Regular readers will know that I have been talking about postal transformation for years. Actually, the fact that traditional postal services were changing was one of the first things I noticed a dozen years ago. Back then I had never heard the phrase postal transformation, but I could see that the volume of first-class mail was dropping, and that stamp sales were becoming more and more commercialized. I also saw that government-run post offices, with tenured staff, Cadillac benefit packages, and indexed pensions, were going to break down. Since then I have written about labour unrest, rural delivery, the universal service obligation, first-class monopoly, and even home delivery.
All these are things my generation took for granted growing up, but which may seem as archaic as buggy whips to the next generation. This issue has a few letters to the editor, two of them dealing with this very subject. One letter writer, recognizing the need for postal reform, urges Canada Post to be open to new and innovative ideas. He seems to imply that the corporation really wants affirmation rather than new ideas. Canada Post is a big corporation, one of Canada’s largest, which means it has a huge amount of momentum. Changing its course quickly would be like trying to slalom the Titanic around an iceberg; it just doesn’t work that way.
The other letter writer implies that the new trend to mega-issues, such as the Grey Cup stamp anthology, actually discourages new collectors more than it encourages. That may have some truth as well. Putting together a complete set of the personalized postage-based commemorative, using different images and orientations, as well as values, is a significant undertaking. To be honest, I found it hard enough just to calculate the math for the number of issues, let alone the estimated cost. At the same time, we have Canada Post offering a new service that seems more interested in getting rid of unsold inventory than in serving customer needs.
If the Crown corporation really wanted to make life easier for collectors, it would install a cheap point-of-sale system at each philatelic counter, where customers could browse inventory by looking at scanned images of actual stamps, place their order, print out the order form, and then pay a smiling clerk who would process the order and ensure that inventory and delivery information were correct. That wouldn’t do away with the need to show off a few pretty items; after all, collectors collect stamps – not pictures of stamps – but inventory could be small. For a relatively modest fee, the corporation could offer rush service.
All of this would cost almost nothing. I am sure that there are plenty of computers sitting around post offices across the country, there are already clerks behind counters, and almost the entire delivery infrastructure is in place already, thanks to the universal service obligation. Of course, that isn’t what is happening. What I see is a corporation that while begging for public input, is still moving along a predetermined path. Post offices are closing, never to be reopened, sorting is being moved to fewer and fewer centralized facilities, and more and more Canadians are being sent to centralized clusters of mailboxes. Not because we want it, but because Canada Post decided that was what we would get, long before they ever made a pretense of asking our opinions.