Here is a tiny tidbit for Canada to chew on. Canada Post’s aggressive invasion of the “flyer” business, which financially underpins community newspapers and small businesses.
This practice new behavior by our monopoly postal service demonstrates short-sighted decisions, misdirected leadership, and commercial sabotage.
From the early days in our history the postal service has been sole responsibility of the federal government better known as a monopoly that enables a single-minded system for collecting and delivering letters with a common low rate for postage.
From colonial times, communication by mail was an essential public service, not a profit-making business. Prices were reduced to one cent so “Penny Postage” carried a letter anywhere in the British Empire. By 1914, the Post Office introduced parcel post. Widespread subscribers were getting newspapers by mail, Ottawa subsidized mailing rates because news reporting and readership fostered identity and raised awareness, beneficial for both Canada and democracy. A low postal rate for newspapers was the same under the same umbrella as subsidies to the CBC, Canada Council, and grants for book publishers and movie makers.
Although the post office department was among the first to be organized, by mid-20th century the operation was on cruise control. By the 1970s, its large operating deficits became a concern. The problem was not about keeping Canadians united and in touch with the world but a failure to modernize operations, high labor costs, bureaucratic administration, and recurring strikes as postal workers interrupted mail service usually at Christmas season. Ottawa ended its special mailing rate for newspapers which was a short-sighted policy framed as a cost-cutting measure.
Now the post office is vulnerable, so commercial courier companies began invading, without challenge despite the government’s monopoly. Sending items by courier became a business norm. Private companies were taking over the top parcel postal operations. Post office finances dwindled and sank deeper into an economic swamp. By 1981, the Pierre Trudeau government reordered postal services. No longer operating as a government department with a minister accountable to the Commons, the postal operations were into a Crown corporation. Hence the growth of Crown corporations, commissions, boards, and agencies and delegated major realms of jurisdiction. Supposedly, some minister still provided a link for democratic accountability; in practice, responsible control vanished into an administrative twilight zone. Canada Post began to operate as a profit-making corporation, free of government restraint and beyond political accountability. Services were cut, postal rates skyrocketed, and direct mail marketing, including flyers, became one of three Canada Post businesses.
Last week a liberal representative refused to intervene in the Crown corporation’s business plan to scoop the flyers market, despite this being an assault by privileged businesses on newspapers valiantly struggling to serve Canadians. That is the problem. Actions taken behind the Crown’s corporate shield are no longer susceptible to accountability. Canada Post’s consecutive years of multimillion dollar profit-making epitomize why radical change is needed. The Justin Trudeau government, despite earmarking $595 million over five years to help embattled newspapers, stands by while Canada Post cripples them.
It’s another example of a Crown corporation laying waste to small businesses and community newspapers and that is the way I see it.