I meant to tell this story as its own unique post, but suddenly, the whole #Plategate thing happened, and I was busy following the news to inform the next installments of 2Cents. But then, during a 24-hour period, #Plategate went from being Ontario’s top news story to being completely forgotten because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that the emergency province-wide shutdown has curtailed all the events where I would have gone to find plates, there’s not been much to write about. So now, I’ll give this story its own post, which is what I intended to do in the first place.
On Monday, February 4, I drove to Carleton Place, about a 30-minute drive west of Ottawa into Lanark County. I wanted to score myself a pair of new blue plates, but I didn’t want to wait in line at my local urban ServiceOntario office. Besides, I had a creative idea, and past experience has taught me that creative ideas rarely work in an office where there’s a line of people going out the door and down through the shopping mall.
I had a pair of graphic personalized plates on my car, and one of them was showing signs of peeling. I hadn’t yet taken advantage of the free replacement for peeling plates, and I figured this might be my chance to get my personalized plates remade (with a twist), and acquire a set of new blue plates, which would eventually be retired to my collection. I had heard that, in order to reorder a new set of plates under warranty, I’d have to surrender the older peeling graphic plates. As a collector, I’d rather keep everything, but I was prepared to hand over a couple of sacrificial lambs if need be.
I arrived in Carleton Place and the office was fairly quiet. The customer before me was issued pair number CMAV-218. Given that this was only the second business day since the release of the blue plates, I reasoned that Carleton Place had been issued the bloc from CMAV-201 to CMAV-250. A fifty-pair float was in keeping with what other small issuing officers had received, according to observations made by various fellow nerds in the hobby.
I met a pleasant lady behind the desk who knew her stuff, both about plates and about providing a high level of customer service. As I was placing my order for a new set of blue plates, she let me have my pick of any remaining number in the cabinet. That meant that I could take any number from 219 to 250, so of course, I went triple-digit, and asked for 222. When asked, I said that my family would be buying a second car, so the blue plates would either be used on one car or the other (a fib on my part, but I prefer to maintain the illusion of being mainstream, and not disclose my nerd status to counterpersons... that once backfired, years ago).
While doing the transaction, she offered me an unexpected windfall: After terminating my personalized plates, she reactivated them, and allowed me to keep them both. We then re-ordered a set for free because of the peeling.
My personalized plates have the grandfathered embossed crown, and of course, I wanted my replacements to have the embossed crown as well, because if you don’t keep ordering it, you lose it. The last time I re-ordered the crown, it took a fair amount of trouble to get the right information. When I finally got the correct info, I took notes on my phone on what had to be done, in case I ever wanted to order an embossed crown again. The notes were simple and clear, and she was happy to do it.
I left the office happy, with a new pair of blue plates for my car, my old graphic plates for my collection, and an order placed for new graphic plates to arrive in the mail in 3 to 4 weeks. They'd have the same graphic (no changing it with a warranty order), and with a bit of luck, the embossed crown. Sometime later in the year, I'd switch back to my personalized plates, and keep my blues in the collection.
I bolted the blues to my car, and stopped for a victory coffee on the way home. While I was parked, a guy walked up to me, and inquired about my plate. He didn't seem to be aware of the design change before seeing my car. I wasn’t surprised. It had been in the news, but it wasn’t front-page news. At least, not yet.
Fast-forward three weeks: The blue plates were almost universally reviled by the public. The Conservative Government in power had dropped in popularity, and many people interpreted the new blue design as a partisan choice. Some didn’t like the fact that they were flat, or made of a thinner gage aluminum. Most of all, the white characters of the plates were not reflective, prompting a recall, which was announced on Friday, February 28. By the following week, they would no longer be issued from Ontario offices, with an active recall campaign to follow.
My alarm bells rang. If the blue plates were to be recalled starting next week, it could become impossible for me to keep them. I had been planning on unattaching them later in the summer. The safest choice—the choice where I’d be guaranteed being able to keep my plates without a fight—would be to switch back to my personalized plates today. The counter folks at ServiceOntario had surely not yet been briefed on how they’d be expected to proceed with the recall. My new replacement personalized plates hadn’t yet arrived, but I had two new-looking, unpeeled examples from my collection. I could ask to switch back to them, and pretend that they were the new replacements, without raising eyebrows.
After work, I grabbed the plates and papers I would need, and drove straight back to Carleton Place. I unbolted my blue plates, and removed my still-fresh validation sticker in one piece, so that I could try to surrender it alone, while leaving the blue plates in the car. I wasn’t served by the same lady, but that worked in my favour… I wouldn’t have to backpedal on any previous small talk about a second vehicle. As it turned out, I would have to buy a new validation sticker, even though I offered to hand back the one I had peeled from my blue plates. The reason being: You’re allowed one transfer of a validation sticker from one plate to another per calendar year. I had already done that three weeks earlier, so my only option was to bite the bullet and buy a second sticker. I went ahead and did so… I liked my blue plates very much, and this would ensure that they’d be unattached and beyond the target range of any recall. Surely, they’d be a rarity in the collecting world going forward. While I don’t plan to sell one of my own plates on Kijiji for big bucks, I’ll have the satisfaction of keeping a rare piece in my passenger plate run.
I went back to the car, attached my white personalized graphic plates, and carefully reapplied my three-week-old validation sticker to my blue plates. I was out some money for an extra sticker, but at least I’d be able to keep them as part of my natural sticker run, representing the year 2021. I don’t do these sorts of extravagant ServiceOntario things that often, anyway, so I didn’t mind the added cost. I drove home, washed up my blue plates, and added them to my passenger run, where they’ll stay.