Community leaders on Deer Island want Canada Post to reverse its decision to close the Leonardville Post Office. The federal Crown corporation plans to permanently close the post office this summer and replace it with outdoor community mail boxes. This would leave the island with one other postal outlet five kilometres away in Richardson’s Grocery at Lord’s Cove.
Canada Post says it tried but failed to find someone to fill the position after the postmistress at Leonardville resigned on April 30, but Deer Island Chamber of Commerce Chairwoman Katherine Landry, West Isles Local Service District (LSD) Advisory Committee Chairperson Sheena Young and New Brunswick Southwest MP John Williamson, among others, question how hard the Crown corporation tried.
They also question Canada Post’s claim that it consulted with the community before deciding on this change. Jacqueline Mingo on Prince Edward Island, Maritime president of the Canadian Post Masters and Assistants Association (CPAA), understands that a Canada Post local area superintendent from Fredericton spoke to a former member of the West Isles Local Service District Committee not from Leonardville.
Williamson’s office has written to Canada Post President and CEO Doug Ettinger — a former president and CEO of Ganong Bros. in St. Stephen, incidentally — seeking information on whom the corporation consulted and the process followed to come to this decision.
Williamson says the decision breaches Canada Post’s mandate to serve rural communities as well as a federal moratorium on closing rural post offices that specifically lists Leonardville as a post office not to be closed.
According to Mingo, Canada Post can get around the moratorium if it makes an honest effort but cannot fill a position after a postmaster quits or retires. Tim Blizzard, Canada Post’s director of operations for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, said in an interview from Moncton that the corporation made two attempts to find someone to take over the job at Leonardville, but Mingo says the entire process took only one month.
The Leonardville postmistress resigned on April 30, Mingo says. “They said community discussions were completed on May 31, and the final recommendation is to proceed with the permanent closure of the post office and the installation of permanent CMBs [community mail boxes],” she says. She adds that the decision was to be effective May 31 but was delayed till after the community mail boxes were installed. Deer Island resident Brooke Young, who has circulated a petition against this decision, understands that the changeover will take place on July 22.
The CPAA is the trade union representing staff in small town and rural post offices. They are Canada Post employees covered by a collective agreement, but in some cases, including Leonardville, these rural postmasters have to provide their own post office premises.
After a former Leonardville postmistress retired, a new person took over but had to rent facilities at $800 a month, cutting seriously into the income of someone working 20.5 hours a week, Mingo says. The collective agreement provides for extra money to cover higher expenses, “but, obviously, nobody told her that,” the union leader says.
She contends that more people would have shown interest had Canada Post put up posters and taken other steps to advertise the position and the possibility of losing the service. “I think if people knew it was coming down to that, there might have been more push to keep it, so to me, I don’t believe they tried as hard as they said they did,” she says, contending that the corporation “just took the answer they wanted” after “reaching out to the wrong person” for community consultation. “I just think at some of these smaller ones in these remote areas, they’re just hoping that nobody will pay much attention,” she says.
Sheena Young, chairperson of the LSD advisory committee, offered her business location, The Boatique at Hibernia, as an alternative location for the post office. Mingo understands that Canada Post rejected this location as it lies 500 metres beyond the outer limits of Leonardville. Williamson’s staff determined from Google maps that The Boatique is 1.8 kilometers, a bit more than a mile, from the current post office.
Mingo describes Canada Post as “unreasonable” for not compromising over the distance. “If Canada Post is really wanting to keep up, they should make accommodations for something like that,” she says. Williamson feels that Canada Post should accept the offer from The Boatique, which would still be closer than Lord’s Cove, about five kilometres away.
The outlet at Lord’s Cove “is not a post office” but, rather, “a retail outlet, a retail counter, that the store owns,” Mingo and others say. Employees get closer to minimum wage without federal health, pension and other benefits. Mingo says the store owner could decide to end the contract at any time, forcing people to take the ferry to the nearest post office at Back Bay on the mainland.
If the Leonardville Post Office closes, Deer Island will lose “our last remaining federal employee,” Sheena Young says. The community has already lost RCMP officers based on the island, border security and fisheries officers, she says.
Mingo says Deer Island will have to “make noise” to reverse this decision, which community leaders seem ready to do.
Canada Post is a federal Crown corporation, but Fundy The Isles Saint John West provincial MLA Andrea Anderson Mason supports this effort by the islanders to retain the post office. “There are certain essential services that we must recognize, and certainly postal service is definitely one of them,” she says, adding, “We have to be careful not to erode services on our islands in particular.”
“Well, the people on the other side of the island where Leonardville is are very upset, and I would say most islanders are very upset because this isn’t the first post office we’ve lost. We also lost the post office in Fairhaven, so, you know, we continue to lose services,” says Landry, chairwoman of the chamber and a member of the LSD advisory committee.
“Canada Post has a monopoly to serve the country, and they have to do it, whether it is a small community like Deer Island or downtown Toronto,” says Williamson, the MP.
“A post office, as you know, is a place you go to meet your neighbour and to learn of community events, and to take this from Deer Island is a substantial blow to our culture and the support that we receive from the federal government,” states Sheena Young.
Derwin Gowan is a reporter for various media in south-western New Brunswick. This article was first published in The Quoddy Tides on July 8, 2022.