Mr. Montreuil’s Office Antics

In 2016 I retired from employment with the Canadian federal government after over 40 years. While I began as a file clerk, I was able to spend the “lion’s share” of my career interviewing people both on the phone and in person. I was initially assigned a desk, but as my responsibilities and position evolved, I wound up ensconced in an office.

It was not a luxuriously appointed office, equipped as it was with chipboard furniture and a computer system furnished in accordance with the fighter pilot’s axiom a). It was, however, my office, and I made it my own, installing pictures of personally important people etcetera, hence allowing me to emotionally regroup (if need be) after any particularly rugged interview. While things went well for quite some time, as I always used to lament, “Someone read a book.” The concept of “hotelling” b)  came into play, so eventually you had no office to call your own, but got shuffled around to whatever office was available on a daily basis.

Bad move, as you wound up wasting a lot of time running around to find supplies which should have been there, which would have been there if it was your office. It made me look forward to my retirement with renewed enthusiasm, let me tell you.

When I became a PM-01 “Program Administration Officer” c), I soon learned that the heart of my job was the “Service Needs Determination” interview. We received excellent hands on training in conducting these interviews, as well as training films from NHQ d) which frankly bore as much resemblance to our real life job as the plot of “The Princess Bride”. After several months, “Unleash the dogs of War!”, and Mrs Montreuil’s little boy was set loose on an unsuspecting populace.

Now I did get sent to different places to conduct interviews,  and that’s all part of the job. For example, I interviewed a wheelchair bound person in front of the former site of “Rochdale College”. He was unable to access our building, a shameful comment on an “inclusive society”, so I was sent off to see him and was able to facilitate his acceptance into a job creation program.

I have few virtues, truth be told. I am punctual, and I have fair interpersonal and communication skills. I was able to use these to my advantage to forge a successful career doing a job which involves a great deal of discretion, empathy and the ability to be non judgemental while presenting a factual, dispassionate written outline of the facts for someone else to consider. The most important thing was to establish some kind of rapport with the person being interviewed, to enable the interview to be productive.

I could probably write another 3,000 words about my “office”, but I fear drawing the wrath of my editor. Therefore, I will devote most of the rest of this column to reminiscences about what happened in some of these interviews, lifting the curtain for you, so to speak. While they might not necessarily be “word for word”, I can assure you that the gist of the conversation is intact.These do draw on personal experience, sadly.

-I was interviewing a young man applying for U.I. e). He sat down and said “Before we begin, you’re not going to tell me to work at Tim Horton’s for $8.50 an hour!” I looked at him, looked in my wastebasket, opened drawers on my desk, checked under my blotter and he finally asked ( after 30 seconds) what I was doing. I replied that I was looking to see where it was written that I would direct him to work at Tim Horton’s for $8.50 an hour, unless that was where he had worked and how much he had earned. He visibly relaxed, and things went more smoothly after that.

-I would come out to the reception desk, call the name and the person would follow me back to my desk. This guy sat down and said “Before we begin, f]  my last name is pronounced ‘Moen tray’.” I took out my health card, bounced it off the desk and said “Well, MY side of the family pronounces it ‘montroy’.” We looked at each other and laughed.

-Just after Christmas, I was interviewing a young man who was visibly uneasy. He told me that he had to do his bi weekly report, but he was not sure how to do so. It turned out that his grandma had given him $100.00 for Christmas. I told him to do two things, Firstly , give his grandma my name, because if she’s giving out C-Notes, I wanted to be riding that train! Secondly, as gifts aren’t earnings, they didn’t have to be declared on the bi weekly reports. He was quite relieved, but never did give his grandma my name, apparently.

-I used to deal with the same people a lot, it made things easier for them because you knew something of the background of their case, which saved time when they came in to the office. On one occasion, at least, that backfired, however. I was finishing an interview and the claimant said that they’d see me the next week. I mentioned that I’d be on holidays. They asked on what I’d be back to work and, caught off guard, I TOLD THEM. That was a wasted holiday, let me tell you.

-There was a client who had literacy issues. I helped them out in a very respectful manner every time they came in, and one day, as they were preparing to leave my office, they thanked me for all of my help and said that if I ever needed anyone beaten up, I should let them know. Not often that I’m speechless, but…………….

-We had to photocopy and certify documents for certain government programs. This could involve some tedious, painstaking work. One Tuesday, I saw that someone wanted to see me, and when they came in, they dropped what seemed to be about 4 pounds of documents on my desk to be photocopied, certified and forwarded to processing. (It was a couple, and I had interviewed the man the previous year. He had been so pleased that when it was his wife’s turn to apply, no one would, save Mrs Montreuil’s little boy, would suffice to process her paperwork.) Groaning inwardly, but trying to present a cheery face, I ventured “Well, you’re lucky that you came in this week. I was on holiday last week.” . He replied that they had indeed come in the previous week, and when he leaned that I was away, he decided to return to the office at a more opportune time. (I eventually forgave the receptionist.)

-Once, working in the telephone enquiry room of my office, I fielded a call from the wife of a famous NHL g) player. She was ordering Records Of Employment h) for her husband’s off season business. I verified her information, then stated to spell his surname. I interrupted to say that there was no Canadian between the ages of 3 and 103 who had be told how to spell that name. She chuckled in response.

-Once they made a huge mistake and put me in charge. I had a receptionist who had been on strength for about 3 months. I walked up at lunch and when I found out that she hadn’t had lunch yet, told her to go, and I would take over. There were about 20 people standing in single file line, waiting to be served. I sat in and had library carrels on both sides. I was talking to a young man when I noticed another man suddenly standing beside him. I turned to the newcomer and asked him to go to the end of the line and wait his turn. He said that he was on his lunch and couldn’t wait, and he only had one question. I repeated asking him to go to the end of the line. This went on briefly until a GREAT IDEA hit me. I looked at him and said “If everybody waiting in line says that you can go first, I will answer your question first.”

The interloper said “No, that’s OK!” I said that I had asked him to go to the end of the line, but he hadn’t listened. (In fact, the man I had been interviewing nodded in agreement with me.” )

I stood up and called everyone to attention. I said “This person is on their lunch and feels that their time is more important than yours. I asked him to go to the end of the line and take his turn, but he refused. So I said that if every one of you says he that can, I will answer his question first.”

Nearly 29 years later, I must confess, loyal reader, that not one person wanted him to jump the line.

My penultimate story today is Darrell Vickers’ favourite Peter Montreuil work story. I called the name of this guy, he came to my office using a cane. We sat down and he sallied “I guess if you tell me something I do not like, I get to hit you with my cane.” I replied “As long as I get to drop you with this swivel chair I am sitting in.” He said “I am kidding!” I told him that I was not kidding, and that I did not come to work to be abused.

Finally, once I was photocopying a will, one of my coworkers came in to the copy room and I said that they should read this. They commented on how little work I must be doing to be able to read a will. I said that with all due respect, this phrase leapt off the page. It read “…and my granddaughter P…F…C… is NOT to benefit from my estate in any way at all…”

P…F…C…, I hope the tattoo or whatever was worth it.

Gee Peter, there is no good contemporary music! There sure is, but do not take my word for it! Here is Chris Birkett and the multi talented Shari Tallon playing Here I Go

See you soon

  1. a) Which states “Never forget that your jet was built by the lowest bidder.”
  2. b) A work concept dreamt up by some idiot which deprived employees of a fixed base from which to operate, for as we all know, uncertainty builds character.
  3. c) In those far off days, we communicated by written memos. I always signed mine “P.M. the P.M.” or “P.M. squared”. Immature but funny.
  4. d) National Head Quarters.
  5. e) Unemployment Insurance. Canadian federal government program providing financial assistance to qualified unemployed people.

f] Why do so many start off their conversation like that?

  1. g) North American professional hockey league.
  2. h) Vital document needed when applying for U.I. (see above).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: