In a classic example of poor timing, lack of foresight, or perhaps just wishful thinking, I moved to Thunder Bay, Ontario from Vancouver, British Columbia without looking into insurance and vehicle registration requirements. Well, actually I didn’t move here - rather, I am temporarily attending university in Ontario. BC is still my home and my permanent mailing address. Prior to coming out here, I was working every day without a break for a month and a half. I didn’t even have time to pack - I simply loaded everything I owned into my van, and drove across Canada with the intent of sorting it out when I got here. So far, so good. I knew that my vehicle insurance would be due for renewal soon, but it was not until one week prior to its expiry that I decided to do anything about it.
Calling my insurer in British Columbia, I explained my situation and asked for my policy to be extended until I return home at the end of April. No such luck. While they would have no problem extending my insurance, they must first ensure that they are complying with legal requirements in Ontario - necessitating a certified letter from the Ontario ministry of transport attesting to that fact. I spent many hours on the phone navigating my way through various departments (or so I thought - in retrospect, it’s entirely conceivable that my call was merely being directed from cubicle to cubicle in some sort of depraved game in a single office). Finally I got through to someone with an IQ greater than 40, who informed me that if I was going to be here longer than six months, that the vehicle must be
registered in Ontario, and that there are no exemptions to this rule for students. Great. Annoying to be sure, but I resigned myself to register my van and be done
with it. Before any vehicle can be registered in Ontario, it must first pass a vehicle safety inspection, and so, here in an unfamiliar town, I had to find a reputable
mechanic who could perform the inspection and certify the vehicle. Easier said than done, but a day later I had the van in for the inspection, and since I would be driving the van here in the harsh winters, I also had some minor repairs done, to the tune of some $400 total.
Tired, anxious and $400 poorer, but with safety certificate in hand, I showed up to the ministry office to register the vehicle. No sweat. I would register it, call my
insurer in BC and get my policy extended, and hopefully be back to the university that afternoon with that problem out of the way.
After locating the ministry office (completely unmarked, in an entirely unremarkable building far removed from the commercial district of what passes for
“downtown” here in Thunder Bay, I discovered a short queue for service (or what I consider short by BC standards). Forty minutes later I was at the desk, and
proudly presented my safety certificate. Alas, nothing is that easy. The woman behind the desk handed me a form to fill out, and told me to come back when it
was completed. The form was difficult to interpret, but that didn’t bother me half as much as the fact that I had to stand in line again to return the completed form. Thirty minutes later, I approached the desk with my safety certificate, my completed form, and my insurance information. T’s crossed, i’s dotted, and everything as accurate and easily readable as it could conceivably be. I knew, from past experience, that tiny little errors can cause immense problems, and I wasn’t about to succumb to that sort of technical difficulty. No - this time around, it would be the large errors that caused the problem. The woman informed me that my vehicle registration couldn’t be processed without the vehicle already being insured by an Ontario provider. Damn. Not only could I not extend my current policy, I couldn’t even use that insurer, and had to find someone local to insure the vehicle. On top of that, I realized that once the vehicle was insured, I would have to stand in line again here to process the registration. With boiling blood seething in my veins, I thanked the woman and left.
Finding an good insurance agent in an unfamiliar town is about as much fun as finding a good mechanic. After flipping through the local yellow pages, I finally
decided to visit the local CAA office. In addition to being recognizeable, I figured my CAA membership might provide me with an insurance discount. Unfortunately
(but predictably) the agent responsible for vehicle policies was out of the office, but I was assured that she would return soon, so I sat and waited. I have no idea how long I had to wait (not having any radiocarbon dating equipment at hand), but eventually I was seated in her office, providing the relevant information about the vehicle. I had wasted most of my day, but with the end in sight, I patiently endured the process with a smile on my face. That is, until she asked for my driver’s license, and as I handed over my British Columbia license, I could tell by her face, before she said a word, that I had encountered another glitch. True to my assertion, it turns out that I could not obtain an Ontario vehicle insurance policy with a BC driver’s license. It took a concerted effort to not let the words streaming through my mind escape my mouth at that point, but I managed it. I calmed myself, and asked the agent where I have to go to obtain an Ontario license. When she told me that it was the transportation ministry office, I had to reach deep inside myself to internalize the particular stream of consciousness that so desparately wanted to be verbalized. Outwardly, I thanked her and left.
Back to the ministry office, and several cycles of glaciation later, I arrived at the front desk, a broken and miserable man. Voicing my request, and offering my BC
driver’s license across the counter, I was immediately informed that the issuing of licenses was, in fact, not handled there, but rather at a driver testing facility at
the other end of town. Any reasonable man should be able, at this point, to see an argument in favour of gun control.
Nevertheless, I endured, and drove to the testing and license office. Not surprisingly, there was a queue for service there about as long as the Great Wall of China. On second thought, that’s not really a fair comparison. Taking continental drift into account, the Great Wall moves faster. Eventually, I awakened to find myself inexplicably at the front of the line, and completed the straight exchange my BC license for an Ontario license, at the bargain price of only $50. I can only assume that this fee consists of the $5 it should have cost, plus interest accumulated while waiting in line.
With my temporary Ontario driver’s license in hand, I drove back to the CAA office to get my van insured. Or at least, that was my original intention, until I discovered that one year’s insurance on my vehicle here would cost me well over one THOUSAND dollars more than it would have cost back in BC, and that figure
includes the CAA member discount. This, I can not understand. I come from a region inhabited by almost 3 million persons, which is home to one of the worlds
most dangerous highways, and has the highest incidence of vehicle theft anywhere in the world, and yet I pay less for insurance there than they want here in this flat and featureless town of 117,000?! With a bit of mental gymnastics, and accounting for the $450 dollars I had just spent to get this far, it became tragically apparent to me that I could not afford to insure the vehicle for the duration of my stay. Too stunned for words, I left the insurance office and returned home.
The next day, once I had cooled off, it occurred to me that while I am attending school, I may not actually need to drive the vehicle apart from specific trips on
certain long weekends and whatnot, and that perhaps obtaining temporary permits for these specific trips would be more effective than insuring the vehicle for a year with the associated cost. Excited that I had a potential solution to my problem, I went back to the CAA office to find out how much such permits would cost, only to discover that in Ontario, there is no such thing as a temporary permit - it is all or nothing here. Despondent, but acceptant of the cards that fate had dealt me, I walked out, only to stop myself when I realized that, even if I do not insure the vehicle at all this year, with the absence of temporary permits in Ontario I would have no way of getting the vehicle home at the end of April. Wait a minute… that can’t be right… I rushed back in to the agent’s office to find out how I had misinterpreted this - hoping - no, knowing, that I had to be mistaken, and that there was some sort of temporary use permit for transport or something.
No such luck - like I should have expected any. I would have to purchase an entire years insurance policy to get the vehicle home. This in mind, the obvious solution would be to obtain a temporary permit from BC; however, since I am now the not-so-proud holder of an Ontario driver’s license, I apparently can not obtain a temporary permit in BC. As it stands, it looks like I may have to “sell” the vehicle to someone in British Columbia, for them to insure by special permit a vehicle purchased out of province and drive it back to Vancouver, to sell back to me so that I can insure it at home. In the meantime, the van has to sit here in Thunder Bay until I go home. Since I can’t afford to drive it, I figure it should at least have basic coverages on it while parked here, for fire, theft, and so forth. One call to CAA later, I discover that I can not obtain a new policy for comprehensive coverages only, without first having a full policy (liability, etc.) in Ontario and subsequently cancelling the driving portion.
Consequently, the van sits, completely uninsured, with only a slim hope of returning home to BC once my classes come to an end at the end of April. Canada is unique in that there are more differences between our provinces than there are differences between many countries elsewhere in the world. In my own case, having fallen through the cracks in what is supposed to be a unified nation, I offer the following advice:
Never leave home, or if you do, take the bus.