The conversion to community mailboxes seemed to be in full swing on Monday downtown Chilliwack, with work crews digging up sod and preparing sites on several streets.
But by the end of the day, the future of the community mailbox program was uncertain, as Canada Post announced an immediate temporary suspension to the five-year plan.
This is year two, and Chilliwack was one of the first of about 90 communities across the country slated to lose door-to-door services.
Now, Canada Post is telling residents affected by the change to watch for a letter in the coming weeks to explain what’s next. So far, there has been no solid explanation for the sudden halt, although a change in government seems to have played a role in the decision. The Liberal Party did promise to reverse the shift away from home delivery, and Canada Post mentions the government in their Monday press release.
“We will work collaboratively with the Government of Canada to determine the best path forward given the ongoing challenges faced by the Canadian postal system,” it read.
“Efforts are now underway to place the comprehensive program on hold in an orderly fashion. This involves roughly 460,000 addresses across the country which are currently in the process to be converted to community mailboxes.”
Conservative MP Mark Strahl said he’ll be watching Canada Post’s next moves closely.
“I think Canada Post has a mandate to operate on a financially sustainable basis,” he told The Progress. “I’ll be interested to see how Canada Post proposes to balance its budget. They had a plan in place they were carrying out before the election.”
The plan was supposed to save the Crown corporation $500 million a year, he added.
“Either the new Liberal government is planning to subsidize Canada Post, or Canada Post is going to have to find those efficiences (in another way),” Strahl added. “That’s a big challenge and I’ll be watching closely.”
If subsidizing is part of the new plan, “I don’t think Canadian taxpayers would be too happy,” he added. “We’re talking about billions of dollars in taxpayer liability.”
Only one third of Canadians still receive door to door service, he said, and traditional mail is being used less and less — one of the reasons the corporation’s revenue has dropped.
Chilliwack had 12,000 addresses to be converted when the program rolled out last December. Canada Post says customers who are already picking up their mail at a community box shouldn’t expect a return to door-to-door service.
“In neighbourhoods where the 10-month internal and community conversion process is complete, customers will collect mail and parcels at their community mailbox,” Canada Post explains. “This includes customers set to begin receiving their mail and parcels in their boxes in October. We remain focused on maintaining reliable postal service to all Canadians without disruption.”
City of Chilliwack staff said Monday that Canada Post will be required to either finish the work at unfinished CMB sites, or restore them to previous conditions.
The conversion has also been fought by the union representing postal employees.
It had been chosen as an option to “secure the postal service for everyone and not become a drain on taxpayers,” according to a previous statement by Canada Post.
The plan was to be completed by 2019.
-with files from Jeff Nagel