No Truth in the Rumor That the New Ontario Government Has Decided to Set Up Such an Institution – Possible Students Who Might Benefit by a Course.
Failing the School, Why Not Arm an Inspector With an Ammonia Pistol and Send Him Out in Search of Offenders Against the Meek and Lowly Common People?
By Gregory Clark, April 3, 1920
The report that the new Ontario Government is to open a School for Minor Public Officials seems to be unfounded.
I have interviewed several of the Cabinet Ministers on the subject, but not even the Deputy Ministers know anything about it.
The original rumor was to the effect that the UFO-Labor Government on behalf of the humble citizens of the Province, was going to open a college for the teaching of the elements of politeness, courtesy and the spirit of public service to all minor officials in the Government’s employ. The idea was to have not only Provincial minor officials but all other public officials, municipal and even Dominion, drilled and diplomad from the school.
Thus every one from the little girls who accept registered letters at the post office up to the elderly old gents who guard the mummies and insects at the Royal Ontario Museum, would be schooled in how to avoid offending or angering the public.
Hitherto, our politicians and men of power have been of that urbane and swell type which is always instantly recognized and kow-towed to by our minor officials. Ask any of the Cabinet Ministers of the past twenty years what he thought of the minor public officials, such as wicket-clerks or door-swingers, and he would reply:
“Why, I always found them most agreeable and very polite.”
Of course he did. And that was why we poor, unimpressive people always got such rough handling.
The minor official knows his public. He salaams to the swells and recovers his self-respect by bullying the plain citizen.
But as the new Government contains no swells at all, and as it is said several of our Cabinet Ministers have already had distressing encounters with petty officials who mistook them for ordinary citizens, it was hoped some such school of courtesy would be established.
However, if there is not to be a school, there is at least this consolation: that hundreds of public door-keepers, stamp-lickers and others of the minor degrees are having an unhappy time trying to pick Cabinet Ministers and influential members out of the common herd.
A few Sundays ago we visited the Royal Ontario Museum. There was an old gentleman engaged in twining the turnstile gate that admits the public. The gate would turn without his aid, but still he was turning it.
As we tried to enter, he stuck out his arm and cried:
“What’s the trouble?” we asked.
“You can’t come in here with that cane!” he replied.
“Oh,” we replied, agreeably, and turning, beheld a cane rack, with several canes and umbrellas in it. We walked over to it to place our cane.
“Hyah!” roared the old man at the turnstile.
We halted irresolute. The old fellow passed three or four more people through his turnstile and then strode over to us.
It appears, after all this bustle, that one is not permitted to take walking sticks into the Museum, but that sticks are taken and carefully checked by this old gentleman.
The school of courtesy would have done away with all this confusion and excitement by teaching the old fellow to say, as a citizen, approached with a cane –
“Just a moment, and I will check your walking stick.”
Inside the Museum, while looking at a glass case full of insects, we unfortunately placed the tip of one finger on the glass, to point out one particular specimen.
Instantly, from a far side of the room, another old boy in uniform bore down on us, crying –
“Say, do you want to give me six hours work to-morrow?”
“No. How’s that?” we replied.
“Well keep your hands off them glass cases,” replied the official, and strode onward in the performance of his public office.
The school would have taught him to say –
“Please keep hands off the cases, gentlemen, as I am an old man and don’t like extra work.”
The Museum is a beautiful and interesting institution, but it is difficult to enjoy the exhibits on account of one’s mind being startled and offended by petty officials making obscure assaults on one’s self on others or endlessly pursuing children from room to room.
Clerks, janitors and many other minor officials similarly disturb the honest citizen’s peace. The mistake most of them make is in presuming that certain facts well known to themselves should be perfectly well-known to all men.
The clerk who has been saying “Sign there!” a hundred times a day for twenty years knows perfectly well where “there” is. And it irritates him sorely to discover people, day after day, who haven’t any idea where “there” is, and who want to be shown.
When you hand a letter in the wrong wicket at the Post Office, it peeves beyond words the pert young lady or the scraggly man in the wicket. Haven’t you eyes? Can’t you see the sign over the wickets telling you just which is which? Why, she or he knows this office as well as they know their own names. What’s the matter with most people anyway?
The tax official thinks all men are experienced tax payers; to the record clerk, all men are acquainted with records; to the door keeper, all men are familiar with buildings.
But, of course, there are two sides of the question.
“You must admit,” says a well-known and always courteous member of the City Assessment Department, whose imperturbable good manners are one of the marvels of the City Hall, “you must admit there are people who go out of their way to be insolent and overbearing with public officials. Then there are others so stupid you wonder how they escape in the traffic. These types are only exceptions, but they sorely try an official’s temper as time goes on. There is, I believe, the official temperament. Officials would be chosen for an unrufflable and easy manner that quails not before the bully nor flares up with the dunderhead. But unfortunately, there are some in public positions who cringe before the bully or the official superior to them, and who seek to restore the balance of their dignity (or to get even) by bullying the decent quiet citizen.”
Seeing the Government is not going to institute a school for courtesy, there should at least be an official chosen yearly from the ranks of the polloi whose sole duty it would be to seek out and bring to court all insolent, rude or bullying public officials.
This Inspector should be a man of small stature and meek and humble bearing.
He should be armed with a large ammonia pistol or squirt gun.
On being subjected to any official insolence, he would’ whip out his squirt gun, shoot the ammonia into the tyrant’s face and drag the unconscious form before the Civil Service Commission.
The reason I insert the squirt gun is because this admits of that element of retaliation without which I, first applicant for the job, would feel unappeased.
Editor’s Note: There is no illustration to go with this tongue-in-cheek article by Greg, from over 100 years ago. In 1919, the United Farmers of Ontario won the provincial election, and formed a coalition government with the Labour party. This shocked the establishment, as the UFO members elected were mainly made up of ordinary people, and not the usual higher society people of the Conservative or Liberal parties. The joke is minor officials would not know who to suck up to. The surprise was probably not that much different than the more recent 1990 win by the provincial NDP. A popular joke from 1990 is of rich Bay Street financiers fretting over the NDP win, and one proclaiming “don’t worry, my cleaning lady is the new Minister of Finance!”