Is Canada Post obsolete?
And have the rotating strikes of unionized postal workers, followed by management’s decision to lock them out across the country, hastened its final, inevitable death throes in the paperless, Internet age?
The answer to the first question in my opinion is no. And the answer to the second is maybe, especially if the big-city mentality that seems to control so much that goes on in our lives, including at the highest levels of government decision-making, chooses to think so and puts those thoughts into action.
How? Oh, let’s say by breaking Canada Post up and privatizing it, selling it off in bits and pieces to the highest bidder to help the Conservative government pay off its multi-billion dollar deficit as promised by 2014.
Sound outrageous? It should, because it is if it ever happens. To those of us who have been around for more than two or three decades the government-run or owned postal service has been practically synonymous with the concept of an “essential government service.” But, make no mistake, the idea of privatizing Canada Post is being discussed at the highest levels of the new majority Conservative government in Ottawa. It is after all a right-wing, conservative regime with the guiding principle that small government is best, and whatever the private sector can do, rather than government, is also best.
There are no sacred cows. Everything is on the table, though the idea of privatizing Canada Post may be bantered around more playfully than seriously. It may be a long-shot; privatizing the CBC is probably a lot higher up on the Harper government priority list. But I’d also be willing to bet someone in the Prime Minister’s office, perhaps even the PM himself, has already asked provocatively, “Why Not?” about Canada Post. That’s especially if falling postal revenues threaten Canada Post’s ability to pay its own way.
A majority government practically giddy with long-awaited power and little regard for Parliament will only live in fear of a massive outrage of public opinion, especially one that might persist to the next election.
Canada Post is one of those things people love to hate. It’s widely regarded, along with its unionized postal workers, as a fat cat. Few will bother to find out more about the issues underlying the labour dispute before passing judgement.
Meanwhile, some news reports out of Toronto, highlighted comments from people on the street who said they “hardly noticed” the postal disruption because they do all their messaging and business on-line. But buried in the body of a story, in the Toronto Sun, for example, were the worries of a mail-order business owner. The “hipsters” may regard Canada Post as obsolete, he said, but he depends on its relatively lower rates for parcel delivery.
What needs to be remembered outside Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and other big cities is Canada is a big country with many people who live in rural and/or remote areas. And there are still places in Canada where private delivery companies don’t go and probably wouldn’t want to go because it wouldn’t be profitable.
We may be a minority in small-town, rural Canada but we still regard the local post office as an integral part of our community, even if we sometimes have a love-hate relationship with Canada Post. We have a similar attitude toward “the weatherman,” though we still organize our lives around Environment Canada Weather forecasts.
Yes, I know, our attachment to Canada Post is a generational thing, a sentimental thing even. Going to the local post office, or out to the mailbox, to pick up the mail is part of our daily ritual. It was the most important event of the day for at least one elderly man I knew well.
That will pass, I suppose, as that generation passes. But for a long time yet people in rural Canada will fight tooth and nail to keep their local government-owned post office, like they fight to keep their local schools or hospitals.
Originally published in The Sun Times in 2011.