What appears to be a "major miscommunication" amongst Canada Post officials is casting doubt on Deer Island as to whether the Crown corporation did enough to save the Leonardville post office, according to the chair of the West Isles Local Service District.
Chair Sheena Young says Canada Post appears to be confused as to when the Leonardville postmaster retired and the level of community consultation that took place before it made the decision to close the office. She's drawn that conclusion based on email correspondence she has received from the corporation.
On June 5, Young wrote an email expressing her disbelief about the timeline for closing the post office to Tim Blizzard, Canada Post's director of operations for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
In an email provided to the Telegraph-Journal, Blizzard wrote back to Young, telling her that when the island's postmaster retired at the end of April 2022, "Canada Post initiated our established staffing process and explored every avenue to find a replacement in Leonardville."
He also noted that local area manager Rod Aussant met with Young on March 29, and following that meeting, Canada Post attempted to staff the position. When that effort failed, Aussant followed up with an LSD representive and "determined that community mailboxes would provide the most efficient and reliable alternative to a retail postal outlet located further away," according to Blizzard.
But Young says she did not meet with Aussant and the LSD representative Canada Post spoke to was no longer a representative on the LSD. On top of that, she says the Leonardville postmaster retired in July 2021 – not April 2022 – and the replacement postmaster ultimately quit because she couldn't afford the rental cost of being a postmaster.
"Unfortunately, it has taken Mr. Blizzard weeks to collect facts of which the truth was not told," Young wrote in a response email back to Blizzard. "He was able to compose a great tale of how Canada Post tried their best, but in fact, Canada Post has let the people of Deer Island down."
In an interview this week, Young says she's still waiting on answers from Canada Post as to why the corporation appears to have waited to start a recruitment search when the replacement postmaster gave notice of leaving in February. Young also offered to use her property as the community post office, but she says she was turned away as it was said to be 500 metres outside the Leonardville village line.
The Telegraph-Journal put questions about the discrepancies to Canada Post Thursday, but did not receive a response as of press time Friday. In a previous emailed statement this week, Canada Post spokesperson Phil Legault said the company "communicated and consulted with the community and their representatives regarding their post office and postal services" over a two-month period starting in March when the postmaster provided their retirement notice.
"The post office has been kept open after the postmaster’s retirement with a term employee," Legault wrote in the email, noting the post office was set to close Friday after both an internal and external search for replacement candidates was unsuccessful.
"We met again at the end of May with community representatives advising that the search for a postmaster was unsuccessful. It was determined then to close the post office and install community mailboxes at the Leonardville Community Hall," Legault said.
New Brunswick Southwest MP John Williamson says the hiring process was rushed and the community was not consulted as it should have been by Canada Post, noting the consultation with the current LSD chair did not happen and instead the corporation spoke to a former LSD representative.
"Wires got crossed," Williamson said. "And that is the problem."
"It would be like someone coming to my riding, speaking with a former member of the parliament."
Candidates turned away, email suggests
As for the recruitment process, in an email obtained by the Telegraph-Journal, Alexandra Hunt, labour relations officer for Canada Post, confirmed two applicants were ineligible for the Leonardville position because they lived outside of a 50-kilometre radius of the community. Another applicant who was interviewed "did not have the competencies to fulfill the postmaster position," the email further states.
Jacqueline Mingo, president of the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association (CPAA) Maritime branch, says it's possible the two applicants who were deemed ineligible were trying to make a move to the island through the job.
"(Canada Post) didn't really push it because if they were really wanting to keep it open, maybe they would have re-posted the job again," she said.
A federal moratorium is in place protecting rural post offices from closure, and the Leonardville post office is on that list, according to Williamson. He said the only way the Crown corporation can get around it is by not being able to staff the post office.
A Canada Post retail counter – which is staffed by employees hired by a store owner, not Canada Post – remains on Deer Island, but Mingo said if the store owner decides to close it down, islanders will have to take a ferry to the post office on the mainland.
"These places are not guaranteed," she said. "Across Canada retail counters close all the time. Canada Post can pull out of that agreement anytime with the store or the store could pull out anytime."
Williamson says he's having conversations with Canada Post at multiple levels to look into the community consultation process and the recruitment process once again. In his estimation, proper consultation did not happen in the community, and the process was rushed in a way that disadvantaged the community in and around Leonardville.
"Not the end of the story," Williamson said of Canada Post's decision. "I am pushing for a review."
Rhythm Rathi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal