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It's a hornet's nest for any MP: taking away your constituents' mail.
Canada Post's decisions to eliminate home delivery in a particular area have always had a political impact. Local MPs are usually deluged with complaints. So for Conservative MPs – representing the government that approved the move – the interesting question about the postal service's decision to phase out home delivery is when and where it will start.
The mail is no longer the high-stakes national political issue it was in the 1970s and early '80s, when postal strikes could threaten governments and the postal-workers union was a power. But the NDP obviously feels the decision won't be popular; they've blasted it. Even if many Canadians don't want to pay for the projected heavy losses at Canada Post, many will think there must be another way.
And cutting off delivery has proven to cause tricky local politics for MPs.
The good news for a lot of Tory MPs is that it won't affect most of their constituents. Two-thirds of Canadians, in rural areas and in newer suburban subdivisions built since 1985, already pick up their mail at community mailboxes, and it just so happens that's those areas are more likely to have Conservative MPs. And rural roadside delivery, the dropoffs in mailboxes at the end of long driveways on rural roads, isn't going to end.
The bad news for Tories is many of their marginal MPs, in ridings that aren't safe seats, represent plenty of folks who will lose home delivery, in older Toronto suburbs, or towns in Ontario and New Brunswick.
This is an issue with a long history, because of the end of delivery in rural areas and some other neighbourhoods. It's not just Canada Post, but the government, and local MPs, who were deluged with complaints.
When the Liberals were in power, Liberal MPs from Atlantic Canada issued statements complaining about delivery cutoffs, even though it amounted to a criticism of their party's government. In 2006, when Canada Post cut off delivery to some rural parts of New Brunswick, Mr. Harper, then running a minority government, met with the head of Canada Post, and his government ordered that some rural roadside delivery be restored.
There are known demographics: older Canadians and especially senior citizens are usually more upset by losing home mail delivery. Seniors tend to vote, and they are more likely to vote Conservative.
But one former Conservative staffer pointed out that annoyance at the announcement pales compared to the outrage when it's implemented, and people actually lose home delivery. There's the sudden inconvenience, the reduction of daily connection for seniors, the $29 fee to replace a lost key to a community mailbox and, for the guy who lives next to the new community mailbox, the slamming car doors and junk mail dumped on the lawn. In other words, the fallout really comes when the policy is implemented.
That's why the details of Canada Post's plan to phase out home delivery over five years will be hotly followed by MPs, and – bet on it – the Conservative government. An MP whose constituents lose mail delivery in 2014 has to face complaints from angry constituents before the 2015 election.
Perhaps the political impact will be blunted by the fact that home delivery is dying across the country, so neighbourhoods won't feel they're being unfairly treated – as they often have in the past. Many people will believe snail mail is a dying industry in the era of digital communications, and they'll accept that they must make concessions to changing times.
But there will still be political fallout, and for the government, the impact will be in important places, and key demographics, and perhaps wider than they expect. The folks in older suburbs and tree-lined urban neighbourhoods often want lower taxes, but they're already feeling a little tired of the little service cuts from all levels of government, like garbage collection.
Canada Post hasn't yet revealed details of which neighbourhoods will lose mail delivery first, and when. A spokesman said that will be rolled out early next year. It will be the most politically sensitive mail-delivery schedule in decades.
Campbell Clark is a columnist in The Globe's Ottawa bureau.