'How are people surviving?': Spiking gas prices impacting rural mail carriers, residents in big way
A mail carrier says her out-of-pocket costs for delivering packages along her rural route have doubled because of the steep hike in gas prices and cost of living being experienced by many Canadians.
"The stress is exhausting," said Jennifer Henson, a Calgary mother of two boys and one of 11,000 rural and suburban mail carriers delivering letters for Canada Post across the country.
"It's not just gas. The cost of living has skyrocketed," Henson said. "I'm always wondering how to pay this bill and that bill and I'm no different than any working-class Canadian across the country."
The 38-year-old said it used to cost her $60 to the fill the tank of her Ford Flex.
"Now it's costing me $125 to fill my tank every two days, so it's completely doubled."
Canada Post's rural and suburban mail carriers don't get a red and white corporate truck and a gas card like their urban counterparts. So, along with being required to use a personal vehicle with a minimum cargo capacity of 1,415 litres, the rural carriers also cover the cost of gas, maintenance and insurance of their vehicle.
"I drive over 200 kilometres a day. We go through tires, oil change, a set of brakes a lot quicker than the average person," Henson said,
She said the Crown corporation provides her with a $720 biweekly allowance with the help of the Canadian Revenue Agency to pay for those bills, but she said it hasn't been enough.
"I don't want to slam Canada Post, because if you talk to most carriers, whether they're urban or rural, we do love our jobs. I love my route. The countryside is relaxing. I've met amazing people," said Henson, who has been a carrier for 16 years.
"But Canada Post has also increased their fuel surcharge, so when you go to the post office to mail something, you're paying more as a customer because of the fuel. That's not trickling down to us at all."
She also said the CRA raised carriers' allowance by five cents a litre this year, but she "a few cents isn't doing a whole lot when a year ago gas was about $1 less."
Statistics Canada said this week the annual inflation rate has skyrocketed to its highest level in nearly 40 years in May, fuelled by soaring gas prices.
The agency says its consumer price index in May rose 7.7 per cent compared to a year ago. It's the largest increase since January 1983.
Food prices for nearly everything in a grocery cart also grew by 9.7 per cent compared to a year ago.
Henson said the bill at the grocery store has also been a strain on her finances.
"My oldest son is 14 years old and my youngest will be 12 years old next month. They're growing and they eat more than most of my friends," she said.
"When you go to the grocery store, it just blows my mind. How are people surviving?"
Anna Beale, president of the Calgary Local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said Canada Post needs to increase the allowance for its rural workers.
"Canada Post is able to provide all kinds of things like Tim Hortons gift cards (to their workers)," said Beale. "Why not take that money instead and make it work somehow for rural drivers so that they can afford these gas prices?"
A spokesperson for Canada Post said in a email the mail carrier is adapting to increased costs across many of its operations.
"Fuel prices are in unprecedented territory and have impacted the entire industry," said Phil Legault.
He said to address any additional or unforeseen expenses, rural and suburban mail carriers are entitled to a cost-of-living allowance.
"This is reviewed throughout the year and paid out as per the collective agreements," Legault said.
"The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has requested that we discuss the matter, and we will continue to engage them on this issue."
Along with the carriers, a vice president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture said any spike in inflation, as well as the cost of gas and diesel, hits rural Canadians the hardest.
"We don't have access to public transit so we certainly pay disproportionately more for fuel because we have to drive everywhere," Keith Currie said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.