12.15.06

Canadian bureaucracy

Posted in Canadian life at 6:00 pm by ducky

My experiences with Canadian bureaucracy have been surprisingly pleasant. For example:

  • When I went to apply for my SIN ID (a tax ID number, equivalent to the US Social Security number), it took me twenty minutes from the time I got in the door to the time I walked out.
  • Seven relatives and I were on Pender Island when storms knocked out power and heat at the house we were renting for the weekend. I called BC Ferries to find out if Pender Island’s ferry terminal had a warm place to wait, if the ferries were running, if we could leave early, etc. I immediately got a real human being who happily gave me what information she had and the direct phone number to the Pender terminal, and wished me luck getting home.
  • Jim phoned the BC tax office to ask a question about setting up his consulting business.  He got one level of phonebot menu before being sent to a human. The human picked up in two rings, answered his question, and wished him luck in his venture.

In addition to being very pleasant to deal with, the Canadian bureaucracies seem much more flexible than U.S. ones. It seems that in the U.S., There Are Rules, and the individual agents have no discretion. In Canada, it seems like the agents have much more discretion to be reasonable.

This is probably due in part to a much smaller population, meaning fewer levels of bureaucracy. I suspect that it’s also due to smaller socioeconomic stratification. As Larissa Tieden’s research explains, humans think that low-status people do bad things. This means that if there are fewer low-status people dealing with the bureaucracy, then there will be less suspicion about them trying to “take advantage of the system”.

I’ve often thought about how income discrepancies hurt even the wealthy: they have to worry more about crime, for example. I hadn’t ever thought about how status discrepancies might make bureaucracy more annoying.

(Note that I have the impression that people think that European bureaucracies are worse than U.S. bureaucracies; perhaps this is due to greater emphasis on social class?)

Comments »

  1. Best Webfoot Forward » Attitude towards petty bureaucrats said,

    June 5, 2007 at 10:47 am

    […] mentioned before that low-level government functionaries seem to have more discretion in Canada then in the US.  […]

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