Being driven solely by fear is a terrible feeling. Being driven by anger is equally bad.
It is vitally important to have an understanding of both sides of the equation. To be driven only by fear to press forward. To be driven by only by anger to accomplish a goal.
It is also just as important to understand there is a completely other side. To be the one to create the fear, to be the one to cause the anger that serves as the final motivation to force another to bend to your will.
I am a more than imperfect man trying to get through my world intact and whole, leaving the world a better place behind me. Some days I feel like a rampaging beast leaving ruin and destruction in my wake. On good days I create some good, I assist someone in need, I rise above my imperfections and accomplish something I am proud of.
My son asked why I have a blog. This is my journal, my record. My primary target audience is myself. I air my thoughts and try to make them coherent. Some days I'm vague, other days I'm blunt, but I know I've been successful when I read through my writing a month or a year down the road and realize that putting my thoughts down have helped me decide to choose the path I was destined to travel.
I have already said that I am afraid to complete this entry. I have good friends who may think less of me. I have detestable persons who will point to me and say, "I told you he was no good." I am going to discuss the people who do not know me, who have pre-judged me, who have blamed me.
This is about my anger, and how the influence of a friend I deeply trust has blunted my anger as a driving force and caused me to re-examine myself in light of my own values and my own professed cornerstones.
To this very day, nearly one third of all the traffic that comes to this site comes for one article and one article alone. I am shocked, terrified and amazed that my blog is on the front page when you search for "Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program" on Google.
In the simplest of terms, I feel I was treated extremely unfairly by the program's staff. I have been treated with contempt, treated hostilely, and unfairly subjected to harsh penalties without warning. When I have tried to lodge a complaint, I have been told "The system is working as intended." There was no flexibility or willingness for discussion - according to the persons I spoke with at the department my only two options were to allow MEP access to my bank account or to prepay my child support one month in advance. The department has, in my eyes, worked towards coercing me to giving them direct access to my bank account by the continual restrictions they place towards allowable payments. Direct payment is not acceptable, I know not all fees incurred were reimbursed.
I had to plead with my company to find a solution in extraordinary circumstances. The only way to change this is to go into court. I absolutely cannot afford a lawyer, so I'd be forced to go into court on my own and hope to hear a judge who will hear me with an open and fair mind. Going to court is a crap shoot, I'm afraid, and onerous and extremely stressful for me.
How can it be that a program can be so detested by "creditor" and "debtor" together?
"Creditors" complain about a lack of enforcement, of a toothless department who do nothing to ensure collections are made. "Debtors" like me wonder how some people get away with such outrageous behaviour while we live under constant threat of losing our driver's licences, passports and continual penalties applied.
I stand behind my words. The program is not working for custodial or non-custodial parents. The entire system needs to be redressed and systematically re-examined. Complaints of mistreatment must be taken seriously. Actually, all complaints need to be taken seriously.
When I recorded my rebuttal to Mr. da Costa's interview my father asked me, "Aren't you afraid of what they [the MEP] will do to you?" No, they've done to me all they can. If I am blackballed as a trouble-maker, I'm well and truly on their bad list by now. All that is left is to try to never fall behind in payments ever again so they have no reason to act against me and to try to apply pressure so the department at large will become fair and effective in the future.
Penalties applied against me when I have struggled financially only increase the difficulty. We may as well re-establish debtor's prisons. Cancelling the driver's licence of someone who's struggling to make ends meet becomes counter productive when it restricts the ability to make a living. When faced with continual threats and recriminations from the department staff, the lesson learned is don't ever get forced into needing to ever deal directly with the MEP at all.
When a custodial parent cannot collect support, it can put them in a very tough position. When the MEP puts in little to no effort to actually collect due support it becomes aggravating because the family can be left unable to make ends meet.
So what's the fix? My lawyer tells me the staff are overworked, the department is underfunded and the people there are left in an impossible position. I feel sorry for every time I am forced to call with a problem, because each and every call they get is going to be one parent complaining about not having enough money. It has to be a tough job, but that's still not an excuse for treating clients abusively.
When I first raised the issue of the unfair way I was treated, it was to my MLA with a copy of my complaint sent to both the Minister of Justice and also to the MEP. Only my MLA responded, but he said that my issue was raised with the minister.
This is a matter of critical importance to my life, in response to a government department who openly warned that the department has power of collection actions which are long-reaching. If you thought fighting City Hall is something, you ain't seen nothing until you're up against the MEP. The MEP is the single biggest source of stress in my day to day life. I wrote a letter of complaint and heard back from one of three people I received a copy. Rather than standing as a buffer between myself and the department and acting to facilitate communication between us I found myself receiving a list of the demands the MEP gave me from the start. As to the abusive staff, I was told, "It is regrettable that you feel you have been mistreated by MEP staff, as they are expected to be professional, courteous and helpful to clients. Manuel da Costa, Executive Director of MEP, has asked me to extend his apologies if this is not the standard of service you received."
I remain gobsmacked to this very day. That could have been a 30 second hallway discussion between my MLA and the minister. The recital of what the abusive Collections Officer said makes it appear that the points I tried to make were written off in favour of established policy. Granted it was delivered more politely the second time around. I do not believe any of my argument was fairly represented, I know it was never discussed with me. It feels that I have been written off as just another whinger with an axe to grind. I hope I'm very clear that I am much more than that. I may be a little naive, perhaps a little too optimistic, but I also have answers that can help resolve some issues.
This is a serious problem. It is a serious issue. It affects about half of all marriages in Alberta. Sure, not all of them are high conflict, but high conflict separations are common enough to be a major issue in our society. My complaint went to my MLA, disappeared for six weeks, then came back with an unsatisfactory answer and an unbelievable apology.
I beg of you to understand this is greater than one complaint against one mistreatment. This is a single anecdote from a single department within a single ministry of our Provincial Government. The same is rampant in our Health Ministry, in our Education Ministry, in our Energy Ministry, seemingly in all of our government. This top-down, controlling approach where problems are passed into a black box to either be mysteriously fixed or never seen again is more than just my story - it's the story of thousands of Albertans who are not receiving the leadership we deserve. We need change, I have lost faith in change-from-within and am looking for change-from-without.
So in the office where I work there was a sudden influx of people coming and going into the basement. I was surprised when some of my newly made friends began appearing at the door when I was coming or leaving work. There are plenty of people that have earned my immense respect over the past year. Much to my chagrin, most of them were challenging me as to why I was sitting on the sidelines of this campaign.
I've been afraid and uncomfortable to admit that I'm still angry with Alison Redford for not seeming to act on my complaint while she was Minister of Justice and address me fairly. I'm left in a bad position where I like much of what she says, but I'm overwhelmed with disbelief that she will respond any better as Premier than she has as a Minister. Any time I agreed with her was diluted with the sense that I am just a little person whose opinion holds no weight whatsoever.
Ms. Redford is certainly a significant part of government that affects me directly. Sadly, it has been a government that has completely rejected me as a Debtor with an axe to grind. I have not had any standing whatsoever with the government for my entire adult life. There needs to be change and the change needs to be significant.
I have decided that the best party to institute the change I am hoping to see will be the Alberta Party. I believe the Alberta Party is most capable of giving Albertans standing in their government and is best positioned to create the dialogue Alberta needs in order to become a better Province for us all.
It's through the Alberta Party that I meet spectacular people like Tammy Maloney, who chastised me for my hypocrisy and it has bothered me ever since. The problem with being driven by anger with the Ministry of Justice and the government at large is that I fail to live up to my values of being a force for open and communicative discussion. Ms. Maloney clearly outlined that I am wrong to not continue to try to have a conversation and express my views with a fair and open mind, just as I expect to be heard. It's been tough and I've been trying to amalgamate it all together. I hope I can consider myself a friendly opponent. I intend to be present for the remainder of Ms. Redford's political life while she will be present for the entirety of mine.
We absolutely have to have some very tough discussions in Alberta about our future direction. We absolutely have to involve more Albertans than have been at the table lately. We must break down the institutions within our government and bureaucracies that have been creating barriers to discussion, actively fomenting conflict, or masking accountability and transparency. I wish Ms. Redford success because I don't believe she wants to perpetuate the problems we have discovered we're living with.
I also wish she'll walk up two flights of stairs, turn left, and ask for Mark and have a serious conversation over coffee some time.