Nelson: Play the Last Post for Canada’s mail service

Letter delivery peaked in 2006 and has been in free fall ever since

Be careful how you treat Canadians on the way up, because you might need them on your way down.

Unfortunately for those toiling in the Canadian postal service, from 1965 onward, 19 different disputes between union and management wreaked havoc upon citizens. So is it any wonder there’s little sympathy today for a business now on its deathbed?

The latest financial accounting by the Crown corporation shows it lost a mind-boggling $748 million last year alone. That’s about $2 million a day. During the past half-dozen years, Canada Post has bled $3 billion in red ink.

Now, head honchos are warning it could run out of money within a year unless major changes are made.

The simplest change would be to ditch this so-called service altogether, because there’s no way things will turn around. For most of us, such a death will elicit little more than crocodile tears, considering how little we mattered when it was once the only game in town.

Canada Post is hardly the only outfit that’s felt the overwhelming pressure the widespread acceptance of the internet brought to bear, allowing the subsequent adoption of an assortment of services and devices from email, social media and smartphones in every pocket. (The disruption of the newspaper industry that I first joined as a teenager back in 1975 has been particularly savage.)

Yet, few of those affected industries were quite so arrogant during their heyday as the postal service, where ordinary Canadians became regular pawns in a game of chicken between the union and senior management. What else could we do back then but grimly grit our teeth and wait out the latest strike?

Those days are gone and they aren’t coming back. Letter delivery peaked in 2006 and has been in free fall ever since. (Canadians under the age of 35 don’t even write letters, at least ones that need a strange bit of sticky paper affixed to them so they can be delivered days later.)

Today, what little use we get from the postal service is more due to our own laziness than any irreplaceable benefit it brings. Sure, some of us still receive the occasional bill or letter from some overseas relative, but with a bit of a push — one more strike perhaps — those remaining paper oddities would quickly be replaced with digital versions.

For a while, parcel delivery appeared to be Canada Post’s much-vaunted panacea. Alas, cutthroat competition is putting an end to that hope.

“These competitors grew rapidly, leaning on their low-cost-labour business models that rely on contracted drivers to provide lower prices, plus greater convenience with evening and weekend service,” said Canada Post’s recent annual report.

Yes, that was always the problem. It just needed competition to expose it. Picking up items from one spot and dropping them at another isn’t something that needs a huge skill set. Remember paper boys? There really isn’t too much difference, and those young lads, back in the day, weren’t enrolled in defined benefit pension plans.

Naturally, the postal union believes the answer lies in expanding the service by having workers checking on customers’ welfare while delivering the mail. How daft is that?

First, lots of Canadians no longer get home delivery, so those communal mailboxes would be nixed at some massive cost.

Then, how would it work? If a mailbox isn’t emptied for a few days, does the postie get to peer in your window or try the front door? Or do they just call the cops?

And even if some folk began relying upon this to check on old Auntie Mable, what do you think would inevitably happen? Yep, the posties would go on strike. We’ve been there and we’ve done that.

It’s time to play the Last Post for Canada’s mail service.

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