Written by Jim Adair

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night nor declining mail volumes can apparently stop residential door-to-door mail delivery in Canada, as plans to eliminate it have been put on hold.

Only about one-third of Canadian households currently have door-to-door mail delivery, after the government decided to replace it with community mailboxes in new developments in the 1980s. In 2013, Canada Post announced that all residential door-to-door delivery would be phased out because of declining mail volumes and increased costs. “The changes being made are necessary to secure the future of postal service in Canada and avoid becoming a burden on the taxpayers,” said the Crown corporation at the time.

Many Canadians were outraged at the move, largely because of what was being used to replace the service: community mailboxes. Canada Post has the last word on where the community mailboxes are situated in a neighbourhood.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) says community mailboxes hurt residential property values. “Why would someone rather buy a house with a community mailbox — or one without a CMB right next door? Because of the associated increase in traffic and noise; the nuisance of vehicles stopped and idling there; debris and litter; loss of privacy; decreased curb appeal; and vandalism concerns, among other possible reasons,” says the union.

Canada Post said in a progress report earlier this year that when deciding where the mailboxes will go, first it reaches out to the mayor and councillors of the municipality and then consults with affected residents. “We meet with municipal planning departments to exchange information on potential locations for new community mailboxes. Locations are determined based on factors such as safety, accessibility and proximity to the addresses they serve,” says the corporation.

But in Montreal in the summer of 2015, Mayor Denis Coderre staged a news conference where he took a jackhammer to the concrete pad for a community mailbox. He told the media that the pad was being installed “without any consultation”. Several municipalities and CUPW launched a lawsuit to block the conversion program.

Canada Post decided to put the program on hold before the new government took office. During the election campaign, the Liberals promised to “stop the Harper Conservatives’ plan to end door-to-door mail delivery in Canada. We will begin a new review of Canada Post to ensure that the Crown corporation is fulfilling its public mandate to provide high-quality service at a reasonable cost to Canadians — urban, suburban and rural.”

In the small municipality of Belcarra, B.C., community mailboxes were constant targets of vandalism and theft, with at least 375 reported incidents over five years. New and improved boxes installed by Canada Post have solved the problem.

The town’s mayor, Ralph Drew, once opposed community mailboxes, but recently he told the CBC that he thinks Canada Post’s decision to put the conversions on hold is a mistake. He said it’s “exceedingly unfair” that municipalities like Belcarra are subsidizing home delivery in other places, reports the CBC.

“For the federal government to, at this point, try and put the brakes on that in my opinion is just a waste of time and postpones the inevitable,” Drew told the CBC.

Ian Lee, a professor at Carleton University and author for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, says, “Once the new Liberal government studies the situation they will realize that the arithmetic of steady annual declines in postal volumes faced by the former Conservative government has not changed.”

In a report for the institute entitled Is the Cheque Still in the Mail? Lee says, “Between 2006 and 2013, the volume of mail per address declined 30 per cent, but the number of addresses serviced grew by 1.2 million, resulting in an unsustainable business model. By 2025, all transactional and advertising mail in every part of the country is almost certain to disappear.”

Lee says that according to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority Factbook, Canada is one of the most “wired” countries in the world, with 87 per cent of households connected to the Internet. The country ranks second behind the U.K. in Internet penetration among G8 countries. As more people shift to electronic communications and commerce, “based on recent historical postal volumes and demographic trends, the shift will probably happen within the next decade as the ‘tail’ of traditional postal users (strongly associated with seniors) age and pass away. This is a structural — not a cyclical — transformation in demand for postal services.”

Switching from door-to-door delivery to community mailboxes will save about $500 million annually, Lee says.

About 27 per cent of households already use community mailboxes, and another 25 per cent get their mail from lockboxes, generally in apartment or condominium buildings. Sixteen per cent are rural households that get their mail delivered to the property lot line or go to pick up their mail at a local outlet.

The remaining 32 per cent who still have door-to-door delivery are primarily in older urban neighbourhoods, including the wealthiest addresses in the country. “The decision to end home delivery merely normalizes the postal service so that upper middle-class neighbourhoods receive the same service as other Canadians,” says Lee.