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

‘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’?

Passport delay task force wants something ‘tangible’ within weeks, minister says

Pure spin. IRCC and Service Canada are the responsible departments, Minister Fraser and Gould the responsible ministers. Conservative critiques of the task force as “a summer research project for Liberal ministers” is both clever and valid.

However, the broader systemic issue at play is that this government, in particular, but previous governments as well, are less interested in the nitty-gritty of service delivery as Heintzman recounts so well in Kathryn May’s The Achilles heel of the federal public service gives out again with passport fiasco:

The co-chair of a new cabinet committee struck to tackle massive passport processing delays says she’d like to see “something tangible in the next several weeks.”

Speaking at a funding announcement Tuesday in Toronto, Women and Gender Equality Minister Marci Ien said the committee is first speaking to the ministers responsible for files including passports, immigration and air transportation about the issues.

“We take that information and we go, so that process is happening right now, it’s started,” she said. “I would be a very happy camper, and I know my colleagues would be, if we had something tangible in the next several weeks.”

As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Canadians are returning to international travel in droves, applying for a passport for the first time or renewing passports that expired during the pandemic. This has sparked long lineups at passport offices. In some cases, the police have had to be called due to altercations.

In response to the delays, the Prime Minister’s Office announced on Saturday the creation of a “task force to improve government services,” made up of 10 ministers and co-chaired by Ien and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller.

Asked about her understanding of the causes for the bottlenecks, Ien said “this is about listening first.

“That’s how I operate: I get the facts, I listen, and then I act, and my co-chair is the same,” she said. “I want Canadians to know that we are there for them, we are there with them, and we will get to the bottom of this.”

Unions representing workers who deal with passport intake and processing said they were flagging concerns to the government last year about imminent delays, partly due to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

“They didn’t give us a clear answer on what the plan was,” Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, told the Star last week.

“There didn’t seem to be a lot of concern or consideration.”

Warner’s union represents Service Canada workers, including those who deal with passport intake.

The task force has not reached out to the union whose members are responsible for processing passport applications, said Kevin King, national president of the Union of National Employees. But he said he’s ready to engage with the ministers “at any moment in time.”

Speaking from Montreal, where the delays have been particularly brutal, King said he was beginning to see some improvements, including extra security personnel and more managers from other departments assisting staff.

“But these are very early days,” King said.

Social Development Minister Karina Gould, who is responsible for the passport file, announced last week that some specialized passport sites in large cities would implement a triage system to prioritize individuals travelling within the next 24 to 48 hours.

The Conservatives blasted the task force as being comprised of some of the government’s “worst-performing ministers,” saying in a statement Monday that more bureaucracy is not the answer to tackling the delays.

“Rather than focusing on resolving the crisis, hard-working public servants will now need to divert their attention to help a task force of Liberal ministers study the problem,” the statement said.

“Canadians need front-line workers processing applications and working through the backlog, not a summer research project for Liberal ministers.”

Source: Passport delay task force wants something ‘tangible’ within weeks, minister says

Prime Minister announces new task force to improve government services for Canadians: When in doubt, appoint a task force…

Hard to know whether to laugh and cry.

Given that IRCC is responsible for both immigration and citizenship backlogs, and has the policy and program responsibility for the passport program with Service Canada providing in-person service and processing, hard to see this as anything else but communications spin.

PCO could simply have weekly meetings at the DM or ADM level with IRCC and Service Canada to monitor and keep the pressure on. Happened during my time over 20 years ago at PCO on certain high profile issues and unlikely that this approach has changed drastically.

Cabinet task forces mean more time preparing for meetings and briefings and less time on the concrete operational changes needed to address backlogs.

The government ended its “deliverology” unit in PCO in 2020 but its focus was more on government priorities and commitments than existing programs (covered by departmental reports and TBS).

And as others have noted, perhaps a pause in policy initiatives and expanded immigration levels until the backlogs are sorted out:

Canadians deserve high-quality and efficient government services that are accessible, timely, and make their lives easier. The delays in immigration application and passport processing are unacceptable and the Government of Canada is urgently working to resolve them as soon as possible.

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today announced the creation of a new task force to improve government services, with a focus on reducing wait times for Canadians. The task force, a Committee of Cabinet ministers, will 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.

As we recover from the pandemic and increasingly adjust to a fast-moving world where more Canadians are once again relying on government services, they have experienced delays in delivery that are far from acceptable. The task force will drive action to improve the processing of passports and immigration applications by identifying priority areas for action and outlining short- and longer-term solutions, with a focus on reducing wait times, clearing out backlogs, and improving the overall quality of services provided to Canadians. As labour shortages continue to lead to air travel delays around the world, the task force will also monitor the situation at Canadian airports.

The Government of Canada is working hard to improve the delivery of services that Canadians rely on every day.

Quote

“We know service delays, particularly in recent months, are unacceptable. We will continue to do everything we can to improve the delivery of these services in an efficient and timely manner, and this new task force will help guide the work of the government to better meet the changing needs of Canadians and continue to provide them with the high-quality services they need and deserve.”The Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

Quick Facts

  • The members of the task force on Services to Canadians are:
    • The Hon. Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth (Co-Chair)
    • The Hon. Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations (Co-Chair)
    • The Hon. Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance
    • The Hon. Mona Fortier, President of the Treasury Board
    • The Hon. Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion
    • The Hon. Gudie Hutchings, Minister of Rural Economic Development
    • The Hon. Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities
    • The Hon. Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of National Revenue
    • The Hon. Mary Ng, Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development
    • The Hon. Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of International Development and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada
  • Ministers responsible for the relevant departments, including the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, and the Minister of Transport, will be ex-officio members of the task force.
  • Other members of Cabinet may be invited to participate in task force meetings to provide advice and recommendations on issues related to their respective portfolios.

Source: https://pm.gc.ca/en/news/news-releases/2022/06/25/prime-minister-announces-new-task-force-improve-government-services