Editorial: Door-to-door mail delivery is a relic of the past

The sweeping review of Canada Post ordered by the federal government, and now in progress, was sparked by the Liberals’ campaign promise to restore door-to-door mail delivery.

The review is undoubtedly needed — the Internet has rendered obsolete much of what a post office does — but whatever else the review produces, the Liberals should back away from the door-to-door issue and admit they promised hastily in the heat of an election campaign.

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“We will stop Stephen Harper’s plan to end door-to-door mail delivery in Canada and undertake a new review of Canada Post to make sure that it provides high-quality service at a reasonable price to Canadians, no matter where they live,” stated the Liberals’ campaign platform.

There are some major holes in that promise. First, Harper didn’t order the end to home delivery of mail — that was a decision made by Canada Post, a Crown corporation that operates at arm’s length from the government, as it tried to wrestle with rising costs and declining revenues.

Second, door-to-door mail delivery was a service available to only a third of Canadians. The rest of us have somehow managed to survive the ordeal of retrieving our mail — what little we get these days — from post offices or community mailboxes in neighbourhoods and apartment-building lobbies.

Who wouldn’t want their mail brought to their front door every day? But Canada Post cannot afford to offer to do that for all Canadians. Eliminating the service for those who have it now will save money without creating severe hardship.

One of the criticisms was that eliminating the service would be a hardship for seniors and disabled persons. But there are many people in that category — probably a majority — who never had home delivery of mail in the first place.

Mail delivery was once a foundational public service. It was vital to commerce and industry, and the principal means of communication for everyone. But its role is much diminished, overshadowed by the ease and speed of digital communications.

Canada Post delivered 1.2 billion fewer pieces of mail in 2013 than it did in 2006. The decline continues — the post office delivered 9.1 billion pieces of mail in 2014 and 8.9 billion pieces in 2015. The post office’s business model wasn’t working, and it faced bankruptcy if it didn’t change. Eliminating home delivery in favour of community mailboxes was a reasonable solution, although that measure alone will probably not be enough.

The review is seen by opposition MPs and other critics as a way for the government to wiggle out of a campaign promise, and they’re probably right. But the review is still needed if Canada Post is to be self-sufficient — a goal of the Liberal government — or even survive the next 20 years.

The panel needs to examine all the possibilities, but it should feel no obligation to justify door-to-door delivery. That’s an artifact of the past, and even if the Liberals restore it, whole or in part, it is still doomed to extinction. Canada Post needs to move ahead if it is to survive.

Politicians are often criticized for not fulfilling campaign promises, but when the promise is a bad one, it’s better to break it.

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