Attitude towards petty bureaucrats

Posted in Canadian life at 10:47 am by ducky

I mentioned before that low-level government functionaries seem to have more discretion in Canada then in the US. Since then, I’ve seen a few more examples of this.

  • We heard a story about a company hiring a huge (HUGE) truck to pick something up in Canada and bring it to the US. Aspen trucks are built in Canada, and used for hauling oil derricks around. They are so big that they have two steering wheels so that two sections can be steered independently. The company hired two US drivers, rented a truck (which happened to be in the US at the time), got all the paperwork cleared by the BC government in Victoria, and drove up to the border. The agent at the border said, “You can’t bring that thing in here! It’s too big!” The drivers said, “But we have the paperwork!” The agent said, “You can’t drive that thing in here!” The drivers said, “But we have the paperwork!” The agent said, “I’m cancelling the permit. You’ll have to talk to Victoria. Now park that thing over there.” The drivers parked it over there slick as a whistle (because it had two steering controls), and the agent said, “Oh. I didn’t realize you could do that. If I had realized, I wouldn’t have cancelled the permit.” (He let the truck through, although delayed one day because it was too late in the day to un-cancel the permit.) Now, both sides had some culpability in the communications breakdown, but the US drivers thought that because they had followed the rules, they were in the clear. You might say that the agent was at fault, but if the truck in fact did not have two steering columns, you would have wanted him to cancel the permit.
  • Jim has had to deal with Transport Canada a few times about issues pertaining to his medical clearance to fly. He’s been in in-person once, but usually talks to them on the phone. They remember his name, ask him how his flying is going, and once asked him about a newspaper article that he appeared in.
  • I did a favor for someone who was off-campus and needed to submit a form. It was past the deadline, but that didn’t seem to matter.

I told some US friends about how functionaries had much more discretion in Canada, and they were appalled. “You can’t do that! You’ll get unfair treatment!”

I thought about Southwest Airlines, which we had flown on recently. One of Southwest’s advertised strengths is that its employees have quite a lot of discretion. Why was it okay for Southwest employees to have discretion but not US governmental employees?

I realized that my US friends have the very strong belief that government officials are incompetent and/or hostile. Government functionaries only make your life worse, not better. However, in Canada, the petty bureaucrats who I have interacted with have been competent, polite, and worked to make my life better. In general, they have made my life better.

While I realize that there are good agents in the US and bad agents in Canada, I think that in general the bureaucrats are better in Canada.

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