A reliable postal system is an indication of a country’s democracy

I’ve found that you can determine how well a country functions by how well its postal system works. When I lived in Australia, I could count on letters getting back to Canada. When in Mexico, not so much.

image: Maple Ridge News

During the pandemic, especially, a functioning postal service is proving to be vital.

Even before the pandemic, the mail served as a great leveller in communication. Anyone, regardless of whether they have an internet connection or not, can communicate with anyone else. In a country as vast as Canada, that’s especially essential. For the price of a stamp, I can mail a letter to Tuktoyaktuk or across town in Kamloops.

Too often, a postal system is measured in business terms: whether it makes money or not. The value of a postal system is that it’s a public service, like public transit. A reliable mail system is a hallmark of a democratic country.

And the internet seems like an obvious replacement to mail until you realize just how insecure it is. Yes, bank statements can be sent electronically but so can fraudulent messages that dupe people out of money. The internet can’t be trusted for something as fundamental to a democracy as voting.

The postal system in the United States is under attack.  

There are mounting concerns in the U.S. over being able to vote by mail in the upcoming presidential election. President Donald Trump has continued his attacks on the United States Postal Service, stripping it of funding and blocking a nationwide mail-in voting in the next presidential election.

Mailboxes were ripped up in Democratic states just one day after Trump threatened to sabotage the USPS. Residents of Oregon and Montana witnessed mail boxes being removed. The same was happening in New York City.

USPS defended the move, saying that they were removing boxes that didn’t receive much mail and so they cut the cost of picking up mail in remote locations. Their defence is lame considering that the new Postmaster General, a major Trump ally, overhauled the Postal Service’s corporate structure and reassigned 33 top executives.

The Trump administration is not interested in a reliable postal service as a vehicle of democracy. He clearly cares not a whit about the needs of citizens with accessibility issues, disabled veterans, the elderly and those in rural communities who rely on USPS.

Meanwhile in Canada, elections are proceeding without any doubts about Canada Post being able to deliver mail-in ballots. I have requested a mail-in ballot for the upcoming election in B.C., -as have one-third of eligible voters concerned about the pandemic.

The internet doesn’t cut it when it comes to voting. Melanie Hull of Elections BC said:

 “While online voting would help ensure physical distancing, unfortunately there are still significant security concerns with this method of voting. It’s not something we recommend for a provincial election in B.C.”

The mail-in ballots in the upcoming elections in Canada and the U.S. will test our democratic institutions.  

After the pandemic is over, I’m curious to know whether a letter I send from the U.S. will make it home.

Canada’s contribution to NATO

During President Trump’s Alternate Truth tour of Europe, he scolded NATO countries:

“Many countries are not paying what they should. And, frankly, many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years back, where they’re delinquent, as far as I’m concerned, because the United States has had to pay for them.”

    President Donald Trump walks away after being greeted by NATO Secretary General Jens

In the real world, NATO countries don’t owe the United States a cent. Members contribute to the organization for mutual protection. Trump is confusing what he thinks is a debt with the goal of increased spending to two per cent of GDP by 2024.

The United States spends almost four per cent of its GDP on NATO as a matter of choice. Former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder says:

“No one owes us any money. Nor is the U.S. spending more because allies are spending less … our defense spending is a national decision and is determined by our national security and defense needs.”

Regardless, the amount of money spent on defense is not the whole picture. Professor Elinor Sloan, political scientist at Carleton University says:

“A big reason countries don’t adhere to [the two per cent of GDP] is because it is a flawed metric. It doesn’t capture the military capability a country can deploy in support of NATO operations, measure absolute military spending or account for the percentage of a defence budget spent on major equipment as opposed to, say, pensions and housing (Globe and Mail, July 10, 2018).”

The two per cent figure doesn’t take into account non-monetary factors such as Canada’s willingness to take on leadership roles, contribute to dangerous missions, and accept casualties and the loss of life. You can’t buy leadership and commitment.

The military is an integral part of the U.S. economy. They have more than 1.3 million troops on active duty, 450,000 stationed overseas. The military-industrial complex fuels the American economy and asserts global hegemony.  It’s a way of distributing wealth nationally through military contracts, something like Canada’s equalization payments to provinces. It’s also a social security scheme to provide work to youth who have few options. Author Danny Sjursen, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, says:

“The military is also a welfare state; it is the most socialist institution we have. It provides a certain degree of economic stability (Harper’s magazine, June, 2018).”

Canada has its own interests but they don’t include a welfare state based on the military. Nor are they exclusive to NATO.

Not long ago, we only had two coastlines to protect. As Canada’s Arctic flank becomes exposed because of global warming, we need ships, fighters, and submarines to establish a presence in the North. The Arctic is melting. As shipping traffic increases, foreign bombers and fighters will test our sovereignty.

NATO is important to Canada, not just for the military component but for the political connections to Europe. As the U.S. becomes more unstable under the Trump administration, we look to Europe as an ally and trading partner.

As we watch in disbelief as Trump scolds his NATO partners while cozying up to Russia, Canada will be strengthened as we chart our own course.