There is a revolution brewing, and rightfully so. Two years ago, Canada Post decided to cease all home delivery of mail, phased in over the next few years. Their decision was out of the blue, without any public discussion, with no apparent government input, and without any consideration of alternatives. It was an autocratic decision from on high to curtail all home delivery of mail in favour of community post boxes. “One size fits all,” says the post office. Everybody else in Canada is happy with “community post boxes,” why should the cities get any different level of service?
Now that Canada Post is beginning to roll out their program, the implications of what they are doing are becoming very clear. Initially, the objections were based on the need to accommodate the aged and the disabled, those for whom collecting mail down the street or around the corner would be a hardship. The post office said they “would try to accommodate them.” How? Who qualifies for accommodation? Who decides what accommodation? Will there be an appeal of an adverse decision? How quickly will the post office respond if one breaks a leg? The administration of adequate “accommodation” could be mind-boggling. Or non-existent, which is much more likely.
Then there was the “litter” issue, the inevitable debris which the community boxes will attract. TTC bus shelters are already repositories of refuse. Who is going to clean that up? Those city street cleaners who walk around with their bags, or ride around on their electric carts? How much will that cost? The existing state of TTC bus shelters is hardly encouraging. Is the Post Office going to employ janitors to monitor the public presentability of their community post boxes? To clean them of graffiti and clear the snow in winter?
The real issue is the nature of the “community post boxes” themselves and the Post Office’s apparent position that they have the legal right to put up boxes wherever they choose. Thomas Walkom, in today’s Toronto Star, hit the nail on the head. He quotes Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who has called for a moratorium on community mailboxes because “the planned community mailboxes would simply take up too much space.” He writes of a report done for the City of Montreal which “calculates that if all the community mailboxes required to service Montreal were laid end to end, they would stretch for 25 kilometres.” Apparently, the City of Montreal and three other Quebec councils are joining a legal action opposing the “community mailbox” decision.
Walkom also described how Hamilton has passed a bylaw that specifies the location of community mailboxes and charges a $200 licensing fee for each superbox. Canada Post has refused to abide by the bylaw and is now arguing in the Ontario Superior Court that the City of Hamilton has no legal authority to pass any such bylaw. No wonder Councillor Janet Davis of the City of Toronto has requested a staff report on the implications of Canada Post’s policy on the city. And that other city councils across the province and the country are upset with Canada Post.
I considered this issue as it applies to my city block. I live in downtown Toronto on a residential street west of Bathurst and south of Harbord. My street was developed first in the 1880s and then in 1904-1905. The houses are typically three stories tall, a mix of detached, semi-detached, and small three-story apartment buildings, on lots which are generally 18 to 25 feet wide. Many of the houses have been divided into flats, three per house generally, some more; some are rooming houses with who knows how many individual units. Ours is a typical downtown neighbourhood street with deep lots and narrow front footage. Municipal planning policies are encouraging even more density.
I walked down the one block of my street and counted 47 separate dwellings. To provide for all the separate flats, apartments, and rented rooms on the street, there would need to be at least double or triple that number of individual boxes at the “block superbox.” And that would accommodate only the current usage. The high cost of housing in Toronto encourages new owners to add a second or third unit to existing single family premises. The number of units on the street is constantly changing. The original configuration of the community box may well be outdated before it is even installed. How does the post office plan to keep up with the increasing density of the street?
And where is this “block superbox” to be located? Both sides of the north corner are sidewalks adjacent to a busy street which already has a dedicated bike lane on it, and is a bus route. Placing a post box on that corner would block visibility. The rest of the block includes small private gardens (treasured because they are so small), and sidewalks under a canopy of city trees. The only empty spot on the entire block is the verge of the parkette where there is a memorial stone honouring the namesake of the park and several trees. So now are we to have a wall of metal boxes blocking the vista between the parkette and the street? Not only on this block, but on every other block in entire neighbourhood? Hardly an aesthetic contribution to the neighbourhood. I don’t know about you, but if our very limited public space were taken up with an aluminum “block superbox,” I would consider it reminiscent of Stalinist Russia.
Canadians who live outside the big cities may not be sympathetic with our plight. My sister lives in Dawson City, Yukon, a community of 1400. There, everyone has a mailbox at the town post office. Picking up the mail is part of the daily ritual and the post office is a social center for the community. That’s how it has always been; that’s how it always will be. Similarly, my son and his family live in Whitby, in a recently-built suburban housing development. When they bought their home, they did so with the knowledge that the community mail box was right around the corner, built into the planning of the new community.
Neither scenario applies to the old city of Toronto. And if Canada Post thinks they can impose their “one size fits all” agenda on everyone willy-nilly, they’d better think again. In Toronto, that’s not how things are done. Here, the expectation is that all government bodies, agencies, businesses or organizations, anyone wanting to use city property for their own purposes must apply to the city, and get their approvals. If they want buy-in from the locals, they’d better go out and get input from the community in advance. Why should Canada Post be any different?
Snail mail may be increasingly obsolete, but it is not entirely dead. Better to have less frequent delivery than have the city cluttered with “Stalinist superboxes.” Isn’t the federal government responsible for Canada Post? Where is Stephen Harper on this issue? How come Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair are not calling him to account? And if local governments do not have the authority to pass bylaws which can apply to Canada Post, then Kathleen Wynne’s majority government at Queen’s Park should see that they do.