Canada’s passport backlog ‘virtually eliminated,’ minister says

Welcome development but government failed to plan for surge in demand, despite having been noted in various planning documents:

Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould says the passport backlog has been “virtually eliminated” and processing times in passport offices are back to pre-pandemic levels.

The announcement comes amid a three-day Liberal cabinet retreat in Hamilton, Ont.

“Since its peak in June 2022, after dedicating resources to ensure these Canadians receive their passports, approximately 98 per cent of the backlog of applications have been processed,” Gould said, speaking in a press conference on Tuesday.

“The backlog is virtually eliminated.”

Passport offices were snowed under by applications as COVID-19 restrictions eased last year.

Canadians eyeing sunny vacations and international visits needed passports that gathered dust during the pandemic to be renewed — and the requests inundated the service.

Since April of 2022, Service Canada has issued more than two million passports, according to a press release from Gould’s office. By the end of the fiscal year, she added during her press conference, the government is expecting that number to reach between three and three and a half million.

“That’s more than double what we would have done in the previous year,” Gould said.

Another key contributor to the backlog, she added, was the fact that between 80 to 85 per cent of applications were for new passports for first-time passport holders. Gould explained it is “more complex” to issue these kinds of documents.

Going into the summer, however, she said the government is expecting a higher level of requests for passport renewals — which are “much simpler” to do.

The passport office is also anticipating to receive between three to five million passport applications per year for the next “couple of years,” the minister added.

There are two standards for the delivery of passport applications in Canada. The government aims to delivery in-person passport applications within 10 days, and holds itself to a 20 day standard for applications received by mail or dropped off at a Service Canada Centre.

The months-long waiting periods for passports led critics to accuse the Liberals of being unable to deliver even basic services to Canadians.

At the peak of the backlog, most Canadians were waiting up to 40 working days to get their hands on a new passport.

“To those Canadians and others who have shown such admirable patience during this difficult situation, I once again apologize,” Gould said, speaking on Tuesday.

Looking forward, the government intends to focus its efforts and resources on maintaining service standards, especially as a growth in applications looms just around the corner. Canada started issuing 10-year validity passports in the summer of 2013 — and some of those will be eligible for renewal starting this summer.

The planned announcement comes as Liberals are trailing the Conservatives in most polls of late.

The choice of Hamilton for the retreat is electorally strategic as it is in one of the most competitive regions in the country, and one the Liberals must win big in if they want to stay in power.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau started the second day of his retreat by meeting with Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath.

The Liberal cabinet has a lengthy to-do list over the three-day gathering, including tackling inflation and making the country more competitive.

Source: Canada’s passport backlog ‘virtually eliminated,’ minister says

Airport, passport and immigration problems ‘should never have happened,’ minister admits

Refreshing admission by Minister Miller (he consistently one of the few ministers who is more candid with respect to government weaknesses and failures). And yes, the task force is more communications than substance as the main issues involve Service Canada and IRCC, which did not need a task force to address. (Airport issues are more complex given the different players involved):

The delays plaguing Canada’s airports, passport services and immigration processes “should never have happened in the first place,” the federal minister charged with co-leading Ottawa’s task force on slashing wait times admitted Monday.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, providing an update on the government’s efforts to tackle pandemic-induced delays across a swath of operations and services, said that despite some improvements, officials were still working to prevent such issues from occurring again.

“I do want to say that nobody should be congratulating themselves for having done their jobs. We are by no stretch of the imagination out of the woods yet. The focus will continue to be on Canadians and the results they expect and deserve from this or any other government,” Miller said at a joint news conference with other ministers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struck a committee involving 13 cabinet members in late June to get started on reducing wait times at major airports and clear out backlogs that led to sluggish processing times for passport and immigration applications.

As COVID-19 restrictions eased, air passengers passing through Canadian travel hubs have contended with hours-long delays in security screening lines, delayed or cancelled flights, hiccups with the ArriveCAN app and the chaos of lost baggage.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Monday that between January and August, the number of air travellers jumped by more than 250 per cent just as the travel industry faced staffing shortages.

He pointed to the hiring of more than 1,800 new screening officers and weekly meetings with airlines, airports and travel-related government departments as evidence that delays were improving. According to the federal government, between Aug. 18 and Aug. 21, 85 per cent of passengers were screened within 15 minutes. The number of aircraft held at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport also dropped to 47 by the third week of August, down from 370 in May.

Monette Pasher, the interim president of the Canadian Airports Council, said there has been “marked progress” in reducing wait times and cancellations in the past few weeks.

But she told the Star in a statement that other measures, like modernizing screening procedures and reopening Nexus assessment centres amid a backlog of applications for the trusted traveller program, would improve the situation more.

The staffing increases don’t change the fact that airport screeners are “worn out,” said Catherine Cosgrove, the director of communications and public affairs for Teamsters Canada, which represents over 1,000 screeners across the country.

“We can expect to continue seeing difficulties in hiring and retaining screeners and delays throughout the fall,” she told the Star, adding that there still aren’t enough trainers to get new hires working at full capacity.

Addressing frustrations experienced by Canadians trying to renew or apply for passports, Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould acknowledged “the recent demand for passports far exceeded the government’s expectations.”

That was despite unions representing federal workers warning the government in 2021 that passport requests would rise, without the necessary staffing to take on the increased load.

Gould said Ottawa has boosted the number of staff handling the country’s passport program and that workers have implemented a “triage system” to better process applications. Passport services have also been expanded in a number of offices and Service Canada centres.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser also discussed application backlogs within his department, which have left international students and others hoping to immigrate to Canada in limbo.

“Though we have a welcoming nature towards newcomers, our immigration system has faced unprecedented challenges and obstacles that have become larger and have compounded on one another over the past few years,” Fraser said.

He said that owing in part to staffing changes, his department had returned to a “pre-pandemic service standard” in some areas and was on track to reaching its permanent residency and study permit goals.

“We could have sat here and blamed others. We could have blamed airlines, we could blame this, that and the other. But we realized quite quickly that a lot of responsibility did lie on our shoulders,” Miller told reporters.

“To some extent, we were slow in responding to a number of unprecedented … things that Canadians expect to see from their governments.”

Indeed, ministers said Monday that Ottawa has been “scrambling” to contend with a series of challenges outside its control, from the havoc the pandemic wrought on Canada’s travel sector to continuous humanitarian crises that hampered which immigration applications were prioritized.

“We’ve thrown bodies at the problem, which is not the most effective way of doing things. It’s important because it got people their passports in time so they could finally travel after sitting in their houses for two years,” Miller said. “That is not the most effective way … of doing things.”

Source: Airport, passport and immigration problems ‘should never have happened,’ minister admits

Feds announce four new passport service sites as backlog continues

Good service improvement move but will have limited impact on backlog. That being said, Service Canada data indicates progress compared to earlier months, although the number of applications is still greater than the number of passports issued.

Hopefully, ESDC/Service Canada and IRCC will publish monthly passport stats (applications and issued) on opendata as per other immigration and citizenship stats:

The federal government is adding new passport service locations across Canada as a backlog in processing applications continues.

Social Development Minister Karina Gould announced Wednesday that people can now apply for and pick up passports at Service Canada centres in Red Deer, Alta., Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Trois-Rivières, Que., and Charlottetown, P.E.I.

That’s on top of five new locations added in July, and Gould expects to bring another seven to nine locations into the program soon.

“I think this is a really important and long-overdue change,” she said in an interview. “Those of us who live in more urban areas, we don’t realize that we’re so lucky to be close to a passport office.”

The additions should make it easier for people outside large centres to access services and ease stress on offices in regional hubs, she added.

No new federal money was required to make the change, Gould said. Resources come out of a revolving fund made up of passport fees. 

Gould said the current crisis and complaints over long wait times have accelerated the work but she was already looking at bringing passport services to more locations before the backlog.

She visited Sault Ste. Marie in April, before media began reporting on complaints over wait times. The local Liberal MP, Terry Sheehan, told Gould that people in the Sault had to drive seven or eight hours to Thunder Bay or Toronto to visit a passport office in person. 

Until Wednesday, there was no passport office on Prince Edward Island.

“So I was starting to already look at who is not close, and how can we fix this,” she said. “And then it became that much more acute.” 

Nearly 1.1 million applications for new and renewed passports have been filed since April as pandemic restrictions loosen and Canadians resume travelling. 

More than one-quarter of those hadn’t yet been processed as of early August.

Government statistics show the system is starting to catch up with demand, as the gulf between the number of passport applications each month versus the number of passports issued is getting smaller. 

Call centre wait times have gone down significantly and “triage measures” were implemented at 17 passport offices to mitigate in-person headaches.

Gould said 442 new employees were hired so far this summer and 300 are already trained and working.

But a large backlog remains.

In the first week of August, the number of passports issued within 40 business days of an application fell to 72 per cent from 81 per cent the week before.

That is largely because of mailed applications.

During the first week of August, passports from in-person applications were issued within the government’s 10-day service standard 95 per cent of the time, a rate that has remained steady throughout the summer.

For mailed applications the service standard of 20 days was met only 40 per cent of the time in early August, down from 53 per cent in late July. The government also warns it can take more than 13 weeks to get your passport by mail.

The overall numbers aren’t materially better than in June, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to respond to growing complaints and called the system’s performance “unacceptable.” 

The week of June 20, 76 per cent of passports were issued within 40 business days.

The processing times also don’t take into account the wait to get an in-person appointment and there are only a limited number of walk-ins available.

Proof of upcoming travel is required to get service within two months at offices with 10-day processing times, including those announced Wednesday.

Urgent services for people who can prove they need a passport within 48 hours are only available in bigger urban centres — Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Gatineau, Que., and Quebec City.

As the backlash over the wait times continues, some reports suggest Canadians are making “fake” travel plans to show to passport officers, then cancelling their flights once their application is in the queue. 

Gould said she’s not aware of this being a “widespread issue” but she has heard about it anecdotally. “I strongly discourage Canadians to do that. It’s unfair, it’s unkind and it’s unnecessary,” she said. 

Gould said at the morning press conference that the government failed to predict to what extent demand would sharply spike earlier this year. She insisted an unexpected glut of mailed-in applications is the main culprit in the passport delays.

Although she wouldn’t comment on the specifics of its deliberations, she said a cabinet committee stood up earlier this year — the Task Force on Services to Canadians — is looking at how to make sure that services under federal jurisdiction are being delivered in “a timely and effective way” that takes the toll of the pandemic into account.

Source: Feds announce four new passport service sites as backlog continues

‘Lineups still exist’: Is Ottawa’s task force on passport and service delays a ‘political stunt’? [rhetorical question]

The question answers itself. Such “virtue signalling” only further undermines trust in government:

The union representing passport officers says it hasn’t been approached by the government task force looking at passport delays, as questions swirl around the cabinet committee’s work to date.

Amid massive lineups at passport and Service Canada offices across the country, as well as major delays at airports, the Prime Minister’s Office announced on June 25 the creation of a task force made up of 10 cabinet ministers.

The cabinet committee was specifically instructed to “review service delivery, identify gaps and areas for improvement, and make recommendations to ensure Canadians from coast to coast to coast receive the highest quality of service.”

One month later, the Union of National Employees, which represents passport officers, says it hasn’t had any interaction with the task force meant to tackle the delays still affecting their members every day.

“I have not had any contact whatsoever with the task force as identified just over four weeks ago … I am not even aware if that task force has met,” said the union’s national president, Kevin King.

“There has not been any outreach at all from anyone representing a task force of 10 cabinet ministers.”

King said while there have been improvements, the delays continue at passport offices and there remains a need for more properly trained passport officers to vet applications.

“It doesn’t matter who they hire off the street, doesn’t matter who they bring in from other government departments, doesn’t matter how many other executives they bring in,” King said.

“The fact of the matter is they still don’t have enough passport officers who are fully trained to entitle a passport. It’s that simple, and that’s why lineups still exist.”

He noted that with a cabinet retreat expected in August, “the days are becoming less and less available for (the task force) to have a cohesive plan.”

King said his union and others have, however, been in talks to set up a meeting directly with Social Development Minister Karina Gould, who is responsible for the passport file, possibly in August.

The union representing Service Canada workers, including those who deal with passport intake, did have one meeting with the task force, where they were given updates similar to those given by government departments, said Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union.

“They told us we would be invited to future discussions but haven’t received anything yet,” she said.

There hasn’t been much progress on delays, Warner said, with lineups still happening in some parts of the country. She said the union again had a meeting recently with government to push for more weekend office hours, and some kind of triage system.

“We’re still in a situation where there are ongoing needs at the front end,” she said, mentioning that soon international students will be coming in for SIN numbers. “So we’re waiting for the next influx at the front lines.”

The PMO release in June said the task force would also “monitor the situation” regarding delays at airports.

The National Airlines Council of Canada told the Star it reached out to the task force but never heard back. The Canadian Airports Council said it had been “in touch with PMO on the work of the task force,” but declined further comment.

The task force’s co-chair, Women and Gender Equality Minister Marci Ien, told reporters in June she’d “like to see something tangible in the next several weeks.”

Ien said the committee was first speaking with the ministers responsible for files including passports, immigration and air transportation. (Those ministers are not members of the task force.)

When asked this week about the task force’s work and who else they’ve consulted, Ien’s office provided the Star with a response similar to the PMO’s June statement, almost word for word.

“The recent service delays are unacceptable, and Minister Ien alongside the other members of the task force are working hard to resolve these issues,” the statement said.

“The committee of cabinet ministers has reviewed service delivery protocols, identified gaps and areas for improvement, and made recommendations to ensure Canadians from coast to coast to coast receive the highest quality of service.”

The statement said the actions being taken by each department are contained in regular updates provided by those departments to the public.

An update from Gould last week acknowledged that passport services “are not yet back to normal,” while announcing a new web page that includes steps being taken to improve services and statistics on delivery.

She said passport issuance has remained “relatively stable” over the last five weeks, with between 45,000 and 48,000 passports issued for each of those weeks, with the exception of the week of July 4 when 54,000 passports were issued.

“We’re doing everything we can to ramp that pace up every week,” she said, including adding more staff at Service Canada. The government also announced Monday the addition of five more passport pickup sites across the country.

The task force “is a political stunt that’s more about optics than solutions,” said Conservative social development critic Laila Goodridge, who said it’s “incumbent” on the government to be more transparent about its work.

“We were told when the task force was announced we would see change within weeks, and here we are a month out and only two days ago did we see a small change and it was providing additional pickup locations,” she said.

“If they’re working and they’re trying to find a solution here, they should be letting us know.”

NDP transport critic Taylor Bachrach said thousands of Canadians are still struggling to access basic government services, and that it’s “fair to expect” some level of transparency from the task force.

“The question is why they felt it was necessary to make so much public relations hay out of the formation of the committee. The formation of a committee is not an outcome,” he said. “And what we need here are outcomes and results.”

Source: ‘Lineups still exist’: Is Ottawa’s task force on passport and service delays a ‘political stunt’?

Feds aiming to clear passport backlog in next ‘4 to 6 weeks’: minister

Or after the summer travel season! But realistic:

Ottawa is acknowledging it underestimated the demand for passports amid relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, and is aiming to clear backlogs by the end of the summer.

Speaking in Vancouver Monday, Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould described the long waits and uncertainty Canadians seeking the travel documents have faced for months as “totally unacceptable.”

“Where we want to be is people getting their passports well ahead of time when they apply, and that’s what we’re working towards in the next four to six weeks,” she said.

Throughout the spring and early summer, Canadians seeking to renew their passports have faced long, sometimes multi-day lines at Service Canada offices. Many who have mailed in their documentation have reported poor communication and lack of clarity about when their documents will arrive.

In both cases, some applicants have faced processing times of months, sometimes threatening scheduled flights or planned travel.

On Monday, Gould said the federal government had anticipated an uptick in demand when restrictions were relaxed, but not the scale of applications or the way people chose to apply.

Prior to COVID-19, she said 80 per cent of people applied for passports in-person, with 20 per cent applying by mail. This year, that distribution flipped, she said.

“What we didn’t anticipate was the level of surge we were going to receive,” she said.

“Quite frankly the mail system was not sufficiently staffed to deal with that. That is something we are fixing right now.”

Between April and June this year, Canadians submitted more than 808,000 passport applications, 166,000 more than during the same period in 2019.

That’s pushed the volume of applications for this fiscal year to 4.3 million, up from 2.4 million last year, and left federal public servants clocking about 6,000 hours of overtime a week.

Ottawa has hired 600 additional passport workers, but only about 100 of them have completed training, which takes 12 to 15 weeks.

The remaining workers should be coming on the job within the next month, Gould said.

Despite the uncertainty and extreme delays for some, Gould said the majority of Canadians are getting their passports on time. She said those who are approaching their travel dates with not documentation should go to a Service Canada site, where people with urgent need are being prioritized.

Source: Feds aiming to clear passport backlog in next ‘4 to 6 weeks’: minister

A summer of last-minute passports from a government that was too slow in spring

A number of articles on the passport and other delays.

Starting with Campbell Clark of the Globe:

A month ago, the strategy to beat down Canada’s passport backlog was to get people to apply in-person, rather than by mail. Now workers at big-city passport offices triage the people standing in the long lines outside, sending those travelling in the next 48 hours on, and giving others tickets to come back another time.

The minister responsible for the passport offices, Karina Gould, has started to tell Canadians that she is angry about it, too, or something like that: She calls the situation “totally unacceptable,” and insists more will be done.

But what Ms. Gould really needs is a time machine and a bullhorn, so she can go back four months to March to wake up the slumbering government machine.

That was when the uptick in passport applications was becoming visible. The alarm bells didn’t get sounded loudly enough, quickly enough. In April, the government announced it was hiring 600 staff, but it was too little. And now that more resources are being poured in, it’s too late – or at least too late to avert a summer logjam that has made travellers livid.

“We anticipated a surge, but we didn’t anticipate just how large it would be,” Ms. Gould, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

She said she accepts that people think the government should have seen the problem sooner, but it wasn’t easy to predict. “It doesn’t justify it by any means, because we need to do better and we’re going to do better.”

Perhaps hindsight is 20/20. But the government wasn’t just slow to see the tsunami coming, but slow to react. One problem, as the backlog mounted, was that federal public-health rules kept COVID-19 capacity limits in place at passport offices, with 40 per cent of wickets closed, till May, two months after restrictions were lifted for stores in Ontario, for example.

And more broadly, the federal government was slow to get a grip on reopening. The bureaucracy that delivered CERB cheques in a few weeks in 2020 didn’t spring into action to meet travel-surge challenges in 2022. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government didn’t put the government on alert for reopening. The passport debacle is one embarrassing result.

The government notes that people are getting their passports. But it is often at the last minute, the day before they fly. The government is leasing space next to passport offices for waiting, or sometimes putting up tents, Ms. Gould said. “This is not the solution. This is just in the interim,” she added.

How did this happen?

In the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, demand for passports pretty much halted. Passport offices were closed. The number of employees shrank. When people started applying again, the numbers rose gradually. Then there was a surge. The immigration department’s forecasts of passport demand for 2022 were low, but revised dramatically upward in January, and again in the spring.

When applications started to pour in March, and pile up in April, there was another problem. In the pandemic, most people hard started mailing applications. But a quarter of them arrived with errors such as missing documents or blank boxes, so they took longer to process. The backlog mounted.

So officials encouraged people to apply in-person instead. And then the lines at offices grew. It wasn’t just new applicants showing up in person, but folks who had mailed in applications, and were getting nervous that their mailed application hadn’t been processed.

“The Easter long weekend was a worrying long weekend for me, because there was a big rush for people who wanted to travel,” Ms. Gould said. “And I would say that in mid-May we really realized we needed to ramp up in a much bigger way than we had been because the number of applications that kept coming in were much greater than the processing capacity.”

There was hiring – 600 in the spring, 600 being hired now and 600 to be seconded from other government jobs. Some get only part of the 12- to 15-week training so they can quickly do one part of the job. Workers were reorganized.

But the backlog of roughly half a million applications isn’t shrinking yet, and it’s a scramble. The government was slow to hit the panic button months ago. And now Ms. Gould forecasts that things will be back to a “steady state” by the end of summer, when most Canadians’ vacations are over.

Source: A summer of last-minute passports from a government that was too slow in spring

Heather Scofield in the Star:

Here’s a number the federal government would like you to know.

Between February and June of this year, the amount of Canadians travelling by air shot up 280 per cent. In the United States, the increase was just 25 per cent.

The number comes from Transport Canada, and the reason federal Liberals want us all to know about it is because they argue it’s why families are camped out at Canadian airports and why police have had to intervene in unruly passport lineups that stretch around the block.

For sure, a 280 per cent spike in demand for travel is enormous, and very difficult for normal-times bureaucracy and travel industry to digest. But it didn’t materialize out of nowhere.

The lineups that have thrown the delivery of government services into disarray are egregious, but they’re also a symptom of the post-pandemic disruption that has afflicted much of the private sector too. And the sooner we address that disruption with the full force of our ingenuity and resources, the better.

“Whatever it takes” defined economic policy on our way down into pandemic recession. The recovery requires an equally concerted effort, because this is more than congestion in airports and on the sidewalks outside Passport Canada.

The erratic flow of people is running amok in our travel industry, for sure, but also our immigration system, our labour markets and our housing markets, showing up in the form of massive lineups, backlogs, erratic prices and inflation. The disruption is not going away on its own, and there are serious implications for both our political landscape and our economy.

Let’s start with the 280-per-cent spike in Canadian travellers this spring, compared to just a 25-per-cent climb in Americans. It’s huge, but not a surprise.

After a couple of years of being mainly housebound here in Canada, we were then sent back home by the sudden restrictions imposed at the end of 2021 because of Omicron. Canadians finally burst out of their homes when Omicron settled down, and they haven’t stopped moving since.

The United States, on the other hand, responded with a lighter touch both to Omicron this winter and even before then, explaining why their wanderlust is not nearly as intense as ours.

Was that kind of surge foreseeable? Probably not to the exact extent we see before us. But one thing we have learned about how the economy and the public respond to the pandemic is that it’s in fits and starts. We have lurched from open to closed with dramatic and volatile effects on how things work.

Strange consumer demands have led to runs on toilet paper and used cars, and — more seriously — a perplexing and persistent shortage of computer chips and shipping containers. Supply chains have seized up, caught between the unpredictable demands coming their way and the unpredictable disruptions in the infrastructure they use.

And the job market is going haywire. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is fond of saying it has completely recovered from the pandemic recession because more Canadians are employed now than before the pandemic. But in fact, Stage Two of the pandemic recovery is upon us, where one million jobs sit empty and too-high inflation has dug itself in for the long haul.

We have to expect, and prepare for, a certain amount of chaos.

It’s too soon to abandon the crisis footing that Ottawa and the private sector shifted to in the early days of the coronavirus, when decision-makers quickly learned that projections based on how the world worked in pre-pandemic days were not worth much.

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen some attempts to regain that footing. Transport Canada is meeting with increasing frequency with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, border officials, union officials and air navigators to detect every single inefficiency in the airport system, and shave off time and effort wherever possible.

Vaccine requirements have been scaled back and streamlined, airlines have cut flights, and now their attention has turned into the nightmare which is baggage.

It’s hard to know if there is progress, and there’s a recognition that no one was quite ready for the traffic patterns gumming up trips everywhere right now.

As for immigration, the lineups for processing have ballooned over the course of COVID-19. A parliamentary committee was told this spring that the backlog stands at two million people — almost double the pre-pandemic list — and that was considered already way too long. 

Canada’s economic growth and recovery strategy is heavily based on increasing immigration, but with backlogs like that, it’s a bumpy road.

Over in the world of passports, there’s a similar all-hands-on-deck approach that has taken on added urgency as the intractable lineups made a mockery of internal projections and erupted into a backlash on the sidewalks and in the offices of MPs.

Extra workers have been hired, senior managers are now involved in triage, new offices opened, hours extended.

But the pivot takes time, and success is hard to see.

Over on Facebook Marketplace, one enterprising Montrealer was offering to stand in line at 4 a.m. for passport-seekers for $250 just over a week ago. He has since dropped his price to $200. Is that a sign the lineups are easing?

The Liberals had better hope so, because the public patience for queuing and dysfunction in the machinery of government has worn thin.

Source: On passports and airports, public patience with Liberals is running out

And lastly, Minister Gould on the reasons:

The minister responsible for Service Canada admits the government did not fully anticipate the overwhelming surge in passport applications that came with the lifting of travel restrictions and is hopeful waiting times will return to normal by the end of summer.

Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould said the federal government hired 600 new staff ahead of the anticipated increase in passport applications and renewals, but said “clearly it was not sufficient.” The surge has forced some Canadians to camp overnight outside of government offices in an attempt to obtain their passports.

“If I put myself where we were as Canadians back in February, we weren’t talking about this kind of a surge. We knew it was going to increase and that’s why we took the measures that we did. But I will concede for sure that they were insufficient for what ended up happening,” Ms. Gould said in an interview.

Service Canada issued 363,000 passports during the first year of the pandemic, from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021 – and that number jumped to more than 1.27 million the following fiscal year. The government has received 757,207 passport applications since April 1, nearly 60 per cent of the past year’s total.

Service Canada is hiring an additional 600 staff to help with the delays. Ms. Gould said training for some of the new hires is being shortened from the typical 15 weeks to one to two weeks, so that fully trained passport officers can focus on more complex applications, such as children with custody issues, while new hires will work on simpler files.

Ottawa is asking Canadians travelling within the next 45 business days to go to one of the country’s 35 dedicated passport offices for service. Waiting times topped more than six hours at some locations Monday, according to the government’s website. The government is asking those who are not travelling within the next 45 business days to apply at a Service Canada centre or by mail.

Ms. Gould said the return to normal waiting times will depend on the number of applications the government receives in the coming weeks.

“If volumes on a weekly basis continue where they are now and don’t substantially increase, we feel quite confident that we’re going to be in a much better position over the next four to six weeks and definitely by the end of summer,” she said.

The department has a service standard time of 10 business days for passport applications submitted at a passport office. Ms. Gould said 96 per cent of those passports are being issued within the standard, but the government’s website says they could still take up to two weeks.

Ms. Gould said the mail option is about “40 per cent less efficient” than in-person service. The government groups processing times for mail with the in-person option at Service Canada centres; the service standard is 20 business days, but processing can take up to nine weeks.

Raphael Girard, a retired assistant deputy minister who was responsible for Passport Canada in 1993, said the government needs to consider more creative solutions to the problem, such as extending passports for a year so officials can catch up on the backlog. He said this could be done by having Canadians bring their expired passports to a government office, where an agent could extend the document with a stamp.

However, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said simply extending expiration dates is not possible. Aidan Strickland said amending an expiry date that is not aligned with the electronic expiry date recorded in the Canadian ePassport could create further travel disruptions for the passport holder, and that the individual could also be refused boarding on a plane and denied entry to some countries.

More generally speaking, Mr. Girard argued the government has “lost the sense of operations designed to improve client service.”

“They’re layering on … controls and slowing things down, whereas 90 per cent of the workload is always routine,” he said.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau established a new task force of cabinet ministers to improve government services, such as passports, and monitor the delays causing chaos at Canada’s airports.

Conservative social development critic Laila Goodridge said Ms. Gould and Mr. Fraser, along with the task force, “continue to fumble managing the delivery and processing of passports. This is indicative of what we’ve seen with the Trudeau government that is unprepared for a predictable increase in demand for travel.” She pointed to a recent government tender for 800 chairs for people to sit on as they wait outside of passport offices.

NDP transport critic Taylor Bachrach said the continued delays for Canadians to get new or renewed passports are unacceptable, and that many people are going to their MPs for help to get their documents.

“Ultimately, the increased demand for passports was entirely predictable. But the Liberals failed to act even though they had months to prepare for travel to return. Now they need to urgently address this problem before more Canadians see their travel plans ruined, including speeding up the hiring process to clear the backlog.”

Source: Ottawa acknowledges it underestimated surge in demand for passports

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