A dispute between Canada Post and the private postal outlet in Heidelberg means residents will no longer have a post office, joining many small communities that have been stripped of service.
As of Monday, residents will have to travel to St. Clements for their mail while Canada Post continues to install community mailboxes to replace the serviced outlet. The mailboxes are to go into use starting Feb. 20.
Steve McCathie, owner of Forwell Super Variety of Heidelberg that has hosted the franchised postal outlet since 2000, lays the blame on a longstanding contract dispute with the Crown corporation. He was informed Monday the outlet will close Jan. 23.
The variety store hosts 440 post boxes for residents and businesses, and provides almost all of the services a normal post office does.
“We are a busy post office and larger than a lot of other rural outlets in the area,” said McCathie. “Since we are a franchise outlet we are only paid $13,000 a year by Canada Post to sort the mail, whereas a corporate post office like the one in St. Clements receives $48,000 to do the same job, but they have fewer boxes.”
McCathie said the compensation to provide the service works out to $5.30 per hour, far lower than the provincial minimum wage. The store has to make up the difference in pay for the two employees that work at the outlet.
Canada Post and the storeowner have been at odds over a couple of contract terms that McCathie won’t accept.
Along with maintaining the current pay, Canada Post wants to install new computer equipment and scales. McCathie said the organization refuses to pay for the estimated $750 a year in electricity he believes the equipment will use.
Another contract term concerns a pre-authorized debit arrangement that McCathie said would give Canada Post unfiltered access to the store’s bank account.
“What it boils down to is that the little independent guys have no power with Canada Post and we are seeing rural outlets close down all over the region like in Maryhill and Floradale,” said McCathie. “We are not a union, we are just a family-run business. It is too dangerous for my business to allow anyone into my bank account at anytime.”
McCathie offered to use electronic banking to pay his monthly bill but said Canada Post refused that offer, demanding access to his business bank account.
When it became clear negotiations were getting nowhere, the storeowner contacted Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht in August, providing him with the letters from Canada Post threatening to close the outlet.
“He was very surprised by the tone of the letters and was not aware of the inequalities between post offices across the region,” said McCathie. “He contacted me in October and told me he had spoken with representatives from Canada Post and they told him they were not treating me any different than another outlet.”
Albrecht said he believes that Canada Post has not lived up to the terms of the postal service charter.
“I am continuing to work with Mr. Lebel, the Transport Minister, and Canada Post to determine how we can correct this failure. We should have been consulted prior to the change and I expect Canada Post to find a solution that will ensure that families and businesses continue to receive the postal services that they are use to,” said Albrecht. “We expect Canada Post to abide by the charter and provide quality postal services that we can count on.”
McCathie said Canada Post told him when he first became a dealer that he would not make any money being a postal outlet but by providing the mail service but he would have people coming through his store.
Although the post office does bring in some revenue for McCathie’s business, he said he is more concerned about how the closure will inconvenience residents of the village.
“It is very unfortunate that they have decided to close us down because this was a place where people in the community would meet. We don’t have a community centre and many times neighbours would run into each other collecting the mail and stop and chat with one another. I feel the community is losing its only link to commonality.”
Mail service will continue in Heidelberg, maintains a Canada Post spokesperson.
“Unfortunately we could not reach an agreement with the current dealer to maintain the postal outlet,” said spokesman John Caines. “In the interim, beginning Monday residents of Heidelberg will be getting their mail by general delivery at the St. Clements post office until the community mailboxes are ready. Those community mailboxes will be closer to their homes.”
McCathie said he was willing to keep the post office open until Canada Post had the community boxes ready so that residents of Heidelberg would not have to travel to St. Clements, as some do not have their own transportation.
“Canada Post is closing the office just out of spite. They didn’t like that I was standing up for myself, they want to be able to call all the shots,” said McCathie.
Caines said Canada Post is still talking to other businesses in Heidelberg to see if they can find another location to host the post office. If so, they will re-establish the retail outlet.
Given the fact that there are not many retailers in the village and the fact that the community boxes are being built, McCathie believes that it will be unlikely for another outlet to open in Heidelberg, but he is hoping for a change of mind by Canada Post at the last minute that will allow him keep his postal outlet open.