Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Oh, for the days of Pony Express!

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Hello Canada Post! How are you? I'm dropping you this note to say we haven't moved. We're still at the same address, in case you missed it. This winter has been brutal, but I wanted to be sure you knew we're here, waiting for our mail.

I was patient when I heard that the mail might be delivered every other day due to extreme weather conditions. That made sense in December. I wondered if anyone might drop me a note to explain. Then I noticed that my postal carrier had changed. I tried to meet the new person.

I tried to be friendly, but the postal carrier kept changing. Apparently, everyone hates our route. It has too many stairs and gates, amounting to a lot of extra steps. Nobody wants to deliver mail to these old houses in an established neighbourhood.

In the five years we've been here, we've had at least four carriers. A couple were friendly, greeting our twin infants with enthusiasm and guessing which packages contained baby gifts. The friendly guys understood there might be a delay when they rang the bell, as I diapered a kid or two. They waited before giving up and leaving a "pick up this package at the post office" slip. When I explained the effort involved in taking the double stroller to retrieve the package, often the postal carrier would pause, knowing I was at home.

Recently, even when our mail arrived, I'd also get those package slips. No one rang the doorbell or knocked. I was home. More than once, I raced out to the front porch, hollering at the mail man to wait! No one turned around. I had to wait two days to pick it up at the post office instead.

When I called Canada Post to ask the new mail carrier to knock at the door and wait a minute, the customer service person helped file a complaint. Then, I didn't get ANY mail for more than a week. Was this punishment for complaining?

Of course, then I heard the news. Canada Post would stop delivery altogether. Our mother's helper laughed. As she folded baby blankets and sheets, she suggested that infrequent mail delivery and poor service was practice for the change coming. Maybe my mail might be delivered to community mailboxes more frequently, she joked. I would become grateful for bi-weekly, and then monthly mail drops! I tried to laugh, but wondered when I would get work contracts I'd been promised, or the financial documents we needed to do my taxes. When we got a delivery, I'd check the postmarks. On Feb. 21, I held a batch of mail with both Feb. 7 and 14 U.S. postmarks. Did my carrier go on a beach vacation and then hand me the whole backlog upon return?

Everyone is talking about this. A professor friend joked, "Well, I'm not a business man, but I can't imagine that raising rates this much and cutting services drastically will improve relations with the public and boost business." He had a point.

I wondered if the U.S. postal system (USPS) was a good comparison. USPS is also facing difficulties and is considering cutting (gasp!) Saturday delivery. The USPS website lists 34 vice-presidents, only a few more than Canada's 26 vice-presidents. The US population is about 278 million more than Canada's. While Canada is a big country, it might be time to reconsider some vice presidents.

Also, there must be intermediary steps between home mail delivery and no home delivery. If I got a note from the postal service asking me to move my mailbox to my gate to cut down the postal carrier's route, I'd do it. If I were asked to help by choosing to send a letter a week, or to give permission for the postal carrier to leave boxes on my porch, I'd agree. I'd like to meet my carrier, so she/he would know friendly people lived here and that it's a safe place to stop for a glass of water.

(My last couple of postal carriers in the U.S. were Gary in Kentucky and Jerry in upstate New York. They introduced themselves when I moved onto their routes and were friendly USPS representatives.)

We need to reshape how Canada Post works so it serves our community's needs. This all or nothing approach to mail service isn't customer friendly. Isn't delivering the mail their core mandate? Young families, senior citizens and disabled people may not be able to reach those community mail boxes. Could we reconsider making this basic service work before it disappears? Before modern mail, friends, acquaintances, and neighbours delivered messages. There were carrier pigeons and the Pony Express. But lately, I wonder, was it less dependable?

At this point, I'd gladly save an apple for a mail-carrying pony if it got my tax documents here sooner.


Joanne Seiff is the author of two books, the mother of twins, and lives in a neighbourhood near you, waiting for her mail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2014 A9

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