Over the past 46 years since the formation of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) there have been 20 work stoppages at Canada Post. Most of these happened in the 1970s and 1980s and recently there has been little disruption in service, if I can use that word to describe mail delivery in this country. However with the latest work stoppage and lock-out Canadians are coming to realize just how little they depend on Canada Post.
Technology has passed Canada Post by. But Canada Post has recently taken steps, outside of its legislated mandate in my opinion, to expand its service range. On Oct 26th 2010 it launched a comparison shopping service called Canada Post Comparison Shopper which allows shoppers to find and compare products from over 500 stores across the USA and Canada. This intrusion into the private realm of price comparison websites is, to me, a clear overreach of a government monopoly’s position and not at all mandated in the Canada Post Corporation Act. This use of its resources will undoubtedly take business from private sites like PriceGrabber.ca and PriceCanada.com which have been around for years offering the same service.
This isn’t the first foray outside CPC’s mandate to deliver mail. In 2000 it created ePost a service allowing customers to receive bills online for free, competing directly with banks which also provide the same service.
The time has never been better for either the complete privatization of Canada Post or the removal of its monopoly on the delivery of lettermail.
All that would be required, other than a government with the guts and brains to act, is a repeal of Section 14 of the Canada Post Corporation Act which states:
“…the Corporation has the sole and exclusive privilege of collecting, transmitting and delivering letters to the addressee thereof within Canada.”
It’s as simple as that. As it stands now it is against the law for a private company to deliver lettermail. In the United States the monopoly laws are even more restrictive. In that country it is against the law for anyone to deposit anything in somebody’s mail box.
Other countries, like The Netherlands and Germany, have already completely privatized postal delivery. Still more have opened up competition in the area of lettermail delivery as they have in Great Britain, Finland, New Zealand and Sweden. The 27 member nations of the European Union have all agreed to end their mail monopolies in the near future.
There is then the mistaken belief that Canada Post actually makes a profit. With billions of dollars in unfunded pensions CPC is so far in the hole that it can never dig itself out no matter how it pretends to show a surplus.
Federal Labour Minister, Lisa Raitt and the Conservative government’s solution to this latest work stoppage is wrong-headed. The legislation she should have introduced is not back-to-work legislation but a repeal of Section 14 of the Canada Postal Corporation Act. She should let CUPW and Canada Post argue all they want. Let them hold up mail deliver all they want. If private firms where allowed to deliver the mail you can bet that within days the courier companies would be up and ready to take the place of both these dinosaurs.
Without a strong government willing to end Canada Post’s monopoly this country will be left behind as the rest of the world transforms their delivery systems into modern and private entities separate from government monopolies and immune from organized labour’s monopoly.
(Originally broadcast on Just Right #205, June 23, 2011.)