Finally, We Can Learn Something From Canada

An end to door-to-door delivery could save Canada Post, but don’t expect the U.S.P.S. to follow suit

  • Share
  • Read Later

The Canadian postal service recently announced plans to phase out home delivery over the next five years, replacing it with “community mail boxes” for the 5 million urban residents who still rely on door-to-door deliveries.

Canadians were divided over the news, with some arguing that it would make Canada Post, which is struggling with declining mail volume and high pension costs, even less used, while others believe it’s an essential step for the post office to remain self-sustaining in a digital age. For Americans, there should be only one reaction: envy.

Canada Post and the U.S. Postal Service, both created in 1756 by Benjamin Franklin when he was postmaster of Britain’s North American colonies, share many of the same problems thanks to digital disruption and ballooning pensions. But they’re different in one very important way: Unlike the U.S.P.S., which is tethered to Congress like a dog on a leash, Canada Post doesn’t have to come running to Parliament every time it wants to make fundamental business decisions.

Canada Post has a mandate from the federal government to fund its operations through revenue from products and services and not from taxpayer money. The U.S.P.S. has a similar mandate, except it can’t make the sort of substantial changes that could help it achieve financial stability without Congressional approval. That’s why the U.S.P.S. isn’t able to deliver beer or wine. That’s why it wasn’t able to discontinue mail delivery on Saturdays (even after the postmaster general announced it would). And that’s why it can’t get rid of door-to-door delivery like its neighbor to the north. While there is a proposal to eliminate home delivery, it came this summer not from the postmaster general but from Darell Issa, a Republican Congressman from California.

A bipartisan bill in the Senate would allow U.S.P.S. to raise postal rates and diversify its services while also allowing the postmaster general to reduce delivery and shed labor costs. It would also restructure the multi-billion-dollar payments, Congressionally mandated in 2006, that the U.S.P.S. sets aside to pre-fund retiree health benefits. But passage in the House would be tough, where Republican lawmakers like Issa are more inclined to support measures that would drastically cut services across the board.

Canada Post is actually a pretty close approximation of what the U.S.P.S. would look like without that Congressional mandate. The Canadian postal service recorded 16 consecutive years of profits until 2011. Since, it’s had nine consecutive quarters of losses, largely due to the proliferation of digital communication. Mail volume has dropped by almost a quarter from 2008 to 2012 and the Conference Board of Canada estimates that Canada Post will lose $1 billion by 2020 but that cutting door-to-door delivery could cut that in half.

The reduction elimination of door-to-door delivery, which Canada Post estimates at $283 per address while a community mailbox only costs $108 per address, comes along with a number of other changes, including plans to raise the price of stamps and cut 8,000 jobs.

The U.S.P.S.’s financial situation is similar; the pain just started much earlier. The post office has been dealing with billion-dollar deficits since 2007 and a substantial decline in mail volume beginning around 2008. Last month, U.S.P.S. announced it lost $5 billion in the 2013 fiscal year, which would sound devastating if it wasn’t for the $15.9 billion it lost in 2012. Take away the $5.6 billion Congressional mandate, and the post office actually would’ve made money last year.

While the Canadian postal service is getting rid of door-to-door delivery in cities – urban residents will have to pick up their mail at shared “community mail boxes” – it will continue delivering to rural mailboxes and will still deliver parcels, the one item that is proving successful for both services.

Letters are increasingly becoming secondary to parcel delivery largely due to the growing popularity of online shopping. In Canada, parcel volumes were up 5.1% in the second quarter of this year compared with the same period last year. The U.S.P.S. is seeing similar numbers. It plans to deliver 400 million packages for the holidays this year, a 12% increase from 2012. The recent agreement between the post office and e-commerce giant Amazon to deliver parcels on Sundays is a reflection of that growth – and one move U.S.P.S. could make without crawling to Congress.

26 comments
benjamin.spector
benjamin.spector

The title for this article is weird: "Finally, We Can Learn Something From Canada" This seems to mean that the author believes that the United States has never before learned anything from Canada. As a US resident and Canadian citizen I am very perplexed about this statement. It implies that in the entire history of the United States, Canada relationship Canada has never contributed any new inventions or ideas. 

Forgetting postal service problems - I personally don't like the Canadian Conservative Governments solution - I think Josh Sanburn should research Canada's achievements and as a homework assignment, write on a blackboard what Canada has contributed to the world. 


If he cannot do so, I would be happy to offer him at least 100 areas where the US needed Canadians to help them

succeed or where the US failed to succeed because it did not follow Canada's lead.  


If Josh can come up with 10 or more items, he will finally show he is not a jingoist,and is able to comprehend that the US is not the center of all knowledge and the source for everything good in the world.

rpearlston
rpearlston

One thing that you conveniently failed to mention was the costs of postage stamps in both countries.  Frankly, I laugh whenever I see an article about the cost of US stamps going up another nickel to a ridiculously low rate, and the accompanying screams that stamps are too expensive without the rise.  Here's the URL for Canada Post   http://www.canadapost.ca/cpo/mc/default.jsf?LOCALE=en  Check it out, and pay particular attention to the postal rates.  There's a big difference, and that, too, is part of the reason for the differences in the fiscal viability of both services.

4d3fect
4d3fect

The real news is buried in the last sentence of the eighth paragraph. (Doubt anyone read that far--good job of masquerading Time's corporate behind-smooching, Mr. Sanborn) Set aside the pension prefunding (PAEA bill of 2006)--which no other gov't or private entity has in place, and the USPS actually made money. Something that Issa and his band of carpetbaggers don't want you to notice.

superchase
superchase

USA, American friends, please don't follow the sorry example of Canada's Conservative government. You/We need a door-to-door post delivery service. Seniors need it. Disabled people need it. And above all, the general population needs it to protect our privacy. This is just another example of the corporatization of Canada by the NeoCons who rule our country and didn't consult the Canadian people or tell us about their plans during the last federal election campaign.. A one-size-fits all solution that's gonna be full of flaws, people getting their mail stolen, boxes broken into. Also, Canadians should ask themselves who's gonna benefit from this move. The friends of the Harper government? Who's gonna be awarded all of these lucrative contracts to build, set up these neighborhood mailboxes?  And of course, the private couriers will benefit immensely with profits going to them for special delivery of articles which the Post Office has been performing for hundreds of years - when Canada was a British colony. And since when was the original mandate of a postal service to make a profit? It never was. It was intended to serve the Canadian public, not the corporations.

DeanCardno
DeanCardno

There are several comments about relative population in Canada versus the US. In most cases, unit costs are not driven by absolute population, but by population density. Canada Post has to endure higher costs per item delivered because they have to cover a larger area with a lower volume of mail.
That being said, as a Canadian, I don't like this decision - and it has prompted me to re-consider my usual political contribution to the currently-governing party (and while CP is *officially* not subject to political interference, it goes to far to assume that is *actually* free from such interference). First, although unit costs are lower in urban than rural area (see above) it is urban home delivery that is being cut; rural direct delivery will remain in place. As the party currently in power gets more support in rural than urban areas, I question whether this economically-irrational decision is politically driven. Second, a complete cessation of home delivery goes too far; they could (and should) have considered measures like reducing delivery frequency - every other day delivery would cut about two-thirds of what they are claiming to save with this decision. Cutting rural delivery in the same way would also save money.


Cheers,

Dean

manoftheyear
manoftheyear

This author is right on!  I'm a postal carrier with the USPS and I agree.  Canada is taking the right steps given the proliferation of digital communication.


Maybe as a carrier I shouldn't be advocating for a reduction in service and cutting my own throat but I don't believe in employing people just to keep people employed doing something that doesn't need doing.  That's totally unproductive!


And with regard to "Openminded 1"  man, you need to get a life!  Delivering mail in Canada and the US is exactly alike.  It doesn't matter what country you're in, delivering the mail is still delivering the mail!.  I live within an hour's drive of the border and frequent Canada often.  I've talked to Canada Post carriers.  There is no difference in the work.  The only difference is in Canada you don't have the level of government interference.  Here in the US it's not about doing the right thing for the business it's about politics.


Sorry, you naysayers but you're all wrong when it comes to Canada and the US.  We are so much alike as people (except Quebec) that really we ought to be one nation.

22man
22man

What do you mean, USA "finally" learns something from Canada? What about 90% fewer deaths by guns per capita because of stricter gun laws? What about a universal health care system that works? What about better bank regulations that minimized exposure to the recession of 2007? What about banning pennies? What about being civil?


Another headline that underscores Americans' ignorance of anything north of the 49th.

brentonsiddons72
brentonsiddons72

@superchase Oh the horror of it all saving the taxpayer money and enlisting the private sector to replace government service on a user pay basis. You socialists need to get a life and stop pissing and moaning. Canadians voted in the Harper government to provide good fiscal management and that is what they are getting...Canadian budget deficit $ 1.1 billion U.S.A. deficit $744.0 billion Canadian per capita national debt $17,000.00 U.S.A per capita national debt $54000.00...idiot

rpearlston
rpearlston

@superchase  The biggest lie has nothing to do with headaches or (in an entirely different meaning) postal services.  The biggest lie is one size fits all.


Yes, the post office has been doing it's job well, but it was founded in an age in which there were only two means of communication - face-to-face and by mail.  That began to erode with the invention of the telegraph.  Trains made travel faster, so the mail could move faster, but that's it.  The telephone further eroded the need for the post office, but that erosion was gradual and happened over almost a century.


Personal computers began to change that, and the speed with which they spread means that postal services have become less and less relevant. In fact, the last time that I was out of work, I didn't send a single resume by snail mail, I sent every one of them from my home, either by e-mail or by fax.


Telecommunications have advanced to the point that snail mail is almost completely outdated.  In many cases, we can even chose to receive and pay our bills over the web.  The very fact that we refer to it as "snail mail" is an indication of that and of our increasing disdain for an organization that still hasn't tried to get with the times.


The only valid point that you've made here is the impact that this will have on anyone who can't get out to to get their mail.



Now, please explain to us how it is that having a community mail box is any more injurious to anyone's privacy than is having a common mail room in an apartment building?



rpearlston
rpearlston

@DeanCardno I'm a fellow Canuck, and I wanted to remind you that the option of delivery every second day was earnestly discussed at CP last year.  It obviously wasn't put into effect, possible (this is my speculation here) because it was deemed to still be too expensive an option.


But nowhere here have I seen any mention of the problems that this will bring for the elderly and disabled in retrieving their mail.  How many times will someone miss paying a bill because they couldn't get to their community mail box?  It's a real problem and it likely won't be allowed as a reason for missing a payment.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@manoftheyear Maybe with your experience you should switch over to Canada and kiss some more of their ass. Dummy they deliver to 34 million big difference. Their red tape is going to be even less. If you live in michigan you might as well move to canada they are almost the same. I see detroit is doing well. You are a special kind of carrier in michigan I see you are white. Move to canada you wont be a minority carrier there.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@22man Dummy what is your countries population, some where around 34 million. The USA has that many in the tri state area of NY and southern California . Your mail service is not even close to what ours is,  you are not comparing apples to apples. If Canada is so great  snob why are so many Canadians buying up homes,and condos all over the U.S. and vacation here? Civil my ass you canuks think you are superior and yet you come to the USA in droves. Here is some civility for you kiss my american ass.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@Openminded1 @manoftheyear Detroit is doing well?  Not in this world.  Then again, all of us know that you seem not to inhabit this world.  It's the only legitimate explanation for your vile attitude,

Patrick92
Patrick92

@Openminded1 @22man 

Plenty of Americans visit Canada as well. That is what happens when two countries share a border.

I'd like to see statistics of how many Canadians are actually buying homes in your country. A logical answer might be that they are buying residences in which they can go for vacation. They could also be relocating for jobs, etc. People all over the world go on vacations in other countries, it's nothing new.

Also, don't preach about civility while spewing ad hominem attacks, it just highlights what a hypocrite you are. 

Our population IS merely a fraction of yours, which means that we must be punching above our weight, because we seem to be doing fairly well. 

While your country would do well with things such as stricter gun and banking regulation, and universal health care, you do have better, more effective environmental regulations than we do... even if they are still less than satisfactory in many cases.

logonlon1
logonlon1

@Openminded1 @22man Your name does not fit you. You are not open minded. You are personally attacking 22man for no reason. You obviously lack meat in your debate skills and that is your only "go to" is personally attacking others. Are you an adult? Because I find it totally uncool. You are part of the problem not the solution. I truly hope your life gets better.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@rpearlston @Openminded1 @manoftheyear The truth hurts liberal, Detroit sucks, and so does the USPs. and you must admit the USPS has more blacks working there then whites per race stats. The truth will set you free and forget the PC.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@Patrick92 @Openminded1 @22man PS We border Mexico too, but I would not go there, nor would I buy a home, vacation, or work there. It is mexicans trying to come here not the other way around

Openminded1
Openminded1

@Patrick92 @Openminded1 @22man Moron I have been to Canada many times and all around the world to include Europe,Asia, The Caribbean, Bahamas any many more destination. Canadians are buying many homes in places like Florida,Arizona, Texas and in most of our states. They vacation here more then Americans vacation in Canada and we do not buy homes to often in Canada. I find Canada a great place to visit, of Vancouver and the entire west coast coast of Canada. One thing i do notice is the superior attitude the people have when they find out I am american As for health care we have far superior doctors, nurses and equipment so I will stick to the USA for health care. Gun control again it is far easier to control 34 million people, then 300 million plus. This country's crime rate alone far exceeds canada due again to the population alone. You mention jobs yes another reason your residents come here our job market. By the way Canada is far from crime free, many murders all relevant to population and their share of robbery and rape etc.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           You also have your share of moron politicians I see. You worry about Canada, leave the USA to Americans, you have a choice not to buy a home here or vacation here, or even work here. By the way what is your black and Hispanic population numbers?

Openminded1
Openminded1

@rpearlston @Openminded1 Moron I was Pc when I had to be, that is why I am sick of it. I rose to the rank of commander, which with my city is a one star chief . I spent 30 years with my dept with many commendation's and 5 promotions. I was a good cop and citizen and I served my country in vietnam. I do not answer to you,nor do i need to clean up my act. By the way this is not college and there is no debate team and we are not being graded by a professor. And the blue line is very thin something you will never understand.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@Openminded1 That you're not into PC is as obvious as is your complete and utter lack of debate skills.  And if you were this uncivil as a cop, you were a couldn't help but have been a very, very bad one.


You don't have to be PC to have a civil tongue.  And you don't have to insult anyone simply because you disagree with them.  Stop being a bad cop and start being a good citizen, no matter the sphere in which you do it.  And remember that the world is not blue vs everyone else else.  Act on that one so you can clean up your own act.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@logonlon1 @Openminded1 Nice try as I stated before wimp I am not into PC. You are in no position to be embarrassed for me. I am quite secure in who I am. You just have lived a sheltered life and can  not handle reality. You would never make it on the real streets of life or in a war. You would be dead in less then an hour. You enjoy your life and i mean that sometimes it is better to live in ignorance and fantasy land like you do. by the way are you 22man's public defender? To each their own logon.

logonlon1
logonlon1

@Openminded1 OK , you keep believing that. I can tell you are a very insecure person that has issues. Why  else would you personally attack a total stranger like 22MAN or myself for no reason, other than the fact that you disagree? It makes no sense. You can not debate. If you are truly 63, I am embarrassed for you that you behave like a middle school bully. Again , I reiterate it is just not cool. Have a great evening and I again I hope things get better in your life that you do not have to behave so juvenile. 

Openminded1
Openminded1

@logonlon1 @Openminded1 @22man My name is meant to be ironic moron. And this is not a debate team in college. I am a 63 year old retired Policemen who says it like it is. Pc is for liars and politicians, which is pretty much the same." UNCOOL"" what are you a teenager ? My life dummy is fine i retired very comfortable , put two kids through college, been married 35 years and travel twice a year. I live 32 floors up over the Ocean with a panoramic view of Miami Beach,and eat fine food and wine. Sounds good to me how you living? Hope you can someday live that well.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,105 other followers