More layers, more rules

On the way back from Germany in the spring there were two surprises waiting when we got home.

First, a handsome mailbox installed last fall sat a good eight inches higher out of the ground than when we’d left. Second, an official piece of correspondence from Canada Post advised that an inspector had reviewed the situation and, since the box was too tall to service easily, it would require our prompt attention to ensure continued delivery.

At the time the official nature of the message was a little bothersome. After all, dad, all of 75 at the time, had done his best to prop it up for my wife in my absence.

Years ago, chances were good the mailman or mailwoman would have just left a little note if it wasn’t repaired quickly enough. Chances are even better that the mailman would have known we’d been away for a few days.

But, and this is something all pioneer families grapple with, these aren’t the old days and the mailman isn’t necessarily a neighbour anymore. Even on the rural routes, we are becoming more urbanized and disconnected from community services each day.

Speculation at home was that some strapping lads decided to pull our mailbox out of the ground for a joke one night. No marks were on it to suggest it had been hit. A few turns with the posthole auger on the weekend helped get it far enough into the ground to meet the height code and a bit of cement cured it from being removed by late-night marauders. Things were good for a while.

This past week, however, we got another note from the inspector, part of a multi-part form by the look of it, noting that our mailbox must now have the fire number on it to meet today’s standards. It’s not like we have a common surname and our family has lived within three farm lanes of each other since 1892.

Opposite the mailbox is the standard green fire number provided by the township. But, times do change and we all need to keep up with the times. So we can get a permanent marker like other neighbours have employed or buy some peel and stick numbers. We could take it down and get it lettered to match with what’s there now but chances are we’d get a note from the inspector that the mailbox is gone and it must be replaced to avoid service interruption.

Our tongue-in-cheek look at our recent experience with the Post Office could be worse. We are actually thankful to still have delivery at the end of the lane. Many rural residents had their mail boxes rounded up and placed into a super-box format years ago in the name of efficiency and safety.

With increasing households and the need to have systems in sync, Canada Post is simply joining other operations of its size by turning a customer into a number. We get that, reluctantly.

What we will argue with a little, is the need to complicate service delivery with scads of rules, and bureaucrats to inspect. There is some merit in the point that an inspector is needed to ensure the equal application of laws and rules, but surely either issue we received notice about could have been handled by the route driver. All of this has a cost.

A similar circumstance of duplicitous systems exists in the field of local recycling collection. Stories abound of homeowners getting home to find a sticker on their blue box, because something inside the box was not allowed. Other times garbage isn’t picked up because it is not in an approved container or the specially-purchased bag. While the first inclination is to blame the guy in the shiny truck and bright vest, he’s just doing his job as instructed from further up the line.

The driver actually gets checked on by his supervisor, who in turn is checked on by a county supervisor, who reports back to headquarters. To make sure everyone is doing their job and to test the soundness of the system, someone will do a pre-check to see if there are any improper items in the blue box stream. The driver, who just wants to get home safe and make a wage for his family, is tested and re-tested on his job when really his core job is picking stuff up and taking it where it has to go.

As our communities grow and rules become more burdensome, it would seem a healthy exercise to review systems with an eye to keeping it simple.

More layers and more rules cost money, which governments at all levels must manage more wisely to ensure programs of consequence are not affected by what we see as pure waste.