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.