A new Canada Post initiative is the first step in a dramatic change in the way Canadian mail is handled. As part of its plans to redefine itself, the Crown corporation has launched an online forum for Canadians to join a national conversation that will help shape future postal services. The launch of the public forum follows the April 23 release of a Conference Board of Canada report entitled “The Future of Postal Services in Canada.” The report projects Canada Post may lose more than $600 million a year by 2020 as a result of relentless declines in letter-mail volumes. The report, which was commissioned by Canada Post, was made public around the same time as the corporation’s 2012 annual report, which showed a modest profit as a result of non-cash adjustments to labour costs.
However, without those adjustments, which were the result of a new collective agreement, Canada Post would have lost $54 million. In the report, Canada Post president Deepak Chopra said the decline in both letter-mail and ad-mail volumes, accelerated by fast Internet connections and smart devices, means that “we must fundamentally rethink our business.” The report suggests that the volume of mail will drop by a further 25 per cent in the next seven years. It noted that almost half of all Canadian households mail no more than two pieces of mail a month. Looking to the future, the board suggested that even implementing a 10 per cent increase in postage fees per year would still see losses of hundred of millions of dollars. The report outlined a number of cost-cutting measures but did not make any recommendations. For example, freezing wages would stabilize losses, but that’s just not going to happen.
The options would likely meet some resistance. Other suggestions include alternate-day delivery for mail, eliminating door-to-door delivery, closing all corporate post offices and replacing them with franchises, and reducing the service standard for speed of delivery by one day. The irony is that not one of those options, taken alone, would be enough to make up for the losses expected. In other words, we are probably looking at more than one initiative. Some options seem pretty obvious: reducing the standard of delivery would probably not cause much hassle, and closing all corporate post offices would simply accelerate something that has been going on for years. Together these two could save a bit less than $300 million a year, but that’s still not enough.
Stopping door-to-door delivery would save an estimated $576 million. The report points out that two-thirds of Canadians don’t get the mail delivered to their house already, and as I noted the savings are huge. That would mean the only mail delivered to your door would be parcels, at least for now. It makes sense, since Canada Post’s largest expenses are labour-related, and home delivery is a labour-intensive operation. The impact on collectors would be huge. Fewer and fewer real post offices would make it harder to purchase commemorative stamps over the counter. Even more importantly, the lack of corporate post offices would also mean an end to hand-back services, gentle cancels, and probably on-site pictorial cancels. From the perspective of postal history, the entire system of sorting, handling, and delivering mail, is bound to go through what may be the biggest change in several generations.
The new forum is an effort by Canada Post to seek the views of average Canadians on how to transform the business in order to meet their current and future needs. Those average Canadians include members of the stamp-collecting community. You can participate in two ways. You can submit your comments on the Canada Post website (www.canadapost.ca) and click on “The Future of Canada Post,” or you can write to The Future of Canada Post, 2701 Riverside Dr., Suite N0800, Ottawa, ON K1A 0B1. Future generations of postal historians will be studying this time closely. It would be a shame if they concluded that the present generation of collectors didn’t speak their minds.