Who’s sell­ing out Canada Post?

The Compass - - OPINION -

Sum­mer’s here; let’s talk garage sales. When you hold a garage sale, peo­ple swoop down for the steals and ig­nore the rest. Sim­i­larly, some pun­dits want the gov­ern­ment to pri­va­tize or dereg­u­late Canada Post, which would al­low pri­vate in­ter­ests to skim the cream off the Crown cor­po­ra­tion, con­ve­niently ig­nor­ing that those prof­itable parts pay for the un­prof­itable parts.

Canada Post has the largest re­tail net­work in the coun­try with en­vi­able brand recog­ni­tion. When CEO Deepak Cho­pra took the helm, he vowed to lever­age this net­work, but has done lit­tle be­yond pro­mot­ing Epost. In the ab­sence of any vi­sion for the fu­ture of Canada Post, the bay­ing for pri­va­ti­za­tion and dereg­u­la­tion is get­ting louder.

Piece­meal pri­va­ti­za­tion al­ready hap­pens when tra­di­tional post of­fices close, re­placed by coun­ters in phar­ma­cies and con­ve­nience stores. These coun­ters and the poorly paid work­ers staffing them come and go at the whim of the pri­vate op­er­a­tor, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for the post of­fice to be as ac­count­able as it should be. As for dereg­u­la­tion, the gov­ern­ment dereg­u­lated in­ter­na­tional let­ters in 2010 and we’ll prob­a­bly see a push for fur­ther dereg­u­la­tion dur­ing the re­view of the Cana­dian Postal Ser­vices Char­ter in 2014.

But where is this push com­ing from? Not from the pub­lic. In 2008, 69 per cent op­posed dereg­u­la­tion. Even last sum­mer, when Canada Post man­age­ment locked out 50,000 work­ers, 65 per cent op­posed pri­va­ti­za­tion at a time when pub­lic dis­en­chant­ment with the post of­fice

Vague suc­cess sto­ries and vaguer claims of ef­fi­ciency

shouldn’t fool us.

should have been at an all-time high.

If most Cana­di­ans don’t want to sell their post of­fice, who does? Just a hand­ful, but they’re ob­ses­sive about it. Michael War­ren, a for­mer Canada Post CEO, fre­quently beats the pri­va­ti­za­tion drum and re­cently used the cor­po­ra­tion’s first loss in 17 years to do so again, fail­ing to men­tion that the dip was due to one-time pay­ments. There’s also Ed­ward M. Ia­cobucci and Michael J. Tre­bil­cock of the right-wing CD Howe In­sti­tute, who ex­tol pri­va­ti­za­tion as some kind of mag­i­cal pixie dust.

Vague suc­cess sto­ries and vaguer claims of ef­fi­ciency shouldn’t fool us. Very few na­tional post of­fices have suc­cess­fully been pri­va­tized. Bri­tain and Ja­pan are cur­rently at­tempt­ing it, but it’s prov­ing bumpier than an­tic­i­pated. The Nether­lands sold its courier net­work TNT to UPS for a one-time cash in­jec­tion; the re­main­ing chaos has fam­i­lies sort­ing tot­ter­ing piles of the pub­lic’s mail on kitchen dishracks. Pri­va­ti­za­tion in the Nether­lands is an un­mit­i­gated dis­as­ter as in Ar­gentina, which re­na­tion­al­ized its post of­fice.

Dereg­u­la­tion hasn’t worked well ei­ther, even at New Zealand Post, which owes its suc­cess to its pop­u­lar postal bank. The Cana­dian Union of Postal Work­ers has been ad­vo­cat­ing that Canada Post con­sider restor­ing an ex­panded pub­lic postal sav­ings bank as a way to deal with its fi­nan­cial chal­lenges.

Our na­tional postal sys­tem must take into ac­count Canada’s huge land­mass and the re­mote­ness of many com­mu­ni­ties. Here’s where the pri­va­ti­za­tion push­ers col­lide with the re­al­ity that ser­vice to these com­mu­ni­ties would be, in the words of the CD Howe think-tankers, “re­laxed.” Stop to con­sider what that re­ally means. Cur­rently, Canada Post de­liv­ers “from any­where to any­one,” from busy ur­ban cen­tres to the ru­ral mail­box on a two-lane high­way. Were this obli­ga­tion to be “re­laxed,” it’s un­clear ex­actly how ru­ral res­i­dents would get mail. Their an­swer is a “tar­geted sub­sidy” for un­prof­itable routes, in­cen­tives for pri­vate com­pa­nies such as UPS or FedEx to de­liver. How would this cost less or be more “ef­fi­cient” than the cur­rent univer­sal postal ser­vice? Both FedEx and UPS al­ready use Canada Post for “last-mile de­liv­ery” to re­mote cus­tomers. Need­less du­pli­ca­tion not only raises costs, it in­creases pol­lu­tion. What’s ef­fi­cient about that? Canada Post isn’t the fi­nan­cial dis­as­ter that those with pri­va­ti­za­tion and dereg­u­la­tion agen­das would have you be­lieve. But mail vol­umes continue to de­cline. We need some real vi­sion from Cho­pra, with the best in­ter­ests of the peo­ple of Canada as a guid­ing prin­ci­ple, not a “Garage Sale” sign.

De­nis Lemelin is na­tional pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Union

of Postal Work­ers

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