executive positions who can provide superior results, right? Of course, Canada Post has only lost money one year in the last century, but the problem doesn’t appear to be that they’re losing money, but that they’re not making enough money based on no discernable reasoning. For 2012, CPC posted a net profit of $98 million, hardly what I would call chump change, but for some reason this is not enough, we need to cut jobs and services for some reason. CUPW also ran the numbers, and the support Canada Post is claiming for this move just isn’t there.

Now as to the matter of seniors and people with disabilities, the line quoted above about exercise and fresh air ought to be contemptible to anyone with a grandmother, who knows someone without full mobility, or other limitation that would require that they make special arrangements in order to get their mail. Claiming that the rise of email means that people who still rely on letter mail had better catch up and give up a service they depend on daily is not part of who we are as Canadians, we care for each other and recognize that we don’t all have identical needs in our pursuit of a fulfilling life. We are the people who brought Medicare to our people before the rest of the West, because we cared about our neighbours and recognized the value in working to maximise everyone’s quality of life rather than trusting that making a few people extremely rich will somehow benefit others, if they are lucky enough to have something the rich want. Part of this national character is tied up in Canada Post’s role in society, connecting Canadians across a vast distance in ways that e-communication doesn’t match for many of us. This time of year, this should be obvious to anyone who’s received a Christmas card in their mailbox; it’s not the same as an e-card, and doubling the cost of that experience while cutting back the service delivering it seems to tie into my last blog post more than an argument about Santa’s ethnic background. The fact that many Canadians already don’t have this experience anymore isn’t an argument in favour of eliminating it for the rest of us, it’s a continuation of the ongoing race to the bottom in terms of what we expect out of our government.

That argument, that rural Canadians and those living in newer developments already don’t get home delivery is not something we should see as supporting this move, but as evidence against it. This creeping claw-back of services Canadian citizens get from our government and our Crowns is not something we should want to spread to the whole country, it is a bad thing, something we should be pointing to as a reason why this is a wrong decision. Telling people, “Hey, lots of Canadians already get worse service as a result of cutbacks years ago,” is not an argument that should recommend this decision to us, if anything, it should get people in unserved areas fighting to get their services and their jobs back.

This is my own point of contention with the overall governing philosophy of the Harper Tories in particular and neo-conservatives in general: running everything on a basis of dollars and cents rather than more intangible matters of much greater value, is short-sighted and all too often brutal in human terms. Cutting services in every way possible is not good government, it is government by corporate raider philosophy. Canada Post is not just a business, it is not merely concerned with its bottom line, it is part of the public trust, the national character, and gutting it down to the lowest price point possible is frankly un-Canadian. In this country, we’re proud that we have concern for people with needs we don’t share in every particular, and part of that pride is expressed through our extensive public service sector. This monomania for maximizing profit and cutting employees as if they’re nothing but a liability is not who we are as a country, and the fact our publicly owned Crowns are being run like private corporations is a problem all on its own. The fact that 8,000 people stand to lose their jobs is bad enough, but this shift in government philosophy has meant that they aren’t the first casualties, and they won’t be the last by a long shot between now and 2015. Continuing this policy of cutting well-paying positions with decent job security and replacing them with McJobs is a huge disservice to Canadians, and one of the leading causes of the erosion of our middle class.

Canada’s government and Crowns do not exist purely for the sake of maximizing profits in this country, they are there to see to it that Canadians get services we can’t get through other means. Private industry has shown little to no interest in picking up the business of letter mail, and this is something that millions of Canadians still depend on, so cutting it back to the bare bones is not in keeping with the purpose of government or Crown Corporations. We don’t expect lighthouses and bridges to operate at a profit, because they are part of our national infrastructure, and so is Canada Post. The Tories were right when they called mail delivery an essential service and legislated striking postal employees back to work in 2011, and have taken a totally hypocritical position now that it’s a matter of cutting thousands of union jobs. Well, I say hypocritical, but it is in keeping with the Harper Tories’ governing philosophy of striking out at unions at every opportunity, and that is what looks to be behind this move. It was bad leadership when home delivery was discontinued to rural areas, it is bad leadership now, and it is what comes from putting profits ahead of people, from treating citizens like customers.

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Fighting the War on Christmas

To hear certain people in the news tell it, there’s a concerted effort on the part of atheists, socialists, and whatever other group you’d care to name to tear down any reference to Christmas in the public square, and Christians are under attack from Black Friday till Boxing Week. Secular humanists are suing schools to keep kids from getting presents, atheists are banding together to force people to say “Happy Holidays” instead of a Christmas greeting, cheeky Seinfeld fans are erecting Festivus poles beside nativity scenes, and it’s all a part of the ongoing culture war being fought in classrooms, courtrooms, and most of all in living rooms on the 24 hour TV news. It’s gotten to the point where Christians are feeling attacked at every turn, like they need to run everything they say or do past political correctness censors to avoid blowback over every little crèche and marble monument to the Ten Commandments on public property. And it’s not enough just to gag them, even Satanists have gotten into the act, petitioning to add a monument to the Oklahoma state legislature, and a Hindu group is proposing the same for their monkey god, Hanuman. As if that wasn’t enough, people are even talking about giving Santa Claus a serious makeover!

Or, could it be a group that has enjoyed a cultural hegemony for centuries is facing a changing demographic landscape in a world they used to unconsciously dominate, and the adjustment just isn’t going very smoothly for various reasons?

I remember back in junior high, as we were moving up to the big school on the hill, legends of Freshie Week and the hazing that would go on for small, vulnerable 7th graders at the hands of the almost-men in grade 12 was a source of profound terror. Stories of paddling, of humiliating ceremonies designed to strip you of not just your clothing but your basic human dignity, of . . . rose bowls, were whispered among us as we counted down the last days of that summer of 1986. But all that fear turned out to be over nothing (nearly) because as we entered the big school, word came down that there were some new policies banning all the tortures we’d been spending the summer in fear of, we were to be put through nothing but some mildly messy games in the gym, and that’s it. No paddles, no cracker walks, and unbelievably, no rose bowls, just some tricycle races, a slip and slide, and egg balancing, that’s it! However, while we were elated not to have to go through the gauntlet, there were some who were more than a little upset at the move, particularly the students who had recently gone through it and were looking forward to inflicting everything they’d gone through on a new batch of freshmen. They claimed it wasn’t fair that they had to go through it and now weren’t allowed to enjoy being on the giving end of things, and that the school was destroying a tradition that had stood for as long as any 17-year-old could remember. This is not to say that hazing had been completely eliminated, it’s still the reason I never went out for football, despite being one of the bigger guys in my class, out of fear of what I’d heard the gym teachers were turning a blind eye to. As much as I did want to play (big kid in Saskatchewan in 1989? How could you not have Grey Cup dreams?), the fear I had of walking into that locker room, of entering that culture and all that entailed, it was more than enough to balance off my desire to score a touchdown or make a sack, so I never played until college rec league.

That dominant culture, the one that had hazing, humiliation and all the cool kids, it was a big factor in making me feel like an outsider even though nobody could have spotted a visible difference. The fact that this culture was “under attack”, that their traditions were being overwritten against their will by the “politically correct” people of the day, meant that they responded by pushing back and taking out their frustrations on guys like me. I was one of the lucky ones, I was big enough to protect myself and had a few friends, and after a few fights I was pretty much left alone by the bullies, but others weren’t so lucky and paid the price for progress. Looking back, I can see things with an adult’s eyes and know that the bullies were acting on motivations not so different from what’s motivating the “War on Christmas” uproar. Their status quo was changing, and they didn’t like it so they acted in order to maintain it; what was hazing then is not so different from the way Christian culture has been imposed in the past, and it’s easy to forget that at times when you’re celebrating the nice bits of the tradition. Is it really so hard to understand how those on the outside might feel about having reminders of their “other-ness” plastered all over every public space, especially in a country where everyone’s faith is supposed to be seen as equal?

Something tragically missing from the talk about the “War on Christmas” is any sort of recognition for what it’s like for people who aren’t part of the dominant religion/culture in society, except to dismiss them with pejorative terms like “Scrooge”, “Grinch” or “Politically Correct”, often with some reference to the Nazis or Gestapo, as if objecting to having public funds spent promoting one religion’s traditions over all others was something Hitler was a big supporter of. Anyone expressing discomfort at being pressured into participating with traditions that aren’t her own is just being oversensitive, or morally defective in some sinister way that means we should look down on her, because good, moral, upright citizens say “Merry Christmas”, not “Happy Holidays”. Telling people that they need to take part in celebrating the birth of a saviour they don’t believe in or face social repercussions and ostracism is hardly what I’d call in keeping with the Christmas spirit of love and sharing. When people stand up for themselves and assert their rights not to participate, have their children participate, or have their tax dollars pay for the traditions of a faith they don’t share, it’s not political correctness, it’s not being a Grinch, it’s standing on one of the rights our society claims it was built on, the right to freely follow your own conscience in religious matters, and to not be co-opted into the festivals of others as if it was the default for all.

Speaking of being co-opted, Christians, and particularly white Christians, have had their way in the public forum for a really long time, traditions are entrenched, and for some most importantly, an awful lot of money is made on this stuff. Christmas advertising starts at 11:59 Thanksgiving night in the States, and the shopping frenzy kicked off by Black Friday is something retailers and advertising executives have come to bank on every year. More than a threat to tradition, muddying the Christmas brand poses the greatest threat of all, which is why news outlets are paid by those advertisers to devote so much time and effort into shoring up the bulwarks of the shopping season against anyone who would dare to take Santa away from Coca-Cola’s marketing department or encourage consumers not to go out and buy the latest piece of shiny disposable plastic and glass being sold this year because the same thing in a different box didn’t make them happy last year. To my view, this is the real underpinning of the whole “war”, the desire to protect profits related to a brand, not anything to do with the birth of God’s son. If it really was about deep-rooted Christmas tradition, North American Christians would be encouraged to observe Advent, a solemn time of reflection and self-denial in preparation of the coming Christ, not an orgy of consumer feeding frenzies and company Christmas party excesses. The real threat posed by people standing up for themselves in the face of this merry monolith isn’t to a baby in a manger, it’s to the bottom line of the market, and that is why so much time and hand-wringing is devoted to this farce. By playing on the fears of a vocal minority of Christians and hammering further on the anxieties that come with social change, marketing has replaced theology, and the whole thing becomes just one more way we’re being played against each other for the profit of the people writing copy for news channels, politicians and ad companies.

The person wishing you a Happy Holiday isn’t spitting in your face, he’s meeting you half-way and greeting you as a person; any offense at such a greeting is a kind of stealing, taking something that wasn’t being offered to you. The person standing up for her right not to pay for your religious observance isn’t attacking you, she’s asking you to extend the same respect to her as you’d like given to you in such matters. It’s funny to watch the reactions of Oklahoma legislators after the consequences of their Ten Commandments monument came back to them in the form of Satanists and Hindus asking for equal representation in the public space. Well, I say funny, but in the sense that seeing hypocrisy come into full bloom is kind of amusing to watch as the mental gymnastics involved twist the speaker’s logic in elegant loops of special pleading and self-reference. Nothing any of the atheists, Satanists, or Hindus have done to take back their public spaces is an attack on any Christian’s right to celebrate their holiday; by all means, go to church, put up decorations, sing songs and be merry, just don’t do it in a way that hooks in people who don’t want to be included. Nobody is saying they want to ban Christmas or anything remotely of the kind, they just want to keep the public forum open to all, and unless you’re willing to pop up a Festivus pole and a Hanuman statue next to your Nativity down at city hall, maybe just enjoy it in your own churches and homes, the way you insist other faiths do with their holy days and traditions.

And maybe don’t buy quite so much plastic and glass crap you don’t actually need this year.