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Canada Post surcharge to Fort McMurray sparks backlash

A Canada Post truck is seen on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 in Toronto.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

From anywhere … to anyone … for a price.

Canada Post is slapping a $5 surcharge on all parcels it ships to Fort McMurray, a move the Crown corporation says is necessary to pay for the excessive cost of doing business in the Northern Alberta boomtown.

Fort McMurray will be the only destination for which such a levy is applied, touching off a backlash in a region where hostility toward the beleaguered mail carrier was already running high.

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"The service is horrendous, at best," said Kelsey Lundquist, who moved to Fort McMurray from Langley, B.C., and noticed an immediate difference in delivery. "My boyfriend's family won't ship things to us via Canada Post any more. They have sent well over 10 letters and packages and not one of them has ever arrived on time."

On social media, dozens of Fort McMurray residents have lodged an array of complaints about everything from missing parcels to once-a-week delivery schedules to carriers in taxi cabs tossing parcels on lawns.

"We have had our issues there," Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton concedes. "We have made a lot of progress over the last year, but is there still a gap in terms of the level of service that we want to provide and the level of service we are able to provide? Yes. We still need to improve."

Mr. Hamilton says the corporation cannot retain enough workers in Fort McMurray to provide decent service. The starting salary is below $40,000, and more lucrative job options abound in a region where the average household income is $180,000. Despite that shortage, the Canada Post website lists just one job opening within its Fort McMurray operations.

Last year, Canada Post contracted out parcel delivery in the area in an effort to keep up standards. That was when complaints began that deliveries were coming in strange spray-painted vans and taxis.

The contracted service was not just peculiar, but more expensive as well. "We need to recoup those costs," Mr. Hamilton said. "That's what that fee applies to. We know it's an additional fee and we know that's not going to be popular. But anyone looking to ship into Fort McMurray will still get the best value from Canada Post."

The fee will apply to all parcels going to Fort McMurray and goes into effect Jan. 13 for commercial customers, February for everyone else. Mr. Hamilton said most other shippers already levy a surcharge to deliver to Fort McMurray and that the Crown corporation has a responsibility to "serve all Canadians no matter where you live and do it in a financially self-sufficient way," but not to provide uniform pricing for destinations across the country.

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At Rockpretty Baby, an online parenting retailer based in Calgary that routinely ships to buyers in Fort McMurray, owner Anna Harvey is reviewing the company's shipping rates. "Why should people be penalized for living in different parts of Canada?" she said. "Fort Mac is in Canada, it's a few hours drive from here. I don't understand why that costs an extra $5."

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About the Author
National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

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