Save Our Community Mailboxes!

“On the streets of Montreal, 100,000 residents marched banging pots and pans to draw attention to the removal of door-to-door mail delivery in their neighbourhoods”

IMG_1553web___Content.jpgI am sure you remember the above headline well – No?  - Perhaps because the above event never happened.  During the election campaign we heard about jobs, the economy, C51 and many other topics; but not in any debate, did anyone mention Canada Post. Of course there was the “Save Canada Post” campaign (with signs) but that of course was organized by the ‘Canadian Union of Postal Workers’ hardly an impartial body.

Now don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the loss when learning that you will lose door-to-door delivery. In 1994, I Immigrated to Canada and got to experience Canada Post for the first time as opposed to the Royal Mail (the English equivalent). Disappointing enough to learn that the Queen was no longer delivering my mail; I was shocked to find that I didn’t get door-to-door delivery twice a day; that I didn’t get deliveries on Saturdays; that mail wasn’t picked up at least 3 times a day from the mailbox; and that I couldn’t mail a letter at 5pm on Monday and expect it would be on someone’s doorstep by 9am Tuesday. Trust me, I went through all the steps of loss, Immobilization, Anger, Denial, Depression – You name it, I experienced it.

Of course this loss, is not restricted to mail service.  I remember when we lost our daily milk bottles on the front step; the farmer who brought us eggs every Friday night in a brown bag; and the pop truck (well it was a lorry to me) that delivered our favorite drinks every week (mine being Dandelion and Burdock – not for the feint hearted). What is also notable about each of these services is that they recycled, whether milk bottles, egg cartons or pop bottles.

Each of these door-to-door services was mourned in turn, with some resistance especially on the milk front, but in time each faded away. What is interesting here is what replaced these services – How many people buy their milk at their ‘community’ corner store? How many people get their eggs at the ‘community’ grocer? Yes, there are exceptions especially in rural neighbourhoods and with specialty shops, but the vast majority of Canadians drive ten minutes in their car to a supermarket to stock up on these products. We have the choice of a local community shop, yet we choose the major chain grocery conglomerate. And why? – Of course at the end of the day it comes down to price; Canadians like in many other countries have decided with their feet that the benefit of door-to-door delivery does not warrant the cost.

images-7.jpegAnd here lies the beautiful irony, those of us that are staunchly against the rise of the supermarket behemoths and prefer to shop at our local ‘community’ butcher or delicatessen or general store are the same individuals who are utterly opposed to the idea of another community service in terms of mailboxes. Door-to-door delivery is an essential service! - So let’s look at this essential service in detail.

If you are like me, you likely get three types of mail delivery:

First are the bills, funny that we should be fighting for something that everyone says they hate to see in the mail! That being said, bills and other communication primarily from our financial institutions certainly make up a bulk of the mail. The truth is that this communication is in sharp decline as more and more bills go online; even the Canada Revenue Agency is getting in on the act. As a traditionalist, I still like my paper credit card statements, if only to remind me to pay them on time, but I am sure I would be hard pressed to find a millennial that doesn’t receive all the same communication electronically.

Second are the occasion cards from birthdays to the holidays; these are also in steady decline. I still send Christmas cards to friends I haven’t seen in fifteen years, yet none of my closest friends today receive the same. As the price of a Hallmark card seems to rise exponentially higher, the number of cards we send is only likely to decline.

Third is the junk mail – Yes JUNK! That’s what fills my mailbox every week, grocery flyers and the like; that for most of my fellow residents move directly from their mailbox to the trash (thankfully WE recycle). Mail delivery is the only door-to-door service that doesn’t recycle but in fact is one of the most environmentally unfriendly services there is.  And there is another irony, as it is only the flyers (unaddressed Admail as Canada Post calls is) that make the service viable, without them Canada Post would likely be deeply in the red.

What about seniors, I hear you cry, it’s a lifeline. Indeed, many seniors are too isolated and this is going to be an exploding cause for concern as the baby boomer’s retire. Yet, for those who are immobile or struggle in winter conditions, I am far less concerned about whether they have mail and far more concerned who is delivering milk and eggs and ensuring that they have enough warmth, health care and real human interaction. 

Canada Post has been a poor partner in rolling out community mailboxes; they have failed to listen to local needs and concerns and have practiced questionable quality control during the installation of the boxes. One might even wonder how committed to community mailboxes Canada Post really is? The truth is that real, useful, mail is in a spiraling decline that cannot be stopped; more and more Canadians visit their boxes on a less frequent basis; this story does not have a happy ending. 

Last week, Canada Post halted their conversion to community boxes in established neighbourhoods (not of course in new subdivisions). It’s widely believed that a quiet word from our new Prime Minister – Elect put a halt to new installations, but did it? Notably, Canada Post has no plans to resume service to any household who moved to community boxes during the current conversion. Canada Post as public enemy #1 has put the decision squarely in the hands of the new government; the government has promised a full review.

So what choices is the government left with?  It’s inconceivable that any government would introduce door-to-door delivery to the two thirds of the population that don’t have it today. So will those who have lost this service be reinstated? Will the majority of Canadians be forced to subsidize a minority who based on where they live will continue to receive service? Will those who recently lost the service be reinstated but not those who live in new subdivisions? Will home delivery be saved but at a vastly increased cost per letter? There is a reason the new government only promised to review the situation; but they are left with an unenviable decision. Canada Post has neatly passed the buck.

images-6.jpegWhile we fight over community mailboxes, Canada Post has quietly introduced ‘FlexDelivery’ the ability to have your online purchases sent to a Post Office of your choice. It’s convenient and secure delivery and what’s even better they proclaim ‘it’s free’. Canada Post has moved on, just like you deliver milk and eggs, it won’t be long before you’ll be delivering your own mail from your own friendly ‘Shopper’s Drug Mart’ Post Office or the like. One day we might wish we had saved our community mailboxes!

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