The federal Conservative government has issued a “postal service charter” that will continue the moratorium indefinitely on closing most rural post offices.
Only in cases where buildings are destroyed or a postmaster retires or dies and cannot be replaced will Canada Post consider another alternative, the cabinet minister responsible for Canada Post said last week.
“What the service charter does is really lock that in a contract between Canada Post and the people of Canada,” rural Alberta MP and farmer Rob Merrifield, minister of state for transport, said in a Sept. 18 interview.
“It is the first time ever we have actually set down expectations for Canada Post and they have signed on in a charter, which is really a contract saying they are going to meet their performance expectations.”
The moratorium on rural postal closings began in 1994 under a newly elected Liberal government and since then, while scores of rural post offices have been closed, it is supposed to have been only when Canada Post had no alternative.
Merrifield said some of the postal unions had stirred up fears that a service review ordered by the Conservative government would lead to rural service cuts.
He said the service charter, announced Sept. 12 in rural Ontario, should answer those uncertainties.
“It should alleviate anyone’s fear that we’re going to compromise service in rural Canada,” he said. “We’re not.”
The charter says: “The provision of postal services to rural regions of the country is an integral part of Canada Post’s universal service.”
On the issue of rural post office closings, it says: “The moratorium on the closure of rural post offices is maintained. Situations affecting Canada Post personnel (retirement, illness, death etc.) or Canada Post infrastructure (fire or termination of a lease etc.) may, nevertheless, affect the ongoing operation of a post office.”
At the union representing most postal workers, there was guarded support for the announcement.
Denis Lemelin, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said in an interview it is a myth to think that no post offices have been closed in the past 15 years of moratorium.
“Of course there are situations and the numbers have declined,” he said Sept. 18. “But our goal is to protect rural and small town service and if this charter goes in that direction, we will be happy. But we will be watching closely to make sure that it does.”
Merrifield said it is a five-year commitment with annual performance reports but rural Canadians should see it as a long-term deal.
“You signed a contract and I don’t see what will change that contract but it will be reviewed every five years to make sure it meets the changing needs of Canada and on a yearly basis there will be a report to match up expectations with performance,” he said.
“If expectations are not met, as a shareholder and the person responsible for that shareholder, we’re going to hold management of Canada Post accountable.”
A complication for Canada Post is that last year, a court ruled that Canada Post must do a better job of making conditions safe for rural mail deliverers who often face danger when they pull over beside a rural route mailbox to deliver letters while traffic pours past.
There have been accidents and the crown corporation has been ordered by the court to make the system safer.
Merrifield said the attempts to move mailboxes to safer locations have raised the ire of many rural residents who think their service will be diminished or made less convenient.
“There has been a fear over the past few years, I think promoted by the unions who saw the service review was a stepping stone to be able to compromise rural service,” said the minister. “Nothing can be further from the truth. We have locked it in stone.”