Canada’s mail ship is listing dangerously

Sometimes, I have to admire Deepak Chopra’s decision to take the helm of Canada Post. With all respect to Moya Greene, what he took over was a sinking ship with a striking crew. Still above water to be sure, but taking on water. The real challenge remains the corporation’s difficult relations with its staff. To continue the analogy, it is as if the captain and the crew, both of whom recognize that the ship it taking on water, can’t agree if they should plug the hole, man the pumps, or shut the watertight doors. Unable to agree, they end up pumping a bit, closing a few doors, and making the hole a bit smaller, but still continue to take on water. Meanwhile, the ship is still steaming through iceberg-infested water and more hits are to be expected. Now it isn’t my place to say who is right. I will point out that it seems close to impossible to find a solution that works for both management and labour.

Labour is Canada’s largest single expense, especially when the cost of maintaining an indexed pension is added into the formula. Management is bound to see that as a place where cuts must take place, while unions are expected to fight job cuts. Labour is represented by a union, which survives on union dues. Staff reductions, even if managed through attrition without actually sending anyone home, means fewer union dues. Because of their conflicting goals, the officers and the crew can’t agree on what to do, so conflict and struggle are inevitable. Some workers, close to retirement, can grab that lifeboat and get clear while the getting is good. In a way that is a shame, because while they argue and try to find a perfect answer, the ship is getting lower in the water. There are not enough lifeboats to go around, so if the ship sinks, both captain and crew will perish.

So let’s kill off a few of the misunderstandings. There may be a perception that Canada Post is a government operation and therefore has access to the public purse to cover losses. The truth is, if Canada Post needs money it has to borrow it, taking advantage of the credit history of its sole shareholder, the Government of Canada. The Crown corporation is governed by laws that limit how much borrowing is possible. If that runs out, things are going to break. Another myth is that Canada Post gets some form of government subsidy. Again, the taxpayers don’t pay to keep the infrastructure in place. Yet another myth is that postal workers are a bunch of lazy incompetents who have it easy. I have never worked for the post office, but I respect anyone who stands all day sorting mail, or who ventures out in terrible weather to walk door to door for hours delivering mail.

Here at Canadian Stamp News, we complain when it is too hot, or too wet, or too cold to comfortably scoot a few feet to a nearby store. But every day someone walks in here and delivers mail. There is also the idea that Canada Post management is comprised of a bunch of fat cats who don’t care about the workers. Most of them are struggling to make things work in a difficult situation. Managers or workers, people are just people. What does all this mean for the future of postal service? My prediction is that management and labour will continue to struggle to reach some sort of agreement, while the ship settles lower and lower into the water. If I could write the ending, I would have the Government of Canada wake up and realize that delivering the mail is an essential service that should cost money, not a luxury or a profit centre. Then negotiations can be about what levels of service Canadians have a right to expect in the future, and what that should rightly cost. A functioning postal service is something we all need, from coast to coast to coast.

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