At your service, Canada
Agent finds answers to questions about feds

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (May 05/00) - It's essentially one-stop shopping for anyone with questions and application needs through the Canadian government.

As the agent for Service Canada in Fort Simpson, Victoria Gargan-Mandeville has access to more than 1,000 federal government programs and services via the Internet and phone.

In the five weeks she's been on the job -- working out of the Business Development Centre trailer -- she's fielded questions relating to student programs (including student loans), passport services, the Firearms Act, GST and income tax.

"You have lots of elders who don't know how to fill out these applications. I'll be here to help them when they need it," she said.

Gargan said the changes to Canadian firearms legislation have prompted the majority of inquiries so far.

"I'm getting quite familiar with it," she said, smiling.

The questions usually involve varying circumstances among gun owners or prospective buyers, so she often requires some background information to ensure she gets the necessary answers. Then she either turns to the Internet to search directly on the relevant government Web site or calls someone with the expertise.

"It's less red tape ... it's faster, easier and more convenient," she said, adding it saves people the hassle of searching through the phone book's blue pages and then being put on hold or getting an automated service at the other end.

Those with a need for financial assistance from the federal government should also check in with Gargan-Mandeville.

"It's amazing what's out there funding-wise," she said.

She has done her best to get the word out about the pilot project, and has made presentations to many political bodies and community organizations. Working four hours per day, five days per week, she said she took the job to broaden her skills, and because she enjoys working with the public.

"And it's never the same thing. Every day it's a different challenge," said Gargan-Mandeville, who speaks Slavey.

Service Canada is a five-month pilot project in Fort Simpson. Todd Noseworthy, general manager of the BDC, pursued the Service Canada program, which is funded through the federal government and MACA.

"Someone told us about the pilot projects coming up ... and told us we were welcomed to apply if we wanted to," said Noseworthy. "It provides another service to the community and adds to the operations of the BDC to raise our profile."