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VIBERT: RMV in a hurry for doctor’s note

Jim Vibert
Jim Vibert - SaltWire Network

If the Nova Scotia Registry of Motor Vehicles is paying attention to all the fuss about people without doctors, it hasn’t connected the dots back to its own little fiefdom.

On a tip from cop, doc, or just about anyone else, the registry will require Nova Scotians who have attained the wisdom or withering of age to get a note from a doctor that says they’re okay to drive. 

The registry generally allows the licensee 30 days to turn around the doctor’s form, but it may shorten that ambitious timeline if it believes there’s reason. It did that to Betty, a Halifax resident who spends her summers back on the red home sod of Prince Edward Island.

The registry was ruthlessly efficient in its dealing with Betty, while Canada Post was its predictable sorry self. Betty, whose identity is obscured here to protect her Halifax home while she’s away, got squeezed between the zealots at the registry and the laggards at the post office.

On June 20, the registry wrote, telling her she had until July 7 to produce a note that’s she’s good to drive from a doctor she doesn’t have. 

Canada Post, which had promised again this year to forward her Halifax-bound mail to P.E.I. in consideration of a fee just north of 100-bucks, eventually delivered the letter to the Island, along with a second from the registry, which huffed that because she failed to follow the original order, her licence was revoked.

If it’s not clear, Betty got both letters from the registry at the same time, about 10 days after the July 7 deadline. The fit and witty octogenarian and her cat were beached on her cherished Island, doctorless and licence-less.

Betty, cat and car were returned to Halifax with the help of Island neighbours, and after a long wait at a walk-in clinic followed by a trip to the eye doctor, she had the signed papers the registry demanded. A visit to Access Nova Scotia and another week’s wait, and her licence was restored, although there’s a road test in her future. She’s not even a little worried about that.

Betty’s curious about how she wandered into the crosshairs of the registry and so engaged the Freedom of Information apparatus for some clues. She was told by the registry that’s the only avenue open to her. 

The registry, like the rest of the provincial government, allows itself a leisurely month, or more if it decides to grant itself an extension, to comply with a FOI request.

Perhaps noticing the double-standard, the registry told me that Nova Scotians too can ask for an extension on the deadline to produce a doctor’s note. 

Except that information wasn’t disclosed to Betty, not that it would have helped. Between the 12 days the registry allowed her to get the medical form signed and Canada Post’s devotion to its snail mail reputation, she had no chance to meet the short deadline.

When all was said and done, the Nova Scotia registry with an assist from Canada Post managed to blow a three-week hole in Betty’s cherished summer on the Island.

The provincial bureaucracy expects Nova Scotians to dance to its tune and, in this case, the Motor Vehicles registry hasn’t altered its habits to acknowledge the difficulty too many Nova Scotians experience getting in to see a doctor.

Docs working out of walk-in clinics have none of the drivers’ medical history, so they’re forced into a decision based on a cursory examination and informed intuition.

Over-extended family physicians are booking appointments two, three and more weeks into the future unless they are medically urgent. 

None of this has registered at the registry, where they blithely impose their 30-or-fewer-day deadlines. If the order is unmet, the licence is revoked. The licensee’s appeal for an extension to that deadline is a spectral benefit, because the registry keeps that little nugget to itself unless specifically asked.

The gears of government grind against one another. Problems in one service area – access to doctors – are irrelevant to the business of another function, registering drivers.

There’s a sweet spot in government, when its moving parts work together. In 2018, the provincial government isn’t hitting the sweet spot, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of people like Betty.

Jim Vibert, a journalist and writer for longer than he cares to admit, consulted or worked for five Nova Scotia governments. He now keeps a close and critical eye on provincial and regional powers.

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