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.