An Open Letter to Alison Redford

  • April 13, 2012

Ms. Redford,

I heard you being interviewed on the radio yesterday morning.  This was even before the leader’s debate.  During the interview, you said one thing that suddenly made every single interaction I have ever personally had with you make sense.

You were talking about an old adage.  “You’ve probably struck the right balance when you have people on both sides of you that aren’t happy.“  The question was about the PC party fighting the election from different perspectives, on the right in the south and on the left in the north.  The full question begins at 11:00, your answer comes at 11:30.

I’ve heard that line before.  I’ve heard it in response to how the courts have viewed my divorce proceedings.  I’ve heard it in regards to how the Maintenance Enforcement Program has dealt with my complaints as I have raised them.

When I have complained about horribly terrible treatment at the hands of the Maintenance Enforcement Program, I wrote a letter of complaint in desperation to my MLA and to you as the Minister of Justice.  I got a very unsatisfying response in return. 

I complained about the Collections Officer I spoke with being rude and abusive towards me.  To this day, I start each and every call I have to make ensuring I get the name of the Collections Officer I speak with.  Should I ever receive “Vicky” again I will politely hang up and call back later.  The department has a “zero tolerance” policy on abusive callers, but does not share the same standard when complaints are levelled against employees - public servants - who are abusive towards clients.  I was told by supervisors and by senior staff that nothing was wrong with how the collections officer treated me.  You were silent over the matter.

I complained about the restriction of payment options, the unreasonable demands and restrictions upon how I can pay Child Support.  I feel coerced into allowing the Maintenance Enforcement Program access to my bank account.  It is something that I utterly will not permit.  I do not allow direct withdrawal from my bank account for any reason unless I am forced to do so.  Mistakes are long, costly, and expensive to repair.  The Maintenance Enforcement Program specifically has a public record of making such mistakes which were extremely harmful to the men affected.

Even the Canadian Revenue Agency is more flexible and understanding regarding payment options than the Maintenance Enforcement Program.  I would literally rather deal with the CRA a hundred times before I have to deal with the MEP once.

In response, I was told that I had the option to let MEP have access to my bank account, set up a separate bank account that MEP could access, or pay my child support one month in advance.  Those are not solutions!  But it was what was demanded of me.  As it is, when I am paid from my employer I have to physically go to a bank and make a payment in person through a teller.  It’s very time consuming and inconvenient, and payment is not made any sooner than it would be by post-dated cheque or scheduled online payment.

I complained about the poor reporting and complete lack of accountability the MEP has towards me.  I am one of the people the MEP is supposed to be serving.  I should not have to go through illegible reports to understand my status.  I should not have to suffer months of hidden fines levied against me without any transparency whatsoever, only to find myself threatened with immediate revocation of my driver’s licence because the fines have topped $100. I was told that it was my responsibility to keep my accounts current.  I was told that reporting was acceptable, even though the collections officer I spoke to had a difficult time understanding what it meant.

From that complaint, I received what I consider to be the least sincere apology I have ever received in my life.  “We’re sorry that you feel that way.“  From you I received nothing but silence.  The single worst thing said to me in response to my complaint was that “The system is working as intended.“  I’ll come back to that point.

I have wondered why you, as minister, never replied to me.  Did you never truly look into my complaint?  Did you brush it off?  Did my MLA never actually discuss my situation with you?  It was strange.  It certainly counters my image of one who is a human right’s lawyer.  I had an expectation that my complaint would be taken seriously.

I have subsequently went on the record to commentate on the Maintenance Enforcement Program.  Currently approximately one third of all visitors to this site come to read that article.  That commentary is not about how I got screwed over by the MEP, it’s about how the MEP is broken for everyone who encounters it.  It does not work for Debtors, it does not work for Creditors.  It does not serve any of us well.  Our complaints fall on deaf ears when we get responses such as “The system is working as intended.”

Ms. Redford, while you were the Minister of Justice it was your responsibility to review my complaint, particularly when I addressed it to you directly.  When we, the public, make complaints it is in order to raise specific concerns and problems and to get them addressed.  Yes, I understand that not all responses will be positive, but complaints should be taken seriously.

On that note, I wish to go back to your statement, “You’ve probably struck the right balance when you have people on both sides of you that aren’t happy.“  Leadership sets the tone of an entire organization.  Is that truly the basic premise that has permeated the MEP?  If there’s any truth to that statement whatsoever, I think we have found the source of the problem.

If my unhappiness is part of the metric for success, then each complaint I make regarding mistreatment or unfair dealings means that the department is doing well so long as there is an equal and opposite complaint from my former spouse.  That doesn’t solve problems, that generates conflict and anxiety.

When your campaign for leadership headquartered itself in the building where I work, it was a drawn out thorn in my side.  Every single thing that was negative was magnified ten fold for me.  It was terribly disruptive, it was very annoying opening the door for people who wanted into the building.  You personally parked in our reserved parking - I laugh when I hear of Rob Anderson using your stall.  Stephen expected me to pick up a membership book and help campaign.  I couldn’t.  I hate to be negative, but I just didn’t feel that you were capable of having an open and fruitful conversation with me.

I gave you as many opportunities as I could.  I gave an open invitation to come up to the third floor and ask for me.  Sure, you are polite in person when you ran across me anonymously, but I wonder if you would be equally polite when you knew that I am the person complaining about the MEP.

If you are satisfied with people around you being unhappy and using that as a measurement of getting things right, I am uncomfortable with you in a leadership role.  The problem with that kind of leadership is that you cater to just enough in the middle to keep you in power and everyone else gets written off as unimportant.  In fact, it becomes a good thing that people are upset because that becomes self-reinforcement of your own views.

It’s not okay.  Eventually more and more people get upset, more and more people get ignored, until their numbers swell so much you get pushed out of power.

“The system is working as intended.“  No, no it is not.  The system was not intended to cause anguish to both parents.  The system was not intended to unfairly punish debtors year after year.  The system was not intended to leave parents struggling to support their children while some parents refuse to pay.  The system was not intended to enforce the debtor with an iron fist and turn around to the debtee and say, “There is nothing we can do.”

You sometimes talk about the fear of living under an ideological government.  I do not share the fear you have.  I am afraid each and every day.  I am terrified that the MEP will swoop into my world, take away my driver’s licence, take away my passport and eventually take away my freedom.  I live in daily terror of a government department that is supposed to serve me.  The Maintenance Enforcement Program is the single biggest source of stress in my life.  That’s not normal.  It’s not the way we should treat our own citizens.

There is a better way.  When I talk about listening to Albertans, this is precisely where we can do so much better than we have.  By not ignoring complaints, but by listening and acting where we can make differences that are positive.  The metric should not be how many people surrounding us are upset, it needs to become how many problems get fixed.

I’ll eventually be okay.  I’ll probably never have a retirement, I likely will never own my own home, I may struggle for years to get by, but I will get by.  What I have learned about myself during this election campaign is that I’m not thinking of myself, I’m thinking of others.  I’m amazed how much freedom I feel in that knowledge.  I don’t care about my problems, I’ll fix them eventually.  I want to help my friends and neighbours fix their problems.  I want to do things better than they’ve been done in the past.  I want to listen to views that do not simply reinforce that I’m right all the time.

I want to listen to all Albertans.  The left, the right, the middle.  I want to solve as many problems as we can.  Every Albertan matters and no one needs to be pushed aside.

I remain available to talk.