Talk about great moments in bad timing. Cannabis has officially gone legal in Canada this week, and a large proportion of retail sales are to take place through the country’s mail system. Just as this system is being unveiled, Canada’s postal workers are preparing to walk off the job, in one of the biggest labor disputes the country has seen in years.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers announced on Oct. 17 — the same day legalization officially took effect — that it has given strike notice to the Canada Post that workers could walk out as early as the following Monday. The Canadian Press reports that the union, representing 50,000 Canada Post employees, says it is ready to call rotating strikes if agreements are not reached with its Urban Postal Operations and Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers bargaining units. The union is demanding improved job security, an end to forced overtime, and stronger health and safety standards.
Union president Mike Palecek sought to reassure mail users. “Our aim is not to disrupt the public,” he said. “It’s not to disrupt the service that we provide, that we’ve been defending for years, so we’re trying to come up with ways to put some pressure on Canada Post without impacting the public.”
The union finally opted to issue the strike notice after the nearly year-long talks stalled with both sides still far apart, Palecek emphasized.
“We’ve said we would remain at the table as long as progress is being made, and we’ve reached a point where we’re not seeing a lot of progress,” he told Canadian Press.
Canada Post had issued new contract offers in the previous weeks, in hopes of averting a walk-out before legalization, as well as the holiday online shopping season. Federal Labor Minister Patty Hajdu has appointed a mediator to try to help avoid a stoppage.
Impact on Cannabis Consumers Will Vary By Province
The province that would be most affected by a shut-down at Canada Post is Ontario. Provincial authorities there initially opted for a mail-only system for retail sales of cannabis. In August, they flipped and announced that brick-and-mortar retail cannabis outlets would be allowed. But thanks to this late policy flip, the first such retail stories are not likely to open until next April. That means Ontario cannabis consumers will be at the mercy of the mail for at least six months.
Ontario authorities are said to be considering an emergency contract with Purolator, a delivery and courier service which is majority-owned by Canada Post but with a significant chunk held by private investors. So while Canada Post is what is known as a Crown corporation in Canada and other Commonwealth countries — that is, a commercially operated government entity — Purolator is a separate company and considered part of the private sector. And its employees are represented by a different union: Teamsters Canada. The Teamsters went through their own crisis with Purolator last year, announcing a 72-hour notice of strike action at the end of March. But a strike was narrowly averted when both sides came to terms at the proverbial eleventh hour.
Purolator already has contracts in place to deliver cannabis for Alberta and Prince Edward Island, and currently delivers medical marijuana for about half of Canada’s Licensed Producers. Purolator’s vice president for corporate strategy Ramsey Mansour said the company is ready to hit the ground running, with protocols in place for consumer age verification and secure delivery.
“We have set up the appropriate technologies, training and processes in place to be able to address this growing market,” he told Canada’s Global News.
This also a pressing question for British Columbia, which only has one retail shop legally operating — and in Kamloops, not the provincial metropolis Vancouver. Global News reports that crowds lined up at the B.C. Cannabis Store in Kamloops’ Columbia Place Shopping Centre as doors opened the morning of Oct. 17 — with some 85 strains of bud plus a selection of oils, capsules and pre-rolled joints available for purchase. But this is still some four hours over the Coast Mountains from Metro Vancouver, where nearly half the province’s 5 million residents live.
In Quebec, 12 retail outlets were reported operating on Oct. 17, but this is still not nearly enough to cover provincial demand. By day’s end, the site for online sales, run a newly formed Crown corporation, the Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC), had already sold out.
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