Banging Your Head Against the Wall of Government Bureaucracy
Torontoist has been acquired by Daily Hive Toronto - Your City. Now. Click here to learn more.




Banging Your Head Against the Wall of Government Bureaucracy

Vintage postcard of the Toronto General Hospital (1913) from Mars Discovery District.
Encounters with government bureaucracy can be stressful ordeals at the best of times; at the worst, when things don’t go your way, they can be incredibly frustrating. Apparently, this is true even if you’re a Polaris Music Prize–winning musician. Former Torontoist contributor Carly Beath pointed us toward Owen Pallett recounting his recent travails with the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care on Stillepost. His story is a cautionary tale for bands, musicians, and anyone else who travels frequently.

When renewing his health card, Pallett answered the clerk’s questions openly and honestly only to get burned by it. Although Ontario is his place of residence, his musician’s lifestyle of constant touring and travel to recording studios elsewhere meant Pallett couldn’t satisfy the clerk that he met OHIP’s eligibility requirements, which demand that an applicant to have been “physically present in Ontario for 153 days in any 12-month period.” That he couldn’t meet the residency requirements seems especially ironic given the degree to which Pallett’s hometown permeates Final Fantasy’s music, with references to the CN Tower, Brad Lamb, and much more.
Pallett describes what happened:

So, she took my health card away. I went back, very distraught, with some friends and a notarized document and my high school yearbooks and my diploma. I brought 12 months of cell phone records and Interac purchases to prove that I had been in Toronto for ‘a lot’ of the last year, if not a total of five months’ worth. Pathetic, perhaps, and it didn’t work. I don’t have a lease agreement, or own a car, or have any way to prove (legally) that I’m an Ontario resident.
She then told me that I could appeal her decision, but that appeals rarely go through. She sneered as she told me this.
So, if you travel for work, lie, lie, lie.

The situation that Pallett encountered serves as a warning for other musicians, overseas volunteers, and anyone else who might be affected by the loophole. What recourse do you have if, as an average citizen, you encounter a similar bureaucratic nightmare with the Ministry of Health or any other department?
2008_02_25OHIPform.jpgWhether just a case of an over-zealous bureaucrats proudly snaring alleged “cheaters” or people judiciously enforcing a very strict reading of the regulations, the problem of seemingly eligible citizens cut off from health coverage is pretty common. It’s odd, too, because similar clerks in other provinces have been known to actually assist clients who are clearly eligible in principle––if not by the hair-splitting precision––of the law in filling out forms in such a way to ensure they get the health coverage they are entitled to. There’s a world of difference between this and defrauding the government.
The first step is to approach the application/renewal process the right way. It would be a stretch to advocate downright dishonesty when answering a ministry official’s questions. But edit. Keep your answers to the point without volunteering peripheral information. Countless people have been denied for technicalities or poorly chosen words. Know the eligibility criteria, and be firm but polite that––despite their interrogating––you do indeed meet them. It’s worth pointing out that whether you’ve declared Ontario as your permanent residence for tax purposes (or even whether you’ve paid the Ontario Health Premium) won’t impact your eligibility for OHIP. If your application is turned down, an option that sometimes works (especially with new arrivals from out of province applying for their first OHIP card) is to simply start the application process over again on a new day/at a new OHIP office/with a new clerk at the counter. The experience of your first attempt will guide you towards the “right” answers on this visit.
Once an official makes up their mind that you’re ineligible, no amount of convincing will satisfy them otherwise, as Pallett’s attempts show. At this point, discussions are likely to devolve into futile arguing, or even outright accusations that you’re attempting fraud. No amount of logic can defeat bureaucratic hard-headedness. So simply ask them about their appeals process.
Although it seems like service-counter decisions are defended with a circle-the-wagons fervour, make use of whatever appeals process is available. In the case of the MOHLTC, your request for appeal goes to the general manager of OHIP in Kingston. Then, if you remain unsatisfied, you can appeal to the Health Services Appeal and Review Board. Unfortunately, appeals are a time-consuming process and not guaranteed to succeed. So don’t just cross your fingers and hope for the best.
Even as you initiate your appeal, enlist your local MPP’s assistance. It may seem obvious, but as your local representative, part of your MPP’s job is to help citizens navigate their way through the political system, whether it’s with a getting a petition to the legislature or with accessing government services. Don’t hesitate to call them up, or stop by their local constituency office. (A current list of addresses is here.) For many politicians, helping constituents with the little things is the entire reason they entered politics in the first place and the most rewarding part of the job. They know the ins-and-outs of government and exactly who to talk to. Even if your MPP isn’t available, the constituency staff is primed to deal with pretty much anything. Finally, if all else fails, you can contact the Minister in charge of whichever department you’re having trouble with. You can even carbon-copy the media on your letter to the Minister for added effect. The above goes for dealing with any perceived unfairness towards you on the part of government bureaucracy, not just the Ministry of Health.