Wednesday, November 7, 2012



The smiling receptionist for Dr. Bernie Gosevitz and I exchanged alleged witticisms about our chances of winning Lotto 6/49. But then I hit a downer.  She announced my OHIP card had expired.
"No," I said. "It's an original. It's eternal."
She fixed me with a look that indicated I was in premature senility and said that TV had been filled with ads saying that original cards had to be refreshed by Nov. 1.
I said I hadn't seen any ad, and I really am a consumer of the media beyond resonable levels, although too much of it these days is about politics.
So that is why I found myself at something called Service Ontario, sort of one-stop shopping  for provincial red tape/licences etc.
This particular bureaucratic outlet is in the rambling new building at Islington and Bloor that looks like it should be downtown. After walking in circles and hunting for interior maps etc. I actually found the red tape palace.
A formidable lady guarded the entrance. I handed over Mary's  renewal of her disabled parking permit (which is golden) and that went smoothly. But when I announced I had to renew my OHIP card, things went off the rails. She handed me a form and said I needed three pieces of identification.
Let's see, I told her, I have the old OHIP card and my driver's licence and my birth certificate etc.
Apparently I wasn't armed enough.
So I announced that what I had would satisfy the police, whether Toronto, OPP, RCMP or Interpol, but she stood like a wall between the counters and the street.
I returned the next day armed with enough identification to earn me security clearances, which I have had for royal visits and high-level military briefings (which once included a session with an Israeli spy colonel.) I even had my income tax return and an American Express card with my picture on it.
The wall wasn't there and a different lady welcomed me agreeably after I flashed enough identification to sink a battleship. She pointed to rows of chairs and I took a number. There were two clerks moving with glacial speed and 18 people waiting. Just before my eruption, several more clerks appeared and the wait shortened, sort of.
My clerk couldn't have been nicer. And I thought that even before he recognized my name as a blogger/columnist/editor that he probably had read.
I grumbled mildly about my ID that was now spread in a mound before him. He told me about all the fraud which meant that the number of cards in Ontario were double the population. Then he remembered my history and said that I had probably written about it.
I have. I told him about the eye specialist for whom I had waited five hours who then spent another hour lecturing me about OHIP fraud, saying he had sent the health ministry documentation about all the cheating in Windsor from the claimants who were actually Americans living in Detroit.
He never really got a response, he said. And then he squuezed powerful drops into my eyes and blinded me for a few more hours.
There are three long lists of documents suggested by Service Ontario for a new OHIP card - and you need one from each list to prove citizenship, residency and identity. There are some weird comparisons. For example, a union card, student ID or credit card are as good as a passport.  School report card, utility bill or income tax assessment match a lease agreement or insurance policy.
And one of the documents that would help you qualify is an Ontario Photo Card which costs $35 and  you get in four to six weeks AFTER YOU PRODUCE SUITABLE IDENTIFICATION AT A SERVICE ONTARIO centre. Am I the only one who finds that curious?
It might appear easy, a slam dunk, for most of us to find three acceptable documents but I know a man who was blocked and had to go to a lot more effort than the day it took me because he lived with his parents and didn't have utility bills, school report card, union card etc that Service Ontario would accept.
He finally qualified, but his experience reminds me of the old lawyer's saying about you have to be careful when creating rules 'n' regs that they're not a guide for the guilty and a trap for the innocent.
Queen's Park would argue that you really have to demand assorted documents because of all the crime today, and I'm not just talking about what the Liberal government wasted on electronic medical records and power generation.
Service Ontario has just announced that it is scrapping its 72 automated kiosks which have been around since 1996 to give you speedy access to something like 40 government services including licence plate renewals.
 It says it would cost $8.5 million to install enough devices to baffle the hackers and crooks who want your credit card and debit card numbers. Instead, you'll have to get by the screening receptionists and wait, and wait, until you get to one of those counters where the staff seem quite pleasant and not bothered by all the waiting people.
Not quite the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but in a hectic city it will have to do. After all Service Ontario says it has 46 million transactions  a year, which is a lot of transactions, and a lot of waiting.

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