Monopolistically, my dear Watson

Bet you didn’t know you were breaking the law if you ever had non-urgent mail delivered by a courier


Today’s front page of the National Post features an amusing column by William Watson about an “access problem” that Canada Post has very suddenly discovered at the Montreal domicile he has occupied for two decades. Watson’s entryway has a few wide, shallow steps with no railing. It’s a situation that would not challenge an infant above the age of twenty months, and no particular carrier has filed a complaint, but a safety officer doing a “preventative” check of Watson’s premises has decided that he must either renovate or cease receiving his mail at home.

One is mindful, reading of Watson’s experience, that the Canadian Union of Postal Workers is still bitter about being sent back to work by statute with a poorer-than-expected wage deal. His tale sounds like the outcome of a work-to-rule effort, and that is certainly what one would anticipate after a strike lockout that had been ended by fiat. Canada Post’s customers want to put a Conservative government in Ottawa?—Very well! Let’s see how they like the results! How happy for CUPW, really, that one of the suckers to whom it’s applying random abuse turns out to be a loathsome, venomous right-wing pundit of the sort that’s forever agitating for privatizations and competitiveness and the rest of the gore-grimed apparatus of capitalism.

If I were in Watson’s position, I would be tempted to call Canada Post’s bluff and let my mail be deflected back, at the corporation’s expense, to creditors, hucksters, and the occasional Christmas card sender. He instead uses his nightmare as a pretext to denounce Canada Post’s monopoly on first-class mail. Since he is a professional economist, it would have been a fairly safe bet that he despised the post office anyway—even if he weren’t actually on record describing the monopoly as “increasingly weird”. Little did the professor know when he wrote those words just how weird things would get.

Delightfully, one of the commenters whose deep thoughts are inscribed below Watson’s piece thinks she has found a fatal flaw in his argument: since, by his own account, Watson receives mail from UPS and FedEx and other private parcel delivery services, he ought to break down and admit that Canada Post isn’t really a monopoly. Internet goofballs aside, I’m sure it’s generally known that private carriers are forbidden from delivering first-class mail for less than triple the Canada Post rate. That is almost as definitive as a government-mandated monopoly gets in practice. But have you ever looked at the way the rule is structured in the Canada Post Corporation Act?

Subject to section 15, the Corporation has the sole and exclusive privilege of collecting, transmitting and delivering letters to the addressee thereof within Canada.

Monopoly? The hell you say! Section 15 is a list of exceptions to this “Canada Post delivers everything” principle: UPS and FedEx and the like are permitted to do business by a clause that sighingly tolerates private delivery of “letters of an urgent nature that are transmitted by a messenger for a fee at least equal to an amount that is three times the regular rate of postage payable for delivery…”, etc.

I bet you didn’t know that you were defying the law of the land if you ever had non-urgent lettermail delivered by a courier. Watson would almost certainly be in technical violation of the Act, were he to try opting out of Canada Post mail delivery altogether and paying the mandated treble fare for everything. You’ve been warned, bourgeois devil!


Monopolistically, my dear Watson

  1. “You’ve been warned, bourgeois devil!”

    Sounds like my two neighbours. Have old chinese guy on one side, and old german guy on other and they sit together every day and express their unease with world. Two of them particularly loathe our mailman and I am happy to join in the denouncing of bolshie posties.

    Two old guys are immigrants, both arrived around same time in late 1970s, and have different work ethic – both are in their 80s at least and work part time – they are tradesmen. Our postman is in early 50s, worked 30 years, and getting ready to retire any month now even tho he is in good health. Two old guys not at all impressed.  

    I wonder what is average age of post worker? My postman middle age and whenever photos appear, union workers always middle age. Is cupw forcing society to alter in order to accommodate old people who should be doing other, less physical, work.

    • Anyone not working well into their 80s is a lazy commie!

  2. The one quibble I have is that the legislation was not back-to-work (even though it was definitely weighted against the Union) but it was rather end-the-lockout legislation.

    I am no fan of CUPW but let us remember that they were engaging in rotating strikes and delivering the mail even though they were in a legal strike position.  It was then management who locked the workers out and allowed the Conservative government to say “The economy is being damaged by these irresponsible Unionistas!”

  3. “no particular carrier has filed a complaint, but a safety officer doing a “preventative” check of Watson’s premises has decided that he must either renovate or cease receiving his mail at home.”
    Such a stupid thing to do – this just makes for bad relations.  The person who actually delivers the mail should have that responsibility. 
    There have been many touching stories about the mailman/women who spotted something amiss at a particular home and alerted authorities.   My mother religiously had a Christmas card, usually with twenty-bucks enclosed, for “my postie”.  When she became house-bound she would leave her mail to be picked up as she was no longer able to walk the two blocks to the mailbox.  One time when her mail had been piling up for more than a few days, her “postie” went through the phone book calling people with the same last name until he got a relative who could check to see she was OK.
    So sad – CUPW isn’t going to win any support pulling these sort of stunts.

    • Most of what our Canada Post person delivers are warnings that, unless we stand outside in advance of a snowstorm to ensure not a single flake lands on our sidewalk, s/he’ll be cutting us off from our daily mail fare of pizza advertisements, real estate agent mail outs and political claptrap.  I shovel anyway.

    • This is nothing new for users of rural delivery. Many rural residents are being threatened
      with loss of service because their boxes are deemed to be in an unsafe location. Usually
      too close to the road … deemed unsafe for the contracted delivery service to stop. In my
      experience a lot of people put their boxes close to the road so that the delivery could easily
      drop the mail from their vehicle. The assumption of most rural users is that the postal 
      service is trying to force them into using community boxes, which is problematic for the
      rural elderly. The postal service is hiding behind their employees in the interest of cutting
      costs. Shocking, right ?

      • I have no choice, because I am rural, to have my mail delivered to a post office box.  So, should I need something delivered by Fed Ex, Purolator or anyone other than Canada Post…it cannot be delivered to my post office box.  They are the competiton and not allowed on the Canada Post property.

        So I got cheeky, I was having gift cards from Air Miles delivered and instead of putting my post office box, I put the physical address of the post office with my box number as “suite” number.

        They accepted it but when I received it, the envelope was completely stamped with warnings about how inappropriate my actions were.

        Monopoly?  You bet. 

  4. I’m just wondering if a study could be done, say from the 1980s or so, adding up the average cost of postage (at today’s postage rates) and comparing that to today’s postage costs where we get and pay most bills online, use couriers for parcels anyway for security and speed, and other ways we’ve moved beyond Canada Post.  Would we not break about even (on average, of course) paying the triple price to have couriers do it all? Just think of the junk mail we could avoid!

    • Then again, first class postage in 1982 was 30 cents, and today it’s 59 cents.  How many other things that cost 30 cents in 1982 can you still get for less than $1?

      • I suppose lots of services would content themselves to a mere doubling in nominal prices if they could get away with a systematic lowering of delivery standards. And for most of my life, that’s what Canada Post has done, because it can.

  5. So what’s the market price for delivering mail to Eskimo Point? Fogo Island? Stoney Rapids, Sask.?

    • Beats me. Are these all places where I can get a bag of chips or a litre of gas for less than a million dollars? The mail can get anyplace that unsubsidized consumer goods do.

      • Less than a million dollars, sure.  However, chips and gas cost more there, don’t they?

        • So why shouldn’t lettermail? If I lived in Theoretical Bush Community I’d be more worried about the chips and a LOT more worried about the fuel. Residents of TBC already get large income tax breaks for living in TBC, and we’ve subsidized the electronic alternative to lettermail for them too. So maybe we can move on?

          • Good point.  I hadn’t thought of the subsidies we pay for people to live in remote communities where supplies might be more expensive.

    • Very intersting reading.  Thanks for the link.

  6. Is that gentleman with the postal worker in the photo William Watson?

    He looks younger on his Post mug byline mugshot…

    • It’s not Watson. This guy’s place has railings!

  7. Anyone tried dealing with the minefield of telecom “customer service” lately ?

  8. I have more to say about Canada Post. Why we pay the price of a stamp but they cannot guarantee delivery? Everytime I ask, they tell me to pay for priority post if I want to make sure of delivery. Well, if they cannot guarantee delivery with the price of a stamp, they should not sell a stamp in the first place. The only service they provide is delivering mail but to guarantee you have to pay more for priority or register. It is fraud to sell the stamp if the post is not sure if it will be delivered. Is like selling snake oil. It is pure fraud.Another problem is the post selling insurance so if the letter or parcel is not delivered, we can get the money back. We should not have to pay insurance for a service that we are already paying and the post only service is delivering.If they lose or break, they return the money plus pay for the damage. It is no accountability with Canada Post.  It is fraud all over again.

    • Ridiculous. 

      • Ridiculous false equivalence?

        • Ridiculous as in over-wrought, cranky, prairie coffee shop bitch session half logic ridiculous. 

  9. Your second paragraph is a litany of suppositions and accusations. Do you have anything that backs them up or are you just ranting?
    – More Canada Post customers voted for someone other than the eventual ruling party.
    – Are they working to rule?
    – Is this why they are picking on Mr Watson?
    Am I missing the smiley face or lols that should have been included in this piece, or did you just mail this one in.

    • It’s MacLeans, full of colourful and cute descriptive language, and tweaks the nose of Canada Post. I’d say it’s a mailed in rant of sorts.

  10. Are we certain that the “safety inspectors” are CUPW members? 

    Maybe these are non-union employees  who’s actions are making the union look bad, the same way the corporation locked out the union, presumably so that a union that was still delivering mail (though with rotating delays in some places) would be blamed for stopping delivery of the mail entirely, even though it was their employer who stopped them from delivering the mail.  After all, you can’t legislate a union back to work for intransigence and serious disruption to mail service if the union is annoyingly refusing to seriously disrupt mail service.  So, you have to lock the employees out of work, so that the government can force them all back to work, and pretty soon everyone will forget that it was the employer, not the employees, who shut down the service.

    • Yes, by all means let us look for a conspiracy theory to explain why it cannot possibly be the union looking at ways to make the lives of those in management miserable.

      • Yes, by all means shut down a reasonable line of inquiry by dropping the conspiracy bomb.  


        • “A rose by any other name…”    I just pointed out that what LKO was proposing amounts to “conspiring” on the part of the management at Canada Post to make the union look bad….hence it is a “conspiracy theory.”
          You must ask yourself “why would the management at Canada Post bother to make the union look bad when they already”  1) forced the union back to work at 2) an agreement that was below what was offered the union originally and 3) is legally binding and 4) has WIDE public approval.
          Now, ask yourself what the union has to gain but working to rule – which means they will ensure that none of their members takes ANY risks or performs any duties outside of what they are bound to legally by contract.  It is not about class it is about common sense.

          • Don’t you prevaricate with me, young lady!  You are fully aware that the current use of advancing the charge of “conspiracy theory” is to accuse someone of being a loony who’s thoughts are beneath consideration.  Not classy at all.  Worse, it is lazy.  Had you written your reply to LKO instead of me, I would have left it alone.  Your points provide, at least the grounds, of a reasonable counter-argument without the needless besmirching of LKO with a scarlet letter.

          • Thank you Coldstanding – no one has accused me of being young or a lady in quite some time.  It would really make my day, if you asked me for my ID…..

            Now, I am trying to understand your point of view.  So you do enjoy a good theory of conspiracy but you don’t like the term “conspiracy theory” because you think it has a negative connotation attached to it.

            I myself I am a fan of occam’s razor – the most simple explanation is likely the right one.  That is why I try to examine who strategically has something to gain.

            As for pointing out that LKO was floating a theory that required a whole lot of “conspiring” and “what ifs”, in my book it is a “conspiracy theory” and given that I work in psychiatry, I would NEVER equate the want to belief in something a little more convoluted with being mentally unbalanced.

      • I’m not saying they’re CONSPIRING to make the union look bad, I’m simply saying that A) it’s possible that the people who are making the union look bad here aren’t actually CUPW members, and B) if so, it wouldn’t be the first time in this dispute that the union was publicly blamed for the actions of management (i.e. being blamed for a mail-stopping nation-wide “strike” that was, in reality, a lockout by management).

      • the union looking at ways to make the lives of those in management miserable

        Isn’t THAT a “conspiracy theory”???  Isn’t your theory that the union is conspiring to make management’s life miserable?

        • Okay, I will explain how things work in the negotation process again.  The CUPW is unhappy with the deal they have so they want to get some concessions from management BUT the agreement is legally binding.  What options to they have to eek out a better deal for their members:  1) Go to court – they are doing that   2)  Work to rule – make a big deal of following the agreement to the letter – make sure that workers are never put in danger – there always has to railings on steps at residences regardless of the grade of the steps, etc. 
          What does CUPW hope to accomplish – the employer will become exhausted will dealing with complaints and throw them a few bones (make some concessions).   
          Now, what would the employer have to gain by putting in complaints about no railings on the steps – the employer already has a binding legal contract.  The employer has wide public support.  The employer has won this go round by everyone’s estimates. 
          It is not a conspiracy theory, it is a brilliant negotiating tool at play.

  11. Was a CUPW member responsible for this, or was it Canada Post? The article does state no letter carrier has ever filed a complaint.

    So until I’m told otherwise, I’m going to assume it was some Canada Post management trainee who was just exercising a little bureaucratic persuasion aimed at some uppity newspaper columnist who dares to challenge the CPC monopoly.

    • To think that our conspiracy theory can even involve the conservative government….this is even better.  Afterall, it is unthinkable that a union ever is unhappy with the contract forced upon it in arbitration and plans a work to rule.

      • So conspiracy of the CUPW you can get behind, but not one of the corporation.

        Good double standard.

        • No Thwim, I am a union member and have been almost my whole working life.  I can tell you how it works.  If you are in a dispute, you work to rule.  That means you follow the legally-binding rules of the contract to the letter.  If a workplace puts a worker at risk in any way, the union steps in and lodges a complaint.  No worker does a minute of work past the end of the shift.  It is that simple.  You have to look at who has something to gain and lose here.  The only power the unionized workers have is in there ability to uphold the contract to its exact specifications.   That way the employers hands are tied.

  12. Hmm… which would I prefer to have?  Posties or economists?  I mean, if I had to choose between the two, which group, on the whole, would we be better off without?  

    Yep, I’d keep the posties & toss the economists.  Both are annoying, but at least the posties do something useful.

    • Unless you don’t have railings and then the posties don’t doing anything useful for you either.

      • I have no response room for above so I will post here.  

        Occam’s razor is not “the simplest explanation is likely the right one”, rather, “Plurality is not to be posited without necessity.”  It is a tool for reasoning arising from the entailments of the Aristotelian derived system scholasticism, and a highly contentions tool at that.  Not being a schoolman, not knowing any (even naive native one’s), and given that there are so very few around and/or being made, O’s R is no more, today, than a bumper sticker. 

        healthchareinsider’s bedpan, which you (and a great deal of other people, too) actually use, while thinking you are using Occam’s razor, has some significant problems, stemming from the use of “likely”.  LKO’s explanation had the appearance of complexity, therefore by the hc’s bedpan, is “likely” to be wrong.  The brain does not listen to likely.  It only hear’s “This seems complex.  It must be wrong.”  If one where to transpose LKO’s explanation to a visual form, it looses much of the apparent complexity.  

        Additionally, I did not see much in your reported experience as a long term union member that necessarily contradicted or invalidated what LKO said.  

        • I’m sorry I should have clarified that I was a union representative for over 5 years and that working to rule is a fantastic strategy for making the employer come back to the bargaining table with some concessions for the workers. 
          As for “my” interpretation of occam’s razor…..I think it is a simplified but accurate interpretation of the definition you provided so I will keep using it.
          I am sorry but I still find LKO’s explanation for the events “convoluted.”
          The mgmt at Canada Post and the Canada govt. have won the war so why would they continue to engage in skirmishes that only going to keep the customer service and public relations department at company busy?

          • As I said,above, I never suggested any sort of “conspiracy” or “convoluted theory”, I just asked if the safety inspectors are actually CUPW members or not.  Everyone seems to assume that they are, but are we sure?

            All I’m saying is that given the fact the the union has been broadly blamed by the public for being locked out by management, it wouldn’t be the first time in this dispute that the union took the blame for something that they had no part in.

          • You are looking for a good guy/bad guy scenario in all of this when in fact in labor disputes, everything is about strategy. 
            How can you say in good conscience that the CUPW were wrongly blamed for a mail-stopping nation-wide strike when they initiated the rotating strikes and refused to consider entering arbitration.  The minute you walk away from the negotating table and start striking you have thrown the gauntlet down.  These are not inexperienced union leaders, they knew the possible outcome – they had been legislated back to work in the past.  They also knew that they did not have the support of the public.  They gambled and they lost and now they are doing what they can to recoup their losses. Again, it is not about good guys vs. bad guys – it is the union guys doing their job for their members. 

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