Right in the centre - Canada Post has strayed from its mandate


By Ken Waddell
Neepawa Banner & Press

Canada Post has a monopoly on First Class mail. In return for the monopoly, the First Class rates are supposed to be uniform across Canada and they are supposed to give priority to First Class mail at all levels, including processing at the local post offices. At Christmas time and now again in early April, staff are overworked handling parcels, mostly from Amazon. Now, with COVID-19 restricting people’s movement, online shopping is flooding the system. At Neepawa, we can go for two or even three days without the FC mail being sorted and it isn’t the local staff’s fault. The flood of Amazon parcels and other online shopping shipments are drowning the Post Office.

Last week, the Neepawa Post Office was simply overwhelmed and shut the parcel wicket. It caused a wave of panic and frustration. Earlier in the week, the line-up at the parcel wicket was 25 or 30 people long. A Canada Post spokesperson said it was due to staff shortages and intimated it was related to COVID-19 symptoms and testing.

That’s understandable. What isn’t understandable, or deserving of any sympathy, is how the corporate level of Canada Post is handling it. Should there not be a back-up plan? How, in all good conscience, can CP allow this to happen? They are getting swamped too often.

There have been problems at Canada Post for years and solutions don’t seem to be coming any faster as time goes by. First of all, Canada Post is extremely top-heavy in management, with many vice-presidents who apparently don’t talk to each other very much. The second problem is the abandonment of First Class mail in favour of parcel post. Now, I get the economics involved here, as Amazon and others are paying Canada Post huge sums of money to ship parcels all over the country, but that isn’t Canada Post’s founding mandate. It costs a dollar, basically, to mail a letter, a service that used to be mere pennies. The mandate is still very clear, First Class mail is supposed to get priority and it’s certainly not.

Parcels have clogged the system. First class mail is delayed. Third class mail, such as newspapers, are up to two weeks behind. Canada post is on the verge of losing more customers.

Canada Post is harming small businesses’ ability to keep going. There are still lots of accounts paid by cheques in the mail. If a business gets $1,000 per day in the mail and the mail is delayed by three days, that leaves a big hole in the cash flow. For bigger companies, it can be a huge hit. Canada Post should be required to fulfill their mandate or lose it, it’s a simple deal.

The other indirect effect of Canada Post lusting after the parcel business, at the neglect of their legal mandate, is that local businesses can be severely hurt by all the parcels coming from Amazon. In the simplest of terms, people should think twice about ordering from Amazon. When was the last time Amazon donated to the local kids’ soccer league, the local baseball team or the 4-H program? Like never! And they likely never will. 

What Amazon does, and does very well, is ship stuff quickly and cheaply and I understand that. That they have commanded so much attention from local buyers is rather sad, actually. Local businesses, in many cases, can’t survive against the global onslaught of Amazon.

That said, there is no law against Amazon, but there is a law, a federally mandated law, for Canada Post to sort and deliver First Class mail ahead of parcels and they don’t appear to be meeting it. The postal workers’ unions, the local businesses and the general public all agree that Canada Post needs to be overhauled, but no political party has the courage to do so.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer chair of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.