Thursday April 17, 2014

Rothenburger: Buying stamps just got simpler

I stopped in at the Seymour Street post office for some stamps. The woman ahead of
me was having a problem with a package she was mailing but I didn’t have to wait long.

They’re always cheerful at the post office, greeting you with a friendly “Hello, Bonjour.”

Now, though, there’s only one clerk instead of three. No more wondering which wicket to go to when you get to the head of the line.

The “post office” is now an alcove off to the side of the General Delivery boxes, and the clerk stands behind a “service window” instead of a regular counter. And instead of a store full of coins, special-edition stamps and other items, there are a couple of glass cases and a rack of brochures.

This isn’t your parents’ post office. The latest downsize has been in place only a few days, and I expected a long lineup of impatient customers with Christmas packages, but not so.

Maybe people are avoiding it.

The change was announced via letter (snail mail, I presume) to City council a few weeks ago, and confirmed this week. MP Cathy McLeod has been getting the blame from CUPW, though I think unfairly.

Last summer, McLeod sent constituents a householder survey about a Conference Board of Canada report on postal services.

In mid-August, she revealed that 60 per cent of the 500 people who responded were OK with alternate-day delivery and 53 per cent favoured changing from door-to-door delivery to community mailboxes. Only 37 per cent liked the idea of replacing corporate post offices with franchise outlets.

Six weeks later, council received the letter about the “new service model” and has been grouching about it ever since, as has the union.

I doubt McLeod’s survey had anything to do with it. Mind you, she didn’t put up any obvious fight, unlike Tory MP Larry Miller in Owen Sound, who recently blasted Canada Post for “trying to take away rural mail delivery.”

Rural delivery has, of course, been in its death throes for years. When Canada Post stopped delivering to the mailbox at the end of our driveway and put a community box a
couple of kilometres down the road, it insisted it was an improvement to service.

With business dropping like a cardboard shipping box full of rocks, another belt-tightening is no surprise. Email and Skype have replaced letter-writing, and competition from private couriers is intense.

In 1963, Kamloops MP E. Davie Fulton, the public works minister, unveiled the cornerstone of a new building just a block away from where the Seymour Street service window is now. It was a big new post office, with a long counter of wickets that looked like the inside of a bank, or maybe a prison. The place was as busy as a convention of one-armed paperhangers. They took your letters and parcels and tossed them into canvas bins that were wheeled into the back and everything was sorted right there.

Something to tell our grandchildren about.

The union thinks Canada Post could be saved if it offered banking services on top of mail delivery. Maybe an ATM would be handy but I can’t picture anyone getting in line to take out a mortgage at a post office.

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