Kalpana - Unemployment is becoming a real problem in Fort St. John during COVID-19. The food banks are overwhelmed, people are scared, trying to make ends meet while facing an uncertain future. The Government reassures us every five minutes on the news, telling us there is financial help for those who need it. Of course, they don’t tell us about the days we will have to spend on the phone and the paperwork we will need to pile up in order to access that help.
Charo - I personally witnessed a person staying on the phone for five hours, waiting for an EI employee to listen to her case and give her assistance. At the end of those five hours, a message told her that the offices were now closed and instructed her to call tomorrow. So she did and then she spent the whole next day engaged in the same activity. This is not the only case. I have heard of several people going through the same ordeal. Crazily, it seems to be the norm now. Phone assistance is becoming a nightmare of recorded messages, wait times, and operators who have no idea of what they are talking about. This is unacceptable when we are talking about a public service.
Kalpana - It is not only EI. The same situation happens with Canadian Revenue Agency. If you call them because you need support filing your T4, you need to plan for hours waiting on the phone, whereas if you file your taxes late, you will be fined. I think in what we call “normality”, we have forgotten who is the boss here. We are the bosses. We vote for the politicians, we pay for the public services with our taxes and then, when it comes to claiming our rights, like EI during a pandemic, or help filing taxes, we are treated like garbage. Something does not make sense here.
Charo - Yes, I think that basically we have inverted the roles so badly in this game of sub-democracy we play, that we have forgotten that the noun democracy means “the power of the people” (from the Greek Demos=people, Kratia=power). It is clear we need to reduce the number of Senators, MLAs, and politicians of all ilk and increase the number of workers in Government helplines in order to make these adequate. And note I’m not saying excellent, just adequate. Which they are not at the moment. If we are offered benefits that we are awarded by Law, but we cannot actually access those benefits because of the Government’s bureaucratic incompetence, then we are being scammed of our fundamental rights.
Kalpana - Also, have you noticed there is no way to complain about bureaucratic incompetence? The Government has not taken the trouble to establish a customer service quality standard for public assistance, nor an office to solve problems related with their own service provision. So, even though, since we are a Democracy, we are the bosses, how do we control the process? How do we make sure we receive what is due to us? How do we enforce our position as the most important part of the system?
Charo - Well, we are complaining now. Consider this a complaint, Mr. Trudeau. Perhaps you should pick up your cellphone and record how long does it take you to contact EI to access the emergency help you have announced ad nauseam?
Kalpana - Well, he must have a very good cellphone, so chances are at least he won’t run out of battery, like the rest of us.
Charo Lloret is from Spain; Kalpana Loganathan is from India. They reflect on their experiences immigrating to Canada.