By Jim Poling Sr.
We Canadians love our bureaucracy as much as we love our maple syrup. If we didn’t why would we swallow so much of it?
I’ve been asking myself that after a recent experience with Transport Canada’s office of boating safety. It’s a bit of a long story, beginning with an encounter with the Ontario Provincial Police on our lake.
I was breaking in a new 20-horsepower outboard motor when the police approached and asked if I was carrying all the safety gear one is supposed to carry. They noted my boat, a 14-foot open aluminium job did not have registration numbers, required for boats with motors 10 horsepower or more.
The cops were pleasant and reasonable. So much so that I went ashore immediately, sat down at a computer and started to apply for a registration number.
That’s when the bureaucratic nightmare began.
One of the first things the online application demanded was a signed and dated bill of sale to prove I owned the boat. It said that if I couldn’t produce a bill of sale I would need to go to a lawyer or notary and get a signed and witnessed statutory declaration.
I bought the boat seven years earlier so finding a bill of sale was going to be next to impossible. Who keeps receipts for simple things for seven years?
I bought the boat from a dealer but soon after the sale, the owner died suddenly and the business closed. No chance of getting a receipt from a business that no longer exists.
In a stroke of luck I found a receipt after two or three days of rummaging through boxes of junk.
I was exuberant. I photographed it, attached it to the digital application, and pressed the send button. It refused to be sent, telling me I had not filled out who was the secondary owner.
I was confused. I am the sole owner of the boat and motor but the application demanded a secondary owner. It is pointless trying to argue with a computer so I listed my wife as secondary owner, providing a photo of her driver’s licence and anything else they wanted.
The digital gods accepted the application this time. But the bureaucrats didn’t. A couple of days later I received an email saying the application was rejected because the bill of sale lacked a signature.
The bill of sale was printed on the boat dealer’s letterhead and described the boat size and the price paid.
I found a Transport Canada telephone number and called it to explain I could not provide the signature of a dead person. The bureaucrat on the other end of the line said they must have all pertinent information before approving the application.
I tried calling later and got the same answer from a different person. I decided the best course was to abandon the process, run the boat without numbers and take my chances with the OPP water patrols.
However, the more I thought about the senseless bureaucracy of getting a number for a tin boat, the angrier I became and I called back to Transport Canada. I was ready to launch into a major rant but the voice on the other end was sympathetic.
“Just take a pen and write on the bill of sale the make and model of the boat, and the serial number, if you can find it, and resend the application,” he advised.
I did that and within a couple minutes of pushing the send button an email arrived approving the application and issuing me a legal boat number.
In 2021, Canada’s federal public service totalled 319,601 people. That’s an increase of 62,567 bureaucrats since 2015 – six years ago.
During the last fiscal year thousands of those federal bureaucrats took home $190 million in work performance bonuses. That’s an 11 per cent increase in bonuses from the previous fiscal year when $171 million were doled out.
Public service executives, people who oversee ridiculously complicated federal applications like the boating licence one, did especially well on the bonuses. Just shy of 90 per cent of them received bonuses in the last fiscal year.
I hope the bureaucrat who cut through all the nonsense and issued me my boat numbers received one.