Post Canada Post. Is it inevitable?

By Lynne Fernandez, Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues

Apparently our country is going to hell in a mail bag. According to conservative analysts, public-sector workers are playing fast and loose with tax payers’ money and the only remedy is to get them off the public payroll. In order to save the public purse, the federal government will be dramatically changing how mail is delivered in this country, something that deserves some local attention given that Winnipeg very recently updated its plant specifically to adapt to new realities. But despite a couple of very good articles in Canada’s national newspapers, little has been said locally about the changes coming to Canada Post.

Both The Globe and Mail and The National Post have featured level-headed articles asking some tough questions about the need to cancel home delivery and get rid of up to 8,000 unionized workers. CCPA’s Armine Yalnizyan points out that Canada Post has made money in all but 1 of the past 17 years. By the time the Christmas traffic is tallied this year, it is likely it will be in the black again. So what’s the problem?

According to the pundits, the problem is the pension: once again, spoilt public sector workers will be living the high life on a pension paid for by taxpayers, many of whom don’t have a pension. It’s enough to make your blood boil.

Except that there’s not really a problem with the pension.

Yalnizyan, who has actually examined the issue, finds that Canada Post’s pension fund has assets over $16B and “is not in deficit and is fully funded on a going-concern basis.” She explains that the plan would have problems if Canada Post closed shop today, but there’s no reason to think that will happen.

Yalnizyan and others point out that other post offices have adapted to the changing times. Parcel delivery is up and postal banking has proven lucrative in Italy, Switzerland, Japan and New Zealand. In the National Post, Ethan Cox reminds us that Canada had a vibrant postal bank for over 100 years, until the banking lobby helped shut it down. Given that so many Canadians don’t have access to banking services, now would be a good time to revisit the concept.

Cox confirms Yalnizyan’s analysis: in the past decade, Canada Post has delivered $1.5 billion in profits to taxpayers. So, let’s review this:

Canada Post is a profitable enterprise

Canada Post’s pension is in fine shape

Letter traffic is down, but parcel delivery is up and expected to grow

Postal banking is a demand looking for a supply

Still don’t see the problem? The truth is likely quite simple: Canada Post is a public corporation with unionized workers. Both these concepts are anathemas to a federal government bent on privatizing public institutions and breaking unions. This point is poignantly made by Cox:

“[…] it’s worth recalling that in 2011 mail delivery was a service so essential that it required back-to-work legislation to end a lockout.”

They attack unionized postal workers on one hand by declaring them essential workers, and they blindside them on the other hand by saying tax payers can’t afford to continue investing in their services.

Contradictory? You bet.

Ideologically driven? Most certainly.

Inevitable? It’s up to us.

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