That, in the opinion of the House, the government should provide Service Canada with a mandate to offer full passport services at all of its regional offices throughout Canada.
She said: Mr. Speaker, in this House I have the privilege of representing the riding of , which is composed of four municipalities with very diverse characteristics: Brossard and Candiac, two relatively new cities and Saint-Philippe and La Prairie, two cities that are deeply rooted in Quebec's history. Life in Saint-Philippe is rural, Candiac is proudly building up its suburban character, La Prairie intertwines history with exemplary community energy and Brossard is emphasizing its cultural diversity in order to increase its bustling economic development. These four cities have something in common other than their geographic proximity to the United States border and that is their human geography. These are young cities that are attracting more and more professionals, cities whose socio-demographic profile is increasingly homogenous.
In summary, this riding is a local reflection of the same challenges that a number of Canada's regions are facing: market globalization and diversification, families that are spread around the world and, above all, a border-sharing neighbour that is changing the nature of our relationship by requiring, as of June 1 this year, a valid passport for anyone wanting to enter its territory. It is because of this last element, in addition to the other practical arguments that I will talk about shortly, that I am moving the following motion:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should provide Service Canada with a mandate to offer full passport services at all of its regional offices throughout Canada.
It seems increasingly evident to me that 33 passport offices serving the length and breadth of Canada are clearly insufficient to meet the growing demand for this travel document that is being required for all cross-border travel.
When one considers that close to 75% of all passports issued in Canada are the result of a walk-in visit, that is, an applicant who actually took the time to go in person to a Passport Canada office, one has to conclude that most Canadians do not trust the safe navigation of their official and original documents through our postal services. Furthermore, only 7% of all applications submitted were done through the receiving agents.
If, as parliamentarians, it is our intention to ensure the comprehensive implementation of Service Canada's mandate, we must bear in mind that: the goal of Service Canada is to offer citizens single-window access to a wide range of federal government services; 95% of Canadians live within 50 kilometres of a Service Canada office; since 2001, Service Canada has developed a range of services now available—and widely used—on-line and through the toll-free number; and this technological transformation cannot and must not apply to the processing of passport applications, for obvious security reasons.
It seems logical, then, to conclude that Service Canada staff is capable of meeting the challenges of a mandate expanded to include the complete processing of passport applications without any changes to the existing structures, other than passport officer training.
This motion is not intended to undermine in any way the Canadian system for granting travel documents. The integrity of these documents must be maintained at all costs. However, that reality should in no way negate the urgent need for the government to put in place every possible mechanism to make this service as accessible as possible to all citizens.
It is completely unacceptable that Canadians who live far from major urban centres are having such a hard time getting a passport. They are just as interested in travelling as their urban cousins; they are simply discouraged by the real challenges they face in obtaining their passports.
In conclusion, and on a personal note, for many people, obtaining a passport is no more nor less significant than getting their driver's licence. For many of us who were not born in Canada, who have become citizens by love and choice, holding a Canadian passport is an important symbol of our chosen citizenship, even more powerful than our citizenship cards. It tells the world that this is our country, the one we have chosen, the one that chose us. For this and all other considerations, I ask the House to grant this motion its unanimous support.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to share some thoughts with my hon. colleagues on the very effective work of our national passport agency, Passport Canada.
In particular, I want to share important information on the challenges faced by Passport Canada since 2006, the numerous changes and innovations that the agency has introduced to meet these challenges, and the excellent service Passport Canada provides to Canadians.
First and most importantly, I want to emphasize that even with the current increase in demand for passports, both in terms of mail-in applications and the volume of applicants appearing in person at passport offices, Passport Canada is delivering its services within normal advertised times. In fact, Passport Canada is currently issuing passports within 12 working days through all service channels. This is actually one of the fastest passport services worldwide.
Notwithstanding some reports that have implied otherwise, Canadians who apply for passports, whether they are first-time applicants or applying for renewals, are receiving the same service today as they did six months ago when demand was much lower.
That being said, it is important to look not at the few media reports but at the facts and accomplishments, so I would like to share some recent history of Passport Canada. Let me take members back to late 2006. That is when the implementation date of the first phase of the United States western hemisphere travel initiative, or WHTI, was finally announced.
For the first time, Canadians were told they would need a passport to enter the United States if travelling by air, as of January 23, 2007. That meant that Passport Canada and Canadians travelling to and through the U.S. by air had about 60 days notice of the most important change in the history of border relations between our two countries.
Almost overnight, Passport Canada was engulfed by a wave of demand as an overwhelming number of applications poured in. To put this into context, in four months Passport Canada received about the same number of applications as it handled during an entire year earlier in the decade.
However, our government and Passport Canada responded quickly. To add immediate capacity, a number of temporary measures were put into action. Passport Canada employees worked longer hours on weekdays and took on additional weekend shifts. In fact, every Passport Canada employee including support staff and senior managers helped process applications for one day each week.
At walk-in passport offices, waiting room and processing space were added where feasible. Some offices remained open longer hours and some added an additional evening processing shift.
Two new policy measures, the simplified passport renewal and more flexible guarantor requirements, were introduced by our government in the summer of 2007. These measures made it easier for Canadians to apply for passports, speeded up processing within Passport Canada, but maintained the agency's high security standards.
By December 2007, a little over a year after the WHTI announcement, service standards had returned to approximately the pre-WHTI transition numbers. The bulk of Passport Canada's business was now back on track.
Another detail bears mentioning, and that concerns how Passport Canada is funded. Many Canadians probably do not realize that Passport Canada does not get regular appropriations from the government and its funding is not based on tax revenues. Rather, Passport Canada is funded through the passport fee, namely $62 out of the $87 it collects for each passport. This means that Passport Canada must live within its financial means. That is particularly true when we look at the agency's walk-in offices.
It is probably fair to say that each and every hon. member of this House would like to see a passport office in his or her riding. However, that is simply not feasible from an economic standpoint.
Our government and Passport Canada are continuously looking at ways to improve client services. In the past, when regional demand was sufficient for the agency to provide walk-in services, it did so. Indeed, the number of regional passport offices has increased to 33 from 18 since 1988. A new office is scheduled to open in Kelowna, British Columbia, in 2010. Passport Canada can and does open offices where a business case can be made for doing so.
To suggest that this business must be amended to justify opening more offices would mean that Passport Canada would be obliged to fund this unnecessary expansion in services through a dramatic increase in its revenue.
The only way Passport Canada can increase its revenue to cover a major expansion in offices is either through a significant increase in passport fees or by a budget subsidy from tax revenues.
I think all of my hon. colleagues would agree that in these times of economic uncertainty, when so many Canadians across the country are taking exceptional care with their finances, now is not the time to unnecessarily expand government infrastructure. Canadians do not want to pay for a passport.
Passport Canada has an agreement with Service Canada whereby Service Canada provides receiving agent services in areas not served by a passport office, but there is a tremendous difference between receiving agent services and passport office services.
Passport Canada staff receive specialized training in handling and examining a wide range of documents. This includes birth certificates, evidence of citizenship and court orders. This expertise is continually being updated.
Not only is the environment secure but as we would expect in an era where document fraud, identity theft, child abductions and international terrorism are daily headlines, a great deal of Passport Canada's work deals with making sure that the Canadian passport remains a secure and trusted document worldwide.
This means that Passport Canada maintains stringent security checks to ensure that each and every person who applies for a Canadian passport is who they claim to be, is entitled to a Canadian passport, and does not pose a threat to the security of Canada or other countries. As we can imagine, this scope of work is unique within government.
I believe that the quality of service provided by Passport Canada is something in which all Canadians can take pride. Not only are Passport Canada's service standards one of the fastest in the world, but it is able to carry out its very specialized and secure work without any inconvenience to the vast majority of those who apply for Canadian passports.
The 2008 passport national client satisfaction survey revealed that 96% of Canadians are satisfied with the overall service provided by Passport Canada, up 7% from last year. The survey also indicated that 81% believed that the office locations were convenient, up 8% from last year.
For all these reasons, I believe that it is in our best interest and in the best interests of all Canadians to oppose the motion put forward by my hon. colleague.
I just want to add one more thing. Among the G8 countries, Passport Canada is one of the only passport agencies to fully operate at a cost recovery basis. Despite this fact, at $87, a Canadian passport is one of the cheapest in all the developed countries. In current Canadian dollars, the American passport costs $127, an Irish passport costs $128, a British passport costs $130, and a French passport costs $143.
As I said, this is a cost recovery process, and I do not think that we would like to spend more money. While I appreciate my hon. colleague's desire to ensure that in some areas passport service be provided faster, we have to take an all round picture and, as I stated in my speech, the service level of satisfaction provided by Passport Canada is quite satisfactory.
Madam Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to speak to the issue raised by the member for in her motion. This issue is very important to the people in my riding and the city of Longueuil in general, as well as to everyone living on the south shore in the Montreal region.
About five years ago, the former member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, Caroline St-Hilaire, was doing everything she could to force the government to acknowledge that passport issuing services for residents of the south shore were lacking. I think that she is one of the main reasons we are talking about this today. I was therefore very pleased to find out that the member for was joining the Bloc Québécois to fight for better services for the people of the south shore across from Montreal.
Currently, a resident of Longueuil has three options for getting a passport. The first, and easiest option, is to go to a Bloc Québécois member's office. We have been offering this service to the people of our ridings for several years now, and I have to say that it helps a lot.
However, as everyone probably knows, members do not have access to priority service, nor can they process applications themselves. We help by checking forms, photos and identification documents and by sending applications by priority mail. The problem with this method is that it creates a lot of additional work for members' employees, and that can be hard to manage. It means that they have less time to focus on other files that should be getting ongoing attention. Often, there is just not enough time.
The second option is to go to a Canada Post office that acts as a receiving agent for Passport Canada. A receiving agent provides the same service as an MP's office, with one exception: Canada Post charges a $20 administration fee, even though the processing time is no shorter.
This is likely the most inequitable solution, because people who choose this option not only have to wait longer than people who deal directly with Passport Canada, but they also have to pay a hefty charge.
The third option is to go into downtown Montreal. Anyone who knows what traffic between the south shore and the island is like at rush hour knows that this option is no better than the first two, even though the Passport Canada offices give faster service. The Montreal office, which is in the Guy Favreau Complex, is open only from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. It is not open on the weekend. Given how heavy the traffic is, it is nearly impossible for someone who works during normal business hours to get to this office without taking time off. And I feel that this is not right.
It is therefore clear that passport offices are needed on the south shore. We are talking about a region with nearly a million and a half inhabitants, including more than 700,000 in Longueuil alone.
I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that the people of the south shore in general and Longueuil in particular are not being served equitably, for the reason I just mentioned. It is unfair that the people of Longueuil do not have access to the same services as, for example, the residents of Laval, which is similar in size. What is more, I feel that this is an essential service, because a passport is required for all air travel and will soon be required for all travel by land to the United States.
Effective June 1, 2009, under the western hemisphere travel initiative, anyone travelling to the United States will be required to hold a valid passport. As a result, we can reasonably expect the number of applications to go up considerably, despite the economic crisis.
With that in mind, on September 4, 2008, just three days before the last election call, the former Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Canada announced 99 new passport receiving agent sites at Service Canada centres. Six sites for the Montérégie area were announced at the time, but to date three, including the Longueuil site, have yet to be set up.
The advantage with these sites is that, while they do not handle applications as Passport Canada offices do, they do not make people pay $20 extra as Canada Post receiving agents do. Their processing time may be longer than Passport Canada's, but at least it saves people from Longueuil having to take their applications to a government service point in Montreal.
As members know, in recent years Passport Canada has been working closely with Service Canada to expand its network of service points. The current negotiations are leaning toward allowing some Service Canada centres to authenticate and review passport applications on site instead of simply sending them off to a Passport Canada office.
Ultimately, this would be the best and most satisfying solution for the people of Longueuil, as it would solve quickly the problems they are currently facing.
This way, Passport Canada could significantly increase its level of services provided to the public at a reasonable cost without having to open new offices, which would mean savings in terms of capital costs of course.
It is important that the safety of sensitive and confidential information provided with passport applications never be compromised, but there are many dangers. It is therefore imperative that Passport Canada take all necessary steps to ensure that the information remain strictly confidential. That is totally feasible. It is up to Passport Canada to establish very strict standards.
The benefits from this kind of agreement between Service Canada and Passport Canada would be really great for those living on Montreal's south shore, as well as any Quebecker who does not live in Montreal, Quebec City or Gatineau.
I move, seconded by the hon. member for , that the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “all” and substituting the following:
service centres in Canada and follow through on its commitment made on September 4, 2008, to add new receiving sites for passport applications.
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the chance to speak on the motion this morning. It is an issue that has been close to my heart for some four and a half years. Ever since I was elected, passports and how they are processed have been a big challenge for both my office and my community.
When I first took over, my office was the passport office in Sault Ste. Marie. The previous member was processing literally thousands of them a year and had three people working full time at it.
I decided early on that this was not the role of the office of a member of Parliament. We had many other things that we needed to do. However, we continued to help people with passports, particularly in emergency situations such as not being able to get passports or having their date of travel coming up and not having passports or needing their ID back or whatever.
Being far away from a passport office makes all that very challenging and very difficult, so we moved very aggressively to ask the government to open up more passport offices and to open up passport offices in regions of the country where there were none, such as northeastern Ontario. We suggested that in the case of northeastern Ontario, it would make sense for the new passport office to be in Sault Ste. Marie, in my constituency, since we are an international border community.
I have colleagues from northern Ontario who are facing the same challenges in the distances we have to travel to get a passport. From Sault Ste. Marie alone, the closest passport office is eight hours.
People point out that there is one in Thunder Bay and that people could be sent there. Thunder Bay, for those who have not looked at the map and who do not understand the distances we have to deal with in northern Ontario, is as far away as Toronto, so that is not an answer for us in northeastern Ontario.
We appreciate the opportunity today to speak to this motion brought forward by the member for . I want to put a couple of thoughts on the record concerning this issue.
First of all, we will support the bill in principle because we want to have further opportunity at committee to talk about it, to perhaps bring forward amendments that would make it better, and to speak to the government about both the inadequacy of the services that are now being delivered through Service Canada and about how difficult it is, particularly given the economic climate that we are in.
In some instances we are okay with this as an interim measure and as a step toward a full passport operation in our region. It is better than what we had. The government has set up a passport intake office where workers are working very hard to make sure, when a passport is sent forward, that it is filled in properly, that the money is collected, that the ID is in place, that there are not going to be any more holdups with that passport, and that it will come back quickly so that people can get on with their work and with their business.
We support that initiative, but it is not the end that we had in mind, which is a full passport office. We support the notion of passport offices in regional Service Canada centres. We also support the amendment by the Bloc that those Service Canada offices that have already been dedicated to deliver passport services be included in the motion, meaning that passport offices would not only be open in regional passport offices, which in our area would be Sudbury, but that the Service Canada offices now delivering those services would also have a full-fledged passport service placed in those offices.
That solution is short of setting up brand new Passport Canada offices, which I think the government still has a very clear responsibility to do. One of the things we do as a federal government is to make sure we are taking care of the relationship we have with other countries and that when people from Canada travel, they have the proper documentation with them, both for the security of the person travelling and for the security of the other countries looking at that passport to know that this is a bona fide citizen of Canada.
This is some of the most fundamental and essential work we do as a government and as a service to the people of Canada. To be shortchanging people in the way we do and to be suggesting that people from Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury or Timmins might have to travel five to eight hours to get to a passport office is just not fair. It is not equitable. It is not what we should be asking our citizens to do.
In the big centres, the big cities where there already are passport offices, people simply get in their cars, walk down the road, take a taxi or grab a subway, and in a matter of a few days they have their passports. That is not the case for people in rural and northern Canada.
Anybody who understands the geography of this country will understand that rural and northern Canada are a very important part of this country. Very essential activities happen there. Lots of people live in those parts of our country for very important reasons, and as full Canadian citizens, they want full access to those services, particularly the ability to acquire a passport quickly so they can get on with their business or travel.
However, I raise some red flags. Service Canada, in my community, is already inundated with the kind of work it is being asked to do, for two reasons. One is that there has been a regionalization of Service Canada services, which has depleted some of the offices that exist, not at the regional centre, but in places such as Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins. Now those workers, who work very hard, who are committed, dedicated and trained to work in those offices, are finding themselves stressed to the max and under the gun to deliver a whole array of services that were delivered in different ways until the Conservative government took over, and until the previous government began to downsize its operations across the country.
Literally thousands of passports are processed through the Service Canada service desk in Sault Ste. Marie. The week of December 12 of last year, there were 171 passports processed; the week of December 19 there were 179; and the week of December 26, the week between Christmas and the new year, there were 70.
Then we get into the new year, and as March break approaches, anyone who deals with passports knows that activity will increase exponentially. So far this year, in the week of January 2, there were 160 processed; the week of January 9 there were 322; the week of January 16 there were 314; the week of January 23 there were 372; and the list goes on. The week of February 6, there were up to 349 passports being processed in the Service Canada office in Sault Ste. Marie. That is a lot of work.
When someone has to sit down with each one of those individuals, work through the application process, explain all the things that need to be filled out, send them off sometimes to have pictures taken or find someone to be a guarantor or whatever, it is very time consuming and difficult work, and the workers want to do it correctly. That was added on top of the work they already do.
For example, the Service Canada office in my riding, now with a reduced number of people, is being asked to process ever-expanding numbers of EI claims, applications for Canada pension, Canada pension disability, old age security, the guaranteed income supplement, social insurance numbers, boat licensing, common experience payments, employment programs, job banks, et cetera. Summer is now approaching, a time when Service Canada will be dealing with youth employment and all the work that goes with that.
What I am saying this morning is that the we in the NDP can support this in principle, but we will not support it if we do not see some commitment from the government to actually deal with the problems that already exist in the Service Canada offices across the country, so that if this happens, it does not just load on top of those workers more work that is extremely difficult to do and requires a level of involvement that does not exist already.
I would like to suggest a friendly amendment to this private member's motion, as was done with the Bloc, which the NDP agrees with, concerning the existing Service Canada offices that deliver passport services across the country, that we include Service Canada offices in communities that are at international borders. That would be really important.
Madam Speaker, I move:
That the amendment be amended by adding the words “and all international border communities” after the words Service Centers.
I would ask the member if she would be agreeable to a friendly amendment of that nature, which I would like to move at this time.
If it is not accepted as a friendly amendment, and if this private member's motion, which we are supporting in principle, is successful and moves on to committee, we will be bringing this amendment to that committee to have it discussed further.
We will also be bringing to that committee, as we talk about this, the very difficult challenges that face those who work in Service Canada offices right now without the imposition of a full-fledged Passport Canada requirement on them.
Madam Speaker, first I would like to express to my colleague from my most sincere gratitude and appreciation for bringing this subject matter to the floor of the House of Commons. I gather from the interest I see that, even in light of amendments, she has really struck a chord with many members of Parliament on both sides of the House who live with the reality of passport offices. I see my hon. colleague from the York region across the way, who, like I, has to deal with passports, which represent a large portion of our work as members of Parliament, alongside immigration-related issues.
However, I do want to take this opportunity, very briefly, to pay tribute to my colleague from for the great interest she has shown in this area and many other areas of public policy here in the House of Commons. I recall very clearly a conversation I had with her in the immigration committee, where she represents her constituency very well with insightful questions of ministers and also of departmental officials. I want to pay tribute to her because of her great dedication. She comes to this House with literally decades of experience in constituency-related issues, and the House will be well served by her experience as she brings to the forefront issues such as this one. The hon. member for , with her experience, has brought to this House an issue that is of concern to many Canadians.
The motion states:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should provide Service Canada with a mandate to offer full passport services at all of its regional offices throughout Canada.
Members of the House know that with the growing demand for this important travel document and in consideration of what many areas face in obtaining passport services, this motion aims to help all Canadians in all regions of the country. What is truly important to underline is that we should be helping Canadians right across the board, and what better symbol than the passport?
I think sometimes in this House we miss the symbolism of what Canadian citizenship is all about. How can we deny access to a passport if in fact it is the document that tells Canadians that they are part of this wonderful country called Canada?
Of course, this motion goes beyond the symbolism of the actual passport, although it is very important. It goes on to illustrate the understanding of this particular member as it relates to creating greater efficiency in government and in the delivery of services and why that is important.
Why does the hon. member for believe it would create synergies between the government and Service Canada to provide a service that is important to Canadians? When one reads the objectives of Service Canada, it states:
Deliver seamless citizen-centered service...by providing integrated, one-stop service based on citizen needs and helping to deliver better policy outcomes.
On this point, her idea obviously merits consideration by the House. Enhancing the integrity of programs by building trust and confidence in our programs and by achieving significant savings in program payments, working as a collaborative, networked government by building whole government approaches to service that enable information sharing and integrate service delivery for the benefit of Canadians, demonstrating accountable and responsible government by delivering results for Canadians and government, savings for taxpayers and transparency in reporting are all efficiencies that would occur. These efficiencies in the delivery of service would provide greater access to Canadians right across the board.
We heard from a few of the speeches this morning that there are individuals who do not have equal access. In this day and age, a government should and must provide Canadians access especially to the Canadian passport. This type of accessibility speaks to how serious we take citizenship in our country. If there are areas across the country where people have to wait very long periods of time to have access to their passports, it speaks to the fact that we are not giving citizenship the respect Canadians justly deserve.
We can hear from the government's side that this notion is self-funded, and I agree. As people in the House know, I am not the type of member of Parliament who would like to spend money on every existing program. Nor do I think money is always the answer. However, efficient use of the Canadian taxpayer dollar is important. This is very consistent in the motion. The hon. member for has asked that we create greater efficiencies and synergies with existing structures. This point has to be underlined.
She is not saying that we should create a brand new bureaucracy or brand new programs. She is saying that we should let common sense reign in this issue. First, we are talking about the Canadian passport. Second, we are talking about existing structures, not new ones. That is where the hon. member makes a great deal of sense. This is the reason why I believe that on both sides of the House, at least in principle, we should look at creative ideas that allow members of Parliament to comprehend the needs of our citizens across the country.
To dismiss this motion outright, as suggested by a member of the government's side, would be a mistake. We would be denying ourselves an opportunity to examine possibilities that exist within our structure as a government to provide much-needed services.
I congratulate the hon. member for for bringing this to the attention of the House and, in many ways, for responding to what she is hearing on the ground and what she has been experiencing over many years as a person who has dedicated herself to public service.
I was reading her speech. She said that when one considers that close to 75% of all passports issued in Canada are the result of walk-in visit, that is, an applicant who took the time to go in person to a Passport Canada office, one has to conclude that the navigation of documents is extremely important to most Canadians. She is saying that we as parliamentarians know and appreciate what Service Canada does, although I share some of the opinions expressed earlier.
I believe in certain centres they are operating at full capacity, but that is not the reason to ignore the idea. It is a reason to say to ourselves that perhaps greater funding is required.
The point is not to say no to the idea that builds on efficiency, builds on greater synergies in government, but it is to say that perhaps Service Canada centres across the country require more funding to do a better job for our citizens. That is—
Madam Speaker, I will get to the subamendment, but I have to establish the context.
For people in my constituency, there is a challenge when they have an emergency to get to a passport office, so I have the same sympathy that the other 307 members of this place have.
The government has reacted positively through Service Canada. It has created a receiving office in my constituency that has resolved the majority of issues, but as I say, I have an awareness of the concerns of all member of the House, and I share them.
As a result of the changes that were made, my office has received many compliments from my constituency on the service provided by my office and Service Canada. It was a pragmatic, practical way to address the challenges that we had with the invention of the western hemisphere travel initiative.
The proposed motion and the amendments would create a number of new concerns. For example, because this is the most valued travel document in the world, how would we maintain the high level of control and our absolute integrity by expanding to about 300 offices, as opposed to the ones that we presently have?
Considering the inestimable value of blank passports and equipment, how would we achieve absolute security at all the new locations? Where would we get the trained staff for the myriad of locations? Would it actually speed up the process? What would it cost, considering all the above? If we were to make these changes, what would they be, and what is the present situation?
As has been described, Passport Canada services are already offered through a wide range of access points. Application forms may be picked up at Canada Post outlets. People can complete them online, using a printable form, in person at 33 regional passport offices, or one of 197 Service Canada and Canada Post receiving agents. In addition to that, the forms can be submitted to the passport office through our offices.
For this most recent subamendment to the motion, it would add yet another level and another consideration of security for the blank passports themselves, for the ability to print on to those passports at all those locations and, on top of that, we would have the concern of training the people at all those centres.
In total there are 231 offices where Canadians can go to get answers and submit their passport applications. To suggest that any of us, my office included, have not been approached by constituents who are frustrated and have concerns would not be factually accurate. There have been concerns, but what would be the cost to the integrity of the Canadian passport, this most valued document, by opening up the number of offices?
Not only has Passport Canada been successful in remaining within its published processing times, which are totally reasonable in my judgment, it has done it as the number of applications has increased.
Is the hon. member aware that Passport Canada does not receive a penny of her constituents' tax contributions? What that means is one of two things would have to happen. If we were to increase the number of issuing passport offices from the 33 we presently have, there would have to be a cost increase to the passports. There would have to be more people trained. There would be a lack of efficiency moving the passports from one passport issuing office to another, where they could be handled. There would be immense increase in cost. From where would this cost come?
Would the member prefer that the cost of Canadian passports be increased substantially. It is a stand-alone cost, which means that only people who choose to get Canadian passports are paying for them. Or, would she take it out of Canada's revenue, in which case, people who are not applying for passports and who do not consider they need a passport would be paying for the passports of people who do? It must come from one place or the other.
My colleague probably misunderstands the intent and function of Passport Canada's receiving agents in relation to Passport Canada itself. We have all of these receiving agents in our constituencies, 231 of them. We have our own office and office staff to help our constituents. The present situation is that the passport issuing office is under the absolute control and integrity that is required for this to continue to be the world's most valued travel document.
I do not believe the members would want to change that status nor do I believe they would want to increase the cost of a passport. Perhaps there are members in this House who should pay attention to the training and the calibre of the staff they have in their own offices. I am very proud of the people in my office who have trained themselves and others who have come into my employ and who have been able to help my constituents through some very difficult times.
We need to ensure that whatever we are doing with respect to this issue, we are not making law for the exception. I grant that I receive telephone calls and correspondence from some of my constituents from time to time when they have been legitimately frustrated with the passport service. I have brought two files with me to Ottawa, as a matter of fact, to speak to the minister and the ministries involved. That does happen. However, we need to be careful that we are not going to be doing something that will deal with the exception at the cost of the integrity of the Canadian passport.
Every member of Parliament must think this issue through very clearly as to the cost and the benefit. I suggest that when members have an opportunity to look at the reality, they will not be prepared to incur the cost because there is no benefit to this bill.
Madam Speaker, a lot of people who never needed a passport before now have to apply for one. They have to submit personal documents, which are then returned to them. They receive an official document that enables them to travel around the world, a document they need. They have to feel that the process is safe, and not everyone feels comfortable sending their application in by mail. Sometimes, applications are sent back because information may be incorrect or insufficient, or because there is a problem with the photos.
I have been a member here since 1998, and over 60,000 people have come to my office with their passport applications. I have at least two people working full time in my office to provide this service. Maybe that is why costs are so low, as the Conservative members said earlier. Although not all members deal with as many applications, many of us are in this same situation. Because we provide certain services, such as checking applications, Passport Canada does not have to. In general, once a passport application has gone through a member's office, it contains no errors. That means that Passport Canada does not have to return documents and pay for postage, a cost that I absorb for my fellow citizens. Those are additional costs. I doubt that Passport Canada will compensate me for the cost of the services I provide and for my two extra employees.
In 2004, I submitted a request to the minister responsible for the passport office, the hon. Bill Graham. I submitted a petition signed by 12,000 citizens along with 60 municipal resolutions calling for a new regional passport office in Sherbrooke. Of course, the government of the day, the Chrétien government, completely ignored our demands.
As I indicated, we have seen 60,000 applications go through my office. In 2007 alone, we dealt with 10,923 applications and, last year, there was a slight drop, with 10,436. In 2007, 2,627 applicants chose to go through the Service Canada centre.
In 2007, the passport office received from the Sherbrooke area, within a 50 kilometre radius of the city, 37,820 passport applications. During the same time period, it received 27,752 applications from the Saguenay area. In the Saguenay, however, there is a regional passport office. There is a 10,000 difference between these two areas. I guess that the Saguenay is cost effective. We are charged $87 for a passport, but seldom are we told that out of that amount $25 goes directly to other services provided by embassies. That is already $25 too much that is charged to applicants; it should be covered by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Thus, applicants are already paying too much.
We know that the volume of service has increased at Passport Canada due to the large number of passport applications received, but very limited training was provided to Service Canada personnel. I cannot say how many, but many people turned to their member of Parliament in Sherbrooke after going to Service Canada because Service Canada was unable to provide all services. There were special cases where we had to answer questions for them and help them fill out their passport applications.