Canada Post has neatly tossed its home mail delivery fiasco into Justin Trudeau’s lap.
By announcing a voluntary moratorium on its plan to axe all home mail delivery, the Crown corporation is effectively saying to the incoming prime minister: OK smart guy, what do you want us to do now?
So far, the Liberal response has been radio silence.
The post office is one of those headaches that any government prefers to keep at arm’s length.
It is big, unwieldy and has a history of difficult labour relations. When postal workers go on strike or are locked out, voters complain long and loud.
Indeed, Canada’s post office became a Crown corporation in 1981 in large part because the government of the day hoped to insulate itself politically from this troublesome organization.
That government, incidentally, was headed by Pierre Trudeau, the current prime minister-designate’s father.
Two years ago, when Canada Post first announced a plan that would make Canada the only G7 country without home mail delivery, the initial opposition response in Parliament was carefully non-committal.
Both the Liberals and New Democrats chastised Stephen Harper’s government over the manner in which the decision had been made rather than the decision itself.
The NDP took Canada Post to task for making its announcement after the Commons had adjourned for Christmas.
Trudeau criticized the lack of consultation.
In the beginning, neither opposition party pledged to reverse the decision if elected. To do so might have required them to come up with alternative strategies for dealing with Canada Post’s fundamental problem — the decline of letter-mail.
Besides, initially at least, it wasn’t clear that anyone other than postal workers in line to lose their jobs much cared.
Suburban Canadians haven’t enjoyed home mail delivery for years. Those who pride themselves on being Internet-hip have little interest in what they call snail mail.
As a political issue, the cancellation of home mail delivery stayed largely beneath the surface — until Canada Post started to put the scheme into effect.
That’s when urban residents realized they’d have to walk to so-called community mailboxes for their mail.
That’s when homeowners realized that Canada Post had the legal right to set up these ungainly mailboxes in their front yards — and planned to do so.
That’s when cities like Montreal and Hamilton realized they had no control over where community mailboxes might be placed.
And it is when federal politicians finally got involved.
Montreal in particular was a flashpoint. Montrealers, it seems, hated the community mailboxes.
Denis Coderre, the city’s canny mayor and a former Liberal MP, channelled this rage — at one point taking a jackhammer to the concrete footing for a community mailbox.
The NDP, in the process of trolling for Montreal seats, went furthest. In May, the party announced it would stop the community mailboxes and restore home delivery to those who had lost it.
The Liberals were more cautious, promising only a moratorium on the shift to community mailboxes while a comprehensive review of Canada Post was undertaken.
But by the time the Liberal platform was released this fall that commitment had been firmed up.
“We will save home mail delivery,” the platform states unequivocally. “We will stop Stephen Harper’s plan to end door-to-door mail delivery in Canada and undertake a new review of Canada Post.”
That review could find surprising strength. Letter-mail is still in decline according to the Crown corporation’s latest quarterly report. But Canada Post is far from being a basket case.
It made a handsome $299-million operating profit in 2014. This year, for the first six months at least, it has continued to operate in the black.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has suggested that, as in Britain, France and New Zealand, Canada Post should offer financial services and use the profits to make up for the decline in letter-mail. But current management is opposed.
Others see privatization as the solution. But would private investors want a Canada Post that included its letter-mail business? Or would they insist on cherry-picking the profitable portions?
All of these issues are now on Trudeau’s plate. I’m not sure the Liberal leader really wanted to inherit the post office. But he has.