What does the postal review really mean?

The decision to hold an third-party review of Canada Post is probably the first really good idea about postal transformation in a long time.

From the perspective of Canadian philatelists, this is a fascinating period of postal reform, with the way our mail is routed, processed and handled at the core, along with rate structures and even the future of postage stamps.

The task is not enviable. The year-long process will attempt to juggle the sometimes competing interests of unionized workers, Canada Post, business, and of course, individual Canadians. That isn’t going to be easy, but it’s a lot more than Canadians have been offered in a long time.

Certain things are undeniable. Traditional letter-mail is dropping more and more each year, Canada Post is a huge company with a large workforce and an expensive benefits package to retain, relations between the corporation and its unionized members is difficult at best, and increased online business has boosted parcel delivery. That’s about all we know for sure.

Canada Post, which created its five-point plan in private, and then went through a process that was less consulting with customers than it was pitching its own message, has been committed its own goals. To me, it appears to be a form of downsizing that will see a small number of large plants sorting mail and Canadians picking up and delivering their mail to centralized points convenient for Canada Post first and foremost. Personally, I suspect the plan would see most corporate post offices replaced by revenue post offices, and most pickup and delivery being done by contractors rather than traditional postal workers. I’m not saying it’s bad, or that Canada Post officials were not doing the best they could. I’m just saying that the corporate mind was made up and the Crown corporation’s message to Canadians, politicians, and even the media has always been the same: “give us what we want or be prepared to support us with tax dollars.”

I’ve personally always been cynical about Canada Post’s financial reports. I always wondered why the corporation went from running in the red before the plan was approved, to running in the black after, and then back in the red when the plan was halted. I know that there have been property sales and transfers of pension funds that complicate matters. But it does make me wonder.

The union has also been sending a consistent message. It believes Canada Post is revealing only part of its long term plan, and that postal banking will be all it takes to turn the postal service into a cash cow.

As a union, its focus has to be on retaining jobs and seeking wages and benefits; that’s just the way the world works.

Then there are Canadians who actually use the mail. Until now they have not had a chance to voice their opinions in a way that really matters.

I do believe Judy Foote, the minister who created the task force, is sincere in seeking a transparent and participative process.

She is not committed to expanding home delivery, and while she seems to think it will be retained in some form, she’s prepared to see home delivery drop to just one or two days a week, if that is what the Canadian public wants.

The task force will also look at other products and services, both existing and potential. That means Canada Post could be put into the banking business again, perhaps adding cheque cashing, and telephone and Internet services as well. We could make an argument that a government-owned postal banking system would offer an alternative to third-party cheque-cashing services, which are often the only banking option for marginalized parts of society.

For stamp collectors, this is an opportunity to speak up about the use of postage stamps.

The philatelic market is small compared with the population of Canada, but who else buys stamps that they will never use, often already cancelled, and pays to have them shipped inside other letters?

Collectors can speak their minds later in the year, during the public consulting process; they can also contact their members of Parliament. They can also participate today by going to the website canada.ca/canadapostreview.

Personally, I think we should do all three. The government has promised to listen and we should hold them to that promise.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and if collectors are silent, people will think they just don’t care.

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