Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff

Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff

Lost in the mail

Canada Post’s move to community mailboxes creates more questions than answers for Saanich

Judy Brownoff has a lot of questions for Canada Post, fearing municipalities across the country will be on the hook to pay for costs associated with maintaining safe and accessible community mailboxes.

The Saanich councillor says the mid-December announcement that the Crown corporation will do away with home delivery within the next five years shouldn’t have been made before consulting municipalities.

Her concerns stem from vague wordings in the Canada Post Delivery Planning Standards Manual that don’t clearly touch on land-use, lighting, pedestrian safety, sidewalks and mailbox maintenance.

“Why, if this is a federal edict, are they not being told to spend some money and get some standards developed, then talk to municipalities,” she said.

Brownoff points to the fact that few residential streets in Saanich have sidewalks, per municipal policy, and many streets have sporadic lampposts to prevent light pollution.

“People are going to have to have a safe walking environment to get to that box. There’s going to have to lighting – who’s going to pay to put in a light standard? Is Canada Post going to pay to put in a sidewalk? I think this is going to be them downloading costs onto us,” she says.

As for where these boxes will be installed, Brownoff is curious if they will be put on private or municipally owned land.

Canada Post estimates 6,000 to 8,000 positions will be eliminated by implementing nationwide community mailboxes. The company says rising costs and falling mail volumes have rendered the traditional operations no longer sustainable.

In 1989, Saanich council approved a policy entitled “Supermailbox Location Policies” that establishes guidelines for where Canada Post can install these boxes.

In addition to specifying how far away a box should be from driveways, sidewalks and intersections, the bylaw indicates these mailboxes can’t be installed on major roads and it puts limits on how many mailboxes there can be in one particular area.

Colin Doyle, Saanich’s director of engineering, says since the policy “establishes guidelines,” what’s laid out are “desirables.”

Before any work happens, however, Canada Post will be required to receive a permit from the engineering department.

“It’s strictly an administrative procedure, just as other people do to work in a municipal right-of-way. They take out a permit, and provided the work’s approved, they go ahead and do it, and it’s inspected by our folks,” he said.

“Prior to the installation of a supermailbox, Canada Post will submit to the Municipality site plans showing details of the proposed supermailbox locations and other features that may affect the acceptability of their proposed location,” the policy reads.

Brownoff expects Canada Post won’t simply drop boxes into neighbourhoods without consulting first with Saanich and area residents.

“I think it’s a slap in our face that Canada Post hasn’t come to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to see what sort of guidelines we need to develop, because it’s going to be different across Canada,” she said.

The issue is being raised around other council tables, too. Delta council last week passed a motion requesting a Canada Post representative come speak to council to address their concerns.

“One of the concerns is that many of the new mailboxes that are being installed are really not secure,” Delta Coun. Bruce McDonald said. “They have become a very consistent target because you don’t have to break into 48 houses, you just have to break into one and you get 48 people’s mail.”

In late December, Saanich South MLA Lana Popham posted to Twitter saying her entire community mailbox was stolen.

A report from Brownoff was expected to be brought forward to council Monday night. Among the recommendations was requesting Canada Post re-evaluate the financial and social impacts the decision may have on municipalities and taxpayers.

She also recommended the decision needs to be looked at with a focus on age-friendly communities, crime prevention, safe walking spaces, maintaining the infrastructure and security.

“Canada Post needs to re-evaluate how they’re doing their business. I think they need to be brought to task – you start with contacting and communicating with municipalities,” she said. “We’re going to fight for answers.”

Canada Post has not returned a request for comment.