The greatest stress for many Canadians is, has and will continue to be the unnecessary evil of dealing with a civil service that is mired down in policy and procedures.
From attempting to get a passport to the environmental permitting process to the many steps needed to hop through to get one piece of information corrected, the level of frustration experienced by the general public intensifies by 10 with every step up in the government ladder one takes.
Automation and other government “efficiencies” were supposed to improve things by making it faster and easier.
What took place though was just more steps for the public to wade through in the cold and faceless process.
Now you have to print and scan your own documentation, press a number to press another number to press another number in an attempt to reach the information you need, sending various emails to civil servants just to be turned back to the automated processes, only to find yourself waiting on hold to talk to the next available operator.
Now, the stakes and stress are not as high for a lot of people dealing with some levels of bureaucracy such as most municipal governments — small towns and counties are one example — or even some provincial government departments.
However, one can toss all of that out the window when it comes to financial matters or when critically important, time-sensitive situations exist.
One example of that is when a family, already living paycheque to paycheque and on a strict budget, is anticipating a monthly payment from the government and it is either missed or delayed.
That level of added stress rises exponentially the closer it comes to having payments or rent coming due and the money is still in limbo.
Figure in the extra burden of multiple calls as well as all of the time spent trying to rectify the situation and it tends to further spike anxiety and mental strain on an already over-extended family.
And the process, especially if one happens to have to deal with the wrong type of civil servant, can put more strain and frustration into the mess.
Sometimes that can lead to outbursts of anger and dissatisfaction, even from someone who is usually the most calm, even-keeled person on the planet.
One other example comes when someone attempts to navigate through the minefield of a provincial or federal department that is not used to having its decisions or policies questioned.
Even a simple request for information can lead a person on a trek so twisted, filled with dead ends or left like a plugged toilet that they eventually either wind up melting down or giving up.
Granted, it often times isn’t the operator on the other side of the conversation that is at fault, but simply the strangling procedures and policy that have been cemented in place for purely political reasons or an overly officious bureaucratic system.
Lost in translation
The move over the past several years to online and automated systems was supposed to be the greatest innovation and time saver for government and the public.
However, in the vast majority of cases it has led to numerous busy signals, being pushed aside so you have to deal with another person, forced to wait on hold or near a phone for hours or resorting to a seemingly endless loop of electronic messages which only provide more questions than the answers the public is searching for.
One other item holding up the process is how government, depending on the level and type of department, handles the security of personal information and verifying just who the person is they are dealing with.
Sometimes it’s as simple as showing a driver’s licence, although it can be far more complex.
Like is there really a need for a four-step verification process — including a month long wait for a snail mail or calling to gain online access — just to see the same information you previously supplied to this department?
So, in terms of the public viewpoint, the move “forward” to a more efficient system is just another form of red tape.
Maybe the solution is to cut the cord and return to the days of employing better, more personal customer service and not less.
But that is…just an observation.