More of Peter’s Workplace Adventures

During my career with the Canadian government, every so often something would happen to break up the “routine”.

Before I begin, let me stress that while the commute and the hours of work may have been “routine”, the clientele most certainly was not. I remember once very early in my days as an Employment & Insurance Officer. A young man was talking to me about the reason why he had become unemployed. He stopped for a minute, looked at the floor and said that I probably heard “this stuff” all the time. Loyal Reader, I educated both of us with my reply. I told him that it didn’t matter if I had heard “it” 400 times that month already. It was new and very relevant and important to him, and I had been trained to assist him with his claim, to ensure that he got the benefits he was entitled to as quickly as possible. He beamed. Later, when I was at home, I rethought what I had said and realized that I had a responsibility to do the best I could do for anyone who had dealings with me. 

So there would be meetings and visits to other offices and visitors from other offices and conference calls to break up the routine. Sometimes the opportunity would arise for training, which often gave me the chance to meet with folks from other offices. I remember one such “off site” session which took place the day after a new federal government had been elected. We went to lunch, and when we returned, we were told to go back to our home offices, as the incoming government had cancelled this program!

Sometimes politicians would come to tour our office, and “the hired help”a) viewed these events with interest as the politicians were generally not as “up” on our operations as they thought they were.

Now there was one visitor who could strike fear into the most stalwart member of “the adult supervision”b), however, and as I tended to work in larger offices in the largest city in Canada, this individual crossed my path from time to time. I am referring, of course, to the Minister for Employment and Immigration or the Minister of Skills Development or whatever rebrand National Headquarters came up with and foisted on us. 

Any visit from this August Personage presented endless possibilities for the ambitious, lots of chances to “look good” ……or not. The rest of us, who were simply trying to get people looked after expeditiously and fairly, we didn’t care as much about “apple-polishing”, but we did care about the potential bad effects that such a visit might have on our operations.

Over the next two weeks, I will be writing about my own “close encounters” with the Minister, the times when Dame Fortune could have smiled on me. 

Typically, for me anyway, the first time the Minister became aware of Mrs Montreuil’s Little Boy, we never even met, but he c) sure did learn my name.

To set the stage, I was the unit clerk for the Foreign Worker Recruitment Section. This information was valid at the time, and thankfully I have no need to know if it is current procedure. For today, I will concentrate on our role in assessing job offers. Any employer who wanted to bring in someone from overseas needed to show that there were no Canadians available to do said job. It was more complicated than that, we had to determine whether the wages and working conditions were suitable to attract Canadians, whether the job requirements were valid and a number of other things as well. 

So I got this call from someone who wanted to bring a family member from overseas, and there was an employer who had a job for them. 

Now as the unit clerk, I answered the phone and filed papers. I had absolutely no control over any of the decisions that our unit made d). I did nothing to give anyone “false hope” during one of these calls, I used a set of talking points which I had developed, so even today I can tell you what I said during that fateful phone call. I said that only the employer could make the job offer and we would have to assess the situation, as only certain occupations would be considered for temporary status in Canada. I explained that our job was to protect the opportunity for Canadians to participate in the labour market. She, (the caller), asked me which “…occupations would be considered…”. I told her that it depended on the needs of the labour market, so it could fluctuate on a regular basis. She badgered me for an answer to that question. 

At this point, I am going to tell you, Loyal Reader, that the next time I hear someone complain that politicians and government workers “talk in circles”, I am going to punch them in the nose. Read on and you will understand why.

After some fruitless back and forth, I finally said that, AS ONE EXAMPLE e), qualified and experienced computer programmers who had certain “language skills” were in some demand, at least at that particular time. She asked me for my name. I spelled it for her, because I always felt that there was no point in saying anything if I wasn’t prepared to stand behind it. The telephone call ended cordially enough under the circumstances, and I went on with my life. 

Some days later, my supervisor conversationally mentioned that there had been a “Ministerial Enquiry ”  generated which starred me. My blood ran cold, and I, of course, imagined the worst.

They kept statistics about absolutely everything that we did, and I could visualize this missive wending its way through all the layers of the bureaucracy. The Minister would want to know details about me as an employee and, just like dropping a stone into a pond, more and more people on all levels of the organization would become aware of the situation. I am pretty sure that my manager was at least startled when he heard that one of his employees had garnered the attention of the Minister. It wasn’t exactly “the fifteen minutes of fame” that I had been seeking when I signed on with the government.

I was given a copy of the letter in question, and it was an interesting read, to say the least. After misspelling the minister’s name, the writer stated that she had spoken to me and she got the impression that I completely opposed Immigration. She added that I had “told”  her that the ONLY people we were “allowing into Canada” were computer programmers. She went on to ask if that was true, that only computer programmers were being allowed into Canada, and if so, why did we need such a large Immigration department?

It was funny, in a perverse way. I had no idea what effect this “letter” would have on my long term employment prospects with the government, but I did fear the worst. 

My boss allayed my concerns by showing me the response she had sent to the Minister. It was a wonderful, heartfelt description of how much my efforts were appreciated by both my unit mates and the public. That really boosted my spirits at a rather unpleasant point in my life.

The Minister had a vague response sent to her, stating that the “misunderstanding” was deeply regretted. I was about to angrily tell my boss that it hadn’t been a “misunderstanding”, it had been a deliberate “cherry picking” of facts and a twisting of words by this individual. However I looked at my boss and I realized that it was probably better to move on and prepare to face the challenges that the next day, the next week would present.

As I always used to say about working with the government, “Another day, another mindboggling adventure.”

Anyway, I continued to work with Canada Employment and its successors for over 35 years, so I guess it worked out in the end.

On a personal level the years to come would have me face new duties and responsibilities, and new chances to “catch the eye” of the Minister.

See you soon 

a) The “underlings”

b) The upper echelon of the office 

c) Lloyd Axworthy

d) Although Immigration did let Long John Baldry back into Canada on my say so once.

e) I stressed it, but I did not shout it.


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.

One Response to “More of Peter’s Workplace Adventures”

  1. Catherine Says:

    Dealing with the public is extremely difficult and yes no matter you say or how hard to try to help there are the Karen’s of the world that spew negative energy in each breath. Thankfully you had a good boss that stood beside you. I never got that support you were indeed blessed! Thanks for your honesty and humour per usual !

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