Peter Offers Hope and Compassion and Respect to the Less Fortunate

The look on my supervisor’s face was one of overt relief, and not just because it was Friday afternoon. Handing me a folded sheet of paper, he began “Next week you are assigned to be ‘The Officer In Charge a) at…'” and his voice started to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher, as I embarked on a mental Flight of Fancy.

Tucking the unfolded and unread sheet into my ever-present book for safe passage home, I was overcome with giddiness. Officer In Charge, Big Kahuna, Leader of the Pack, Person who stops the Buck!! Wow, my first ever Leadership Role of my career with the Canadian Government. As I left the office an hour later to go home, I bade him a good weekend, while inwardly smiling at the thought of a week without him in my face as much. (Relief can be a double-edged sword.)

At home I put one of the Brandenburg Concertos on, made a coffee, added some Swiss Mocha Liqueur to it and thought about how surprised my wife would be when I told her of my good fortune, Speaking of, I ruefully remembered that I hadn’t actually read the directions concerning my temporary duty. I stretched out, took the sheet of paper, unfolded it and read.

Now customarily in those days, an “OIC” would have a staff of maybe 3 or 4 employees and fill a temporary need. Such a position, as like any “acting assignment”, could be accompanied by a (temporary) raise in pay, and good performance in said position could pay dividends career wise, as well as being an excellent way to meet those who could boost your career with a kind word b). In any case, at the minimum, it offered the opportunity to do something a little different, and in my case at least, gave me a brief respite from a work environment which could be stultifying.

So it was with some excitement that I unfolded the sheet, only to find…..that I had been made “OIC” of the Toronto Casual Employment Office.

A regular Canada Employment Centre would have a staff of well over 50 who dealt with Employment services c). They were supported by a nationwide computer network and had the resources to deal with everything from wage subsidy programs to Mobility Grants to Foreign Workers to Skills Training and Testing. If you were looking for a job, whether full or part time, you could get a lot of support at the Canada Employment Centre. I know, because that was my normal post. Need help with your resume? Come on in. Not sure of your typing speed? We can test it. Not sure what you want to be when you grow up? We can help you decide. Interested in being referred on a job? Check our job boards, pick one and we will interview you and assess your suitability

Now a Casual Employment Office had none of those things. It had no computer network, no job boards, no training or testing facilities, no Special Programs Counsellor d), no army of qualified order takers, no phalanx of counsellors or Employment & Insurance Officers e). It had no other resources. It did, however, have an “Officer In Charge”.

And now the Toronto Casual Employment Office was going to have Mrs Montreuil’s Little Boy as the Officer In Charge. For a whole week.

I should add here that at a Casual Employment office, “resume” was just a word. Unlike the neat (ish) orderly expanses of public area in a regular C.E.C. f), a Casual Office was more…um…”casual”. Certainly there was no need to post signs cautioning against wearing overly fragrant cologne…or deodorant for that matter. As this was the mid 80s, it might have been felt, although I have no way of knowing, that it was not a posting fit for a woman, even on a temporary basis. There would have been a shortage of volunteers of any sex for this post, as it was a pretty unremarkable backwater assignment.

After all, the clientele was as unremarkable as the office itself, at least in appearance. Now I was only there for a week, so I am no authority, but I don’t recall any females using the office. Only rarely did I see a birthdate, but the vast majority of these men looked much older than they actually were. Most of them were in their late 40s or older, most of them showed the scars that only a very hard life can inflict. They were looking for jobs which paid cash g) and were extremely temporary in nature,

As I read about my assignment, I made up my mind that I would do the very best job I could do for them, because they deserved my best. My wife was a little shocked when I told her where I would be during the next week, but I felt confident in my ability to get the job done.

So it was that at 0635 the following Monday, I arrived at the office. It was a chilly April morning, and there was a lineup around the building. I opened the door and waved the line in. The man at the head of the line said that I wasn’t supposed to open until 0700. I replied that I knew that, but I was not going to sit in the office all nice and warm while they stood in the cold. The room filled quickly, and at 0700, I answered the telephone and took the first order h). The morning progressed more easily than I had thought, and I got the hang of things in no time. About 0930, a new patron arrived. It was obvious that he had been drinking, so I kept an eye on him as best I could. Suddenly he rushed at the counter as I tried to figure out what to do. Another man stood up and grabbed him. When my “assailant” began to calm down a bit, my Samaritan pointed at me and said “He opened up early.”

What came next was almost worse than his earlier “attack”. He began to cry and thank me, while I stared at the floor and wished for telekinetic powers.

During that week it was quite interesting. I would work from 0700 until 1100 there and then go to my normal office. At 1430 I would go home, beating the traffic both on the subway and at the beer store.

My last day there, I didn’t shave before I went to work, they thought it was cool. You encountered some interesting things, if you paid attention. It was funny, but sad in certain ways as well. For example, if someone became aware of a church or community centre putting on an affordable breakfast or lunch, they would let the rest of the group know. I would suppress a smile hearing one of them critique a “new copper” or the morning meal provided to “involuntary guests” at 52  Division. One day one of the clients asked me why I didn’t keep one or two of the jobs that came in for myself. (Some of them were weekend work.) I just told him that that wasn’t “my style”, that those jobs were meant for them, not me.

I remember a woman who called from Rosedale to place an order. She asked if a certain man was in the office. I called out his name, but was told that he was not there. She said she would call back the next day. She did and he was, so he went to her house the following day to work. I do not know the whole story, I know that a number of guys snickered the first time I tried to “page” him in the office.

Anyway, I worked as the “OIC” at the Toronto Casual Employment Office for a week and found it very satisfying. I got a good insight into just how hard Life can be if you are not one of the “fortunate ones”. I like to think that I made a bit of a difference to them, as we gazed at each other through a haze of cigarette smoke. I was happy to, even if only for a brief time, help them to feel a little less “left out”, a little less unimportant and unworthy. The Casual Employment Office was a great way for that particular community to have a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose.

So naturally, a couple of years later, the office was closed as a cost saving measure.

See you soon.   –

  1. a) OIC for short.

b)Should I have ever been assigned as a temporary aide to the Minister, when they asked me whether I golfed, I would have replied “No, but I caddy!” I never had to air that particular “bonne mot” out, alas.

  1. c) There would have been about the same number dealing with Unemployment Insurance and probably 15 purely Administrative people.
  2. d) A resource person to help those who faced severe barriers to becoming re employed.
  3. e) I was an Employment & Insurance Officer for most of my career. Shamelessly stealing from a World War II U.S. A.A.F. song, and using the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, I once crafted a little ditty which ended “…You can tell a Counsellor’s Assistant by their pamphlets, pens and such! You can tell an E&IO, but you cannot tell him much!”
  4. f) Canada Employment Centre
  5. g) And don’t get me going on payday loan companies.
  6. h) Not only was I “OIC”, I was order taker, referring officer, bouncer, chief cook and bottle washer.

4 Responses to “Peter Offers Hope and Compassion and Respect to the Less Fortunate”

  1. Damon Hines Says:

    As an old song parodist/repurposer/rephraser, I quite enjoyed your effort for the E&IO. Cheers, m8.

  2. Teresa Coulter Says:

    That’s you Peter. Always understanding with a big heart!

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