How Canada Post’s changes will affect you

One of the chores on my domestic to-do list was a respray of my dingy-looking black mailbox. Looks like I won't need to do that, now. Canada Post will stop delivering mail to my front door sometime in the next five years.

We've heard the rationale behind the Crown corporation's drastic plans to transition the remaining households still getting home delivery– about a third of the 15 million homes it reaches – to community mailboxes.

On top of that, they're jacking up the price of a first-class stamp by about one-third, to $1 from 63 cents, though you get a 15-cent discount if you buy a pack.

The well-worn rationale for these drastic moves centre on Canada Post's continuing losses as more personal and business communication migrates to the web and the burden of funding a pension plan that's billions of dollars under water.

The Conference Board of Canada's report earlier this year said current trends point to Canada Post, and by extension the federal government, staring at a $1-billion deficit by 2020.

That's fine as far as it goes. But I can't escape the feeling the Conservative government, which shut down Parliament for the holidays the day before the announcement and responded only with a news release endorsing the plan, is in for a tsunami-sized backlash as it heads into the 2015 federal election.

[ Related: Locked Canada Post community mailboxes aren’t as secure as you think ]

While people can be cheesed off by things like the Senate scandal or military-contract boondoggles, they're more likely to remember things that hit them where they live. It's hard to think of something that's closer to home than mail delivery.

Reaction began to roll in after the initial shock of the announcement wore off.

"When I saw this news, I figured, 'oh my gosh, the poor seniors,'" Sister Norma Gallant, president of the P.E.I. Seniors Federation, told CBC News.

"Some of them with limited mobility, some of them in the winter time, even if they have good mobility, with ice and snow having to leave their home to go to a central place. Although it's not very far, it's still a problem for them."

The Conservatives, artful practitioners of wedge politics, risk angering a large and growing constituency of dedicated older voters.

Small business, many of whom depend on snail mail for billing, payment and advertising, are expecting to be hit hard by the postage increase.

“These are not small hikes,” Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, told the Toronto Star. “For most small business, postal service is still relatively important.”

Canada Post said businesses that use postage meters would see postage increase to only 75 cents, amounting to an average range of $55 to $200 a year for small- to medium-sized mail users, the Star said.

Regardless, the Conservatives risk alienating yet another voter group they covet.

[ Related: Canada Post cuts urban door-to-door delivery in major strategy shift ]

While legislation officially created Canada’s uniform postal system back in 1868, the service made its debut much earlier than that. The first Canadian post office opened in 1753 in Halifax, linking... more 
While legislation officially created Canada’s uniform postal system back in 1868, the service made its debut much earlier than that. The first Canadian post office opened in 1753 in Halifax, linking the Atlantic colonies with Britain. REUTERS/Chris Wattie less 
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Reuters | Photo By CHRIS WATTIE / REUTERS
Wed, 11 Dec, 2013 2:46 PM EST

Then there's the do-gooders. Charitable groups and non-profit organizations were blind-sided when, simultaneous to the announcement, Canada Post froze the sale of permanent stamps that carry no denomination, presumably to pre-empt a buying frenzy in advance of next March's postage hike.

Mass mailings are an important component of fundraising and higher mailing costs will cut into revenues.

"We rely on donations every day to continue to do our work," Anne Silverman of the Shepherds of Good Hope, told CBC News. "So the cost of doing business for us is going to increase greatly."

One of the aspects that concerns me most is the security of those communal mailboxes.

Canada Post has not released statistics on how often thieves break into them, but CBC News reported that documents it obtained under access-to-information legislation found almost 5,000 incidents of theft, damaged or opened mailboxes since 2008.

The Vancouver Sun reported in April that British Columbia, which has more than 20,000 so-called superboxes, has the highest theft rate in Canada. Some victims in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey reported having their boxes hit several times.

Canada Post told the Sun it has been retrofitting boxes in high-crime areas with better locks and anti-pry bars.

If you've moved into a home since community boxes became the norm in new housing developments, you'd be angry if your box got rifled. If you'd lost your home delivery, you'll probably curse Canada Post and the government that sanctioned the change.

The disappearance of your local mail carrier has another less tangible effect. As Star columnist Joe Fiorito noted, posties are another set of eyes watching over the neighbourhood.

"The benefit of his presence is a daily, and a priceless peripheral good: my street is safer — and more human — with him than without," Fiorito, who's dad was a carrier, wrote.

"A couple of years ago, I attended the funeral of a postie in Toronto; afterward, drinks and stories flowed. Turns out this guy once saved a woman’s life while he was on his rounds — her door was open, he saw her on the floor and called an ambulance.

"How do you replace that?"

[ Related: 6 myths and realities about Canada Post ]

"Carriers have long been an informal but important component of the community support network," the Victoria Times Colonist echoed in its editorial about the changes.

"As they make their regular rounds, they notice if something irregular occurs. Lives have been saved because caring mail carriers noticed something amiss.

"That doesn’t figure into calculations of revenues and costs, but it should."

It won't though. This is about the bean-counters. There's no doubt Canada Post is bleeding mailb0x-red ink and something must be done.

But is it this?

As the Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson points out, forcing your customer to pay more for crappier service is not a winning business model.

So back to my original question: Will you remember this come election time?

Yes, despite the fact most of us rely less and less on Canada Post's services.

"But nothing gets people more riled up than having something they are accustomed to taken from them," Simpson wrote. "They can also get very irritated at paying much more to maintain a service they already receive."

That five-year transition to community boxes will still be underway when Canadians go to the polls.