‘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’?

My latest: Disconnect between political priorities and service delivery [focus on passports and immigration]

Article below as behind a paywall:

The disconnect between government commitments and its ability to deliver on targets and service levels has never been clearer as the immigration and passport backlogs attest.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser indicated that the 2023-25 plan will likely include a target of 500,000 new permanent residents by the end of the plan. The number of temporary foreign workers will also increase significantly following relaxation of eligibility requirements (length of permits; increase in the cap allowed from 10 to 30 per cent; no longer refusing applications in low-wage occupations in regions with unemployment higher than six per cent), and the large number of Ukrainians arriving in Canada due to the war.

These current and planned increases are happening against the backdrop of large backlogs in permanent and temporary resident, citizenship and passport applications.

The resulting public and political outrage has prompted a mix of short-term measures, both symbolic such as the formation of a task force to improve government services as well as substantive, to alleviate applicant frustration (e.g., triage of passport applications, more online application tracking tools for immigration-related programs).

Why the disconnect?

Public service expert Ralph Heintzman focuses on the comparative neglect of service in relation to policy and program development (“poor cousin”) and how Service Canada never lived up to its promise to overturn that hierarchy in favour of citizen-centred service. As someone who has worked at Service Canada to implement that vision during the early days, we developed tools like score cards to maintain focus on service. Heintzman notes that departments do not focus on citizen and applicant satisfaction as current service failures illustrate.

Donald Savoie, a Canadian public administration expert, looks at the more fundamental issue of the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, and the need for the latter to have clear goals in order to implement effectively. The political level generally has conflicting goals, reflecting different stakeholder interests, and has a bias for the shiny and new, rather than program management, as any party platform will illustrate. Senior public servants are more akin to “courtiers,” rising through policy rather than service-delivery ranks, and have a “limited understanding of how best to help frontline managers deliver programs and public services.”

While his argument that government cannot be managed by using private-sector practices is valid at the policy level, I would argue that private-sector measurement and service practices are needed for the reasons outlined by Heintzman.

When service delivery is essential, as in the case of pandemic-related financial supports, the political and bureaucratic levels focus accordingly, and address the trade-off between speed of delivery and program integrity.

It is unclear the extent to which the public service advised the government that its focus on meeting its political objective of increased immigration would mean a surge in backlogs across programs, given reduced capacity during the pandemic.

The need for digitalization, modernization, and renewal of IT infrastructure was driven home during the pandemic. In the short-term, the IRCC has delivered online applications and updates for some programs. For the longer term, the challenges are greater, given the complexities of programs and government structures, the time involved and the need for effective management, as the Phoenix pay system debacle illustrates.

While the government is ultimately accountable, stakeholders, with some rare exceptions, bear some of the responsibility. Businesses complain about backlogs, but press for higher levels that exacerbate pressures, as do other levels of government, immigration lawyers, and consultants, settlement agencies, academics, and activists. While the general support for immigration across all these groups is laudable and exceptional compared to other countries, it also reveals an unhealthy group think that is unwilling to consider seriously trade-offs between addressing backlogs and increased levels.

Air Canada’s announcement that it is trimming capacity in order to ensure meeting their on-time performance service standards contrasts with the inability of the government to manage immigration and passport demand and related expectations. While I disagree with the government’s overall approach to increased immigration, a more responsible government would engage with stakeholders to explain the constraints and institute a partial and temporary reduction in immigration levels to reduce the backlog.

Politically, it is harder for governments to be open about service delivery issues than the private sector. However, being up front avoids the inevitable drip-drip of revelations of problems that result in greater public and media attention and prolonged controversies.

The challenge for the public service is to “provide stronger advice to the political level on the constraints and trade-offs inherent in public administration” on service delivery issues, always tricky to carry out in practice.

Canadians may not appreciate the abstraction of large numbers, but they do understand the many personal stories of those who are waiting for decisions, whether in passport lineups or applications in the system. As Heintzman, Savoie, and others have noted, government failure to deliver on services or communicate in advance of service delivery issues undermines overall trust in government.

Source: Disconnect between political priorities and service delivery

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

Délais d’attente à Service Canada ou quand l’exception fait la règle

A reminder that Service Canada’s problems go beyond passport services and are long standing:

Relayée largement par les grands médias, « la crise des passeports » soulève depuis quelques semaines l’indignation de nombreux Canadiens qui s’étonnent de l’échec monumental de Service Canada à délivrer des passeports dans des délais raisonnables.

Les personnes sans-emploi qui ont dû composer avec la machine défectueuse qu’est Service Canada sourcillent probablement devant les propos de la ministre lorsqu’elle invoque le caractère exceptionnel de la situation. Certains se rappelleront également qu’en 2006, un syndicat d’employés de la fonction publique canadienne avait pointé du doigt l’existence de directives internes ayant pour effet de falsifier les chiffres sur les délais d’attente réels à Service Canada.

Le manque de transparence et le cafouillage chez Service Canada ne datent pas d’hier. Depuis l’instauration de cette méga-agence fédérale, les groupes de défense des droits des chômeurs de la province n’ont cessé de dénoncer l’accroissement des délais d’attente pour le traite006, pour résorber l’arriéré des 80 000 dossiers dont le traitement dépassait les 28 jours, le Mouvement autonome et solidaire des sans-emploi (MASSE) recommandait d’augmenter le nombre d’agents d’au moins 20 % et de cesser la chasse aux « mauvais chômeurs ».

Le même son de cloche fut donné en 2008, 2010, 2013 et pour toutes les années subséquentes. Enfin, le rapport Massé sur la qualité des services, publié en 2015, suggérait un ensemble de solutions qui auraient pu être mises en place bien avant la pandémie. Il faut augmenter le nombre d’agents et bonifier leur formation, simplifier les procédures opérationnelles et investir dans les infrastructures technologiques.

Après dix-sept ans, force est de constater que Service Canada est non seulement devenu une machine qui fragilise les populations vulnérables, mais un véritable frein à l’exercice du droit à une protection en cas de chômage pour tous les travailleurs.

Depuis l’hiver 2022 — alors que les demandes de chômage atteignent un creux historique — Service Canada bat de tristes records. En janvier, ce sont près de 300 000 dossiers qui ne respectent pas les normes de traitement, certaines personnes pouvant attendre jusqu’à un an pour que soit traitée leur demande. Gardés dans l’ombre, les futurs prestataires doivent appeler en moyenne sept fois les services de première ligne pour obtenir un suivi de leur dossier.

Comble de l’aberration, les demandes classées « urgences humanitaires » ne sont plus considérées comme prioritaires depuis quelque temps. Des chômeurs en détresse se font dire de prendre leur mal en patience, de s’endetter et parfois même d’aller chercher de l’aide sociale. Les conséquences sont dramatiques. Connaissez-vous beaucoup de personnes capables de faire vivre leur famille sans revenus pendant deux, voire quatre mois ?

Au-delà de la pandémie

Loin d’être perméable aux vagues de réformes de l’administration publique observées depuis 1970, le Canada crée en 2005 Service Canada, un organe à guichet unique au sein duquel seront désormais administrés les programmes de quatorze ministères. Cette nouvelle structure, nous promet-on, « permettra à la fois d’améliorer la qualité des services tout en réalisant des économies ».

Service Canada importe des méthodes de gestion propres à celles des entreprises privées et témoigne d’une vision clientéliste des services publics. L’importance accrue accordée aux mécanismes d’évaluation du rendement du personnel alourdit les procédures administratives, alors que l’informatisation mur à mur des services est inadaptée aux besoins réels des chômeurs dont les demandes sont « irrégulières ».

Résultat : l’ajout d’un billet médical dans la demande d’assurance-emploi, ou la déclaration d’indemnités provenant de la CNESST par exemple, peut priver une personne sans-emploi de prestations pendant des mois.

À l’été 2020, le gouvernement Trudeau a promis d’adapter le régime d’assurance-chômage « à la réalité des travailleurs du XXIe siècle ». Or, tant et aussi longtemps que le gouvernement nie les dysfonctions profondes de l’appareil censé administrer le régime, les Canadiens risquent de ne pas voir la couleur des prestations auxquelles ils et elles ont droit.

L’amnésie du gouvernement a assez duré.

Source: Délais d’attente à Service Canada ou quand l’exception fait la règle

May: The Achilles heel of the federal public service gives out again with passport fiasco

Agree. Service delivery unfortunately the poor cousin compared to policy and program development. Previous governments missed opportunity with Service Canada to transform government around service delivery.

Valid risk concerns yet here we are again with service failures, driven in part by governments more interested in new policy and program initiatives, as our senior public servants most who rose through the ranks on their policy work:

Delivering services to Canadians has been an Achilles heel of the federal government for 30 years because of political disinterest and a senior management of “travelling salesmen,” who hop from job to job and barely know the business of the departments they lead, says the former senior bureaucrat who proposed the creation of Service Canada.

“You have deputy ministers and senior executives … who very rarely have deep experience and knowledge of departments, operations and services for which they’re responsible. They haven’t worked their way up in that department and are flying blind to a significant degree,” said Ralph Heintzman, who also launched the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service and the Public Sector Service Delivery Council.

This constant churn of executives moving in and out of jobs has created a public service with “little learning experience, no constancy of purpose or corporate memory.”  That makes it very hard for the government to “maintain a focus on service improvement or anything for a long period of time,” he said.

But Heintzman says those are foundational reasons for why service has never been given the attention it deserves. Then come all the operational problems: underfunding, old technology systems that never get replaced, poorly trained and disengaged employees, lack of planning and little accountability for poor service.

Passport and immigration backlogs with long lineups of frustrated and fuming Canadians at Service Canada offices across the country in recent weeks prompted the government to create a new ministerial task force to find ways to improve service.

The 10-member task force is expected to make recommendations outlining short and longer-term solutions that would reduce wait times, clear backlogs and improve the overall quality of services provided.

Big barriers to improving service are investment in technology and recruiting the right people. That’s money and, notably, the minister of finance is not a member of the task force. The task force also comes as the government is launching a strategic review to find $6 billion in savings.

“They now have two conflicting objectives and can’t have it both ways. Which objective will trump the other? If they want to improve service, they will have to spend some money on technology, training and staffing levels,” said Michael Wernick, a former clerk of the Privy Council and the new Jarislowsky Chairin Public Sector Management at the University of Ottawa.

But Heintzman says many of the problems with service delivery are the same as in 1998 when he first presented Treasury Board ministers with a plan for Service Canada, a single one-stop agency to focus on delivery and citizen satisfaction. When the plan was rolled out in 2005, it was billed as the single biggest operational reform in federal history.

And it was all built on putting citizens first, or what he calls serving Canadians “outside in” rather than “inside out.”

“The whole idea of Service Canada was to help increase the standard of service and citizens’ satisfaction with government service.  So, when I see those photos of people lined up around Service Canada offices, there’s a pang in my heart,” said Heintzman.

But what’s different now is trust in government is falling like a stone and a wave of populism is exploiting those backlogs to drive the message that government isn’t working.

Heintzman says the research is clear. The satisfaction of Canadians with service is directly tied to citizens’ trust in government.

“One of the reasons why governments should invest in and pay attention to the quality of service is citizen trust,” said Heintzman.

“It makes me even more anxious now, when there are people eager and willing to seize upon the failures of the government to use them as an excuse for attacks on democracy and on the public sector.”

Public servants have two jobs. They offer policy advice and deliver programs and services to Canadians.

Service delivery has long been the poor cousin to policy. The way services are designed and delivered is often dictated by the internal needs of public servants and all the processes and rules they must follow. That means users and frontline workers — who know the ins and outs of how programs work — aren’t always heard.

Frontline managers also rarely make it to the top and ambitious public servants opt for the policy jobs. Executives typically manage up and into ministers’ offices and the Privy Council Office, rather than “manage down to line operations and out to citizens,” said Heintzman.

Prime ministers, ministers, even deputy ministers, pay little attention to operations or service delivery until there’s a crisis. The focus is all policy and “announceables,” not execution.

Knowing politicians aren’t that interested, senior bureaucrats are reluctant to bring up operational problems or push for technology projects to help improve services – especially after the disastrous Phoenix pay system.

“Three-quarters of the responsibility for performance in service delivery rests with the public service,” said Heintzman. “It has to be a public service issue, not only for execution, but in making it a political issue by including it in their priorities to ministers and for funding.”

The government has pinned its efforts to improve services and trust on digital technology. But Heintzman worries the emphasis on technology loses sight of citizens and how to improve service. In many departments, service is rolled into the responsibilities of the Chief Information Officer where the focus is on the latest software, hardware and apps.

“There should be a chief service officer of the government to whom the people responsible for information [management] and IT report, but the tail should not be wagging the dog. The objective is promising a proper service to people of Canada not running an IM-IT operation,” said Heintzman.

A focus on technology brings an “inside-out” approach to service, which means services are built around the priorities of the managers and department, not citizens.

Departments also don’t pay enough attention to service satisfaction – tracking how Canadians view a service and rate it – which Heintzman argues is the only way to improve service.

Rather than measure satisfaction, the government focuses on results and inputs. The Liberals created a “results and delivery unit” modelled after the deliverology theory of Britain’s Michael Barber that did little to improve service.

Heintzman says departments don’t plan enough. They don’t set targets or deadlines built around how they want to improve a service over the long run.  Service standards are set “inside out” with promises to answer a call, fix a complaint or provide a service within a certain time, which are “set to suit the people inside and have nothing to do with what people want or need in the way of delivery.”

They also don’t study the drivers of customer satisfaction, which varies by type of service and whether accessed by phone, in-person or online. Timeliness is the big one, but competence, courtesy, fairness, outcomes and value all influence satisfaction.

Heintzman argues managers should be held accountable for the quality of service, perhaps by linking their annual performance pay to client satisfaction. Central agencies such as Treasury Board and the Privy Council Office abdicated leadership in service delivery by turning it over to departments.

And finally, the government should professionalize service delivery. The Institute of Citizen-Centred Service was created to train and certify public servants, at any level, who manage services. Service delivery needs a “holistic approach” that reinforces how the pieces connect; happy and engaged employees are the key to customer satisfaction, which in turn fosters trust in government.

“Service delivery is part of the proper functioning of a democratic government. If we can’t do that properly, we’re undermining our democracy,” said Heintzman.

Source: The Achilles heel of the federal public service gives out again with passport fiasco

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

Terrorism concerns lead to changes at passport offices in bid to boost security

Prudent. But odd that focus is with respect to the receiving agent function at Service Canada centres, rather than the full service offices of Passport Canada, the responsibility of IRCC (but ATIP documents were from ESDC, not IRCC):

The federal government has been quietly making changes to passport offices in a bid to improve security and address concerns that the facilities could be easy targets for a terrorist attack.

Civil servants in passport and other government offices have for years faced bomb threats, and hostility from individuals who are disgruntled, drunk or suffering mental illnesses.

Internal government documents show that senior officials have more recently worried that someone with extremist views might see a passport office as prime target for an attack, particularly if the federal government revoked their passport privileges because they wanted to go abroad to join a terrorist group.

The briefing note to senior officials at Employment and Social Development Canada says the offices could now more easily become targets, or be collateral damage.

“ESDC Passport offices may be considered targets of symbolic value in future attacks,” reads part of the 2015 briefing note marked, “Canadian Eyes Only.”

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the documents under the Access to Information Act.

Those concerns were stoked after two separate domestic terrorist attacks in October 2014.

In the first case, Martin Couture-Rouleau hit two soldiers with his car at a strip mall just outside St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., killing Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53. Officials seized his passport that July after police prevented him from flying to Turkey.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial in Ottawa before storming Parliament Hill. He had come to Ottawa from Vancouver after he ran into problems getting a Canadian passport so he could travel to Libya.

Both attackers were subsequently killed.

The second incident prompted ESDC officials to call in the Mounties to review threats for every passport office in the country. Assessments were also carried out to see what could be done to the physical configuration of spaces, or the layout of services, to better protect the workers inside the office.

The RCMP report from April 2015 concluded that the offices face terrorist and criminal threats, although nothing direct or immediate.

A spokesman for ESDC, which oversees the 151 Service Canada offices that issue passports, said the department has and continues to make changes at existing and soon-to-be-opened facilities in response to the assessments.

Along with physical changes to the offices to increase security there have been operational changes that federal officials hope will lower the risk of an attack. Among the measures was extending the passport renewal period to 10 years from five years and letting Canadians renew their passports online to reduce the number of people who had to go to an office.

Source: Terrorism concerns lead to changes at passport offices in bid to boost security – The Globe and Mail

Someone should take the fall for Ottawa’s botched Phoenix pay system

Hard to disagree with Barrie McKenna: the lack of accountability at both the political and bureaucratic level, the inability of government to manage large-scale IT projects and the miss match between those who “sold” the project and those responsible for delivery are of broad concern, not just in the case of Phoenix.

IT in government is complex given the myriad of requirements and groups involved.

My experience with IT in government is a mixed bag. My most successful project, done with a small group of PCO policy types, was the creation of an Access database to manage the then Chrétien government annual priority setting exercise. Delivered on time, it worked  and ensured consistent tracking rather than the previous time-consuming and error prone Word-based process.

My second experience, also at PCO, but on a larger scale (more data, more users) and thus involving IT folks, was replacing the previous Cabinet meeting planning system with a more up-to-date platform with more flexibility. The IT folks and the consultant never got it to work during my time there.

Lastly, at Service Canada, we partnered with Service New Brunswick to deliver, on Transport Canada’s behalf, a system for pleasure craft licensing. When it went live, it crashed but we were able to identify and fix the problem within a few days (the data link capacity was too small, something missed in all the preparations, by all involved). After that it worked well (Service Canada eventually decided to end its involvement and focus on core services to ESDC):

The mess that is Phoenix is a story of misguided political objectives, bungled management of a major technology project and a complete failure by anyone in charge to take responsibility for mistakes.

The fiasco raises troubling questions about the government’s ability to perform one of its most basic functions – paying its bills and taking care of employees. The Phoenix system is just one of the major information-technology projects, totalling billions of dollars, now under way in the government.

Centralizing the multitude of separate payroll systems was the brainchild of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, which was convinced it could wring huge savings out of the bureaucracy. In charge were then-public works minister Rona Ambrose (now interim Conservative leader) and Tony Clement, former president of the treasury board. Neither has expressed any remorse for the fiasco.

The Conservatives eliminated 700 payroll jobs in dozens of departments, mainly in Ottawa, and created a new centralized pay centre in Miramichi, N.B. – political compensation for the shuttered gun registry. Most of those offered positions there refused to move, leaving the running of Phoenix in the hands of hundreds of untrained new hires.

The problem now belongs to the Liberal government, which could have delayed deployment of the system to work out the inevitable bugs. To his credit, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has acknowledged his government initially didn’t take the problem seriously.

“I’ll admit it,” Mr. Trudeau told a frustrated civil servant at a town hall in Kingston, Ont., earlier this year. “This government … didn’t pay enough attention to the challenges and the warning signs on the transition we were overseeing.”

But the mea culpa came three months after the government had promised to resolve the payroll mess. Now, it’s not even offering a target.

Just as troubling is the lack of accountability within the upper ranks of civil servants. Many of those responsible have retired or moved to other jobs in the government. No one has been fired.

Nor has there been a thorough investigation by Parliament of what went wrong. Deputy Minister of Public Works Marie Lemay, who inherited the payroll problem, appeared before the House of Commons government operations committee last year. But none of the original architects of the system have had to answer for their roles.

And then there is IBM Canada, which Ottawa hired to design and implement the system. It appears the government, not IBM, is on the hook for fixing the problems. So why, one wonders, would the government sign a contract that left it so dangerously exposed to financial and technical risk?

Phoenix was supposed to save Ottawa $70-million a year. Instead, the government has spent $50-million fixing the problem, including an extra $6-million paid to IBM, and there is no end in sight.

This isn’t just a story of a botched payroll system. It’s about the chronic inability of governments to manage major purchases, including technology projects.

Unless Ottawa gets to the bottom of what went wrong on Phoenix, it will keep making the same mistakes elsewhere in the government.

That should worry all taxpayers, not just government workers.

Source: Someone should take the fall for Ottawa’s botched Phoenix pay system – The Globe and Mail

Shared Services Canada, already having resulted in the resignation of the Chief Statistician (INSERT), now comes under fire from the RCMP:

CBC News has obtained a blistering Jan. 20, 2017, memo to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale in which Commissioner Bob Paulson details how critical IT failures have increased by 129 per cent since the beleaguered department took over tech support for the entire government five years ago.

Not only that, the memo says, the duration of each outage has increased by 98 per cent.

“Its ‘one size fits all’ IT shared services model has negatively impacted police operations, public and officer safety and the integrity of the criminal justice system,” reads the memo.

The document appears to respond to a request for more information after a series of CBC News reports on the RCMP’s long-standing dissatisfaction with Shared Services Canada (SSC).

Despite the agency’s creation of special teams and committees to address shoddy service and repeated computer outages, Paulson said minimal progress has been made.

The commissioner bolstered his arguments by enclosing an appendix of recent critical incidents to show just how little appreciation or understanding there is for operational law enforcement requirements.

RCMP commissioner warns continued IT failures will have ‘catastrophic’ consequences

Government consistently fails to fix mistakes, Auditor-General says [need for citizen-centred program delivery]

Strong condemnation, widely noted. Despite the many years and efforts with respect to performance management and reporting, shows just how entrenched the government remains in measuring process and outputs, rather than results for citizens.

And ‘deliverology’ is unlikely to change this, as it is easier to track political commitments met, than actual benefits and outcomes for citizens.

During my time at Service Canada, we spent considerable time and effort to develop service strategies that aimed to place the citizen at the heart of service delivery, not the program management. There was considerable resistance from the various program branches, who were more comfortable, given the nature of accountabilities, to operate within silos. The slide below highlights the nature of change proposed, with the left showing the program and service maze, the right showing a more citizen-centric way of organizing programs.

ssso_implementation_plan_-_scmb_dec_2005_-_v5_08dec2005_e_scmb

Canada’s Auditor-General says the federal government must adjust the way it does business after a broad evaluation in which he says departments fail to consider whether their services actually benefit Canadians, cannot stay ahead of emerging trends and do not correct inadequacies even after they have been pointed out.

In marking the midpoint of his 10-year term, Michael Ferguson used his fall report to take an unusual step back from the assessments of specific programs to point to more systemic problems. Parliament, said Mr. Ferguson, uses his reports to learn about things that have gone wrong but does not ensure that changes are made to set them right.

“What about programs that are managed to accommodate the people running them rather than the people receiving the services?” asked Mr. Ferguson. “I am also talking about problems like regulatory bodies that cannot keep up with the industries they regulate, and public accountability reports that fail to provide a full and clear picture of what is going on….”

Departments and agencies work in silos, he said, failing to learn from what others outside, or even inside, their own organizations are doing.

“Our audits come across the same problems in different organizations time and time again. Even more concerning is that, when we come back to audit the same area again, we often find that program results have not improved,” said Mr. Ferguson. “In just five years, with some 100 performance audits and special examinations behind me since I began my mandate, the results of some audits seem to be – in the immortal words of Yogi Berra – ‘déjà vu all over again.’ ”

For instance, said Mr. Ferguson, many past audits have revealed the government’s lack of focus on Canadians who are the end users of its services.

And that trend continues in a new study of the Beyond the Border Action Plan which was introduced in December, 2011, to enhance security and the flow of goods and people across the Canada-U.S. border. Five years and $585-million later, the departments and agencies involved cannot show how the measures that were part of the plan have made Canadians safer or accelerated the movement of either trade or travellers.

“We found that, where performance indicators were developed,” says the audit, “they measured whether activities and deliverables were completed, not the resulting benefits.”

Source: Government consistently fails to fix mistakes, Auditor-General says – The Globe and Mail

His full message is also worth reading beyond the excerpt below and soundbites above:

In the interest of assisting our still-new Parliament in carrying out its oversight role and of helping government “do service well,” I believe there is value in looking back over the body of work produced by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada. This is a way to identify those issues that show up in audit after audit, year after year, and sometimes persist for decades.

These problems include departments and agencies struggling to work outside their silos, either to learn from what is happening within their organizations, or more broadly, to learn from what their external counterparts are doing.

And what about programs that are managed to accommodate the people running them rather than the people receiving the services? What about programs in which the focus is on measuring what civil servants are doing rather than how well Canadians are being served? In such cases, the perception of the service is very different depending on whether you are talking to the service provider or to the citizen trying to navigate the red tape.

I am also talking about problems like regulatory bodies that cannot keep up with the industries they regulate, and public accountability reports that fail to provide a full and clear picture of what is going on for a myriad of reasons—such as systems that are outdated or just not working, or data that is unreliable or incomplete, not suited to the needs, or not being used. Our audits come across these same problems in different organizations time and time again. Even more concerning is that when we come back to audit the same area again, we often find that program results have not improved.

Lack of focus on citizens

In our system of government, Parliament makes the rules, departments and agencies carry out the wishes of Parliament, and citizens receive the services. At least, that is the way the system is designed. Over the years, our audit work has revealed government’s lack of focus on end-users, Canadians.

Message from the Auditor General