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‘It’s a mess': Rollout of maligned community mailboxes timed with federal election, says NDP MP
July 2, 2015
Glen McGregor

As the unofficial federal election campaign begins, the installation of community mailboxes in urban areas is generating more angry complaints from constituents than any other issue, says Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar.

The mailboxes that replace the door-to-door delivery city residents once enjoyed are being placed in two areas of Dewar’s riding: Westboro Beach, north of the Transitway, and in an area off Prince of Wales Drive.

Disputes with Canada Post over the locations of the boxes are the leading complaints, Dewar says.

“I’ve had many constituents ticked off about the lack of consultation,” he said.

“It’s a mess. This has taken over as the key constituency issue, now that the boxes are hitting the streets.”

Dewar said he understands that although the rollout of the mailboxes that began last year is supposed to take five years, he has seen notices from Canada Post that list Oct. 19 as a target date to switch over some neighbourhoods.

That is the same date Canadians are scheduled to next go to the polls to vote in the federal election.

“They’re trying to get as many of these in as possible,” he said.

Dewar said it’s possible Canada Post is trying to get boxes installed before the election because the NDP, were it to form a government, could intervene with the Crown corporation to reverse the phasing out of home delivery.

Canada Post says, however, that the scheduling of any boxes on election day is purely coincidental.

“Any dates that are months out are just for planning purposes,” said spokesman John Hamilton.

“You’ve got five million households across the country, a third of all households, that we’re converting over five years. To get there, you have to convert about a million a year.”

This year, Canada Post is switching 900,000 households in about 90 communities across the country.

Either way, the NDP hopes to make mailboxes a campaign issue that could swing some voters unhappy with the end of door-to-door delivery.

Urban areas, which tend to be held more often by opposition MPs, are expected to be the most affected by the phasing out of door-to-door delivery. The Conservatives, however, tend to draw their political strength from rural or suburban ridings, where delivery is already sparse and community mailboxes are common.

A map on the corporation’s website shows households scheduled for conversion in a large swath of Ottawa, south of the 417, stretching from Kanata to Beacon Hill. Areas in the denser downtown areas north of the highway will be converted later in the process.

Dewar also thinks the numbers used to rationalize Canada Post’s decisions to end home delivery were misleading. The corporation claimed that about two-thirds of Canadians do not have door-to-door delivery of regular mail — those in rural communities and suburban areas.

But Dewar noted the figure includes people who live in apartments or condominium buildings among those who receive their mail from a shared mailbox.

Hamilton said no one living an apartment building would consider their mail service door-to-door, just as a hotel guest who goes to the lobby for a meal wouldn’t call it room service.

The mailboxes have generated opposition in other communities.

The City of Hamilton is appealing a court decision that struck down a local bylaw that, the judge said, thwarted Canada Post’s authority to install the boxes around the city.

“We have to do this secure the future of the postal service,” Hamilton said.