Peter Revisits Employment

As anyone in my circle knows, July 8th marks the 5th anniversary of my retirement. In the weeks following that auspicious date, I will be writing a series of columns about my career, as there were a number of different “facets” to it which you might find interesting, and will certainly push any concerns which I might have about “writer’s block” well to the background, ( at least for that particular period.)

I worked for the Canadian government for over 40 years, starting off with the Unemployment Insurance Commission. As the programs delivered by the department changed, so did my duties and responsibilities. By the end of my “sentence”, I was also working with pension recipients and passport applicants, training course attendees and those in receipt of foreign pensions.

I must say that I often dealt with people who were in a terrible frame of mind. Regardless of how upset they were about their situation, it was my job to sit down with them and obtain information which we could use to pay them any benefits which they were entitled to, it was my job to assess what resources COULD be devoted to addressing their needs and setting them on their way to recovering their lives.

As I noted above, “COULD”. There was no guarantee that a client would receive training or assistance in enrollment in a job creation program. Naturally I mention “…me…” because I had direct contact with them. No anecdotal evidence for me. It was myself and my colleagues who had to sit down with these unfortunate people. You read the story about the auto plant closure? You see the politician on the television braying about finding financial savings by “…finding efficiencies…”? 

Abstract to you, or at least to most of you, as you might have a friend or relatives who was caught up in the mess. A fact of life for me, sitting there across the desk from me and wanting me to pull a rabbit out of my hat. I remember seeing “that” look in their eyes quite frequently. 

You see, Loyal Reader, “Society” as a whole seems to attach a certain stigma to being unemployed. It’s viewed as a sign of failure by many people. Think of the slang terms we have all heard, “fresh air inspector”, “working for Team Canada”, “collecting pogey”. Sad, dehumanizing terms of reference, used by the unthinking and intellectually lazy to pigeonhole “others”. And please don’t get me started about the way Social Services recipients are treated by much of society. 

I have lost track of the number of times when I had to gently point out to someone that, in their particular case, Social Services assistance was “a way station”, buying them some time to pay their bills and concentrate on getting a new job. As an aside, contrary to some people’s beliefs, I heard very few people say that they were happy to be able to stay home and collect Unemployment Insurance, and while you would say that they wouldn’t say that in an interview with “…an Officer of the Commission…”a), I rarely heard it in the waiting area or indeed in the course of my normal routine, as I found that I became attuned to “topical” conversations on transit or at the mall. 

I guess my point this week is that there are a lot of people who apparently don’t understand that other people can fall into hard times, and it’s not necessarily because of Karma. In many cases it is not even their fault.

Look at how we are “hollowing out” our industrial base. Good paying jobs which were the foundation of the explosive growth in our economy, which provided a solid infrastructure, universal healthcare and an excellent educational system have been sent overseas to jurisdictions with lower taxes, poor labour laws and little if any environmental protection.

We seem to be turning out armies of lawyers and accountants and money managers, while skilled trades are looked down on. I am reminded of a job vacancy we had in 1985ish for an apprentice locksmith. Pay was $7.00 per hour, the successful applicant needed Grade 11 and a valid “G” driver’s license. I literally couldn’t give that job away. 

Now, I think that part of the reason why no one would take it was because of the starting wage. However, in that trade, wages automatically rise in accordance with experience and qualifications. Again, I don’t think that any of the people I contacted about this job thought the situation through, in fact I know that they didn’t. 

I believe that the fact that many people look down on those who work with their hands is a contributing factor to the employment situation. My own outlook on the “minimum wage” is that it is too low, and that there should be a movement to enact legislation to set not just a “living wage “, but a “thriving wage”. The money is there, it just needs to be distributed better.

I have certainly wandered far from my original subject, but that can happen. 

My point is that people need to be more understanding about the less fortunate in society.

You may ask how I was able to function, indeed thrive while dealing with such things. I have to acknowledge the role that my parents played in my development, the excellent training I was lucky enough to receive, and the great people I dealt with, on both sides of the desk. And that, Loyal Reader, is a story for another time. 

See you soon 

a) the “pompous way” in which I would self reference when I was hanging out with friends.


A confirmed Cat person, Peter dabbled with being a water boy, a paper boy and an altar boy before finally settling on a career with the Canadian federal government.  Once, in his youth, he ate a Dutch  oven full of mashed potatoes to win a 5 cent bet with his beloved sister Mary’s boyfriend. (Of course he was much younger and a nickel went a lot farther!))

He has retired to palatial “Chez Montreuil”, which he shares with his little buddy CoCo the Fashionable. He is blessed to have the beautiful Betty in his life. He is not only a plastic aircraft modeller, but a proud “rivet counter”. Military aviation and live music are among other interests of his, and he tries to get out to as many shows as he can. He will be here for your enlightenment whenever the stars align. Profile photo courtesy of Pat Blythe, caricature courtesy of Peter Mossman.

3 Responses to “Peter Revisits Employment”

  1. VonRiesling Says:

    Good to hear a reasonable note of empathy from an experienced, knowledgeable point of view. Like many others I lipflap my armchair opinions based on my own narrow media bubble and occasional observations from a car window. Thank you

    • Peter Montreuil Says:

      I just saw your comment. Thank you so much for your kind words of support. It’s not often that I am speechless….

  2. Catherine Says:

    Your article is thoughtful and insightful. Indeed we need a living wage not a minimum wage and seniors need it more than most. No one chooses to be unemployed and I am so glad you were across the table with your compassion and guidance for the many. You have helped the troubled masses in your career and we Thank you lowly Government employees!! 😍you all got a bad rap also …. I’m sure you heard the rumours lol
    Your Column is inspiring and filled with such gifted humour! Thanks Pete.

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 )

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: