National Newswatch

Canada Post is making dramatic changes to its mail services beginning next year, part of a new plan that will see door-to-door delivery phased out and postage stamp prices soar.

And while some community organizations are rattled and the postal union is rallying to protect thousands of jobs, the news may barely interrupt the tweets and texts of most Canadians.

Rapid technology changes have reduced Canadians' reliance on the postal service, making the traditional daily check for the letter drop almost unnecessary in 2013. Bill payments are made online, couriers deliver parcels and, at this time of year, email inboxes are more likely than mailboxes to be overflowing with Christmas greetings.

As a result, there may be a tepid response to the call by Canadian Union of Postal Workers union leader Denis Lemelin to "fight back" against widespread changes to the postal service and keep more of its workers employed.

"It's a call to action for all the people to stand up and protect the postal service," Lemelin said at an Ottawa press conference on Wednesday. "I think it's time to have a large public debate around the future of this corporation."

The financial situation for Canada Post has been bad for years as the Crown corporation tried to maintain a profitable business processing fewer letters, even as the number of Canadian addresses grows by about 200,000 locations each year.

In 2012, only about one-third of Canadians, or nearly 5.1 million people, received mail delivery to their door, costing an average of $283 per year for each address, according to the Canada Post annual report.

The rest of Canadians either visited a central location, like an apartment lobby, community mailbox, rural mailbox or delivery facility, which cost the corporation significantly less.

On Wednesday, Canada Post unveiled a five-stage plan that will help save up to $900 million a year. The federal Crown corporation plans to phase out home delivery within the next five years by replacing delivery on foot with community mail boxes, raise postal rates and cut thousands of jobs.

Canada Post spokeswoman Carley Smith noted that most postal carriers are concentrated in urban centres where businesses, in particular, receive letters delivered directly to their offices.

About 6,000 to 8,000 positions will be eliminated over the same time period, mainly through attrition, Canada Post said. The postal service expects nearly 15,000 employees to retire or leave the company in the next five years.

The staff cutbacks are not factored into its financial projections, although Canada Post said those savings will be "significant."

Once the changes have been made, the postal carrier will have gone the way of the milkman and the community mailboxes that have become a mainstay of suburban neighbourhoods will soon be squeezed into urban centres.

"It's not going to be a huge effect," said Ken Wong, a marketing professor at Queen's University.

"There will be a behavioural shift, obviously, we're going to start going to a mailbox instead of getting it to our door, but frankly I've been doing that for 15 years now, and it's certainly not a major problem."

Canada Post also plans to increase the price of a stamp by 35 per cent to 85 cents when purchased in a booklet, starting on March 31. Stamps that are purchased individually will cost $1 each.

The popularity of stamps has been on the decline with the average Canadian household buying less than two stamps per month, Canada Post said.

Aside from the reduction in employees, the postal service expects to save $700 million to $900 million each year.

However, the changes will be a major setback for certain parts of the population, including disabled people and seniors.

"Door-to-door delivery remains a critical component for people with disabilities who have mobility issues in particular and would have trouble getting to a public mailbox," said Laurie Beachell, the national coordinator at the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

"Considering climate ... anyone with a mobility problem would have to rely on somebody else to pick up their mail."

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons said that seniors with mobility issues still want home delivery.

"I understand that you've got all these postal workers that cost (money) over time, but they should have thought of that before, when they realized the nature of their business was going to shift dramatically," said Susan Eng, vice president for advocacy at CARP.

"They've created a crisis for themselves and this is the way they want to get out of it."

Canada Post spokesman John Hamilton said the company has had community mailboxes for 30 years.

"In cases where there are mobility issues, we will ensure a box can be accessed that isn't too high, and we will provide additional keys (for caregivers)," he said.

The company said it will start making the changes next year, with the first neighbourhoods being converted to community mailboxes in mid-2014.

"Canada Post has begun to post significant financial losses," it said in the announcement.

"If left unchecked, continued losses would soon jeopardize its financial self-sufficiency and become a significant burden on taxpayers and customers."

On Wednesday, Ottawa announced new regulations that relieve Canada Post from making special payments to reduce its $5.9-billion solvency deficit. Canada Post would have to make $1 billion in solvency payments next year.

The postal workers' union said it doesn't believe the pension plan is in jeopardy, and that concerns will be focused on wages as it looks towards the next round of negotiations.

"We're going to go forward with a publicity campaign on this," he said. "We don't want to be negotiating in a confrontational point of view, but maybe in 2015 and 2016 there will be changes."

The reaction from other political leaders has been mixed.

"Conservatives are destroying Canadians' long-treasured postal services," said New Democrat MP Olivia Chow. "These job-killing and service-cutting measures will isolate seniors, the poor and the disabled living in urban areas."

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said she supports the changes planned by Canada Post.

"In today's digital age, Canadians are sending less mail than ever," she said in a statement.

"I look forward to seeing progress as Canada Post rolls out its plan for an efficient, modern postal service that protects taxpayers and is equipped to meet Canadians' needs now and in the future."

The Canadian Press
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