Monopolistically, my dear Watson

Bet you didn’t know you were breaking the law if you ever had non-urgent mail delivered by a courier

Today’s front page of the National Post features an amusing column by William Watson about an “access problem” that Canada Post has very suddenly discovered at the Montreal domicile he has occupied for two decades. Watson’s entryway has a few wide, shallow steps with no railing. It’s a situation that would not challenge an infant above the age of twenty months, and no particular carrier has filed a complaint, but a safety officer doing a “preventative” check of Watson’s premises has decided that he must either renovate or cease receiving his mail at home.

One is mindful, reading of Watson’s experience, that the Canadian Union of Postal Workers is still bitter about being sent back to work by statute with a poorer-than-expected wage deal. His tale sounds like the outcome of a work-to-rule effort, and that is certainly what one would anticipate after a strike lockout that had been ended by fiat. Canada Post’s customers want to put a Conservative government in Ottawa?—Very well! Let’s see how they like the results! How happy for CUPW, really, that one of the suckers to whom it’s applying random abuse turns out to be a loathsome, venomous right-wing pundit of the sort that’s forever agitating for privatizations and competitiveness and the rest of the gore-grimed apparatus of capitalism.

If I were in Watson’s position, I would be tempted to call Canada Post’s bluff and let my mail be deflected back, at the corporation’s expense, to creditors, hucksters, and the occasional Christmas card sender. He instead uses his nightmare as a pretext to denounce Canada Post’s monopoly on first-class mail. Since he is a professional economist, it would have been a fairly safe bet that he despised the post office anyway—even if he weren’t actually on record describing the monopoly as “increasingly weird”. Little did the professor know when he wrote those words just how weird things would get.

Delightfully, one of the commenters whose deep thoughts are inscribed below Watson’s piece thinks she has found a fatal flaw in his argument: since, by his own account, Watson receives mail from UPS and FedEx and other private parcel delivery services, he ought to break down and admit that Canada Post isn’t really a monopoly. Internet goofballs aside, I’m sure it’s generally known that private carriers are forbidden from delivering first-class mail for less than triple the Canada Post rate. That is almost as definitive as a government-mandated monopoly gets in practice. But have you ever looked at the way the rule is structured in the Canada Post Corporation Act?

Subject to section 15, the Corporation has the sole and exclusive privilege of collecting, transmitting and delivering letters to the addressee thereof within Canada.

Monopoly? The hell you say! Section 15 is a list of exceptions to this “Canada Post delivers everything” principle: UPS and FedEx and the like are permitted to do business by a clause that sighingly tolerates private delivery of “letters of an urgent nature that are transmitted by a messenger for a fee at least equal to an amount that is three times the regular rate of postage payable for delivery…”, etc.

I bet you didn’t know that you were defying the law of the land if you ever had non-urgent lettermail delivered by a courier. Watson would almost certainly be in technical violation of the Act, were he to try opting out of Canada Post mail delivery altogether and paying the mandated treble fare for everything. You’ve been warned, bourgeois devil!