Experts at killing their own business

Russell Wangersky
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I’ll admit it: I’ve always loved mail. A small highlight of my day has always been getting home, opening the mailbox and seeing what’s come my way. Cards, the occasional letter, sometimes even a cheque or two.

Sure, sometimes it’s just bills. Other times, the deep disappointment of a fat bundle of what turns out to be, once inside the house, flyers for a pizza business we don’t use, listings of used cars we won’t buy — in other words, instant recycling. Out of the mailbox, into the recycling box.

But still, every time I park the car, there’s that little thrill of the mail that’s waiting. And when I’ve been on leave, working on books, I’ve even found myself listening for the particular thunk of the lid slapping down.

I know everyone doesn’t feel the same. When I was growing up, my parents owned a slightly berserk tiny dog that used to fly into a rage when the mail carrier opened the outside door and pushed the mail through the slot. She’d bark herself into a frenzy and then tear whatever came through the slot into shreds. It was not the perfect delivery system.

But me? I love the mail lottery.

And I suppose it will still be the case with a supermailbox somewhere in the neighbourhood, even with the downgrading of the service.

Paying attention

Canada Post, though, should be paying attention to the response to its joint effort of raising rates and dropping door-to-door delivery.

Two things spring to mind, one courtesy of St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe.

He pointed out last week, quite rightly, that you can’t take everything a government does and simply consider it to be a business.

Some things are services and have to be viewed through that lens; viewing them on a cash-basis only leads to things like the federal government’s misguided destruction of professional libraries, ranging from Fisheries and Oceans to Natural Resources and on down.

The quest for the dollar in that case becomes something perilously close to book-burning, although with our federal government, it’s dumpsters that are carrying materials away.

You can make a bit of the same argument about Canada Post: somewhere along the line, the national mail service became confused with a national mail business.

But the second point is much larger; the response, particularly to the price increase, has current customers talking about finding other options.

Businesses are talking about full-out email billing, and it’s only a matter of time before municipalities move to full-scale electronic transfers for municipal taxes.

After all, the provincial government has already gone that way

for vehicle registration, and even offered discounts at first to entice customers to the electronic method.

The discussion isn’t about how much the new mail is going to cost, it’s about using existing systems to get even further away from the mail — and a price increase of more than 30 per cent is certainly the kind of nudge that gets traction.

When you look at Canada Post’s decisions in this case, the only thing you can believe is that they have looked at the business model of being a mail service, and have decided it can’t work so their plan is simply to kill it.

Cut as many employees as is practical, limit mail to items that have to be delivered by post, put the price through the roof and offer essentially expensive boutique service for those items instead of running a full-scale post office.

In that model, huge volumes of mail would actually be a problem, not a benefit.

Canada Post management is not interested in saving the mail service — it wants to be in a different, much smaller business entirely.

Downgrade service and at the same time, increase price?

It’s not even a recipe for managing decline. It’s a recipe for speeding it up.

And Canada Post knows it.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: Canada Post

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Recent comments

  • Tess
    December 18, 2013 - 16:02

    I, for one, look forward to using a "supermailbox" as opposed to the box affixed to the front of my house, as the superbox will cut down on risk of identity theft. But I do feel for seniors and people with mobility issues. As for Mr. Doucette's assertion that "that's where friend's/family and neighbours step in," well there's something to be said for people retaining their independence (a component of their dignity).

  • Grand Banker
    December 18, 2013 - 07:49

    The door delivery service currently provided to only 1/3 of Canadians is not economically viable - end of story. The mailed letter volumes are declining/reducing largely because of the internet/electronic correspondence. This is not political and the taxpayer should not be expected to further support this door delivery letter system.The other or remaining 2/3 of Canadians that also includes seniors, the disabled, lower income and those without internet service, etc., have been doing quite well and getting on with life.

  • david
    December 17, 2013 - 14:49

    Given the bizarre and tangential detour taken by a few "master debaters" on this board about CN Rail's non-existent subsidiary operations, I can only imagine how well you understand Canada Post....which, just as an ADD-sensitive reminder, is the topic here.

  • Tom Conway
    December 17, 2013 - 11:09

    They probably got their business model from CN, the former operators of the Nfld railway

    • david
      December 17, 2013 - 11:40

      Interesting example you chose....The federal government privatized CN Rail in 1995. It then steadily improved to become the most efficient railway in North America, spearheaded innovations that rejuvenated the competiveness of the entire railroad industry, and has made a lot of investors extremely wealthy. (As a Crown corporation, it was a floundering, barely break-even employment program.....sound familiar?)

    • Politically Incorrect
      December 17, 2013 - 12:24

      The CNR became profitable after it jettisoned its passenger service across the country including shutting down the NL portion completely. We could make the healthcare system profitable if we privatised it and only treated those who could afford to pay. Tolls on the highways, meters on water services, private fire insurance, close the public school system, close the libraries... I'm aware that that to some smug, arrogant conservatives, this would be a utopia, but the civilised world has moved beyond that, David.

    • david
      December 17, 2013 - 13:28

      Drop the "Politically" and you got it nailed...just "Incorrect". But not knowing the truth never stopped a socialist union wag before. Neither CP nor CN provided passenger service in Canada since 1978, yet CN remained a dysfunctional, economic basket case for 3 full decades afterwards. Nice try sounds good to your 'brethren', I'm sure.

    • Vinnie
      December 17, 2013 - 13:52

      Drop the "Politically" and you got it nailed...just "Incorrect". Wow, you sure told him! HA ha! Not only did you resort to red bating like you do with everyone who disagrees with you, (do you even know what a socialist is?) but you completely ignored his/her point then went on to chide him for being so stupid as to not knowing that CN hasn't had a passenger service since 1978.... Oh, except, David, that IT DOES and it's called Via Rail and, despite not serving nearly as many towns, it is still active.

    • Someone's a little defensive today.
      December 17, 2013 - 13:57

      It's called VIA Rail, Dave.

    • david
      December 17, 2013 - 14:13

      Wow...I did not appreciate how incredibly ignorant you people actually are. VIA Rail : look it up, geniuses. Read more, post less....for gawd's sake.

    • Politically Incorrect
      December 17, 2013 - 14:13

      Dave, while I find your hateful drivel a mild entertainment from an intellectual whelp; yes, I am a socialist and a trade unionist. I would rather be a "socialist union wag " (?) than a self-satisfied egoist with an undeserved sense of self-worth and entitlement with a pathological hate-on for everyone YOU consider beneath you. Your only value is that of caricature of the snotty privileged class.

    • david
      December 17, 2013 - 14:23

      Did that make you feel better, PI? If so, that's good. I'm not thin-skinned, so I got that going for me. But I do not suffer fools, sorry.

  • Robert
    December 17, 2013 - 11:07

    Seems we've all had a part to play in the "problems" that face Canada Post! And it could easily be said that the "problems" facing CP are also being faced by newspapers in print. There was a time when CP delivered flyers but from what I know this is now downloaded to private contractors! I once complained about "the bag" being tossed into my driveway and I was quickly black listed and have not seen a flyer since (not a bad thing)! I recall a story about "buggy whips" and what happened to them when a four wheeled creature came along and I fancy the mail and newspapers are now little more than something not needed or just for the rich! Funny how history repeats itself!!

  • david
    December 17, 2013 - 09:26

    After decades of unending porkbarrels and boondoggles, Canada long ago arrived at the point where it cannot afford most of what it claims to provide taxpayers. All the government is doing is tap dancing and massaging the bad news years after they actually knew it, and doing a predictably ineffective job of even that.

  • rob doucette
    rob doucette
    December 17, 2013 - 09:24

    Well considering the amount a letter carrier is payed to deliver mail, I understand the cuts, after all what is required for the position?, ability to read and walk?. Most of the province does not have mail delivery anyway, people say what about the elderly/disabled?, well that's where friends/neighbors and family step in. This service is slowly being phased out with online services and we know what happened to the dinosaur's.

  • Ken Collis
    December 17, 2013 - 07:33

    When the selling of federal government assets was announced in the throne speech Canada Post was the first thing I thought of. I think this decision is a move in that direction.

    • Politically Incorrect
      December 17, 2013 - 08:56

      Those assets belong to the Canadian people, not the government of the day. For the past several decades services have been sliced away in the name of austerity and we have gradually accepted the premise that we are no longer citizens, but taxpayers and are constantly told what government can't do rather than what it can do. Every man for himself. On the other hand, it can't do enough for the corporate sector. So it's capitalism for us and socialism for the wealthy.

  • Joe
    December 17, 2013 - 07:14

    I used to do motor registration on line until they cut out the incentive. Now I go back to the MVR Office. I have to go anyway to register my antique cars as this system is still on a manual basis. And also why risk someone hacking my credit card when there is no advantage.