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EDITORIAL: Christmas conundrum

Members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers Breton Local 117 including, from left, Mae James, a part-time PO4 clerk, Morgan Fudge, full-time retail PO4 clerk and Joe Reno, a part-time PO4 clerk, picket in front of the Canada Post building in Sydney on Thursday. Members of the CUPW are without contract and have been holding rotating strikes across the country.
Members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers Local 117 including (from left), Mae James, a part-time PO4 clerk, Morgan Fudge, full-time retail PO4 clerk, and Joe Reno, a part-time PO4 clerk, picket in front of the Canada Post building in Sydney, N.S. — SaltWire file photo

November is coming to a merciful end. For many Atlantic Canadians, Dec. 1 launches the official countdown to the festive holiday period. It’s a reminder to get that Christmas card sent to Aunt Mary or that special gift mailed to Mom and Dad.

But those essential holiday errands are facing potential roadblocks.

Five weeks of rotating strikes by Canada Post’s 50,000 employees have caused delays in service. The disruptions couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time — which is perhaps the point.

Businesses that depend on the Crown corporation at their busiest time of the year are worried.

Canada Post now makes most of its money delivering goods bought online and the next month is crucial for its profitability. Nothing says Christmas like gift packages. At any other time of the year, a postal strike might be viewed as an inconvenience. But it’s Christmas. The dynamics have changed.

The clamour is such that the federal government has said it intends to introduce back-to-work legislation.

But amid the uncertainty there are some silver linings. Instead of shopping online, Canadians might be persuaded to buy local.

It should be noted that postal workers won a legal battle resulting from a previous labour dispute in 2011, when the Harper government locked out workers and passed back-to-work legislation. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2016 that rotating strikes were a fair bargaining tactic because there was no full work stoppage, and that such legislation violated workers’ constitutional rights.

Yes, we should be more concerned with the underlying issues of this labour dispute, and support collective bargaining as an essential right for Canadians.

But the root causes of postal disruptions tend to get pushed to the background at this time of year. We want to mail our parcels and cards without encountering picket lines or locked doors, and have assurances they will arrive in time for Christmas.

The federal government is trying to tiptoe around this labour strife. Wednesday, Ottawa gave the 48 hours’ notice required before introducing back-to-work legislation. The same day, it reappointed a mediator in response to a request from postal workers after the union rejected a cooling-off period.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pleaded with both sides to resume talks, since a legislative option seems on shaky legal grounds. Maybe that will be enough to reach a deal.

But amid the uncertainty there are some silver linings. Instead of shopping online, Canadians might be persuaded to buy local. Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales in Canada, connected to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, have already been negatively affected. That’s good news for local retailers.

And, oh yes, old age security and pension cheques will be delivered to ensure a merry Christmas for seniors. And Canada Post still plans to deliver letters to Santa because neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night — nor rotating strikes — can stop Christmas from coming.

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