Thursday, September 08, 2005

The extremes of officiousness

[I'll get back to your helpful replies on foutre in a bit. This one's urgent.]

Québec has a reputation of being a very bureaucratice province. It is well-deserved (though British Columbia is no joke either). What's so amazing is how relaxed most of the citizenry is about rules and regulations. What happened to me yesterday exemplifies these extremes.

I was trying to sign up for a couple courses at the McGill department of Continuing Education. The course are very reasonable if you are a Quebec resident ($50 per credit, about $200 per class), not so if you are a Canadian from a different province (around $500 per class) and nuts if you're from a different country (about $1100). I've lived her since March of last year, paid my taxes, worked and spent money. It has taken me a while to establish myself officially (except for the taxes) mainly because I was living with other people and thus paying them instead of having my own hydro or phone bills. But I do have my health card, my driver's license and my passport.

The passport alone is not good enough to prove my Canadian citizenship. You need to provide a birth certificate. Because I was born in the states, I have a card that is a Certificate of Canadian Citizen Born Abroad. But they changed that card a couple years after I was born and the lady at the McGill registration didn't recognize it and wasn't sure if it would "be accepted." (can you see the steam coming out of my ears?). But we got through that.

However, in order to prove my Quebec residency, I have to provide a lease or a letter from the landlord and a bill for every single month of they year before! How insane is that? So if I cut off my services for a month, I don't qualify as a Quebec citizen? When I very politely voiced my criticisms of these concerns, I get what I almost always get from the people on the other side of the desk: they say they don't make the rules, but it's always tinged with a disapproval. In this case, they actually started to argue with me. This was good, because the more questions I can put in a functionary's head the better. I explained that I had paid my taxes (and they were pretty steep) and had therefore contributed my share to the Quebec economy and thus had the right to the cheaper fees. They of course brought up the fraud argument and how it had nothing to do with McGill. (I wonder what the profit margins are for McGill for the different fees and if they are higher the more you pay. Probably.)

One catch-22 in all this is that both Hydro-Quebec and the phone company charge you ($15 and $25 respectively) if you want to add a name to an account. So if you move in with someone or transfer an existing account (as we did with my SO when we moved in together), you have to pay to get your name on the bill. But you need your name on the bill in order to get your health card, your driver's license and cheap rates at educational institutions. I'm writing my MP on that one.

The other thing about all these restrictions is that they are really biased against foreigners. I'm sure both the federal and provincial governments have all these economic reasons (protect jobs of "Canadians" whoever they are), but to me it reeks of old white racism. I bitch and moan, but the people I met who were trying to immigrate here had it way rougher. They are treated like second-class citizens here. Basically, any degree you have outside of Canada and the U.S. is worthless and you have to do it over. What they are saying is that the education system in Canada is better than anywhere else in the world. That's a good one. I've seen a high school physics text book from Bangladesh and it was easily university level here.

But I digress. Sorry, this issue really pisses me off. Anyways, I got through all the bullshit, having registered, but still having to get letters from my landlord. I call my current landlord (I've lived here since January of this year). He's not the best landlord in terms of fixing stuff, but when I asked him for this letter, he said: "Yeah, sure, no problem. I'll tell you what, you write it, I'll sign. Any dates you need." My previous landlord was just as amenable (though didn't bring up adding any extra dates) and he even has this special stamp in his position as professor at UQAM that he puts on the letter to make it look all official. The people behind the counter get all calm feeling when they see a stamp like that.

And then, on the way home, my transfer had run out of time. It got rejected at the metro gate. There was no time on it and I honestly thought that it was close, so I went to the booth and asked if it had expired. He just motioned for me to put it in the little slot and passed me through.

Perhaps the people have developed their mellowness in order to cope with the ridiculousness of the government. Either way, I hope that the government catches up to the people soon. It would help this province a lot.


Jarrett said...

Sounds like the Board of Ed, or that other symbol of effiency, the US Navy. I can't really complian, I have survived, so far, in both mazes, but the frustration you feels is familiar.

What classes are you taking?

Anonymous said...

In terms of bureaucracy, the province of QC definitely takes the cake. For ex, the two-tier tax system. I'm pretty responsible and do my taxes on time. With Revenue Canada: no problem, got my assessment or refund, over and done with. Basically, just straightforward give and take every year since I started working for the man.

But Revenu Quebec. Man, my first tax experience with RevQC was... how do I put it? Completely baffling. The tax forms were more roundabout, but I figured it out, double checked my figures, and remitted before the deadline.

So I was a little surprised when in July, I got an assessment notice saying that I owed another $68.04. I noticed that they determined I didn't contribute to the health fund (which I actually did). But $68 wasn't much, not to mention that it's probably easier to say that the auditor is right instead of arguing (let alone arguing in broken french, good god), so I paid that off promptly too.

Then literally the day after I sent off the cheque for $68, I received a refund from RevQC for $150. Ok. So I wonder if the $68 that I purportedly owed the QC gov't was deducted from that amount already?

I couldn't tell ya, cuz all the form said was: "We are enclosing a cheque for the amount that must be reimbursed to you under the Taxation Act" !

Then my answer came a month later, when I received a refund for $68.04, the exact amount they claimed I owed them in the first place.

Ok, so obviously the tax guy made a mistake. And I'm glad they checked it over and made sure I received the proper amount due to me. But there was a lot of unnecessary paper-pushing involved in that, not to mention baffled confusion from the little taxpayer!

Anonymous said...

Can you imagine what FEMA is like in the US? Those poor (no pun intended) people....


Olivier said...

Quick remarks on bureaucracy:

-Profits: The additional revenues goes straight in the Provincial government's pockets. More precisely, in the Ministère de l'Éducation's. Such multi-tiered fees is quite recent; it's an idea they got in the late 90's, after the massive cuts in public spending (what Bernard Landry called "La route vers les vallées verdoyantes du déficit zéro"... ugh) left most government agencies scraping every single penny they could to get under budget. Having trouble staying inside her budgetary allowance, then education minister Pauline Marois found in that system a way to make a quick buck. It's the exact same logic that was used to justify the student's loan reforms eventually leading to last spring's strikes in the universities... There are many treaties to be written on how the 90's anti-deficit measures reshaped what I would call the general economy of citizenship in Québec.

-The question on acknowledgment of professionnal qualifications is really intertwined with a growing (I'll pull a number out of my ass [ow...] and say "since the 70's") tendency to corporatism. Said corporatism certainly thrived in the above mentionned 90's... Anyways, your Bengladeshi Physics manual show how absurd this situation is right now.