CANADA

Michael Warren bows out

KEN MACQUEEN August 5 1985
CANADA

Michael Warren bows out

KEN MACQUEEN August 5 1985

Michael Warren bows out

Like most bridegrooms on their wedding day, Canada Post president Michael Warren wore a smile as he and his new wife, Elizabeth, emerged from an Ottawa courthouse after their brief civil wedding last week. But unlike most new couples, the Warrens showed no interest in posing for pictures in the brilliant afternoon sun. Less than five hours earlier, Canada Post had officially announced that Warren planned to quit his job on Aug. 23. As a result, he had to bundle his bride past reporters who staked out the wedding. Warren insisted that detailed explanations for his decision to leave the troubled Crown corporation would have to wait until after the couple’s two-week honeymoon. “In the meantime,” declared Warren, “my mind is on my marriage.”

Warren’s reticence, while understandable, did little to quell speculation that he is leaving his job, which pays more than $160,000 annually, because of interference by the federal Conservative government in postal operations. The 48-year-old Warren may also have become frustrated by his inability to achieve the daunting task set out for him by the former Liberal government, which turned the postal service into a

Crown corporation and made Warren president in October, 1981. Warren had a mandate to eliminate Canada Post’s deficit—$347 million in the past fiscal year—by 1987, while improving postal services. But the corporation’s statistics show a significant decline in on-time mail service, even though the price of a first-class stamp, which rose by two cents to 34 cents in June, has doubled within five years.

The conflicting demands to cut costs and improve service meant that Warren was increasingly at odds with the Mulroney government. Recently he had been unable to win approval from Revenue Minister Perrin Beatty, who is responsible for the post office, for a 198586 fiscal plan designed to deal with the deficit problem. The appointment in June of a private-sector task force that will examine the corporation’s basic responsibilities and structure may have been another factor in Warren’s decision to leave.

Originally, news of Warren’s resignation was to have been released after his marriage to Elizabeth Mylrea, who is marketing manager for a ski lodge north of Montreal. But after the CBC reported that Warren was planning to quit because of political interference, postal of-

ficials released a two-paragraph statement saying that Warren was leaving “to pursue business opportunities in the private sector.” Later the post office released a cordial exchange of letters, both dated that day, between Warren and Beatty. In his letter Warren wished the government luck “with the tough policy decisions that lie ahead.” For his part, Beatty applauded Warren’s role in the post office’s “successful transformation” to a Crown corporation.

But Warren, a former chief general manager of the Toronto Transit Commission, had ample reason to be displeased with his role at the post office. He was upset by the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office and Beatty in the reinstatement in April of postal worker Aditya Varma, a Markham, Ont., postal worker who was fired in 1984 for leaking information on post office waste to the Conservatives when they were in opposition. Moreover, since the Tories took office under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Conservative criticism of the post office has continued unabated.

Others believed that Warren was a victim of the impossible demands of the government to slash spending while improving service. Jean-Claude Parrot, president of the 23,000-member Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said that it was “simply unrealistic” to expect Warren to erase the deficit within the next two years. For their part, some business leaders argued that in trying to trim the deficit, Warren relied too heavily on postal rate increases rather than taking a tougher stance with the unions—the latest contract provides for an average increase in total benefits of three per cent over two years—and coming to grips with low productivity and an absenteeism rate that averages 17.9 days annually for each postal worker. Said Marianne Antoniak, national affairs director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business: “We felt this was a symptom of management problems within Canada Post.”

As the search for Warren’s successor began, some union leaders feared that the new president might be a politically appointed hard-liner intent on deficit busting. On the other hand, Antoniak warned, it would be “unacceptable” for the government to use Warren’s resignation to delay the seemingly impossible goal of a profitable post office.

Either way, the new head of the postal corporation faces the same lofty and conflicting expectations that his predecessor failed to reach. And unlike Michael Warren, who enjoyed a period of grace with the advent of the new corporation, the rising mood of public and political impatience suggests that the honeymoon is over for Canada Post.

-KEN MACQUEEN in Ottawa.