Don’t Shut Post Offices—Reinvent Them

Naomi Klein delivered the following remarks in Ottawa on February 29, at the Leap Day launch of Delivering Community Power, a proposal to turn postal offices into green community hubs to power Canada’s next economy. Leap Day is the official kickoff date for dozens of climate action and events already planned in Canada and around the world, which will take place throughout February and beyond. Check out and #leapmanifesto on Twitter for more.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we’re on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.

I’m delighted to be here today with my colleagues from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Idle No More, ACORN and the Canadian Labour Congress, brought together by our allies from Friends of Public Services.

2016 is a leap year, and today, February 29th, is Leap Day. We are all currently enjoying the extra day we add to our calendars, every four years, to bring them into alignment with the earth’s orbit around the sun.

We do this because it’s easier to change our human-created systems than to change the laws of nature. In this way, the leap year is a perfect metaphor for the present moment, in which our political and economic systems badly need updating to accommodate the hard realities of our common home, the Earth.

We see the conflicts all around us. In the gap between what scientists tell us we must do to prevent catastrophic warming, and the emission reduction pledges our government has proposed. In the gap between even those inadequate pledges and the actual policies that would get us there.

We see more gaps between the promise of reconciliation with First Nations in Canada, and the gross inequities facing Indigenous communities. We see more gaps still, between the values of inclusion and compassion with which so many Canadians identify—and the economic policies that continue to exile many to the margin.

The gaps are huge and they are many. Too many, in fact, to tackle slowly and one at a time. In a time of overlapping crises, we need visionary policies capable of addressing multiple failures at the same time. So how do we make the leap?

The Proposal

We’re here to launch a concrete proposal for what a post-carbon economy could look like in Canada, one that would touch every community in the country. “Delivering Community Power” lays out a vision for post offices with solar panels on the roof, electric chargers outside, and a low emissions fleet on the roads.

But this is far from cosmetic. Services provided inside would expand to include food delivery, door-knocking on elders’ homes, and perhaps most exciting, affordable banking.With this proposal, the post office once again becomes a community space, where you can come in to mail a letter or make a deposit; organize farm-to-table food delivery for your home; get advice and a loan for rooftop solar panels; invest in a community energy project; and buy products from local businesses.

We believe this is no time to further contract public services. But neither is it a moment to simply protect a static status quo. Rather, our moment calls on us to reimagine what is possible.

And we find ourselves at a critical juncture that makes this kind of visionary change both necessary and entirely possible. The Trudeau government is in the process of unleashing billions of dollars of stimulus to Canada’s economy, which is suffering thanks to our ill-advised ride on the oil roller coaster.

What we are saying is that every new public dollar we spend has to do more than simply spur random economic activity. Given the pressing nature of the climate crisis, as well as the many social justice fronts on which this government has pledged to act, that money must fuel transformation of our economy. Of our energy system. Of our public sphere so that it meets all of today’s complex needs.

Canada needs more than stimulus money. We need catalyst money—investments thoughtfully designed so that they bring down emissions, while making Canada a fairer and better place to live, particularly for the most vulnerable.

Which is where today’s launch comes in. Progressives often get asked: we know what you’re against, what are you for? Well, this is it, or a big piece of it. We encourage everyone to take a look.

Six months ago we launched The Leap Manifesto, a bold proposal for how we can transition Canada off fossil fuels in a way that battles systemic inequalities. We called for a transition grounded in “caring for the planet and one another”—and this proposal from Canada’s postal workers turns that principle into a concrete vision for how to boldly retrofit one of our most ubiquitous and beloved brick-and-mortar institutions.

Since we launched The Leap, more than 30,000 people and close to 200 organizations have endorsed the document, and today dozens of groups are hosting teach-ins, sit-ins, rallies, community events and solar installations to celebrate the Leap Year. And not just in Canada: from Zagreb to Copenhagen to the Bronx.

We all have the same message for decision-makers: small steps are not enough; it’s time for a leap. So let’s get to work. Thank you.

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist and author of the international bestsellers This Changes Everything, The Shock Doctrine and No Logo. She writes a regular column for The Nation and The Guardian and is a contributing editor at Harper's.