Canada Post’s long-running vanishing act

The edifice must fall, though this seems unfortunate given the size of the mailbox

The edifice must fall, though this seems unfortunate given the size of the mailbox

Canada Post and I have been playing this game of “now you see me, now you don’t” ever since a letter carrier lost his marbles some years back and emptied the contents of his bag – which included two rather significant items addressed to moi – into the Petitcodiac River before dematerializing, never again to be spied in these parts.

At least that’s how the story – authentic or apocryphal – goes.

Naturally, the guy’s fate became the subject of much speculation around the neighborhood. Some said he had headed west to run a roadside diner along Provincial Highway 63, just outside Fort McMurray. Others insisted he had signed aboard a fishing boat in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Whatever became of him, we agreed, it had to have been more agreeable than delivering the mail.

As for me, ever since his disappearance, I’ve taken care to scrutinize his successors, of which there have been many.

I usually start by commenting on the weather, and gauging the response.

If the carrier remarks, “Oh you bet it’s frigid, but winter doesn’t last forever,” I grin and return to my work.

If, on the other hand, he starts shaking and ranting about his dental plan, which doesn’t cover the cost of removing the microphones the NSA installed in his mouth, I retreat slowly and, when the coast is clear, dash out to rent a box at the local post office.

It is stunningly good to know that I will not be needing to perform this semi-regular ritual for much longer.

Citing rising costs and dwindling demand, Canada Post has announced that it is phasing out home delivery service in urban centers. By 2019, you and I will have to fetch our own letters, magazines, cheques, bills and summonses by trundling down to one of many neighborhood boxes, the type you see littering the landscape of suburbia.

And I say: That’s fine by me.

Unlike many of my fellow citizens – who, I am certain, will shortly flood this newspaper’s editorial offices with outraged screeds and mournful odes to loss – I do not possess a single, sentimental bone in my body when it comes to Canada Post.

Lest we forget, this is the organization that introduced “Postal Transformation”,   an initiative its website described a few years ago, as a “multi-year program that includes major investments in equipment, technology and processes that will provide reach and access to our customers, across both physical and electronic channels, more targeted communications and opportunities to build customer relationships.”

Within weeks of its implementation, however, the transformation seemed dead on arrival as customers screamed about late delivery and even no delivery. So furious was one Moncton city councillor, he pilloried Canada Post in print, declaring that if it can’t function efficiently, it should be privatized. “This is a serious issue,” Pierre Boudreau said. “It affects the economic well being of our citizens and our businesses. There is no justification – none – for having a letter mailed from Moncton, to Moncton, arriving 10 days or more later.”

Fortunately, service recovered. But Canada Post’s bigger problem is that it is rapidly becoming irrelevant in a world where, increasingly, vital transactions occur over the Internet. Nowadays, even email is often considered passe, as texting and social media communications platforms proliferate. The post office? What’s that gramps?

The sad fact is, the volume of mail in Canada has been dropping by an average of four per cent a year since the beginning of the century. Over the past four years, alone, the annualized decline has been closer to 10 per cent.

Beyond this, Canada Post’s responses to its challenges have always seemed oddly retrograde. The idea that any organization can improve financial performance and the quality of service by making it harder for people receive their service in a timely fashion is, frankly, insane.

Speaking directly about the corporation’s latest home-delivery gambit, former Canada Post CEO Michael Warren told The Globe and Mail last week, “This is a very risky strategy to go very hard on service cuts. . .and then hope that’s going to give you a short-term fix for your borrowing and pension-plan obligations.

Ultimately, this may be the last phase of a game Canada Post has been playing with itself, lo these many years: Now you see it, now you don’t.

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