Canada to Stop Delivering Mail to City Homes Over 5 Years

Published: December 11, 2013

WATERLOO, Ontario — Canada’s postal service said Wednesday that it would cease home delivery over the next five years, and substantially increase postal rates.

Though Canada would become the first Group of 7 country to end all residential mail delivery in cities and older suburbs, Canada Post shares many problems with postal services in the United States and elsewhere, including rapidly declining mail volumes and high wage and pension costs. Along with the service cuts, the government-owned service said it would eliminate 8,000 jobs, mostly through attrition.

“A leaner work force will create a more flexible and competitive Canada Post,” the post office announced in the summary of a five-point plan. “Canada Post has a mandate to fund its operations with revenues from the sale of its products and services, rather than become a burden on taxpayers.”

In place of home delivery, Canadians who live in cities would have to pick up their mail and parcels at so-called community mailboxes, which would be established in neighborhoods across the nation. (Apartment-dwellers would continue to pick up their mail in their buildings.)

While the service argued that the communal boxes had “advantages for busy Canadians,” the announcement was swiftly and widely criticized by opposition politicians and labor leaders, who noted that the price of a stamp bought in a booklet would increase, to 85 cents from 63 cents.

Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Party leader, criticized the post office for taking such a major step without any advance notice or discussion with customers.

The leader of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Denis Lemelin, called the cutbacks and the rise in postage rates “shortsighted and foolish.”

“We are sure we are not alone in disagreeing with Canada Post’s plan,” Mr. Lemelin said in a statement on the union’s website. “C.U.P.W. will stand with those people who resist the elimination of door-to-door delivery.”

Reactions on social media were blunter, pointing out the difficulties that the end of delivery would bring for older and disabled people and suggesting that Canada Post had condemned itself to irrelevancy.

“Canada Post to stop delivering mail to save costs?” Paul Nixey, a communications consultant in Vancouver, British Columbia, asked on Twitter. “Isn’t that a bit like Starbucks no longer serving coffee because it’s expensive?”

Whatever the economic merits of the decision, Dwayne Winseck, a communications professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, said the end of postal delivery was a pivotal moment in Canadian history.

“The whole notion of a universal correspondence service is a pretty important one,” he said. “It’s quite a comedown for a national postal system.” While online shopping has increased the number of parcels Canada Post handles, that has been more than offset by the loss of delivering letters, cards, bills and other kinds of mail that now arrive over the Internet. Over all, the number of pieces of mail handled by Canada Post dropped by 23.6 percent from 2008 to 2012.

A report released this year by the Conference Board of Canada, an economic research group hired by the postal service, predicted that Canada Post, which turned a small profit last year, would lose $1 billion a year by 2020 without major changes in operations. More immediately, Canada Post faces a $6.5 billion pension fund shortfall.

The postal system was founded in 1753 by Benjamin Franklin when both Canada and the thirteen colonies were under British rule. The service has long offered five-day-a-week delivery, and since the mid-1980s, all new residential developments have been served with the communal, or as they were originally called, super mailboxes.

Jon Hamilton, a Canada Post spokesman, said further reductions in the frequency of delivery had been ruled out after small businesses objected. Delivery would continue to most business addresses, he added, and Canada Post would continue to deliver parcels from commercial customers, like the Canadian branch of Amazon, to doorsteps. He said that the post office began discussions with magazine publishers on Wednesday.

One major obstacle, however, looms. Canada Post must now find spaces in often-congested urban centers to squeeze in communal boxes for about five million households.

“That’s going to be a challenge in some cases,” Mr. Hamilton said.