North left out of Canada Post's reinvention, says union at AGMWorkers say postal service could offer remote communities food, banking programs
Northern News Services
Friday, September 22, 2017
The postal workers union is calling on Canada Post to rethink its role in the North.
Mike Palecek, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said last Thursday the government-owned postal service could better serve Northerners by reinstating the Food Mail program, which subsidized the air-delivery of nutritious and perishable foods to stores in remote communities.
Canada Post held its annual public meeting in Yellowknife this week and the union leader was in town for the event.
"Canada Post is certainly a lifeline to the North," said Palecek. "And it used to actually serve people in the North."
However, he said, recent years have seen post-office downsizing and "extremely unpopular" service cuts to rural communities.
Food Mail was cancelled by the previous Conservative government in 2010 and replaced with Nutrition North, a program that provides retailers subsidies for healthy food. Stores are then expected to pass on those savings to their customers.
Critics of Nutrition North say the program hasn't actually made nutritious food affordable, and important information about the program has been poorly communicated to the communities it serves.
Palecek suggested Canada Post introduce a revamped Food Mail program - one in which customers purchase healthy food online and the government subsidizes the cost of shipping.
Personal orders are an option under Nutrition North, but a 2016 government-commissioned report on the program noted the majority of users weren't aware they could order directly from designated southern suppliers.
The Nutrition North Engagement 2016 study was based on broad consultation with Indigenous people, other Northern residents, retailers and regional governments. Published in May, the report outlines a myriad of issues with the food-subsidy program, but Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada has yet to take decisive action on the file. Palecek also appealed for a postal banking system that would serve remote communities without brick-and-mortar bank branches.
According to the postal workers' union, the number of bank branches in Canada dropped by more than 1,700, or 22 per cent, between 1990 and 2012, and many of these closures were in rural and low-income areas.
Postal banking "is urgently needed in this country, particularly in the North," said Palecek.
The Canadian government explored postal banking options in a 2016 review of Canada Post by an independent task force. It found that full-scale postal banking wasn't viable in Canada and would require changing legislation to allow a Crown Corporation to participate in financial services. The task force found "marginal opportunity" for Canada Post to partner with a handful of existing banks and credit unions, but that doing so would be costly and high risk.
In a Q&A session following speeches from Canada Post executives, Palecek asked Deepak Chopra, the corporation's president and CEO, when the North will see postal banking services and a return of the Food Mail program.
"We can't be everything for everyone," said Chopra.
At various points in his presentation, Chopra noted Canada Post is seeking "creative solutions" to meet customer needs without raising rates or creating a situation in which the corporation is unsustainable.
Since 2011, Canada Post has lost almost $1 billion in revenue due to a steep decline in the use of 'snail mail' for sending letters and bills.
Canada Post delivered 1.8 billion fewer pieces of letter mail in 2016 than it did in 2006.
"Transforming in a digital era is not easy," said Chopra, but he assured those gathered at The Explorer Hotel Thursday the corporation remains relevant.
Canada Post is hopeful about its pivot from letter and bill delivery to parcel shipment, said Chopra. On Dec. 5, 2016, the postal service delivered a record 1.52 million parcels. Since 2011, package delivery has brought in around half-billion dollars each year, and the corporation anticipates more than $2 billion in revenue from parcels in 2017.
"That is almost double in six years," said Chopra. "This level of turnaround would be seen as successful by any company."
If the Canada Post had not endeavoured to replace letter mail with parcels shipment, said Chopra, "we would have been one of those casualties."
Chopra spoke little about Northern-specific issues, such as timely mail delivery, specifically during the holiday season.
In the past few years, Yellowknifer has printed many stories where customers have been frustrated by misplaced mail and late deliveries.