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Ottawa reacts to stunning Canada Post news

Ottawa reacts to stunning Canada Post newsTransport Minister Lisa Raitt makes an announcement on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. Raitt is defending Canada Post's decision to phase out urban mail delivery over the next five years while hiking the price of stamps.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - The demise of door-to-door mail delivery in Canada's urban centres loomed large over a dormant Parliament Hill on Wednesday as critics denounced the timing of a bombshell decision that Conservatives defended as a necessary evil.

Day 1 of the House of Commons holiday break was only hours old when Canada Post abruptly announced it planned to phase out door-to-door urban delivery, slash jobs and dramatically increase the price of stamps.

As many as 8,000 jobs are on the line due to the cuts, which are expected to impact a third of all Canadian households. Rural residences will be spared.

"There are really serious concerns being raised about this and yet we have the government announcing it after the House is adjourned, and that tells you everything you want to know about how they think Canadians are going to react," said NDP MP Peter Julian.

"It's profoundly disrespectful to Canadians and disrespectful to Parliament .... They're trying to shuffle this off and I think Canadians will be profoundly appalled about the cuts in services and cuts in jobs across the country."

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was equally disdainful.

"The timing is a demonstration of a tremendous level of cynicism by this government," Trudeau said.

"This is a government trying to minimize what they know is bad news as they announce that Stephen Harper is offering less postal services for more money from consumers in the coming years."

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said her government supports Canada Post's decision, noting it has had a mandate to operate on a self-sustaining basis since 1981. The Crown corporation says its five-point cost-cutting plan is aimed at returning the company to financial stability by 2019.

Canadians are sending fewer letters and parcels than ever, leaving Canada Post with no choice but to enact some tough financial measures in an effort to combat a steep decline in revenues, Raitt said.

A typical Canadian household buys only one to two dozen stamps a year, and mail volumes have continued to plummet, having fallen nearly 25 per cent per household since 2008, she added.

"The government of Canada supports Canada Post in its efforts to fulfil its mandate of operating on a self-sustaining financial basis in order to protect taxpayers, while modernizing its business and aligning postal services with the choices of Canadians," Raitt said in a statement.

She adds she is looking forward to "seeing progress" as Canada Post rolls out its cost-cutting plans.

But Trudeau said the decision doesn't appear to be based on any in-depth study of its potential impact, and wasn't preceded by any meaningful discussion with customers.

"The consultation that Canada Post apparently did is singularly lacking in metrics, in numbers — it's basically anecdotal," he said.

"We need to make sure that Canadians are being properly served by an institution like Canada Post, and that will require a little more robust discussion and study than this government has actually taken on."

Green party Leader Elizabeth May was also critical.

"Canada Post claims to be listening to Canadians, yet I've yet to hear anyone tell me that they no longer want letters delivered to their homes," she said.

"This decision will disproportionately affect the elderly and Canadians living with disabilities, for whom home delivery of letters and parcels provides a critical link."

Denis Lemelin, the national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), said the Canada Post announcement is a call to all Canadians to stand up and fight for their postal service. He called the changes "the end of an era."

"We recognize that Canada Post needs to change, but this is not the way to change — to cut, cut and cut," Lemelin told a news conference in Ottawa.

Lemelin added he doesn't know of any other developed countries without door-to-door mail delivery in urban centres.

He also said the hike in the price of stamps will drive even more customers away from Canada Post. Stamps, now 63 cents, will be 85 cents as of March 31 when purchased in a booklet, or a dollar if bought individually.

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