LILLEY: Trudeau government not telling the truth on passport delays

Good hard hitting column and yet another of all too many instances of government management failures. As others have noted if government cannot deliver services in a timely manner, it undermines overall trust as well as the government’s failed “Deliverology” approach from 2016.

And it is not as if the government was unaware of the increase. IRCC’s department plan 2022-23 states:

“Due to travel restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, passport demand was low for the majority of 2021–22. Forecasts predict that a recovery to pre-COVID-19 demand will begin in Spring of 2022, and that demand for passports will continue to increase over the next three years. This growth will be due in part to applications being delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and an anticipated surge related to the renewal of the first wave of passports issued with a 10-year validity period.”

IRCC has the policy and program responsibility but Service Canada operates the public offices and the processing centres (and Global Affairs is responsible for international delivery). The disconnect between the plan and the lack of action to address the anticipated surge is striking.

Other areas of poor management can be seen in  the lack of passport data on open data since 2016, and the last Passport Canada report dating from 2017-18, with minimal data in both IRCC and ESDC departmental reports. The 2020 Evaluation Report highlights data weaknesses and unclear roles and responsibilities between the three departments involved.

On a personal note, when I worked at Service Canada 2004-7, we made a major effort to engage Passport Canada to provide application checking and verification through the Service Canada network (receiving agent). Our DM at the time was ambitious and insistent, wanting to roll the service across the network. In the end, a pilot project of three offices worked so well that Passport Canada overcame its resistance. But no appetite or discussion of delegating of authorities at that time:

The Trudeau government is once again lying to Canadians over why they can’t offer basic services, in this case passports.

The government is claiming there is a surge in applications when they are only dealing with about 55% of the volume they handled pre-pandemic.

According to the latest annual report of Passport Canada posted online, the department issued between 4.7 and 5.1 million passports per year from 2013 through 2018. That works out to a weekly average of between 90,000 to 98,000 passports.

In their statement Monday, the government said they had received 542,000 applications over the preceding 10 weeks, or an average of 54,200 applications a week and this is what is swamping the department.

“After two years of travel restrictions, Canada and many other countries around the world are seeing a significant surge in demand for passports. As is the case in many countries, the size and suddenness of this surge has created delays,” Minister Karina Gould said.

I get that this is more people than the department has seen since the pandemic started but staff should be able to handle 55% of normal volume. Instead, we’ve had months of long lines and delays.

Only an excuse

When I pushed the minister’s office on this, they presented a new excuse. Close to 80% of applications now come in via mail and about 25% of them have errors in the applications making the process longer. If the system were operating at capacity instead of just over half capacity, then I might buy this argument. But at this point it’s just another excuse to blame the public instead of a department that isn’t working properly.

One friend who applied for their child’s passport on April 2 still hasn’t seen it. Readers have written to me about waiting for more than seven months to get a passport they mailed away for.

Then there are the lines.

In Hamilton, a reader showed up just after 4 a.m. to find out they weren’t close to being the first person in line. In Victoria, the line started forming at 2 a.m. and in Prince Edward Island, they only wished they could line up at a local office instead of having to drive to Halifax or Moncton.

Truth about the lines

The people standing in lines outside of offices are doing so because they have travel booked in the next 45 days and the standard application process can’t handle them.

One gentleman I spoke to this week outside of Toronto’s downtown passport office said he had initially applied at a regular Service Canada office. After nearly completing the process, he was told his passport would go in the mail by the end of August, after his trip started. He was forced to stand in line for hours to get inside before navigating the bureaucracy to get his travel documents faster.

Canadians can normally turn to their Members of Parliament for help when they have trouble with an application or need something expedited. There’s a special line for MPs and their staff to call when helping deal with passport files.

John Brassard, the Conservative MP for Barrie-Innisfil, emailed to say his staff waited on that special line for five hours one day this week followed by an extra two hours on the line with the agent to process the files.

These problems have been going on for months and the government is only acting to deal with them now due to media and opposition pressure. It’s another example of the Trudeau government not working properly and not dealing with issues until they blow up.

Instead of wasting time trying to mislead Canadians by blaming this on a surge of applications Minister Gould should get busy whipping her department back into shape. If she can’t do that, she should resign.

Source: LILLEY: Trudeau government not telling the truth on passport delays

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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