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The end of home letter mail delivery, and likely the beginning of the end of Canada Post (updated December 18, 2013)

Canada_Post_letter_carrier

Canada Post ends home delivery: The postman won’t ring at all
The Economist,

In a move that now seems like subliminal messaging, Canada Post celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Canadian postal service in 2012 by issuing a special set of stamps featuring the Royal Mail Ship Titanic.

So many things wrong with Canada Post Corporation (CPC) on so many levels, it’s like a microcosm of everything that’s gone awry with Canadian public administration in recent years.

Another dubious first

Canada is the first of the Group of Seven countries to signal the end of home delivery…

There’s something about Canada bringing home dubious firsts these days. Worst environmental record, most overvalued real estate, and now this. The Economist makes a point to note how Canada has taken to exporting its incompetence at public service delivery, referring to a former Canada Post CEO Moira Green who led the recent privatisation of the UK Royal Mail.

Another opportunity to trot out faux public-private dilemma

It never fails to amaze how the first and only solution ever proposed to an increasingly bloated and ineffectual public enterprise is privatisation. It’s like effective, efficient public administration is antithetical. Canada Post (née Royal Mail Canada) worked as a public undertaking since Confederation, but suddenly that’s no longer feasible.

Ineffective management certainly isn’t the only issue here, as technological progress has obviously had an impact on letter mail delivery. But that same progress has seen the advent of online shopping, which, if managed and promoted effectively, should have seen the rise in parcel considerably offset the drop in letter mail delivery.

Parkinson’s Law and the public sector

Parkinson’s Law
The Economist, November 15, 1955

It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Readers are encouraged to review this other interesting piece from The Economist archives. The ‘Law’ was a send up on the experience of a long-serving/suffering, well-respected British civil servant and academic. It articulated C. Northcote Parkinson’s observation that public administration by its nature lends itself to bloat.

While these pages have repeatedly suggested cuts to the federal public service (FPS) undertaken by the current federal government in the midst of a shaky economic recovery following The Great Recession were ill-advised, they’ve never suggested cuts weren’t inevitable. The timing of the lay-offs didn’t jive with our (admittedly Keynesian) view that government policy during periods of recession/recovery should run counter-cyclically. Creating tens of thousands of newly unemployed during a stalling economic recovery runs counter-counter-cyclically.

Nor have these pages ever suggested the FPS is either terribly effective or efficient – actually, numerous pages are devoted to highlighting the myriad ways it isn’t. A quick look at the employment data shows the FPS expanded at several times the rate of population growth in the five years following the current federal government taking office.

The problem is management in today’s FPS doesn’t seem to much care for nor serve the P(ublic). Instead of accepting the challenge and trimming bureaucracy, it acted to spite the federal government by targeting cuts at direct service delivery, to maximise public inconvenience. That the federal government didn’t call the FPS out on it (or at least do so more effectively) suggests it was content to let the federal bureaucracy paint itself as ill-willed and incompetent – effectively supporting its policy position advocating greater privatisation.

By many accounts, senior management at CPC has lived down to that unfortunate FPS stereotype. More than a few articles have recently been written about the stunning levels of bureaucracy at CPC. Apparently the crown corporation/fiefdom overseen by CEO Deepak Chopra has some two dozen presidents and VPs on payroll. And the first place it looked to find ‘efficiencies’?  Direct mail delivery.

Someone break out a calculator, Parkinson the heck out of CPC and begin fixing it by ‘right-sizing’ executive and senior management.

Comment

Not to state the obvious, but Canada more than any of its G7 counterparts needs to maintain a public postal delivery service, focused on maximising coverage while aiming for at least marginal cost recovery. Canada’s population density (persons/sq.km) is 3.5; the next closest among G7 countries are the US at 35 and France at 117. Canada is an inefficient enterprise, one requiring federally mandated service delivery to ensure its population stays connected, whether it be by air, rail, mail or telecom.

All the services just mentioned – save for mail – have already been privatised.  And the results speak for themselves. CN/CP/Air Canada have slashed their Canadian workforces and concentrated on US/international expansion at the expense of local service provision; Bell is consistently responding to regulator complaints over service delivery and price gouging, ranked by consumers the worst Canadian provider of pretty much every service it offers. All continue to subsist on rents provided by federal regulations that for years effectively granted them regional monopolies and/or near-monopolies over publicy-financed infrastructure.

Canadians don’t have to look too far to see what a privatised Canada Post will look like. Once they’re done looking, hopefully they’ll pause and re-evaluate their options.

Update (18/12/2013)
On questioning as to how Canada Post plans to accommodate seniors – many of whom may have mobility issues, especially in this weather – affected by the proposed elimination of home letter mail delivery, Mr. not-too-Deep(ak) Chopra responded that seniors could use the exercise. Seriously.

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