The findings of the recently released Auditor General’s report on the efficiency of the Canadian government are not rosy. Most disturbing is the finding that people can’t reach a live person at a government department on the phone. Callers are referred to websites or redirected and told to hold. Many simply gave up and hung up.

This of course is unacceptable. I for one would hate to be a 64-year-old calling about old age security and by the time the pension office answers the phone, I’m already eligible. Or even worse, you might actually be over 65 and get through to someone but they get nasty and they say something like, “Given that you’re a pest, we are revising your birthdate to note that you are now 61 years old.”

I don’t know what the answer is, but I know what we would all like to see.

You call the Employment Insurance office. The telephone rings once.

AGENT: EI office. This is George. Sorry for keeping you waiting.

CALLER: I just got laid off and I’m not sure how to complete these complicated employment insurance forms.

AGENT: No problem. Tell you what. Better yet. The government will give you a job starting tomorrow. Can you start at 10:30?

Or you call the Canada Revenue Agency about your income tax refund. Phone rings 2 times

AGENT: CRA. This is Benjamin speaking. Are you still there? I just dropped my coffee mug running to get the phone.

CALLER: Yeah, I haven’t received my tax refund yet of $547.00. I filed my return over a week ago.

AGENT: What is your social insurance number madam? Never mind. I have it here. I will personally ensure that you refund goes out today…by FedEx. And due to the delay in handling your return, I am adding a bonus reward. The government is now partnering with Aeroplan and we are giving you enough points to fly anywhere in Canada aboard Air Canada….Is there anything else I can help you with?

Or perhaps you are concerned about the climate and you wish to discuss the matter with Environment Canada.

AGENT: Good morning, this is Marie speaking. Can you please hold just a minute? It’s hot in here. I have to open the window.

CALLER: No problem Marie. My name is Larry. I just want to express my concerns about climate change.

AGENT: Certainly sir. Let me put your call over to the person who can be most helpful and who in fact is always ready to discuss this matter with you.

AGENT 2: Hi Larry. This is the Prime Minister speaking. How can I help you? …It’s hot in here. Let me just turn on the AC.

I doubt the Auditor General’s report makes any of these suggestions to fix the problem. The question is, if we were to telephone his office, would we get through?

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