I was in a meeting when my phone exploded, buzzing so rapidly it almost fell off the table. Texts, tweets, and emails were coming in at an astonishing rate, all asking me if I had heard: Canada Post had reversed the decision to implement an arbitrary $5 surcharge on parcels coming into Fort McMurray.
I was stunned, to be honest, because government agencies are not known to be particularly responsive, and certainly not responsive in such rapid fashion. The pressure had been intense, though, ever since the residents of Fort McMurray had discovered through social media that Canada Post had plans to implement this new surcharge. Blog posts, angry tweets, an online petition, and emails and phone calls to the federal Minister in charge were likely the first signals of trouble brewing in a northern Alberta city where I doubt Canada Post truly understood they would find any opposition to this decision. Media interviews then followed, the story going provincial and national as the outrage spread - and finally, at the end of the day, Canada Post was backed up against a wall and had to cry uncle.
The reality is that I think Canada Post misunderstood a few things.
They underestimated the power of the collective voice, particularly in a community like Fort McMurray where we have in recent years discovered the strength of our voice. The Highway 63 twinning movement showed us what we can do when we rally in numbers, and when we use every avenue available to us to spread the word.
Canada Post also misunderstood the nature of our community. I think perhaps they thought of us as a place where such a decision could be made without announcement or explanation, a woefully poor tactic given our community's sensitivity to the importance of transparency and accountability. We take a dim view of paternalistic decisions hidden from view until presented as a done deal, and Canada Post was using an old and outdated strategy in this regard.
And I think Canada Post simply did not recognize the magnitude of the current sentiment about postal service, and how almost every single resident has a story about delayed or lost parcels. They just weren't paying attention to the complaints and concerns expressed - and didn't understand that instituting a new surcharge would not go down well given the current standard of service. I think they are paying attention now.
When the decision was reversed Canada Post said they did so because the surcharge had caused "confusion and concern" in Fort McMurray. And while I am appreciative of the reversal I wish they had acknowledged that the confusion and concern was of their own making, through a lack of proper communication with the public. A clear and concise announcement, with an explanation of where the funds raised by the surcharge would go and a solid financial case showing the need for it would have gone a long way in making the decision more palatable to the residents of this region. In the end it was their own communication failure that doomed them, no matter how they would like to spin it now (and I find it intriguing that at the beginning of all this one of their own spokespeople denied that this surcharge even existed, and then later stated it would not go to employee retention, statements that were contradicted in other interviews with CP - maybe the folks at Canada Post should try talking to each other).
Late last night a friend texted me and told me that one of my qualities they admire the most is my tenacity (others would likely characterize this as "an inability to let things go"). I will admit that tenacity is in my blood, the daughter of a father who should have had tenacity as his middle name. But what I have found in Fort McMurray is an entire community of tenacious people, those who stick together through hell or high water. We come together to sand bag during floods, to raise money for those in need, to twin highways, and to push back at government agencies when we feel they are abusing our pocketbook, our good nature, and our community. This week we once again tried out that collective voice, and saw the power and impact it has. I hope we always remember the strength of that voice, and use it wisely and well - but most of all I hope we take pride that our message was successfully delivered while a nation watched. We sent a message to Canada Post, but more than that we sent a message to Canada. We showed them that far from being some apathetic, transient, work camp town we are instead a community with strength, passion, commitment, and tenacity. It was, in the end, a successful delivery indeed.