Coderre to Canada Post: Just Watch Me

Not so fast Canada Post...
Not so fast Canada Post…

Responding to the installation of a concrete slab on which a Canada Post community mailbox is supposed to be built, Denis Coderre today indicated he will have it removed. As of this writing, the mayor was busy jackhammering away at the slab.

The slab was prepared on land the city considers to be part of the Anse à l’Orme nature park, near Cap Saint Jacques in the far western end of Pierrefonds. Mayor Coderre indicated that the city was neither consulted nor told about the community mailbox intended for the remote location; Coderre described Canada Post’s actions as ‘arrogant’.

Asked whether he would give Canada Post a warning regarding further removal of concrete slabs prepared without the city’s permission, the mayor said simply: this is it.

Coderre was flanked by Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough mayor Jim Beis, Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension (ViSaMiPex?) borough mayor Anie Samson, Benoit Dorais of the Southwest Borough and Peter Trent, the Mayor of Westmount in his capacity as head of the Quebec federation of municipalities. There’s was a unanimous position: Canada Post had clearly overstepped their bounds by preparing for a community mailbox in a nature park and not letting the city know about it.

Canada Post’s media line is an answering machine, and so far their only official reply is a widely circulated boilerplate email that states ‘they are open to working with municipalities to find ideal locations for the community mailboxes and to address any and all concerns’.

But nothing specific about city workers laying waste to a freshly poured concrete mailbox foundation. For the record, these are the questions I posed to Canada Post’s media representative by email:

1. Did Canada Post know the land was part of the Anse a l’Orme nature park?

2. How will Canada Post react to the planned destruction of the concrete slab this afternoon?

3. Will Canada Post continue in its plan to install community mailboxes on the island of Montreal?

4. Did Canada Post inform either the City of Montreal or the borough of Roxboro-Pierrefonds about the installation?

5. Will Canada Post continue with planned community mailbox construction knowing both the city and the agglomeration does not support community mailboxes?

6. Will Canada Post consider suspending the installation of community mailboxes and maintaining door to door delivery until the matter is resolved in the courts?

And this was their reply:

We are always willing to work with municipalities to find the best locations and discuss any concerns. Our goal is to find sites that are safe, accessible and convenient for the households in each neighbourhood. We would be happy to discuss any suggestions they may have for alternative locations.

Don’t you love straight no-nonsense answers from civil servants?

Back in May the cities of Montreal, Laval, Longueuil and those of the metropolitan agglomeration joined the Canadian Union of Postal Workers’ lawsuit against the federal Crown Corporation. The argument is that community mailboxes may lower adjacent property values and the quality of life of nearby residents, and seems to be an extreme solution to a problem that doesn’t entirely exist.

To bring you up to speed: a few years ago Canada Post released a five point plan designed to bring the public corporation back to profitability. They sited a Conference Board of Canada study that projected catastrophic losses beginning in 2012 (and eventually leading to losses of $1 billion per annum), and so part of the five point plan sought to eliminate door to door delivery as a means to counter these projected losses.

The problem is that these projections were wildly inaccurate. The Conference Board of Canada projected losses of $400 million for Canada Post in 2014. In reality, Canada Post profited $204 million in that year. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers have also criticized both Canada Post and the Conference Board study for not considering any alternatives to community mailboxes, such as reducing the number of days home mail delivery is available.

It’s not even entirely clear if the drop in mail volume is as severe as Canada Post has assumed, given that projected volume reduction in the last quarter of 2012 was twice as high as the actual drop. While there’s no question people send and receive fewer handwritten letters and postcards today than they did a century ago, e-commerce has resulted in increases to parcel volume.

And it’s not like we’ve all unanimously decided to do away with paper bills and bank statements either; I for one insist on paper copies of my bills.

What’s particularly troublesome is how the issue has been spun for obvious political gains since day one. While the Prime Minister often describes Canada Post as an ‘arms length government agency’ over which they have no direct control, the ruling Conservative Party has championed the move to end home delivery among other cutbacks. The notion Canada Post ought to be privatized was studied by the Prime Minister’s Office prior to the release of Canada Post’s five point plan in 2013. About a month after the PMO received its study concerning privatization, the Crown Corporation suspended all work on a postal banking scheme they had been developing as the primary means by which they would improve their bottom line. Since then, cutbacks, layoffs and increased prices have been the only tools left to Canada Post’s disposal. At the same time, they’re alone in baring the brunt of poor public reaction.

At today’s press conference, Coderre reiterated that Canada Post is a public corporation, and thus is supposed to serve the interests of the public. A study into community mailboxes commissioned by the city has indicated their belief community mailboxes are not the appropriate solution to Canada Post’s unproven financial difficulties.

Asked whether he’s concerned Canada Post will sue, Coderre said that the city is already in court against Canada Post (referring to the aforementioned lawsuit) and that if it’s a fight they want, they can have it.