Ottawa's announcement this week that it is scrapping the phase-out of home mail delivery undertaken by the Harper Conservatives is one of those non-decisions for which governments are infamous.
The move doesn't help the 840,000 homes that have already lost home delivery service and instead rely on community mailboxes. At the same time, it foregoes the $400-million in cost savings that the Harper plan would have created, were it seen through.
Similarly, the Liberals' plan to name a new executive team and let it re-invest Canada Post's profits, rather than put them into general revenues, punts critically needed structural changes into the indeterminate future.
The Liberals argue they have kept an election promise (much hinges on how loosely one interprets the phrase "save home delivery"). In fairness, the move responds to a very real public outcry about the loss of home delivery and acknowledges the central shortcoming of the Harper plan – where do you find room for thousands of community mailboxes in crowded cities like Toronto or Vancouver?
This non-decision might have been okay if circumstances didn't call for bold action. The fact is, Canada's public mail monopoly has been in a death spiral since the 1980s.
Though parcel delivery has lately breathed some financial life into the Crown corporation, the underlying problems remain unresolved: Canada Post has a large and expensive work force, $6-billion in unfunded pension liabilities, and a dwindling clientele for its core service.
Other countries faced with a similar conundrum have turned to some form of privatization or de-monopolization – the United Kingdom, Germany, New Zealand and the Netherlands, among others. They have experienced varying degrees of success, and offer lessons to learn from.
Yet Ottawa has opted for an unsustainable status quo, while hoping that new leadership can find the miracle cure that has eluded public postal services around the world.
Political courage has been in short supply on the Canada Post file for decades. Here was an opportunity to show some. By passing it up, a government that purports to do things differently is serving up more of the same.