Thursday, October 09, 2008

Why I'm not voting in the Canadian election

I will just interrupt the cheery flow of poetry and food to have another virtual temper tantrum. In case you ever doubted that even young countries can have hopeless bureaucracies, I want to share with you the sorry tale of my attempts to vote in next week's Canadian election, which have resulted in my being disenfranchised. Just when you think it can never happen to you..!

The story begins September 30 when I thought I should check on the exact date of the election which I knew had been called just around the time my plane took off for England. I discovered that it was scheduled for October 14 and I would need to register by October 7 to vote from abroad.

I checked the Elections Canada and Canadian High Commission websites but found them confusing and ended up phoning Ottawa to find out what I needed to do, as I thought I should be able to cast my ballot from here, through an advance poll.

The first person I spoke to at Elections Canada assured me that I could do so; all I had to do was take my proof of address down to the high commission and as long as I knew the name of the person I wanted to vote for, I could do that up until October 6.

Off I went on my fool's errand on October 1, only to be met by a stoic receptionist who handed me an Application for Registration and Special Ballot and said I'd have to fill it in to have a ballot mailed to me: there was no earthly way I could vote there. Home I went with my form to phone Elections Canada, and spoke to someone else who double checked and agreed it was so, I could not cast an advance vote, I'd have to apply for a mailed ballot using the form, but if I faxed it in to the number she gave me she'd keep an eye out for it and process it as swiftly as possible.

October 2 I set off on my fool's errand, form in hand, and presented myself at the High Commission again. For those who haven't been here, there are two buildings housing Canada's overseas mission here, and they are separated by a twenty minute walk (if you know the way). The receptionist on duty that day assured me there was no way she could touch such a dangerous object as my form and only the Consular Office was qualified to apply it to a fax machine on my behalf.

Off I walked to Canada House on my fool's errand, form in hand, and got myself up to the Consular Office well before their unholy closing time of 1.30pm. Having already shown my passport to get in there, I handed over the forms, the special fax number and my driver's licence. The friendly soul shortly returned saying the fax number I'd given her wasn't in service and should she fax it to the main Elections Canada number? Indeed, and she did, and she handed my forms back and home I went, thinking all was taken care of and I need only wait for my ballot to arrive by mail.

Jump forward to October 9. I had someone check my phone messages in Canada on October 2 and again yesterday. This morning I received an email from home saying there were two messages from Elections Canada - one impossible to understand, and the second saying my driver's licence was too dark on the fax and it needed to be re-sent. As I had no idea when this message arrived, I went down to the High Commission on my fool's errand and found the Consular office closed, and everyone I spoke to said you're too late you're too late the deadline was October 7. I managed to find someone who was willing to help me. She tsked when she saw the forms; I shouldn't have been given them back after faxing, apparently. She duly faxed them through and put a call through for me to Elections Canada.

Then the fun really began. I was told that two phone messages had been left for me on October 2 and 4 and that I'd missed the deadline for sending my application in so there was nothing I could do. My position - that I'd sent my application in ahead of the deadline and re-sent my supporting document as soon as I knew they needed it - was worth nothing. And clearly the fact that a consular official had seen my passport as well as my driver's licence did not qualify her to attest to my identity either: only a photocopied driver's licence sent over a fax machine can prove to Elections Canada who I really am.

When I asked why they'd left messages in Canada when I was clearly in England, and had provided an email address, the answer I got was that "we only email when we can't reach people by phone". Which rather seemed to me to be the case. Why, she countered, had I entered my home number on the form? May I point out that this is exactly what the form asks for, the home and work numbers, with Canadian formatting for area codes - there is no space to provide a contact number in the "present mailing address" fields.

Things got really entertaining when she put her supervisor on. I asked him to explain why nobody had attempted to email me, and why this wasn't considered standard practice when handling forms from people who were obviously abroad. He replied that the policy was to leave four phone messages before emailing. When I asked why I had only received two of my four messages and no email, he hung up on me.

Thanks Canada. Good luck in the election. May the other guy get in this time.


Blogger the regina mom said...

Ah, fuck, Rhona! This is terrible! Here's hoping your person wins regardless.

9:52 p.m.  

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