It’s not often that I deal directly with the government.
Sure, I’m aware that certain entities rule society, but in my daily life, governance, like charity, begins at home.
So it was with extreme trepidation that I recently applied for EI.
I had an organ removed two years ago. This required major surgery and a hospital stay. I didn’t have to put so much as a deposit on a credit card and got three squares a day and drugs administered by caring staff. It felt like a vacation.
But EI, that feels like doing hard time. In Toronto, with our 6.6 per cent unemployment rate, a person has to work 665 hours to be able to claim EI. Where the unemployment rate is 13 per cent and over, only 420 hours of toil are needed.
The last time I sullied a government office with my presence was when EI was UI. Remember those cards you had to fill out? Are you ready, willing and able to work? No, no and yes.
As a self-employed artist, I haven’t been eligible for EI in 20 years. My last contract – for a government ministry, ironically enough – deducted money at source, including EI contributions. So why not investigate the world of government programs? How frustrating could it be?
I apply for EI online. The process has been streamlined for easy access. You can have your cheque deposited directly into your bank account. Sweet!
Unfortunately, a lot of hassle comes with it, in the form of reporting your activity to The Man every two weeks. That hasn’t changed.
He wants to know the dates worked in a week, the gross amount earned, the name and address of the employer, monies received other than salary, and dates and reasons if you’re not working.
As a freelancer, I balk at the intrusion.
My local Service Canada is located at Dufferin Mall. In my 10 years of living in the west end, I’ve never set foot in the place. I break out in a sweat the minute I enter the consumer terminal.
After half an hour of panicked searching, I finally find the Service Canada office in the basement.
Surprisingly, there’s no lineup. I queue anyway, out of habit, until the woman behind the desk waves me over. I hand her my crumpled record of employment (or ROE, something you’ll need if you ever apply) and hyperventilate.
I still need a couple of other ROEs from CBC, which is like getting blood from a stone.
I flash back to the time I was ushered out of line and frisked at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. (Tip: don’t wear army fatigues through international customs.)
As I stand trembling in front of the Service Canada clerk, I regret ever going on the EI website and hitting the send button. I collect my self-employment receipts in a shoebox.
How could I ever keep track of my whereabouts? Although EI is every working person’s right, it still feels like a quagmire.
I have to wait the obligatory two weeks to find out if my claim will go through. In the meantime, I’m hustling for more work. Just don’t tell Service Canada. It’s time for The Man to pay me back.