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opinion

Canada Post says: Keep sending letters to Santa. There’s no picket at the North Pole.

This bit of whimsy from the Crown corporation cut the tension this week as rotating strikes continued to slow deliveries across the country.

It also highlighted the stakes in the labour dispute. It’s the holiday season after all; missives to Mr. Claus jostle with Christmas cards and yuletide cheques from Grandma in the sentimental picture the public still has of our postal service.

Of course, this Christmas, as with every Christmas since the invention of e-mail, online banking and e-commerce, Canada Post is becoming less and less a letter-delivery service and more and more a wing of the retail sector. Consider: The annual volume of mail is falling, down by a billion pieces since 2013. There are fewer letters, but parcel revenue was up 23 per cent last year, and cracked $2-billion for the first time.

So, yes, the holiday season matters for the post office. But far more important than letters to Santa are packages from him, as a result of Black Friday sales and holiday shopping. On Dec. 4 last year, Canada Post set a record, delivering 1.83-million parcels in a day.

This shift – from delivering mail to delivering goods bought on the internet – presents a problem for the postal unions. On the one hand, it means their current demand for better health and safety rules and less onerous shifts might have something to it. “Letter carriers,” as they’re still misleadingly called, are likelier to get injured lugging your new toaster than they are dropping off your phone bill.

But the shift also gives the federal government one more compelling reason to end the strike. Canada Post’s focus on parcels has made it more indispensable, not less, by making it a key cog in the retail economy. And the corporation still enjoys a legal monopoly on the delivery of regular mail, which despite its steady decline is still relied on by many people and businesses.

Being essential is always a mixed bag for strikers. Postal workers are finding that out. They are in the midst of learning what cynical kids have always averred: that Christmas isn’t about letters to Santa. It’s about the presents.