Canada Post isn’t comedy–it’s a Neocon melodrama

Come to think of it, my criticism of Canada Post isn’t so funny in retrospect. The Corporation has been in the news again because of failings that indicate deeper trouble.

While I’ve been preoccupied with strategic issues, management problems have revealed themselves through a spate of unexplained service interruptions and mass absenteeism during the ice storm.  However, far from beating a dead horse, my remarks are relevant to the direction the service has chosen to go and the rationale it has provided.

How it stumbles and fumbles along its chosen path is another matter.  I’m concerned with how they chose their path.

A senior management team of 22 (including 12 VP’s, 7 senior VP’s, and President, Deepak Chopra) stand behind their  five-point plan . There have been no minority opinions or leaks of debates around the board table.

I understand their need for solidarity.  It’s impossible to implement anything on the scale of Canada Post when you invite second guessing, but it’s also impossible for a crown corporation to manage change effectively when the decision you’ve taken is incomprehensible to the public you serve.

The subtext of their rationale seems to rest on a state of calm panic.  Like the Titanic’s crew, nobility lies in maintaining composure while acknowledging the inevitable.

It echoes the neocon mantra on taxation, debt, and public services.  In an August 2013 brief about the finances of Canada Post, the eminently conservative C.D. Howe Institute presaged the mysterious link between evidence of a problem and their preferred solution.

Their line of reasoning goes something like this:  “Things are terrible and getting worse, so SOMETHING has to be done.  Therefore you must do THIS.”

No one can disagree about the need to reform Canada Post as digital communications erode the volume of hard copy documents upon which their business has historically relied.  The question is whether or not its best chance of recovery lies in service cuts and price increases.

This question has been addressed many times in many ways around the world.  For successful national postal services, quite a different answer has emerged.  In fact, the alternatives are well known to the Harper cabinet and to the executives of the national mail delivery business owned by the federal government.

To counter these trends, national posts have leveraged their networks, introduced complementary products and services, established new networks and extended ones through subsidiaries and acquisitions, and generally integrated their operations vertically and horizontally in order to generate more revenues to support their universal service obligations.  (Strategic Review of the Canada Post Corporation Report of the Advisory Panel to the Minister December 2008)

The 2008 Strategic Review was led by experts in the governance, management, and operation of national postal services, and the Advisory Panel commissioned independent research to learn more about the options taken by other nations with similar challenges.  In contrast, Canada Post is governed by a Board of Directors, all of whom were appointed by the federal minister since 2006 when the Harper Tories took office.

The Conservative agenda is well known and Canada Post’s new strategy reflects it perfectly: if a public service has difficulty, kill it outright or bleed it slowly to death, which will be the effect of combining service cuts with price increases for mail delivery.

This dismal strategy is a legitimate exercise of power for which the Conservatives cannot be condemned.  Ever politicking with public assets, polling reveals that Conservative voters tend to be more supportive of the Canada Post strategy than are the rest of Canadians. This appears to be in part because Conservatives have stronger support in suburban and rural ridings where people are already accustomed to fetching mail from post boxes or offices.

One Conservative pundit speculates that the demise of Canada Post might be seen as an important win for Harper’s Tories as they try to placate red meat Conservatives in the wake of Senate scandals. There can be little doubt that the death knell of a public service, creating the necessary preconditions for a privatization of its assets and mandate, would be cause for celebration among those who are ideologically bent on the marginalization of government.

In the absence of a clear line connecting this corporate strategy to evidence that Canada’s postal service is incapable of succeeding, it is logical to examine the circumstances surrounding this gap.  Are we simply less clever than the Germans and the Australians, for example, or are we encumbered by a government that forced corporatization on our postal service while withholding the means (access to capital for modernization, the latitude to pursue aggressive business strategies, and leadership based on merit, not political considerations) to develop a viable business?  These remain the unanswered questions underlying the position at which Canada Post’s planning process has arrived.

It’s obvious that radical change is necessary at Canada Post and that it will face even greater challenges in the future.  Still, even if full privatization is ultimately inevitable, it isn’t necessary to demolish the public service before throwing the gates open to competition.

All joking aside, I’m offended by the Canada Post strategy because, as a strategist, I think the Corporation’s executives are trying to deceive us about the necessity of the course they have chosen.  Only when we widen our frame of reference do we see how politics has obviated other options.

Canada Post is a dead duck.  Let its moulting corpse be delivered to the steps of Parliament before the service is cancelled.

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