President's Commentary: Privatization is not the answer at Canada Post, modernization is

We have encouraged innovation. We have encouraged modernization. We have encouraged Canada Post to find ways to attract more users. We have encouraged public engagement and consultation on the future of our postal service. Yet, we've seen none of that.

 

Ottawa (17 Dec. 2013) – Over the last several years, I have written several times about the future of Canada Post. During its restructuring, during cuts to services and during bargaining with its workers, we have advanced the position that this valuable public service needs to be maintained and improved. We stand by those beliefs, now more than ever.

Our postal service is based on many of the values Canadians cherish: affordability, accessibility and accountability. Postal service is affordable, allowing Canadians across the country to communicate on one fair price. Canadians have access to postal services, not only in city and town centres but in their own neighbourhoods and at their doorsteps. And as a Crown Corporation, it's accountable to the public. The CEO of Canada Post is appointed by the Minister responsible for Canada Post, so as citizens, and voters, we have the ability to contribute to the vision and direction of this service.

And while we value this service, we acknowledge the need to keep up with what Canadians need. We have encouraged innovation. We have encouraged modernization. We have encouraged Canada Post to find ways to attract more users. We have encouraged public engagement and consultation on the future of our postal service.

Yet, we've seen none of that.

Instead Canada Post, with its most recent decision, has said it will be cutting door-to-door mail delivery and increasing the cost of sending mail. It will be eliminating 8,000 positions as approximately 15,000 workers retire over the next five years. 

Seems to be an odd approach for building public confidence and encouraging continued use and support. Generally when you want people to use something, you come up with more reasons for them to do it, not make it harder. 

But what we are witnessing at Canada Post right now is something straight out of the privatization playbook. And we don't like it.

The privatization playbook

When decision-makers use the playbook, they have a long-term strategy. They begin by starving public services of needed funding to continue to operate smoothly. They spend financial resources elsewhere, as in tax cuts to major corporations, rather than investing them in new innovations to help the public service expand. Without the proper funding or updated services, the public loses confidence in the service and reduces its use. The public starts questioning why their tax dollars are going toward a service that is not serving more of their needs. Then, they decide that the private sector should come in and take over the services instead.

We are seeing another step in the privatization process today.

Refuses to look at innovation and expansion

For several years now, Canada Post has been complaining about the declining use of the mail service across the country. But instead of seeking out innovative ways to renew its purpose and create alternate revenue-generating streams, it has focused narrowly on service cuts and labour restrictions.

It has refused to consider new ideas being embraced in other countries, such as postal banking, that are building confidence in a valuable public service.

Worse though, Canada Post has chosen not to engage in a public discussio n about what Canadians want out of their postal service. Instead they have conducted invite-only meetings and held online discussions with cuts, rather than creative solutions, at the centre.

While some politicians want us to believe it's Canadians who are stuck in the old days wanting home mail delivery, it's actually Canada Post who refuses to modernize. Canada Post appears to be dead set against finding ways to help the service evolve into what Canadians are looking for. Rather than cutting services and raising prices, it needs to be looking to expand to become more relevant to Canadians.

Serious impact on Canadians

There are so many ways Canadians will be impacted by these decisions. We will see decent paying jobs never filled again. Families struggling to get by on the dwindling, and harder to get, Employment Insurance. Workers on the hunt for a replacement income to care for their children when unemployment is on the rise. People with disabilities, seniors and people with mobility issues will lose some more independence as they are forced to rely on others to provide this service.

When the final play is made in this game, Canadians will see private companies selling mail service at a higher cost.  There will be no accountability mechanism if this happens because the public will no longer own the service.

Privatizing postal services is yet another loss of part of the fabric of Canada.

But the worst part is not being listened to. That is another step on our democracy, on our rights as citizens. So that's why we must be heard on this.

Taking a stand on our public services

And while, Canada Post may have already decided what path it wants to take, Canadians have not decided. To determine what the future holds for such a long-standing public service in Canada, we need to have an open discussion. We need to, as citizens, decide what our postal service could do, how we want it to serve our needs. We need to consider the possibilities, learn from other countries and have a thorough debate about our options.

A fullsome debate has not happened yet. And if Canada Post and the Harper government has their way, it won't.

Not unless we do it ourselves.

Back in 1993, when then Conservative leader Brian Mulroney was trying to privatize Canada Post, we fought back. We can do that again.

We can tell them what we want. Because if we don't, we'll never get it.

James Clancy
NUPGE National President

More information:

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NUPGE

James Clancy is the National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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