Federal government scrambles to address hordes of passport applicants at overwhelmed offices

Ongoing story. Short-term measures sensible but this was anticipated and should not have happened (quoted in article):

Families Minister Karina Gould, the minister responsible for passport services, said Thursday the government is adding more staff on the ground to help triage hours-long lineups at many passport offices as tens of thousands of people look to get their hands on travel documents.

The strategy shift comes as policy experts, and the government’s Conservative critics, say the situation should never have been allowed to get so dire when it was obvious to many that there’d be a strong interest in travel as the pandemic receded.

Gould said, after reports of chaos at some passport offices in the Montreal area this week, Service Canada is deploying managers to walk the lineups that have popped up at some offices.

These managers will speak to would-be travellers about their applications before they get to a customer service agent — a system that will help staff identify people who are most in need of a passport.

People who require a passport for travel in the next 12, 24 and 36 hours will get priority service while others will be told to come back at another time, Gould said.

The minister said, after the first day it was in place in Montreal, the process “didn’t go as smoothly, quite frankly, as we had hoped, but today we’re seeing much better progress.”

While Gould reported “progress,” the government website that tracks wait times was warning people to expect delays of at least six hours at busy sites like Montreal’s Guy-Favreau complex and Ottawa’s only passport office on Meadowlands Drive.

The minister said a similar process is being rolled out in Toronto Thursday and Vancouver-area offices will also have managers triaging passport applicants as of Monday.

Gould also said more passports will be printed in bulk at the Gatineau, Que. processing centre near Ottawa and ferried to other locations, which will take some of the stress off of smaller passport offices that don’t have large industrial printers to churn out hundreds of passports each day.

“We have received a large volume of passports. That doesn’t make the situation acceptable,” Gould said. “Canadians should never have to experience this.”

Bureaucrats warned government about passport onslaught

Andrew Griffith is a former director general with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and a former top official at Service Canada and the Privy Council Office.

In an interview with CBC News, Griffith said the government should never have allowed the situation to get to this point.

In Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s 2022-23 department plan, bureaucrats told the government there would almost certainly be a surge in passport applications as COVID-related travel restrictions were relaxed, Griffith said, and yet not enough was done to prepare passport offices for the onslaught of applicants.

In that department plan, which Griffith shared with CBC News, internal experts advised the government that “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.”

Griffith said the passport situation is a clear instance of the government “neglecting its core responsibilities and not planning or preparing properly.”

“It’s very clear that the policy folks were aware that there would be an increase but it wasn’t connected to the operations side to make sure they were putting adequate preparations in place. It’s one of those unfortunate examples of where the government sort of tends to over promise and under deliver,” he said.

Speaking to CBC Radio’s The House in an interview that will air Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the government’s record on the passport issue but vowed to do more to address an “unacceptable” situation.

Trudeau said the government did hire 600 more passport workers in January to support the existing workforce and it’s looking to add more in the coming weeks to clear mounting backlogs.

Griffith said subjecting thousands of Canadians to hours-long lineups risks undermining faith in government institutions. Canadians expect a certain level of service from the federal government and, when it fails to deliver, there’s an erosion of trust, he said.

“If they can’t get service in a timely manner, people become disillusioned. People are understandably frustrated about these things. I think it’s a really serious issue,” Griffith said.

‘This is a waiting nation’

Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre said Thursday, in a video posted to his social media channels, that Canadians deserve better than what has transpired at passport offices in recent weeks.

Poilievre is seen walking the lines that have formed at Ottawa’s passport office in the video, speaking to applicants who have camped out since 3 a.m. to get to an agent.

“What’s the deal folks? Well, this is a waiting nation. We are asked to wait for everything as sleepy bureaucrats and government gatekeepers stand in the way of you getting the basic services to which you are entitled — one of them is a passport,” Poilievre said.

“You see what’s happening here? The government is doing a lot of things poorly rather than a few things well.”

Source: Federal government scrambles to address hordes of passport applicants at overwhelmed offices

Trudeau says passport delays are ‘unacceptable,’ promises the government will ‘step up’

Unacceptable that government did not act in advance on its knowledge that demand would surge post-pandemic. Undermines overall government credibility when it cannot deliver on its core responsibilities (passport, alas, not the only example):

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising to do more to fix what he calls an “unacceptable” state of affairs at the country’s passport offices that have been overwhelmed in recent days as thousands of Canadians scramble to get their hands on the necessary documents before travelling abroad.

Speaking to CBC Radio’s The House in an interview that will air Saturday, Trudeau said he understands there’s a lot of anxiety among would-be travellers right now.

“This situation is unacceptable,” he said. “There’s a real concern among families facing these things and we have to step up.”

Source: Trudeau says passport delays are ‘unacceptable,’ promises the government will ‘step up’

Unions urged Ottawa to boost staffing before passport backlog

More on the passport mess. As noted earlier, surge was anticipated by IRCC and ESDC/Service Canada:

Unions that represent workers at Passport Canada and Service Canada centres across the country say they asked the federal government to beef up staffing in anticipation of a summer surge in passport applications and renewals that has now materialized, causing passport offices to become overwhelmed.

“It is a disaster. Our workers are getting verbally harassed and psychologically abused by angry crowds. I believe this surge was totally predictable,” said Kevin King, national president of the Union of National Employees, which represents about 800 passport officers and is part of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

“We knew that there would be significant pressure on resources that we did not have. So even over a year ago, we started demanding that the employer hire more passport officers.”

Canadians are now finding that the rush of applications has greatly extended wait times for passport service at the precise moment when many of them are preparing to embark on travel they had postponed earlier in the pandemic. Across the country, frustration is reaching a boiling point as would-be travellers camp out at passport offices overnight, hoping to be first in line to check on their applications. In Montreal this week, police were called in as tempers flared over lengthy waits and queue-cutters at one passport location.

The passport fiasco is a result of systemic and behavioural factors.

In the first year of the pandemic, between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, there were just 363,000 passport applications, according to data provided by Employment and Social Development Canada. The following year, the number climbed to 1,273,000.

But, in April, 2022, with pandemic restrictions on the wane, the number of passport applications started surging. In the weeks since April 1 of this year, the government has already received a little under half the past year’s total: 542,000 applications, according to the EDSC data.

“Only 20 per cent of normal passport volume was received in the first two years of the pandemic,” according to a briefing note provided by ESDC.

The number of Canadians travelling abroad has increased significantly since last spring. The most recent data from Statistics Canada show that the number of return air trips by Canadians rose to 549,300 in March. 2022, from just 18,900 in the same month last year, when most of the country was still under stringent pandemic restrictions.

And that March, 2022, number doesn’t even reflect the latest easing of travel restrictions. The United States only dropped testing requirements for international visitors two weeks ago, while Canada eased testing requirements for inbound and returning travellers in late April.

“It appears that people let their passports expire during the pandemic, and then you had the southern border suddenly reopening, testing requirements lifted, and all these people wanting to travel,” Mr. King said.

Compounding the backlog is the fact that many Canadians who applied for 10-year passports when the documents were first introduced in 2013 are facing impending expiry dates. (Before then, the passport validity period was five years.) Most countries require at least six months validity on a passport for international travel.

“We were having meetings with the employer last year asking them what the plan would be with the 10-year passport renewal surge. We asked them if they were going to increase the number of sites, or extend hours. And there really wasn’t a plan presented to us,” said Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president at the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, which represents Service Canada workers.

The process of renewing passports or applying for new passports involves two departments: Service Canada and Passport Canada. Workers at both departments are employees of ESDC Canada, a federal ministry. There are only 36 Passport Canada offices across the country, but Service Canada has passport service counters at more than 300 centres.

Service Canada officers, according to Ms. Warner, can handle passport application intake, but the actual vetting, production and printing of passports is done by designated passport officers at Passport Canada. Part of the issue right now, according to both union leaders, is that there are not enough passport officers. Mr. King said his union is asking for 400 of them to be hired.

In a statement, ESDC said there were 1,500 staff members across Service Canada and Passport Canada locations before the pandemic, and that the government hired 600 additional workers in the beginning of 2022 specifically for passport processing. The ministry said it plans to begin hiring an additional 600 staff in the coming weeks, also for passport processing. The statement did not specify whether “passport processing” means intake, or whether it refers to vetting and production.

Both union leaders said they do not know where the 600 new staff members ESDC said it hired in early 2022 are now working. “Are they just additional front-line staff to assist with intake? If so, which specific offices?” Mr. King asked. “We need national passport officers with at least 12 weeks of training to deal with these very secure travel documents.”

The government has implemented an estimated-wait-time system on ESDC’s website. Now, before arriving at a passport office, an applicant can see how long they will have to wait to speak with a passport officer. As of Wednesday morning, at a number of passport locations in Toronto and Ottawa, wait times were roughly six to seven hours.

The fact that many Canadians opted to mail in their passport renewal documents during the pandemic has also contributed to long wait times, according to Ms. Warner. “Because people have not gotten a response, they’ve opted to go to locations in-person,” she said.

As to whether remote work and vaccine mandates have contributed to inefficiency in the system, both the unions and the government say those factors have been negligible. According to ESDC, just 299 employees – or about 1 per cent of the ministry’s workforce – were put on unpaid leave because they were unvaccinated.

The Union of National Employees estimates that these backlogs will continue over the next six months, as new staff begin training and the volume of passport renewals continues to pile up ahead of the first 10-year passport renewal period.

“This is not just the story of the week. It’s going to continue getting worse,” Mr. King said.

Source: Unions urged Ottawa to boost staffing before passport backlog

Expats Frustrated With Taxes Consider Renouncing US Citizenship

Another survey by a tax company. Some interesting demographics (by and large, more “middle class” than very affluent):

Around 9 million U.S. citizens are currently living abroad, according to estimates by the U.S. State Department. Many of these “expats” have cultivated more permanent lives overseas, with established careers, relationships, and community ties. A new studyfrom Greenback Expat Tax Services sheds more light on some of the key aspects of life abroad and why many expats are now considering renouncing their U.S. citizenship.

Greenback, a tax services provider for Americans living abroad, releases a survey on expat life each year. For 2022, the company surveyed 3,200 U.S. citizens living in 121 different countries on various aspects of their professional, financial, and social lives. A majority of those surveyed were over the age of 65, and 34% had spent more than 20 years living outside of the U.S..

In addition to these demographic details, the survey also included questions on employment and income. 31% of surveyed respondents were employed by a large organization (of 250 or more people), and half reported an annual income below $100,000. When asked how the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted their careers, the majority expressed plans to work remotely at least part time moving forward.

Overall, the biggest point of contention for those surveyed was navigating U.S. taxes while living abroad. While most countries tax based on resident status, the U.S. government follows a citizenship-based taxation process. Under a citizenship-based system, all citizens are taxed under the same personal income tax system, regardless of where they live. American expats therefore must pay U.S. income taxes on any worldwide income, including salaries, investment earnings, and more. With this system in place, many U.S. citizens living abroad are required to pay U.S. taxes and taxes in their host country each year.

In addition to tax filings, some U.S. citizens may be required to report foreign accounts to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, depending on the total value of their accounts. Reporting foreign accounts is a lesser-known requirement often overlooked by expats as they navigate life abroad, and failure to do so can result in serious financial penalties.

Greenback’s survey reported that many expats find it difficult to navigate the U.S. government’s tax and financial requirements, and nearly 80% don’t believe they should have to pay U.S. taxes while living overseas. As a result of these frustrations, about one in four have “seriously considered” renouncing their U.S. citizenship. For those considering citizenship renunciation, the burden of U.S. taxes and a host of other political and personal motivations were cited.

Giving up one’s U.S. citizenship can be a complicated process and it does come with a price tag. Any individual officially renouncing their citizenship must pay a $2,350 fee to the State Department, and some with higher net worths may be required to pay an “exit fee” based on their worldwide assets. The State Department also warns against renouncing strictly for tax purposes, stating “persons who wish to renounce U.S. citizenship should be aware of the fact that renunciation of U.S. citizenship may have no effect on their U.S. tax or military service obligations.”

Source: Expats Frustrated With Taxes Consider Renouncing US Citizenship

Heartbreak for mothers waiting years for children’s Malaysian citizenship

Ongoing story of hardship:

Malaysian mothers have waited years to see if the Malaysian government would recognise their children born overseas as citizens.

Unlike Malaysian fathers who can pass on their citizenship almost automatically to their children born overseas to foreigner mothers, Malaysian mothers may only pass on their citizenship automatically to their children if they are born in Malaysia, based on the Federal Constitution.

Could this problem be solved by having the Malaysian mothers fly back to Malaysia just to give birth here?

It is not that easy as some pregnant mothers may not be able to fly for health reasons, or may not even know that their children born abroad would face rejection for their citizenship applications made under Article 15(2) of the Federal Constitution.

The High Court in September 2021 decided in a lawsuit that the Federal Constitution should be interpreted to enable Malaysian mothers to pass on their citizenship to their children born overseas. They would be able to use the same Article 14 provisions that Malaysian men have been using to automatically pass on citizenship to their overseas-born children.

The government has appealed to the Court of Appeal, which decided in December that the High Court’s decision remains effective even while waiting for the appeal to be decided. This allowed Malaysian mothers to start applying under Article 14.

The Court of Appeal was initially due to decide today on the government’s appeal, but it is understood that it will be for further hearing of constitutional issues instead.

There are at least 70 Malaysian mothers who have applied under Article 14, but only the six Malaysian mothers in the lawsuit received a positive response from the National Registration Department (NRD) which recorded their overseas-born children as citizens.

Here’s the experience of some of the Malaysian mothers who spoke to the Malay Mail, when met recently after they went to the NRD in Putrajaya to check on the latest status of their child’s citizenship applications. They were generally told that their latest citizenship application under Article 14 would take six months to process.


Source: Heartbreak for mothers waiting years for children’s Malaysian citizenship

Canada’s first Indigenous citizenship judge uses ‘best job in the world’ to champion Indigenous issues

Of interest:

With the Canadian flag, a portrait of the Queen, and a bright orange “Every Child Matters” T-shirt in her Zoom background, Suzanne Carrière, LLB’03, gets emotional when she talks about her work as a citizenship judge with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“I still choke up sometimes delivering my speech, no matter if the ceremony is on Zoom or in-person, because you can see in the participants’ faces that the moment is so meaningful for them,” she says. “You can see some of them crying, hugging their children, and you can see that they’re thinking about their journey. It’s so special and a constant reminder of how lucky and privileged we are to be Canadian.”

Suzanne Carrière, LLB’03, is Canada’s first Indigenous citizenship judge.

Since being appointed in 2018 as Canada’s first Indigenous citizenship judge — Carrière is Red River Métis from Manitoba — she has presided over more than 1,300 ceremonies and has sworn in more than 65,000 new Canadians. She also presided the first virtual oath-taking in Canadian history when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person ceremonies, and, in June 2021, Carrière presided over the first ceremony in the country using a revised Oath of Citizenshiprecognizing the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, a moment she considers a career highlight.

Growing up, Carrière never had any intention to pursue law. She studied Indigenous issues, criminology and psychology in her undergraduate studies at the University of Manitoba. While completing a field course on alternative justice initiatives in Indigenous communities, her supervisor asked her about her plans for her future. After telling him she was contemplating doing a master’s in criminology, he encouraged her to pursue a law degree.

When she questioned him about it, he said to her, “Anything you can do with a master’s degree, you can do with a law degree. You’re a woman, you’re bilingual and you’re Métis — with a law degree, there’s nothing you can’t do.”

“And that made sense to me,” Carrière says. “And he was right.”

Hearing stories from 200 residential school survivors 

After graduating from UCalgary Law, Carrière worked for a few years on the legal team at WestJet, but ultimately knew corporate law wasn’t what she wanted to do. When she eventually moved back to Manitoba to start her family, a friend told her that the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) was hiring lawyers to do work related to Canada’s residential school system. It was a no-brainer for Carrière as she knew that this work that would be incredibly fascinating, historic and important. She applied and was hired, and, for five years, she was involved in the Independent Assessment Process to resolve claims of abuse suffered at residential schools.

Through that claimant-centred, non-adversarial process, Carrière estimates she heard approximately 200 first-hand accounts from residential school survivors about the abuse they suffered and how it impacted their lives.

You don’t do that kind of work without it changing you and your life.

As for the conflicted feelings she had at times about representing the Government of Canada in that forum, she says she had to remind herself that it’s important to have Indigenous people in all spaces and arenas. “You need people with empathy and compassion doing that work, and it was a real honour for me to be there and to bear witness on behalf of the government,” Carrière says.

After the residential school work ended, she stayed with DOJ’s Aboriginal Legal Services team for another three years. However, she no longer felt fulfilled by the work she was doing. A friend showed her a posting for a citizenship judge and suggested she apply.

Still a champion of Indigenous issues

“I had some hesitation about leaving the Department of Justice to become a citizenship judge because my passion had always Indigenous issues and Indigenous culture. But I knew I was no longer happy at DOJ,” Carrière says. “Thankfully, I got the appointment, and the biggest surprise has been how there is still room within my role as a citizenship judge to champion Indigenous issues in my own small way.”

Each June, Canadians commemorate National Indigenous History Month to recognize the rich history, heritage, resilience and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples across Canada.

Indigenous Peoples are the first peoples of this land. They were here since time immemorial, and ultimately, Indigenous history is Canadian history.

“At the same time, it’s not just history. Indigenous People are still here and they’re still contributing to our society. It’s important to celebrate the beauty of Indigenous Peoples, cultures and languages — and the contributions, heritage and the unique stories that we gain from Indigenous people so that we can all move forward together with better understanding, compassion and relationships.

“I have a bit of a platform as a citizenship judge. I can talk about my Métis heritage, reconciliation and how that fits in with newcomers to Canada. I’m talking about these important issues more, meeting more Indigenous people and I feel like I’m making more of a difference now, with a different, and very receptive, audience. It’s been an incredible four years so far, and I truly feel I have the best job in the world!”

Source: Canada’s first Indigenous citizenship judge uses ‘best job in the world’ to champion Indigenous issues

What to consider when deciding to renounce U.S. citizenship for tax purposes

Interesting to see this practical guide in the Globe, says something about the readership. And a reminder of issues related to citizenship-based taxation in the USA and residency-based taxation in most of the world:

For Americans looking to give up their U.S. citizenship, the decision isn’t just about national identity but also how much taxes they might have to pay when leaving the country officially.

While an American who renounces their citizenship will no longer have to pay U.S. taxes on their worldwide income, they could be forced to pay an expatriation tax, also known as an exit tax, upon departure, depending on their net worth and other rules the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has laid out.

“You can’t just hand your passport to the border agent and say, ‘I’m done,’” says Darren Coleman, senior portfolio manager with Portage Cross Border Wealth Management at Raymond James Ltd. in Toronto. “There’s a lot more to it than that.”

Mr. Coleman says advisors should be discussing with their American-citizen clientele the various steps of renunciation – and ensuring they have the proper legal and tax expertise when going through the process.

“You really can’t make any mistakes when you do it,” he says.

For advisors looking to help clients make the move, the goal is to not be considered what’s known as a “covered expatriate” in order to avoid paying the exit tax – a U.S. federal tax on assets with unrealized gains at the time someone cuts ties with the U.S.

Additional U.S. withholding taxes can apply later to payments from some types of deferred compensation arrangements, accounts and trusts, says Steven Flynn, a partner and Canadian and U.S. cross-border tax expert at Andersen LLP in Vancouver.

Americans can avoid the exit tax if they meet three conditions on the official date of expatriation:

  1. Their average annual net income over the past five years is less than US$172,000 (as of 2021, the rate changes annually with inflation);
  2. They’re fully compliant with their U.S. tax obligations for those five years;
  3. Their net worth is US$2-million or less.

With some planning, Mr. Flynn says the first two conditions are relatively easy to meet for those looking to avoid the exit tax.

However, the third condition on net worth can be a hurdle for many Americans, especially those who are older and whose assets have increased in value over the years.

Mr. Flynn also notes that since the conditions were put in place in 2008, the US$2-million threshold hasn’t increased with inflation.

He adds that Americans can still use strategies to lower their net worth, such as gifting assets to family members while they’re still U.S. citizens. Although the U.S. has a gift tax, he notes the exemption is currently about US$12-million, which is set to be reduced significantly by 2026.

Still, Americans who renounce their citizenship successfully but as a covered expatriate may not be done with the U.S. tax system, Mr. Flynn says. Any U.S. person who receives a gift or is a beneficiary of a former U.S. citizen who is a covered expatriate in their will is still subject to a 40-per-cent tax on the value of those assets.

“That’s pretty significant,” he says, “and a real concern for people with U.S. citizen or resident children.”

Importance of reason for renunciation

Alexander Marino, leader of the U.S. tax practice at Moodys Tax Law in Calgary who runs the firm’s renunciation group in Canada, saw a record number of people looking to renounce during the pandemic, in part because people more had time to go through the lengthy process.

The steps include not only working with experts to determine if renouncing is the right decision but also filing and addressing reams of paperwork before the final step of meeting in person with a consular officer at a U.S. embassy or consulate to officially renunciate.

In addition, Mr. Marino says U.S. persons need to ensure they’re communicating their reasons for renunciation properly, especially if they have plans to return as a visitor.

He points to the Reed Amendment, also known as the Expatriate Exclusion Clause, which bans certain former U.S. citizens from re-entering the country if they’re considered to have renounced for a tax avoidance motive or purpose.

“Knowing what to say in the interview is critical,” he says.

Mr. Marino says advisors also need to be aware of these issues to protect their clients – and themselves. He notes advisors have an obligation to identify who their U.S. citizen clients are under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act in Canada (FATCA), an international agreement signed between Canada and the U.S.

His team at Moodys works with advisors to help them determine if clients are U.S. citizens, particularly as some may not realize it or understand the impact of not disclosing it. For example, he says some people may have lived in Canada their entire lives but have American parents, which means they’re also U.S. citizens.

“You need to be asking the right questions,” he says.

Once it’s clarified if a client is a U.S. citizen, Mr. Marino says advisors can work with them – with the help of their U.S. legal professionals – to decide the pros and cons of renunciation. The process includes strategies to reduce or avoid the U.S. exit tax altogether when cutting ties with “Uncle Sam” properly.

Mr. Flynn adds that there are also non-tax implications to renunciation.

“If you change your mind years later, you’re not going to get any special status just because you were a U.S. citizen before,” he says. “You’ll go to the back of the line, like everyone else trying to become a U.S. citizen.”

The U.S. government publishes the names of Americans who renunciate, he adds.

Mr. Flynn also says that Americans who renunciate are still subject to taxes on assets or income made in the U.S., similar to a Canadian who works or owns assets in the U.S.

“The difference is that you avoid the bigger net, which is on your worldwide income and worldwide assets because you’re no longer a U.S. citizen,” he says.

Source: What to consider when deciding to renounce U.S. citizenship for tax purposes

Curry: Permanent residents pay taxes but can’t vote

While Don and I disagree on municipal voting rights, he makes the case (given Canada’s relatively easy approach to citizenship, better to focus on all voting rights through citizenship). As municipalities are creations of provincial governments, the latter’s agreement would be required:

How would you like it if you paid your municipal and school taxes every year, your kids are in school, but you can’t vote for city council or the school board?

Hundreds of people in North Bay are in that situation.

They are permanent residents of Canada but are not entitled to vote because they are not yet Canadian citizens. If they would be any more motivated than the dismal 43 per cent of voters who bothered to cast a ballot in the recent Ontario election is beside the point. They don’t have the right to vote.

To become a citizen, you have to have lived in Canada for at least three of the past five years, with your time as a temporary resident only eligible for a half-day for every full day you were here. The government processing fee is $530 and the right of citizenship fee is $100.

You have to have filed taxes for each year you were in Canada, pass a citizenship test, which most Canadians would likely fail, and prove your language skills in either English or French.

The Liberal federal government said in the 2021 election campaign that it will eliminate citizenship fees. It said the same thing in the 2019 campaign, and the fees remain in place.

There are other obstacles. The paperwork is daunting to many.

One client I had speaks English as his first language and works in a professional occupation. He asked me to do the paperwork.

Others say becoming a Canadian citizen could jeopardize travel to their home country to visit relatives because dual citizenship is not recognized.

The Ontario government controls municipalities and all indications are that it has no plan to eliminate the citizenship requirement for municipal and school board elections. This is despite the fact that some municipalities, including North Bay, Toronto, and Waterloo in Ontario, plus Vancouver, Halifax, and others, have voted to allow permanent residents voting rights.

New Brunswick is set to allow permanent residents to vote in the next municipal elections, scheduled for 2026.

North Bay City Council went on the record in support of a motion on May 11, 2015, after a presentation I gave in support of the concept. As I recall, voting against were Tanya Vrebosch and Mark King, and the motion passed easily.

That endorsement has earned the city positive press across Canada, as other cities are urged to support the movement. However, when I visit city hall I see no diversity whatsoever among the staff, and there is none at the city council level. Clearly, there is more to be done to make the city a welcoming place for newcomers.

There are dissenting views, of course. They centre on the argument that this will devalue Canadian citizenship. My response is that people should have the right to vote municipally, as it is the government closest to the people and who gets elected is important. Retain citizenship as a requirement for provincial and federal elections.

Take the announcement recently by MP Anthony Rota that the federal government will contribute almost $26 million to the arena project at the Omischl complex. It was wonderful to hear.

But, if we had more diversity at city hall and on the city council, and permanent residents could vote, the conversation might include a desire for more soccer fields and cricket pitches as well. When you don’t have diversity in decision-making, which includes voting, you keep doing everything the way you have always done it.

Myer Siemiatycki, professor emeritus at Toronto Metropolitan University, where my granddaughter begins studies in September, (if you haven’t heard of it, it’s the new name for Ryerson), says there are more than 50 countries that allow non-citizens the right to vote.

So, it’s not a novel concept. Other countries are way ahead of us.

He told the CBC recently that changes are long overdue, because there’s currently a “ludicrous” double standard where people who own property in Toronto but live elsewhere can vote, while permanent residents actually living in the city can’t.

In the U.S., non-citizens can vote municipally in many cities. New York recently came on board and Boston may be next. Near Boston, Cambridge and Amherst have extended the ability to vote.

Good on North Bay City Council for being an early adopter of a motion to extend municipal voting rights. The barrier is the Conservative government of Doug Ford.

Perhaps our MPP, Vic Fedeli, could bend his ear on the topic.

Source: Opinion: Permanent residents pay taxes but can’t vote

En ligne avec Kafka

More harsh commentary on the passport wait times:

L’attente et le blocage inexcusables à Service Canada témoignent de la culture de non-responsabilisation à Ottawa.

Le moins que l’on puisse dire, c’est que la très ordinaire moyenne au bâton de Service Canada ne s’améliore pas. L’agence gouvernementale a déjà été passablement sur la sellette cette année avec des reports inexcusables pouvant atteindre jusqu’à des mois pour certains malheureux prestataires de l’assurance-emploi. Monsieur et madame Tout-le-Monde découvrent maintenant que cette apathie a gagné jusqu’aux bureaux des passeports, ce qui menace ainsi leurs vacances tout en éprouvant solidement leur patience.

Un problème de riches, le goulot d’étranglement qui paralyse la délivrance et le renouvellement des passeports d’un océan à l’autre ? Forcément. Mais pas seulement, en ce sens qu’il vient braquer les projecteurs sur tout ce qui fait défaut au point d’accès unique, et plus largement au gouvernement Trudeau, en matière de prestation de services.

Certes, les retards et les ratés du fédéral dans la prestation de service ne sont pas exclusifs aux libéraux, mais leur extrême frilosité à intervenir auprès de la fonction publique, elle, l’est. Épinglé plus tôt cette année pour des délais éhontés sur le front de l’immigration — le ministre responsable, Sean Fraser, a lui-même qualifié ces retards d’« incroyablement frustrants » —, ce gouvernement semble au surplus incapable de voir venir les crises. Pis, même une fois qu’il a les deux pieds dedans, sa courte vue l’empêche d’en prendre la pleine mesure, et donc d’intervenir en conséquence.

Il y avait quelque chose de douloureux à écouter la ministre responsable du dossier, Karina Gould, tenter de minimiser la crise il y a encore deux semaines. Mal informée, elle s’était embrouillée dans les temps d’attente, niant même jusqu’à l’existence de pratiques douteuses pourtant largement documentées sur le terrain, comme cette fameuse règle secrète voulant que seules les demandes déposées à moins de 48 heures, voire 24 heures, du départ soient traitées dans certains bureaux.

Pressée de toutes parts, la ministre Gould a finalement admis avoir dû clarifier plusieurs points la semaine dernière. Elle a en outre annoncé une panoplie de mesures (dont l’embauche prochaine de 600 personnes, des heures de service allongées, y compris le week-end, et un outil pour évaluer les délais d’attente). De belles promesses que les fonctionnaires sur le plancher, même avec la meilleure volonté du monde, n’arrivent toujours pas à concrétiser. Car il n’y a pas que les Canadiens qui font les frais de ce ratage spectaculaire, les employés de Service Canada paient aussi le prix fort de cette absence de vision.

Sur le terrain, c’est encore la débrouille qui règne (et un peu la colère, avec des interventions policières çà et là pour faire retomber la pression). Il était pourtant écrit dans le ciel que les Canadiens se bousculeraient au portillon de Service Canada sitôt que les conditions sanitaires le permettraient. Plus de deux ans de surplace pandémique donnent la bougeotte. Nous ne sommes pas les seuls. Les Américains, les Anglais ou encore les Australiens vivent des affres similaires, a mollement argué la ministre Gould. À la différence près, qu’ici, Service Canada a sciemment mis le couvercle sur la marmite.

Pendant qu’ils rêvaient d’évasion sagement confinés à la maison, les plus prévoyants qui ont voulu profiter de l’accalmie pour renouveler leur passeport ont plutôt été découragés. On a aussi fait complètement abstraction du fait que les premiers passeports valides pour dix ans (permis depuis le 1er juillet 2013) allaient bientôt massivement arriver à leur terme. Résultat : du 1er avril 2020 au 31 mars 2021, le Canada n’a délivré que 363 000 passeports, soit 20 % de son volume habituel. Normalement, Service Canada recense 5000 appels par jour en lien avec un renouvellement de passeport. Il en recense maintenant plus de 200 000.

Ces chiffres ont artificiellement mis la table pour la débandade que l’on connaît. Et les voyageurs ne sont pas au bout de leurs peines. Contre toute logique, Ottawa n’a jamais cessé de défendre bec et ongles sa très imparfaite application ArriveCAN, source de plusieurs mécontentements chez les voyageurs qui ont eu maille à partir avec elle. Pour certains, faute d’avoir rempli le formulaire à temps, cela s’est traduit par une quarantaine forcée, même si leur vaccination était en règle et que leur test PCR était nickel.

Disposé à jeter du lest, le gouvernement a annoncé que l’obligation pesant sur les voyageurs de fournir une preuve vaccinale contre la COVID-19 avant de monter à bord d’un avion ou d’un train au pays serait abrogée à partir lundi. La logique aurait voulu qu’ArriveCAN, dont la raison d’être est liée au statut vaccinal des voyageurs, passe à la trappe en même temps. Mais Ottawa la maintient, comprenne qui pourra.

Voilà de toute évidence un gouvernement plus attaché à dicter la norme qu’à mettre la main à la pâte pour la faire respecter. Cela dépasse largement l’anecdote. Réticent à intervenir auprès de la fonction publique, même quand celle-ci aurait besoin d’une direction plus affirmée, il cultive une culture de la non-responsabilisation dont témoigne cet épisode aussi navrant que kafkaïen.

Source: En ligne avec Kafka

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