Shortly after dinner today, we decided to drive to Delisle, our nearest town. It was snowing, but it didn’t look too bad, so off we went. Once we got on the highway, we realized that we didn’t have a realistic view of things from home. Here we are protected from east and northeast winds by the trees along our neighbour’s property line; out on the road the snow was blowing and visibility wasn’t that great. But we made it there and back.
I dropped my wife off at the library and made stops at the Post Office, the Credit Union and the Royal Bank. Lorrie, the postmistress, told me some news that stirred memories and a variety of thoughts. Mail sorting for Saskatchewan is now centralized in Regina and Saskatoon. The big old post offices in Prince Albert and Moose Jaw have closed, leaving only retail postal outlets. That leaves a number of postal workers with no work to do. They still come in and punch the time clock, but there isn’t enough work to go around anymore.
This has happened before. When I was a boy there were postal cars on the trains and mail was picked up, sorted and dropped off at towns along the route. I’m not sure when that was stopped, but I started working in the Moose Jaw Post Office forty years ago and Don Knight and I were the first new hires in many years, since the post office had been over-staffed since the end of sorting on the trains. In fact, the older employees wee still very careful not to do too much in order to spread the work around.
The adversarial management-employee relationship in the Post Office is not entirely the fault of the union. For years and years individuals who had served in the armed forces were the preferred candidates for jobs in the post office. Management consisted almost entirely of former officers. Unfortunately, military experience didn’t seem to be good preparation for running a business.
I remember when the Post Office operated a savings bank and deposits and withdrawals could be made over the postal counter. The Post Office Savings Bank was closed in 1968, after 100 years of operation. Now there are suggestions from the postal union and some others that the idea should be revived. There is some logic to the proposal: there are no bank branches in many remote communities, but there are post offices. Many poor people do not have bank accounts and the big banks see little opportunity for profit in this segment of the population.
Payday loan companies have sprung up to fill the vacuum. They offer cheque cashing services and small loans, for seemingly outrageous fees. But the default rate on these loans runs 5% or higher and the many small branches of payday loan companies make for high overhead. The Post Office branches and personnel already exist and it would seem that overhead costs for a Post Office bank would be minimal. But what do I know? No doubt there are many persuasive reasons why it wouldn’t work. Yet . . . Post Office banks are thriving in places like France and New Zealand.
Anyway, those were my rather pointless musings this afternoon. The snow has stopped, I think we received about 10cm.