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Economy

‘How are people surviving?’: Gas spike detrimental for rural mail carriers, residents

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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 “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.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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Economy

Luxury goods tax on super-rich could hit electric vehicles: expert

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By Marie Woolf in Ottawa

A new tax on yachts, luxury cars and private aircraft designed to hit the super-rich could also cover vehicles meant to help the environment, a tax expert warns.

The luxury goods tax, which will come into force on Sept. 1, will cover cars and SUVs, as well as private planes and helicopters, worth more than $100,000.

The federal tax will also cover yachts and boats — including motorboats — worth more than $250,000.

But senior tax lawyer Héléna Gagné says the new tax could also hit some electric and hybrid vehicles, including Tesla and BMW models, which cost more than $100,000.

The federal government has been encouraging Canadians to invest in clean technology and zero-emission vehicles, which can carry a higher price tag than cars that run on fossil fuels.

Gagné said the thresholds for the tax could also affect people who would not be regarded as wealthy, but have saved up to buy a private plane for a hobby.

“It seems to be assumed that it is only the wealthiest who will be impacted by the luxury tax but it is not necessarily the case,” said Gagné, a partner at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. “It can also impact indirectly taxpayers who may not consider themselves as being among the wealthiest but who may decide to purchase an electric vehicle with a retail sales price that happens to be over the $100,000 threshold.”

Adrienne Vaupshas, a spokeswoman for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, said the measures, originally proposed in the 2021 budget, are not designed to hit the middle class.

She said the threshold for the tax for boats was deliberately set at $250,000 so it would cover superyachts and not middle-class families buying boats.

Vaupshas said it was “only right and fair that the very wealthiest are asked to pay their fair share.”

“The government was re-elected on a platform that included a commitment to bring forward a luxury tax on yachts, private jets, and luxury cars and implementing this measure is a priority,” she said.

The tax was originally proposed in the 2021 budget. It will cover luxury cars, planes, and boats bought for personal use and leisure. Commercial vehicles, including small planes selling seats, and emergency vehicles are among the classes of vehicle exempt from the new tax.

The tax amounts to either 10 per cent of the taxable amount of the item or 20 per cent of the amount over the price threshold — whichever is less.

The NDP has been putting pressure on the federal government to do more to tax the super-rich. Measures to increase taxes on the wealthiest people in Canada, however, were not included in the Liberal-NDP confidence and supply pact.

NDP critic for tax fairness and inequality, Niki Ashton, said at a news conference last month that she wants the federal government to close loopholes she says are being used by the super-rich and corporations to avoid paying billions in taxes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2022.

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Economy

Plastics producers ask court to quash planned federal ban on single-use straws, cups

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OTTAWA — More than two dozen plastic makers are asking the Federal Court to put an end to Ottawa’s plan to ban several single-use plastic items including straws, cutlery and takeout containers.

It is the second lawsuit filed in the court by a coalition of plastics makers calling themselves the Responsible Plastic Use Coalition.

The first suit filed in 2021 seeks to overturn the government’s decision to designate plastics as “toxic” under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault used that designation to publish regulations that will ban the sale, import and production of six plastic items.

The second lawsuit filed in mid-July asks the Federal Court to quash the ban, prohibit the government from using the act to regulate single-use plastics and prevent the ban from being implemented in the meantime.

Guilbeault says he is confident the government’s regulations will be upheld and would rather work with the industry to improve recycling than battle the sector in court.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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