01/13/2014 03:23 EST | Updated 03/13/2014 05:59 EDT

Return to Sender, Postage Guaranteed: Canada Post Imposes Surcharge on Fort McMurray

I suspect they hoped it would never be noticed until someone sent a parcel into Fort McMurray and got dinged an extra $5. The fact that it was never publicly communicated makes me suspicious of this, and it seems an underhanded attempt to increase costs without ever telling the public they serve that the cost was going up.

I suspect they hoped it would never be noticed until someone sent a parcel into Fort McMurray and got dinged an extra $5. The fact that it was never publicly communicated makes me suspicious of this, and it seems an underhanded attempt to increase costs without ever telling the public they serve that the cost was going up. While private business might get away with such antics some of us expect better service from our Crown corporations - like Canada Post.

UPDATE: Canada Post has withdrawn the Fort McMurray postage surcharge, effective Monday afternoon.

Earlier this week I learned that Canada Post is instituting a new surcharge on parcels coming into Fort McMurray. I didn't learn about it through a press release, but rather through hearing a rumour online and then going on a web search until finding the document confirming that this was indeed the case. And that would be when all hell broke loose.

It seems this new surcharge will be applied to all parcels coming into Fort McMurray - and only Fort McMurray, with no other communities served by Canada Post affected by a similar surcharge. The reason given is the "high cost of doing business" in Fort McMurray, but no evidence, such as a breakdown of these higher costs, has been provided. No pie charts showing how serving Fort McMurray costs more to serve than other northern communities have appeared, and most interestingly no information on how much revenue this might generate has been shared. To add insult to injury, over recent months many residents have been expressing and filing complaints about delayed and lost mail and parcels, delivery vehicles left unlocked and wide open with parcels in plain view and no employee in sight, and deliveries of expensive goods requiring signatures simply being left on doorsteps. One parcel that they claimed delivered to me was eventually discovered a week later in a bin of gardening tools, where it might have stayed all winter had I not gone on a search for a "delivered" parcel that I could not find (and I have since heard of parcels left in recycling bins and hidden in other areas, too, delivered but creating a sort of game of "search and find" for the deliveree).

A former local Canada Post employee contacted me after I began blogging about the issue. They told me that they estimate approximately 2,000 parcels come into Fort McMurray daily, with about triple that amount over the holiday season. Now, I am no mathematician, but based on that estimate it would seem this new surcharge could garner Canada Post around $3 million and possibly more, a substantial chunk of change for a corporation with some financial woes - but how much of that is actually needed to meet the "higher costs of doing business" and how much of it is pure profit? No one knows, because Canada Post, while doing interviews with media, has declined to respond to the tweets, Facebook posts, and apparently emails of a single person in Fort McMurray.

Local residents have been tweeting and facebooking them for days, and it seems we have dropped off the postal map as there have been no responses or replies. In interviews they have done with media they have continued to maintain this new surcharge is due to higher costs, including hiring a contractor to do parcel deliveries (a move they were forced to make when they could not retain local employees, likely due to low wages). They acknowledge the issues with employee retention, but it doesn't seem to occur to them that they could use such a surcharge to actually pay the employees more or hire new ones. Retaining or hiring employees doesn't seem to be the intent of this surcharge at all, and it would seem hard to believe that the contractor is costing them in the neighbourhood of $3 million - so what is this all about in the end?

For people in Fort McMurray it feels like this is about the "Fort McMurray Money Phenomenon". We have some experience with this, because when you live in a place where it is perceived that everyone makes a higher-than-national-average income many come looking to dip their hands into your pockets. But not everyone here has this higher income, and the impact of this surcharge, while some of it may hit us through online retailers and local businesses who have no option but to pass on this cost, will truly hit the family and friends who ship to us. It will be Nan in Newfoundland and Mom in Manitoba paying that extra $5 in the end, people who rely on Canada Post and who might well be unable to afford another $5 "surcharge".

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Being singled out for this surcharge, without explanation or evidence, feels very wrong to those of us who live here. It feels like we have a Crown corporation reaching into our pockets looking for our change, and charging us more money for service that has been sliding south for months. I would happily pay more for better service, but currently this is simply not the case and it feels like we are being asked to pay for a problem they know they have and are going to charge us to fix for them. Fix the problem, give us stellar service, and then charge us more? Sure. But charge us more without ever suggesting it might fix the issue? I think we struggle with that a bit.

This new surcharge is scheduled to take effect on Monday January 13. There is scant information to justify the change, and there is little evidence to show it will improve postal delivery in Fort McMurray (or anywhere else). Canada Post has shown they have little interest in interacting with their local customers - but one thing that is of interest is that now we have a federal by-election looming in our area given the recent resignation of our local Member of Parliament. I would suggest this is an election issue just ripe for the picking, and one that speaks to our community in a strong way as it suggests that once again we are going to be treated differently because of our economic strength. And I would suggest the people who live here and call this place home are quite weary of being treated any differently than anywhere else in Canada.

What would I like to see happen? I want to see a delay of implementing this surcharge pending a full review - and a report to the public showing why it makes sense, and how it will positively impact Canada Post service in our region. I want Canada Post to start communicating with their customers - and their tax paying stakeholders - and I want to see some commitment to ensuring that this is not just a "cash grab" at my community but rather a plan with a solid financial case backing it.

In wanting those things I suppose you may say I'm a dreamer - but I'm not the only one. The residents of my community are dreamers - but we are realistic ones, and right now our reality includes a $5 surcharge that it seems someone was hoping to slide under the radar. We would like to return this new surcharge to the sender at Canada Post, and until they can explain it in a satisfactory way we will continue to reject delivery. Postage guaranteed.