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Water Today Title November 25, 2017

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Green Economy - Part 2

In a press release issued on February 29, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) announced that it was teaming up with environmental, Indigenous and community groups to present innovative ideas for a different kind of post office one that might fuel a greener economy.

WaterToday asked Unifor's CAW Coordinator, Ken Lewenza Jr. and Community Environment Representative, Mark Bartlett, for their comments on this initiative. Here is a transcription of that interview.


WaterToday: What do you think of CUPW's 'Delivering Community Power' proposal?

Lewenza: It's bold it's exciting and desperately needed. Where I live in Windsor Essex, we're well aware that climate change is a crisis that needs to be addressed. The proposal also gives us the opportunity to deal with another crisis, which is a job crisis; we have the highest unemployment rates in Canada, yet we have the capabilities to produce the kind of electric fleet that Canada Post would be looking for.

The last fleets Canada Post and Purolator purchased were from Turkey, that represents a total of 20,000 vehicles. The Canadian government is the largest purchaser in the country so we see this as a tremendous window for the government to make a bold step to address climate change and transition our economy to more environmentally-friendly alternatives, while stimulating the local economy.

Bartlett: What I think is really brillant about this idea is that it's using public assets in a way that benefits people beyond just mail devlivery; turning post offices into areas of innovation, contact with the public, and hubs of information. This is what happens when you get a lot of organizations together, thinking about how to transition people from the old economy to the new one in a just and fair way.

WaterToday: Is there a plant in Windsor that could manufacture Canada Post's fleet?

Lewenza: Absolutely. The plant currently produce 1,400 vehicles on a 3-shift operations, 1 every 46 seconds. The reality is an order of that size is relatively small but it would further stabilize the viability and longevity of that plant.

WaterToday: Can it produce enough to accommodate the needs of a Canada Post fleet?

Lewenza: At full capacity that plant can produce 350,000 units a year. It's currently not operating at that level.

WaterToday: Can you give me an idea what the cost of this vehicle would be?

Bartlett: These are fleet vehicles, the price would be negotiated between Chrysler and Canada Post. The pricing on the new hybrid Pacifica has not yet been released. I would say around the $40,000 range per vehicle but that is pure speculation at this point.

What's great about the new Pacifica hybrid is that it has a regular 3.6 L engine which means that you can carry heavy loads; it features a hybrid electric system which gives you a 50 miles electric range which is pretty good; and it can go anywhere with its full size engine without having to be plugged in. With an electric equivalent of 80 miles per gallon, the Pacifica is currrently the most efficient of all the competitors.

WaterToday: Is this what CUPW is envisioning, a hybrid not a fully electric minivan?

Bartlett: It could be a fully electric minivan but then you have the issue of range anxiety. In other words, you have to know where there's a charger and factor in the time it takes to charge a vehicle. Even at the highest levels of charging, it takes about 45 minutes to charge a vehicle. So, you would need a larger fleet to make up for the minivans that are charging. The fully-electric is great when you know you won't be traveling more than 100 km. Most fully-electric small cars get about 100 km per charge but if you're talking about a larger vehicle like a minivan that's reduced to around 80 km, and of course in winter that's further reduced because it's cold and less efficient.

One of the great things about the Pacifica is that i'ts built here in Canada ; it has a tremendous amount of power, range and capacity as compared to the Transit Connect, a Ford product built in Turkey, which is what Canada Post purchased last time around.

The challenge that Canada Post is facing is that the Transit Connect is not big enough now that the business is trending towards more packages. On the other hand, Purolator, which is owned by Canada Post, has these large vans driving around with a a handful of packages that could be fit into a smaller van. The Pacifica is much more efficient and environmentally-friendly, and then of course it has the added-bonus of being Canadian-made.

We can build a low-end version of the Pacifica for fleet purpose . We've done it many times; it's just a barebone version with less interior finishings, making it a lot lighter and more efficient. If we put a hybrid drivetrain in that vehicle it would be ideal for this situation.

WaterToday: Tell me about subsidies and rebates; are there some at both levels of government?

We've yet to see what the federal goverment will offer in its upcoming budget. Ontario has been giving a rebate for several years and it just been raised to $14,000. There is a different level for fleets but it's still a substantial rebate.

WaterToday:Tell me a bit about Postal banking, what is the reason behind the proposal?

Lewenza: That proposal would fill a real void. For example, in Windsor Essex, 15 to 20 per cent of the people don't have a basic bank account and are often reduced to going to money lenders and paying high fees to cash their cheques, even their social services cheques. This is an opportunity for Canada Post to provide a service that people need and stabilize good local jobs. What were talking about is filling a need, and offering a service that Canada Post once provided and one that is already provided in different jurisdictions around the world.

WaterToday:How would it work? Would it be like a normal bank?

Lewenza: It would be exactly like a bank. What CUPW's Mike Palecek was saying is that if we look at post offices across the country we actually have twice as many post office infrastructres as we have Tim Horton's so this is an opportunity to put them to good use. If the public sector can offer a good service using its existing infrastructure why not take advantage of it?

Bartlett: Where I live near Windsor, we dont have a bank anymore, the last one closed its doors, but we do have a post office, As a publicly-owned organization, a postal bank could be more user-friendly and offer more reasonable fees, a bit like a credit union. It could lend money for social innovation which a bank won't do; for example it could have loans for people to do renewable energy or energy retrofits on their homes.

WaterToday: What will it take for the project to take off?

Lewenza:We need to mobilize the public. Lets face it, anytine we've made gains in Canada, whether it be on human rights, labour rights or civil rights, it was through mobilizing public sentiment and pressuring the governmemnt.

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