Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canada Post's dead-letter day

Crown to cut door-to-door delivery

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When Canada Post announced Wednesday it plans to end home delivery, letter carrier Arlyn Doran was frustrated. Not at the potential loss of his job but the loss of what he sees as a golden opportunity.

"There's such an opportunity to have a public service and work for the community instead of shrinking it into something that's a shell of what it was," said the West End letter carrier.

"It'll probably get bought up by a big private company," said Doran, who's been a letter carrier for eight years.

"Where the company is generating revenue it's shrinking its business instead of trying to grow it. We go to every house, every day. No other company in Canada does that," he said. "We could be delivering groceries and medication" to shut-ins instead of cutting off their home delivery altogether.

On one of the coldest, busiest days of the year for the post office and two weeks before Christmas, the Crown corporation delivered a lump of coal to its carriers: a plan to phase out home delivery service in the next five years and replace it with community mailboxes.

About 6,000 to 8,000 positions will be eliminated during that time period, mainly through attrition, Canada Post said. The postal service expects nearly 15,000 employees to retire or leave the company in the next five years.

Rapid technology changes have reduced Canadians' reliance on the postal service, making the traditional daily check for the letter drop almost unnecessary in 2013. Bill payments are made online, couriers deliver parcels and, at this time of year, email inboxes are more likely than mailboxes to be overflowing with Christmas greetings.

The financial situation for Canada Post has been poor for years as the Crown corporation tried to maintain a profitable business processing fewer letters, even as the number of Canadian addresses grew by about 200,000 locations each year.

In 2012, only about one-third of Canadians, or nearly 5.1 million people, received mail delivery to their door, costing an average of $283 per year for each address, Canada Post's annual report shows.

The rest of Canadians either visit a central location, such as an apartment lobby, community mailbox, rural mailbox or delivery facility, which cost the corporation significantly less.

Winnipeg boasts one of the higher rates of home delivery in Canada, with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers estimating letter carriers serve 70 per cent or more of all homes in the city.

Canada Post also plans to increase the price of a stamp by 35 per cent to 85 cents when purchased in a booklet, starting March 31. Stamps that are purchased individually will cost $1 each.

Aside from the reduction in employees, the postal service expects to save $700 million to $900 million each year.

In the third quarter, Canada Post reported an improved, but still big, pre-tax loss of $109 million for the period ended Sept. 28. The pre-tax loss in the comparable period a year ago was $145 million.

Canada will become one of the few countries in the world without door-to-door mail delivery.

Less than 15 per cent of the global population has to go to a postal establishment to collect mail, said Rheal LeBlanc, spokesman for the Universal Postal Union, in an email to the Free Press.

The Universal Postal Union is a 192-member organization that co-ordinates international mail delivery.

Canada Post said it will start making the changes next year, with the first neighbourhoods being converted to community mailboxes in mid-2014.

"Canada Post has begun to post significant financial losses," it said in the announcement. "If left unchecked, continued losses would soon jeopardize its financial self-sufficiency and become a significant burden on taxpayers and customers."

On Wednesday, Ottawa announced new regulations that relieve Canada Post from making special payments to reduce its $5.9-billion pension solvency deficit. Canada Post would have to make $1 billion in solvency payments next year.

The announcement doesn't sit well with the local president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which has 650 members providing urban delivery service in Winnipeg and southern Manitoba. "There's quite a bit of disappointment," said Ben Zorn.

The union found out Wednesday about the plan to eliminate home delivery through a news release, said Zorn.

"We're nowhere near having an understanding of what that might mean in terms of reduction in the number of positions," Zorn said. "I've yet to hear anything officially from the employer."

"We still have home delivery in the city of Selkirk, Portage la Prairie and Brandon and other parts of southwestern Manitoba," said Zorn. "A very large portion of our mail-delivery members are delivering door to door," he said.

The news of the end to home delivery is disappointing, but not a surprise, to the postal union.

"We're not at all shocked," said Zorn.

"Canada Post has been dropping quite broad hints for quite some time that this is the direction they wanted to go." What's odd is the decision to end home delivery after investing in new facilities and vehicles.

"With fewer employees, presumably there will be a need for less physical real estate. With a reduced level of carriers, there will be a reduced need for vehicles."

"People would hope the company would be looking at ways to expand service and build up the company rather than shrinking it," Zorn said.

"They're cutting their own throats," said Dorothy Dobbie, president of Pegasus Publishing in Winnipeg. "You've got robot-helicopters dropping off packages at people's homes and what's Canada Post doing? It's running itself out of business," said the businesswoman and former Tory MP.

But instead of taking advantage of it, Canada Post is eliminating home delivery in favour of community postal boxes, she said.

"Some of these parcels aren't going to fit into the postbox," she said.


-- with files from The Canadian Press

How will not getting mail delivery to your door make a difference in your life? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Archival video: Canada Post's busiest day of the year: Dec. 13, 2012

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 12, 2013 A3


Updated on Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 6:34 AM CST: Adds question for discussion

7:26 AM: adds video

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