Canada Post is promising changes at Iqaluit's post office, but Iqalummiut can forget about home mail delivery or a single, larger post office facility coming any time soon.
The corporation, facing mounting pressure as wait times grow and winter sets in, says it isn't just delivering "lip service" this holiday season. And Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell — a longtime critic of Canada Post — is optimistic the community should start seeing a difference very soon.
Along with the extended hours and additional staff customers expect around Christmas, the corporation's general manager of government and community affairs says, fundamentally, they're trying to find a solution to systematically change how mail is delivered in Iqaluit.
In the short term, Chad Schella says Canada Post is looking at how it can make it easier for post office staff to find parcels, thereby reducing the wait times — in which customers are sometimes waiting up to an hour in line to pick up mail.
If all the things we're working on don't result in a better experience for our customers, don't result in better service, then we would have failed. - Chad Schella, Canada Post's general manager of government and community affairs
"It's just doing it differently than the way we've done it and the way we do it in other communities. Because everything is flown in, we're looking at how we can pre-sort a lot of this stuff so that it then doesn't have to be resorted when it gets to Iqaluit," said Schella.
"He's been very good," Bell said of Schella, noting a stark difference in the level of communication between Canada Post and the city than in previous years.
"He told us a bunch of things, and then things were changing. I do feel like they're trying."
The situation at Iqaluit's post office — namely long lines, staff shortages and parcel backlogs — became so dire that Canada Post brought together a special team from different departments specifically dedicated to coming up with solutions for Iqaluit. The group was formed this summer and has been "meeting weekly to help solve problems in the short term," Schella said.
"It's like putting together a puzzle. Every change you want to make has implications on four or five other pieces of our operation," Schella said.
'Nothing is off the table'
In the long term, Schella says the organization is trying to redesign a system — and facility — to replace a network the city has long outgrown.
Schella says Canada Post knows there aren't enough PO boxes (there are roughly 400 people on the wait list right now); it knows the demand on general delivery has "gone through the roof"; it knows going to two places to pick up mail is brutal; and it knows it doesn't have enough space and storage.
The trouble is trying to find a facility, and a mail-delivery system, that not only fits today's needs, but also anticipates future growth.
"We don't want to move into a facility that we're going to outgrow in a year or two from now, and we're back in the exact same situation," Schella said.
"So we are looking at the projections for not only the growth of Iqaluit, but for our own e-commerce volume growth and what patterns and projections we have."
"We understand how hard it is to find a location," Bell said, adding the city has "demanded" Canada Post operate in one location in order to improve service.
"We fought for and finally got our new city hall. It's not easy to have to get a new location."
Home delivery 'not an easy or simple fix'
While Schella says "nothing is off the table," home delivery is not an option under the current system.
Although the idea has been an opportunity private businesses in the city have jumped on, Schella said Iqaluit's civic addressing system makes it impossible for Canada Post to pursue.
"We'd have to ensure that there was municipal addressing in place so that every building had a designated physical address as well as a mailing address. And then that would have to match up with all of our systems and address management systems and everything that goes with it," Schella said.
"I don't know if I'm giving it justice or not, but that would not be an easy or simple fix to this solution."
Also at play is the fact Canada Post home delivery workers are represented by a different union than the workers at Iqaluit's post office. Although Schella said bringing in "parcel lockers" is also an idea being floated.
"I guess what I would ask for the community is for them to judge us by their experience, and that experience will hopefully improve," Schella said
"Because at the end of the day, if all the things we're working on don't result in a better experience for our customers, don't result in better service, then we would have failed. There's no question about it."