Harper's cuts to postal service are bad election strategy

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In the future, when people ask where Stephen Harper went wrong, the pundits will say that he messed with the postal service.

This might be the place where a union rep such as myself would do some chest-thumping about the militant history of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). I could talk about the other Prime Ministers who took on the postal workers and lost. I could talk about the fight for maternity leave, or jailed union leaders... But it is not simply CUPW that is hitting back against Harper.

And that is the point.

The postal service touches every citizen in this country and people are increasingly realizing that the five-point plan supported by the Harper government is both costly and unnecessary. It is not postal workers alone that will defeat Harper; it is the communities they serve.

Canada Post is an iconic institution in this country. In 2007, it was voted the most trusted Canadian institution. Canadians trusted Canada Post more than the Supreme Court, more than the Parliament, more than the CBC, the RCMP or even the military. The deliberate erosion of that confidence has unfolded at breathtaking speed. But Canada Post still plays a vital role in this country and the Conservatives are wrong to think they can dismantle it without significant backlash.

The end of door-to-door delivery in the first 11 municipalities has been a disaster. Citizens were given very little input into the process. Canada Post is simply steamrolling ahead, ignoring all criticism.

Everywhere this has been implemented, citizens are angry -- and it is an issue that is crossing traditional political lines. Conservative voters seem to be as angry about it as anyone else. This spells trouble for Harper.

In Fort McMurray, one of the first municipalities to lose door-to-door, and the only one to have a byelection since, the Conservatives lost 25 per cent of the popular vote compared to the 2011 election.

Of course delivery cuts are not the only issue at play here, but the fact remains: the Conservatives came close to losing one of their safest seats in the country.

Now as we are heading into an election year, Canada Post plans to roll out these sweeping cuts to millions of Canadians. Hundreds of thousands of addresses will lose their service. Tens of thousands of people will be informed they are getting a group mail box on their property -- with all the traffic, litter, graffiti and crime that go with it. This will have an impact on property values. It will also have an impact on the election.

Ever since Canada Post announced its five-point plan, including ending door-to-door delivery, jacking-up prices, closing retail outlets and slashing wages and benefits for employees and retirees, postal workers have been out knocking on doors. We have been organizing town hall meetings, signing petitions, meeting with municipalities and interested parties. We have been writing letters to the editor, canvassing neighbourhoods, and building coalitions. We are organizing communities against these cuts. And the public is firmly on our side.

The campaign to Save Canada Post has slowly built momentum, door by door, letter by letter, community by community. Over 400 municipalities and municipal organizations representing the vast majority of the population have now passed resolutions or sent letters to oppose these cuts.

City planners are trying to grapple with traffic-flow pattern changes created by putting these boxes into neighbourhoods that weren't designed for them. Municipalities are estimating the costs that are being dumped onto them by this crown corporation. The city of Hamilton has estimated that the installation of the boxes will cost it at least $2 million, of which Canada Post has agreed to pay ten per cent.

This isn't simply a bad plan. It is a bad plan that has been terribly implemented. Concerns of senior citizens and people with mobility issues have been ignored. Municipalities are being hit with additional costs and Canada Post is unwilling to work with them to resolve concerns.

And all of this is happening while Canada Post is actually turning a profit. The flimsy fiscal arguments that inspire Conservative talking points are starting to fall apart.

From the day these cuts were announced, postal workers said Harper would regret this decision. Activists across the country are working feverishly to insure that he does. This year, communities across Canada will mobilize to throw out Harper. And postal workers are looking forward to adding his name to the list of Prime Ministers who picked a fight with CUPW and lost.

Mike Palecek is a National Union Representative with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

Photo: flickr/Sharon Drummond

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