Normally at this time of year Canada Post volunteers -- referred to as "elves" -- are busily preparing responses to letters to Santa. Hundreds of thousands arrive at the HO-HO-HO postal code -- and the turnaround time is tight.
But this December a particularly abrupt letter arrived at Canada Post's head office in Ottawa. It was addressed to CEO and President Deepak Chopra and signed by Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc. The message was short but not particularly sweet -- he was requested to "voluntarily choose not to serve," and he would have until December 18 to do so. Talk about a tight turnaround. Merry Christmas!
What I find disturbing about all of this is that it demonstrates that the incoming Liberals seem to lack institutional memory. They forget that they themselves instituted a series of reforms coming out of the sponsorship scandal that led directly to Mr. Chopra's current incumbency -- and that should lead to his retention.
I know, because I was there.
Under the Liberals (and the Conservatives before them), the position of CEO at Canada Post had indeed been unabashedly partisan.
But in 2003 this proved highly problematic when it was discovered that millions of dollars of public relations and sponsorship dollars were unaccounted for -- and that some of these monies had been channeled through untendered contracts at Canada Post. By February 2004, then-Prime Minister Paul Martin suspended Canada Post's CEO, Andre Ouellet, a long-time Liberal and former cabinet minister.
Martin, seeking to repair his party's image, then put in place a process designed to take the politics out of the selection process. Individuals were to be vetted on their personal qualifications, not their party affiliations.
This process led to the appointment in May of 2005 of Moya Greene, a former public servant with extensive managerial experience at TD, CIBC and Bombardier. This also led to my joining soon afterwards as the SVP of stakeholder relations and brand (the very function that had previously doled out the untendered contracts). Several other senior executives drawn from the outside joined at about the same time. None of us were asked our political affiliation.
Moya came in at a time of severe challenge for postal administrations around the world. Mail volumes were falling and costs were largely fixed and rising. Under her leadership, we were able to better engage with employees, to cut costs and to innovate -- including the introduction of the permanent stamp.
Moya's departure to take up the CEO job at the far larger Royal Mail in the U.K. in May of 2010 prompted another search for a qualified person to serve as Canada Post's CEO -- and that person was deemed to be Deepak Chopra. An industry veteran of 20 years, he held prominent CEO positions at Pitney Bowes Asia Pacific and the Middle East and Pitney Bowes Canada and Latin America.
Chopra, who is an Indo-Canadian immigrant, made no bones about his pride in being named to the position. As he told me at the time, for him and for his community, it was an affirmation that, with proper qualifications and hard work, one could do anything and barriers could be overcome.
Like his predecessor, Chopra inherited a difficult world-wide postal environment. Huge deficits loomed unless changes were made. He built upon reforms already underway, but went further. He invested heavily in the parcels business, including advertising, to try to capture a larger market share. And he looked for ways to streamline delivery (yes, including phasing out door-to-door delivery and replacing it with community boxes, which would provide a safe and secure platform for parcel and package delivery).
His reappointment in July was a normal and prudent business practice, no different than what Moya Greene had experienced in 2009 (although in her case she was extended by a Conservative government after having been appointed, technically, by the Liberals -- a further proof-point of the non-partisan nature of the process).
At a time when the U.S. Postal Service is losing $5 billion a year, Canada Post has returned to profitability under his stewardship, and one would think you would want to keep a steady hand on the Canada Post tiller at a time when Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau is staring a $10 billion deficit in the face. It is, after all, a $9 billion giant -- not an entity you'd want to leave rudderless for a year or more.
I have met Dominic LeBlanc. The occasion was the unveiling of a stamp dedicated to his father, former Governor General Romeo LeBlanc, at Rideau Hall. He struck me as smart, witty and unpretentious. He also struck me as someone who, when given the facts and time to reflect, would do the right thing. In this case, the right thing is to let Deepak Chopra continue as Canada Post's President and CEO. And he should do this before the Christmas rush.
Robert Waite is Chair of Canada Post's Stamp Advisory Committee, a non-paid, voluntary position.
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