Between a rock and an icicle

Has there been a more bungled program in recent history than Canada Post’s implementation of community mailboxes?

The program was met with vocal objections when it was first announced in December 2013 that many urban neighbourhoods would have door-to-door delivery phased out in favour of a central community mailbox. Canadians decried the hazards and the inconvenience; polls showed that a majority opposed the decision. The Liberals and NDP then took up the banner to reverse or halt the decision.

That reaction could be expected, certainly. In light of rising costs and falling mail volumes, sacrifices would need to be made, and sacrifice rarely garners political favour, no matter the need.

This is the course of politics: programs are proposed, introduced, justified. Concerns are raised, sometimes considered, and sometimes addressed. Compromise ultimately reigns. No one is ever thrilled, but we move on with our lives.

Instead, Canada Post charged stubbornly ahead with its plans. The results had Canadians dissatisfied with the response to their concerns about health and accessibility, and encountering a flurry of comical mishaps with their community mailboxes. Some flooded from heavy rain. Doors were left open and boxes were burglarized. Most recently, Ottawa residents have discovered their community mailboxes don’t exactly cope well in the cold.

Demonstrations broke out as the process continued, including “guerrilla gardening” protests here in Ottawa. Melodramatic as it may have been, Montreal’s mayor even took to a community mailbox’s concrete foundation with a jackhammer.

Across the country, in scenes analogous to “save the rainforest” protests, Canada Post played the clearcutters, demonstrating how out-of-touch they could be with communities.

Community mailboxes became so universally reviled that the Liberal party was able to successfully campaign on the elimination of the program and an impending restoration of door-to-door delivery.

A week after the election had concluded, with hundreds of thousands of community mailboxes in the ground, Canada Post relented and pressed the pause button  on the program. 

Where does Canada Post go now? The installation of community mailboxes can’t continue as it has: Canadians won’t sit for this circus any longer. On the other hand, nothing has changed regarding the postal service’s financial situation. We can even speculate that after aborting a two-year pilot project, its coffers are likely running lower.

If you cast your vote in October hoping for Prime Minister Trudeau to bring the mail back to your doorstop, the Liberals have been silent on the issue ever since taking office. Not that you can blame them – it’s not exactly a quick fix. So, Canada Post is parked between a rock and a hard place. On one side, thousands of Canadians are ready to pounce if they catch sight of another community mailbox installation. On the other, the prospect of continuing door-to-door delivery would sink Canada Post.

This could have been foreseen – even avoided – had the postal service taken Canadians’ concerns more seriously in the first place. Now, Canada Post needs to sort through the hate mail and find a solution to its own community mailbox debacle.