The big news this week, aside from the fact that local craft beer may soon be available for purchase at farmers markets, is the announcement by Canada Post that it is ending home mail delivery and that community mailboxes are coming to urban streets.
I have no idea why this upsets me so much. I have no relationship with the person who delivers the mail to my home – it’s not like I’m going to miss our folksy conversations: “I’m afraid there’s no good news in here today Mr. Quinn, just bills! Heh, heh.” “Okay, thanks Dave! You have a good day now.”
That conversation never took place between me and the anonymous letter carrier who crams the mail into our box every day because I have never actually met the person.
I fully recognize that I’m a dinosaur for wanting a paper copy of my gas bill or cable bill delivered to my home. I bank online – I could as easily be billed online. But for some reason, I’m attached to the paper record.
It’s not as though it wasn’t inevitable. Canada Post – a public service that for some reason adopted a private business model some time ago – is mandated to be self-sufficient even as it carries a heavy wage and pension load. And while the service has benefited from the boom in online shopping, it’s hard to compete with UPS and FedEx when part of your job is getting letters to Nunavut for a few cents apiece.
And yes, I know that two-thirds of Canadians already retrieve their mail from community mailboxes. They do so without complaint and are probably rolling their eyes right now. As one person put it on Twitter, “It’s worked well for me for 15 years. No one treading over flower beds or antagonizing the dog.”
I have trouble picturing just where these community boxes might sprout up in my neighbourhood, but I’m sure that after a couple of months, I won’t remember what the streets looked like without them.
And yet it feels like the end of something important.
I have never had to wait for life or death news from the homefront by post. I never sent a letter from camp nor received a reply from Santa.When my kids go off to college, I won’t be looking for letters to find out how they’re doing. We’ll Skype.
The best I can come up with is that maybe I’m upset because it’s another step in the businessfication of everything.
There are services that are worth paying a portion of your tax dollars to support – services that benefit everyone and to which a profit-and-loss business model can’t be applied.
Schools come to mind. There are many profit-driven private alternatives, but we have decided – for the time being anyhow – that everyone deserves a basic education regardless of their ability to pay.
There are the ferries that are, depending on your point of view, either a vital link and a necessary extension of the highway system worthy of public funding, or grossly subsidized personal taxis for people who made a decision to isolate themselves on remote islands.
People who don’t ride public transit may not like that their tax dollars help fund the transit system. They’ll get to vote on that soon. Community centres, swimming pools, skating rinks and parks – money losers all. And don’t even get me started on public libraries – what kind of a business model is that?
But for me, the feeling that something has been lost persists. Is it the fact that it strips a layer of independence from seniors and disabled people? Is it the loss of 8,000 jobs that pay a living wage? Or is it, perhaps, that increasingly it seems institutions that weren’t built to earn a profit are regarded as not worth keeping?
I think it’s all of those things.