The Plague-Ground – A bureaucratic miracle

When was the last time you saw those three words in a sentence?

Applied to Ottawa?

In a pandemic?


Our expectation of speedy service from any government, let alone the Feds, is so low that anything short of craven indifference is hailed as miraculous.

Perhaps it’s time we put this bias aside.

When Ottawa announced CERB, the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, I applied. My company had lost 80% of its revenues in March. No travels for RamsayTravels, no talks (at least live ones) for RamsayTalks, and a tiny stream of work for Ramsay Inc. I was effectively out of work.

The day after the Prime Minister announced the program, I talked to my business manager and accountant. Both said apply, and I did. I didn’t hear anything back, but not 10 days later, there was a mystery deposit in my bank account.

Then on March 27, Ottawa announced a second program called the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy. This was for companies who’ve lost most of their revenues because of the pandemic.  I talked to my business manager and accountant. They said apply and we’ll sort it out if it turns out you’re double-dipping. So I applied, and a week later my business manager got a phone message from CRA saying they needed to speak to me and asking for the best contact number.

She gave them the number and before she had time to let me know what was happening, my phone rang and a cheery woman said she was calling from the Canada Revenue Agency. She’d just been speaking with my business manager but was now calling me because only I was allowed to answer her next questions.

She seemed very pleasant and I heard young kids playing in the background.

She said that she was working from home and calling from her mobile phone and was I okay with her doing that because a mobile phone isn’t as secure as a landline.

Absolutely fine.

She seemed strangely friendly and I asked her how long she’d been working at CRA. She replied: “I’ve been with the federal government for 9 years.”

I learned later that when the CRA saw that it had to vastly expand its workforce to help taxpayers with the application process, 7,500 public servants who were considered non-essential volunteered to work the phones. Clearly, this woman was one of them.

She was very cheery and I was happy to answer her questions.

This was no faceless bureaucrat.

In fact, she was more like a concierge at the Four Seasons. I felt she really cared about me and all of us.

So as we rang off, I said to her:

“I just want to say one thing….”

“Yes, Mr. Ramsay?”

“Thank God we live in Canada.”

“I agree,” she said.  “Have a good day.”

And we hung up.

I tucked that call away as one of the odd lovely memories of this whole pandemic.

Three days later, a deposit arrived in my bank account.

But then yesterday, a friend sent me a Macleans article by Nick Taylor-Vaisey, titled “Pulling off a bureaucratic miracle: How the CERB got done.”

It tells the story of how Ottawa got money into the hands of Canadians in record time. I urge you to read it, and as you do, keep in mind what’s happening in America around people getting money from Washington, and in Britain, and in all those other countries where governments aren’t viewed as slightly dotty relatives who mean well but don’t move that fast, but as the enemies of the people.

As I said: “Thank God we live in Canada.”

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10 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – A bureaucratic miracle”

  1. At first I thought you were going to say it was a CRA scam and this charming mother of a government employee had all your personal banking info and was walking away with it.
    Yes indeed we are all fortunate to live here in this coast to coast to coast to closed border country. Wouldn’t it have been amazing if stay at home mothers and grandmothers (and fathers and grandfathers) could also have received some compensation for being primary caregivers, built-in front-line workers.

  2. You are one of the lucky ones. I applied April 9 and got confirmation. No call. No money. I applied again May 6 and got confirmation. No call. No money.
    As you know, my business relies on advertising from Airlines, Tourism Boards, Restaurants, Hotels. None of that is happening. But to our government, Dine Magazine Inc. is invisible.

  3. We are indeed very lucky to be here in Canada where there is some way to find help for almost everyone!

  4. Adam Plackett

    I had already read the story in the Globe and Mail about how the CRA pushed the CERB program through in record time but it was heart warming to read it again. It is almost a national pastime in Canada to complain about government and a lot of the time it is justified but let’s give credit where credit is due. It was a fantastic achievement by the CRA and they deserve our full applause.

  5. Good message, Bob and I cannot but agree that the efficacy and efficiency astonished us all. Bravi! I cannot let that excellent achievement go by, though, without commenting .about the manner in which it was presented to the people. Governments don’t have any money – what they have is the ability to direct our tax money – 70% of which comes from individuals – and borrowings (which is a debt owned by all Canadians), to programs. Consequently, there is no such thing as “My government is going to give money to X, Y and Z.”
    Governments make policies about what to do with our money, and that to take personal credit, to laud oneself for taking Bob’s money as if it were his own, is self-serving and merits reproach. At least he didn’t sign the cheques. “On behalf of we the people, this government has determined to redistribute the tax revenues to strive to manage the immediate economic pain.” Because, Bob, we are pleased that you were able to mitigate the pain but the money was ours not his! MMT is not Modern Monetary Theory that we are also asked to swallow, but the Magic Money Tree and is simply a twist on alchemy that we are also being sold!

    1. David — Not for a second did I think Ottawa was showering me with money. Indeed, the sense that it was MY money
      – faithfully paid over the years — was what prompted my instant application to get what I could back !
      Thanks for writing.

    2. The part I missed was the final dagger to the heart of the print media business via COVID-19. It is going to be bleak out there
      and I just can’t see anby but the biggest players surviving, and even among them will be bis casualties. And on that cherry note,
      thanks for writing, Sara.

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