Thank you so much, Mr. Chair. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you.
Colleagues, before you today is my private member's Bill .
As a parliamentarian, I believe one of our foremost responsibilities, both to our constituents and to all Canadians, is to find ways to ease their burdens. Where we can, we should provide relief and facilitate interactions with the federal government, especially during difficult times.
Few would argue that without doubt the loss of a loved one, family or friend is among the most difficult times a person can face. Beyond the pain of loss and the considerations surrounding arrangements for mourning and burial, there are multiple notifications to various authorities required.
Currently, a bereaved Canadian husband, wife, child or estate representative may have to contact many separate federal government departments and send death notifications to each because Canada has no single point of contact for the information to be submitted and processed. This process, which can involve the repetition of submitting the same information to different departments, can often be at the very least confusing and tedious, and just as often, painful for a grieving individual.
When I chose to champion this particular bill, I felt it was important to put forward non-partisan legislation for the grieving seniors, survivors, caregivers and estate representatives who are responsible for settling those obligations. We can and we must deal with the issue of bereavement in a professional and compassionate way. Bill will improve a federal government service and reduce the burden on Canadians during a difficult life transition. This bill will call on the Minister of Employment and Social Development to implement all measures necessary to make Employment and Social and Development Canada, and more specifically Service Canada, the single point of contact for the Government of Canada programs for all matters relating to the death of a Canadian citizen or resident. From consultation with department officials, I understand that there will need to be some further specification to provide that this is for government programs authorized to use the social insurance number of the deceased.
Allow me to offer a few scenarios which necessitate changes such as those that I'm proposing.
According to the Service Canada website, the department must be contacted with the notification of date of death when an old age security and Canada pension plan beneficiary passes away. They would also have to be contacted for the application of any survivor benefits. If the deceased was receiving employment insurance benefits before their death, the legal representative must also complete a form to cancel those benefits. If the deceased person had not applied for EI benefits to which they were entitled, the legal representative may apply for the benefits in the name of the deceased person. If a deceased individual had lived in Canada and in another country, their survivor could be eligible to apply for pensions and benefits because of a social security agreement.
Besides Service Canada, a legal representative would also have to make a separate effort to contact the Canada Revenue Agency to provide a deceased's date of death. In addition, the estate is responsible for the completion of final tax returns and making arrangements to stop payments on any GST or HST credits. If the deceased was receiving the Canada child tax benefit, the universal child care benefit, or the working income tax benefit, those benefits must be stopped and, if applicable, survivor benefits can be applied for.
This labyrinth of possible contacts is often frustrating and difficult to navigate in the immediate wake of someone's passing. When I practised law, often clients would come to me to do this work on behalf of estates because of the confusion and aggravation faced by family and estate executors, who were simply trying to carry out the last wishes and settle affairs. What many Canadians find is that often the requisite information provided by departmental websites is not comprehensive. In fact, the Auditor General of Canada found similarly in a recent report under “Access to online services” and said that the integration of service delivery and the sharing of information among departments are “limited”. Individuals must work with departments separately, which frequently requires them to provide the same information multiple times. Moreover, the Auditor General found that instructions provided on the Service Canada website about the process for certain life events were incomplete. He noted:
...departments are focused on delivering the statutory programs and mandates for which they are accountable. There is no incentive for departments to share information.
This is particularly important when it comes to death notifications, where the Auditor General found:
When a death occurs, for example, someone must contact each department separately and follow different processes, as this information is not generally shared and departments do not offer the ability to do this online. This makes it difficult for users who may be trying to stop the payment of certain benefits to prevent overpayments...while trying to apply for others....
Committee members may be aware that our G-7 partners in the United Kingdom already have the Tell Us Once registration process, and France has the online service portal mon.service-public for death notifications, which assist their respective governments to address many of the concerns highlighted.
It is estimated that Tell Us Once in the U.K. will save the government over $300 million over the decade. It is my hope that Bill could similarly save the Canadian government millions of dollars.
Service Canada, located within Employment and Social Development Canada, already gives Canadians access to a range of federal governmental services and benefits and is ideally situated to improve the delivery of those services. It was already created to serve a single window for Canadians to access government programs and services. Bill is a practical expansion of Service Canada's mandate and the logical choice for bereavement reporting.
The absence of a government-wide strategy on something so universally experienced by Canadians certainly interferes with any government's ability to move towards cost savings and the reduction of red tape while improving client services and addressing the needs of Canadians.
For their part, the Minister of State and officials at Employment and Social Development Canada recognize that gaps exist in the provision of information, even where programs exist, and have signalled a willingness to make this clearer for Canadians. Moreover, ESDC signalled as recently as this year's report on plans and priorities the importance of making changes such as this.
The minister's message states:
ESDC will focus on achieving service excellence for Canadians by further modernizing service delivery, focusing on its core business priorities and increasing the use of technology. Through Service Canada the government will ensure that Canadians quickly receive the benefits to which they are entitled and access to a wide range of programs and services.
It continues later stating:
Service Canada will continue to work with other departments so that Canadians can better access more Government of Canada services through Service Canada.
The creation of one point of contact at Service Canada would remove the guesswork for survivors and estate administrators who are not fully aware of the deceased's obligations to the federal government. A first contact to Service Canada would trigger a notification process to all relevant departments, which would then communicate to the deceased's estate representative the responsibilities for the cancellation of benefits, the return of identification documents, and access to any survivor benefits.
Bill would also reduce the costs of the administration of estates, making it good consumer legislation as well.
You'll note that this bill has the support of groups like the Funeral Service Association of Canada, the Bereavement Ontario Network, and Hospice Palliative Care Ontario. I believe it is significant that these groups, which deal most closely with Canadians in the immediate aftermath of losing a loved one, support the bill before us today.
As I draw to a close, I sincerely would like to thank a former colleague of ours, Bryan Wilfert, who initially put forward this legislation. I genuinely wish to thank the and her officials who were welcoming of the aim of this bill and who provided truly meaningful guidance on ways we can improve the bill before us.
Canadians expect their legislators, both government and opposition, to work together to improve services and access while reducing the burden and red tape. I believe this bill can and will be a powerful vehicle for modernization and that passage of this bill will make a real and substantial difference in the lives of all of our constituents.
I'm honoured and thankful for the consideration that you will give it. Thank you so much.
Mr. Chair, first of all, I think I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the anguish, I would say, of the whole nation today as the funeral for Corporal Nathan Cirillo carries on. We all mourn the tragic loss of a life taken too soon. Our thoughts and prayers are with his son and his family and those he served with and, I would say, with the Canadian people today because Canada's attention is on that today.
Carrying on with the business of the day, thank you, Mr. Valeriote, for bringing forward this piece of legislation. I think it's long overdue and I do support the intent of this bill. Every one of us wants to remove the red tape, as you said, that stands in the way of families when they experience the loss of a loved one. At the same time, I appreciate the intent of this bill, but I also do have some serious concerns.
We've noticed significant cuts to services for Canadians both under the previous and the current governments, and those losses have led to the system being truly stretched inside. I think that the previous governments and the current one do bear some responsibility that things are so cumbersome in the first place. However, for all of us now it's very important to support accessible, less cumbersome services for families in mourning, which I believe this bill tries to do.
I am concerned about some vagueness in the bill. I'm hoping that we will be able to address some of that vagueness.
It doesn't specify all services it would encompass under the single point of contact within the Government of Canada. It does give us some examples. For example, it lists CRA, passports, social insurance number, old age security, Canada pension plan, and veterans benefits. This allows us to deduce which departmental services would be consolidated, but the bill includes the caveat “not limited to”. As a person who has dealt with and read legislation many times, collective agreements as well, whenever you get language “not limited to”, it actually creates more questions than answers.
For clarity, do you think the bill ought to include all the services beyond those listed which the bill would potentially affect?
First of all, thank you for the question. I too was going to open with acknowledging that our hearts and minds are with WO Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo and their families today. I know all of us are thinking of them and their families, and I thank you for saying that.
With respect to the first part of your question, particularly in times where restraint has to be shown and where there are cuts, I know from my previous practice of law and having various businesses, you had to think of ways to utilize the services that you did have. I think this is a tremendous opportunity for us to refine those processes so that in the age where we have to be very cognizant of our spending, this gives a perfect opportunity to eliminate some of the difficulties, the hurdles that exist right now. By eliminating some of those hurdles, we refine the system and work more effectively and not only for our constituents but also more cost effectively for the taxpayer.
The words “not limited to” were intended to explain exactly as I expressed in the bill; that is, we didn't want to be exhaustive in the bill, because frankly, I don't know, none of us know, all of the services that exist today or may exist tomorrow or a year from now that could be integrated into this one point of contact system. I also have become aware, thanks to the minister, that there are some departments that we will not have access to through this legislation. The legislation has to be currently restricted to those that use the SIN, the social insurance number. It is the intention over time to have all departments eventually aligned so that the SIN would be used and this would apply, indeed, to all the departments with whom a deceased representative would have to communicate on behalf of the deceased. There was nothing nefarious about the use of the words “but not limited to”. I just know as a lawyer who has worked on legislation and interpreting legislation that you try to be broad so that if you've missed something, it's not excluded later.
Thank you for that question. It's a very practical question.
I practised a lot of estate work and I'll put myself back into that role for a moment and give you a picture of what can happen as a lawyer. I certainly know what funeral directors go through as well.
Somebody would come into my office after one of their family members had died. Some of them were well aware of what the affairs were of the deceased. Some were completely unaware of what the affairs of the deceased were. Some had been given documents from the funeral director, thankfully, who told them to fill the documents out and apply for a death benefit or any other benefits that may be available. Some funeral directors help them with the completion of that documentation. Some don't have the resources to do that.
Some who hadn't filled them out would come to my office. I naturally would encourage them to do it themselves, because you don't want to pay a lawyer to do these things. Some of them don't have access to a computer, or if there is a computer, they don't know how to use it. If they do know how to use it, they're confused and confounded by what might appear on the Service Canada website. Even the Auditor General and the minister said it can be confusing. There are those who still go to the blue pages in the telephone book; I know I've used those recently. Some of them will try to make the phone call. Some of them will leave the work with the lawyer.
We're at that stage of already a daunting task and confusion. They may have to apply for Canada pension plan or OAS either for payments that are owing to them or in another situation returning the payments because no notification was given. You'll hear later of circumstances and I've seen it week after week after week where months of payments are made because nobody advised the government that the person was deceased. You have to apply separately for the HST or GST credit to stop, depending on the province you're in. You have to apply separately with the CRA to notify them of a death. Each department might require different documents. Some want just the death certificate. Some want the will and the death certificate.
That in general is the confusion, the matrix that someone, the representative of the deceased, faces when someone dies. That's the practical perspective. It's our obligation I think, and I think you agree with me, to help them through that by having one single point of contact, one single amount of information that has to be given, and given once.
Mr. Chairman and committee members, as stated, my name is Robert Frelich, and I am the director general of identity policy and programs within Service Canada. I'm pleased to be appearing before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to assist you in your review of Bill .
I will begin by explaining how the current process works with respect to death notification, what Service Canada does in the event of a death, some key issues in implementing Bill as written, and improvements we are making to better communicate with Canadians with respect to death notification.
As director general for Identity Policy and Programs at Service Canada, one of my duties is to administer the social insurance number program. This program is underpinned by the social insurance register, which houses the information on SIN holders. This register is where we store death information received electronically from provincial vital statistics agencies.
Through interjurisdictional agreements, Service Canada currently receives daily death information electronically from nine provincial vital statistics agencies. Implementation in the 10th province, Saskatchewan, is planned for fiscal year 2015-16. This approach was implemented following the Auditor General's report on the social insurance number that recommended Service Canada make better use of authoritative sources of information. With respect to death information and death data, those are the provincial vital statistics agencies.
The department began to sign agreements in 2005 with all 10 provinces, starting with Ontario, to develop electronic links between the vital statistics agencies and the social insurance register.
Under these agreements, we are able to validate the information found on provincial birth certificates, as well as to receive death data from provinces. This allows the department to identify records of deceased individuals, and to prevent further payments from federal programs from being issued, which is important as it avoids overpayments.
Service Canada discloses death information to key Government of Canada benefit programs, including the Canada pension plan, old age security, the employment insurance program, the Canada student loan program, the Canada Revenue Agency, as well as Veterans Affairs Canada through an agreement with the old age security program. These programs then, according to their own processes, update their client files or suspend benefits. These programs cover the Government of Canada benefits program that are of the greatest importance to Canadians in terms of numbers.
With respect to the bill as currently drafted, there are four key implementation considerations that I would like to bring to the attention of the committee today.
First, there are technical issues related to data matching that must be considered. To be able to match data accurately, to be able to say with certainty that the John Smith who has died is indeed the right John Smith, we need to have a unique identifier. For the purposes of the federal government, that is the social insurance number; however, not all federal departments and programs are authorized to use the social insurance number. It is currently limited to specific programs, and authority is granted through legislation or regulations. To implement the bill as drafted, all departments and programs that want to receive death notification would need to become authorized users of the SIN.
The second consideration relates to service delivery. The bill introduces the notion that the representative of the estate would be the one communicating information on death to Service Canada. By prescribing this specific mechanism, implementing Bill would require the introduction of new measures to ensure that the representative is who they say they are, that they are the official representative of the state, that the death information is accurate, and that the representative has all the required documentation.
From a client perspective, this process will be more cumbersome than what is currently in place. We receive information on deaths directly through nine provinces through the vital events linkages. For deaths in jurisdictions where the vital events linkages system is not in place, or for deaths outside of Canada, we require official documentation on the death, that is, a death certificate, but we do not require the individual to prove their own identity or authority as the representative.
The third consideration is the time that would be required to implement the bill as drafted. To protect the privacy of Canadians, there are specific legislative requirements that authorize the disclosure of information. To be able to disclose information—such as the fact that an individual is deceased—departments must enter into information sharing agreements. Our vital events linkages agreements with provinces, for example, took between three months and over a year to finalize, depending on the complexity of the negotiations and capacity of the partner, in addition to time for proper implementation.
The last consideration I would like to bring to the committee's attention relates to the cost of implementing the process proposed in the bill. There would be cost implications for Service Canada and all federal departments requesting death information. To allow electronic transmission of the information as our current processes allow, new connections to Service Canada's social insurance register would need to be established. This would cost up to $900,000 per link and $50,000 per connection for annual maintenance.
The current system works well, but we recognize there is a need to improve communication to Canadians about how it works and what they need to do when faced with the death of a loved one.
Modifying the bill will allow for quicker implementation and demonstrate a level of responsiveness to Canadians. We recognize that there are gaps in the information that Service Canada currently provides to Canadians on what to do following a death, so we are currently improving our website to increase coherence and consistency of our messaging regarding the processes in the event of the death of a Canadian resident or Canadian citizen.
We are also working with key stakeholders, such as the Funeral Service Association of Canada, building on existing practices and identifying opportunities to better inform survivors of which federal programs and departments are automatically informed of the passing, which other programs and which departments survivors may need to inform, as well as which benefits survivors may be eligible for and for which they may need to apply.
In closing, I would like to underline that as a client-facing organization, Service Canada continues to be committed to improving services that better meet our clients' needs and expectations.
I thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee, and I would be pleased to answer any of your questions.
In our initial analysis, we've determined that some departments that currently do not have access to the social insurance number for this purpose would benefit greatly from it.
One would be Passport. It's demonstrated in the need to be informed upon a death. Passport Canada wants to know of someone's passing so that the passport is remitted.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada would also benefit greatly from this, especially with respect to permanent and temporary residents. They have to remit their documentation and their permanent resident card or their immigration documentation.
Finally, the other major beneficiary would be Aboriginal Affairs, for benefits conferred on those with Indian status. Because of the benefits associated with Indian status, they would also require death notification in a timely fashion.
Those are the three principal departments we have identified at this point, based on the requirements of their programs. There are others. Fisheries and Oceans was mentioned, but we haven't been able to determine whether there's significant volume and whether it would be worth the investment to put that department online.
I think what this process has highlighted for Service Canada is that there are some improvements to be made in how we communicate what needs to be done and what is automatically done upon the death of an individual.
Using the funeral association is a big part of that. Through our discussions with them, I believe they said that over 99% of all individuals who die within Canada go through a funeral home due to provincial requirements for that. Since they are the people on the ground dealing with survivors and people who are in mourning and whatnot, they are best placed to tell us if what we are doing is helpful and whether we can improve the process.
What we are currently looking at, based on one of the suggestions of the funeral home directors, is providing information to the funeral directors that they can provide to their clients, which will set out what programs are informed automatically. For example, if you had Indian status, that's currently not informed automatically. It would set out which programs you need to inform yourself about until we're able to potentially put them under the social insurance number and make them part of the system, and also any potential benefits that people may be eligible for, as well as highlighting how to apply for those.
We would use the funeral home association network, and we've been working with the association to provide that information across the country. We would equally provide that same information both on our website as well as at 1-800-O-Canada, and in Service Canada centres as well.
Good afternoon, and thank you all for welcoming me.
My name is Jim Bishop and as was just stated, I am the government relations chair for the Funeral Service Association of Canada, or FSAC, as it's commonly known. I'm also the owner and operator of Bishop's Funeral Home, which is a family run, independently owned funeral home in Fredericton, New Brunswick. I'm the third generation of my family to operate there. I've been working as a funeral director for 25 years now.
I'm grateful to be here today to discuss Bill . I would also like to say on behalf of all of our members that our thoughts and prayers were with all of Ottawa during the events of last week and how proud we are that our democratic institution was quickly back up and running.
When this bill was first debated in June, the sponsor of the bill reached out to seek the support and the input of FSAC. We were only too pleased to join this conversation. As funeral professionals, we are often the first point of contact after the loss of a loved one and so regularly field questions about the steps required by the estate representatives to register the death of a Canadian.
Under the current system, to register a death, representatives from an estate must contact multiple offices, departments, and agencies. There is no single point of contact or form to keep this process straightforward and simple. In 2014, with all the technology we have available, Canadians deserve better. Each stop in the existing process can require different documents and use a different process. This is confusing, costly, and inefficient. What's more, the government should work to minimize the burden and stress of bureaucratic red tape while Canadians are dealing with deeply emotional and exhausting circumstances. Bill could streamline this process and reduce costs, confusion, and stress for Canadians.
In order to gather information and express our support for this common-sense piece of legislation, members of the FSAC board of directors met with a number of members of Parliament as well as policy staff in the offices of the Minister of Employment and Social Development as well as the Minister of State for Social Development. These proved to be important meetings where both FSAC and the ministry responsible for social development were able to share information and pose questions about the existing processes.
During this discovery phase, FSAC learned of the vital linkages system whereby under the Constitution matters of birth and death are within the purview of the provinces, and vital statistics agencies, or VSAs, are the authoritative source for information on births and deaths in Canada. The challenges there are that departments at the provincial level must be identified, and there are also many departments at the federal level. Also, each Canadian has a unique profile that would require the different registrations to happen at different departments. For example, Canadians need to notify Public Works and Government Services Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Elections Canada, the RCMP, and Passport Canada, as has been previously stated.
In chapter 2 of the 2013 fall Auditor General's report entitled “Access to Online Services”, Canada's Auditor General examined the federal government's online services offered by federal organizations. This was spoken to by Mr. Valeriote earlier. Following the initial meetings held in June by me and a number of my fellow FSAC board members, we participated in two teleconferences with Service Canada to explore the finer details of what the proposed bill involved and to seek ways that we, as funeral directors and the government, could better serve Canadians.
Canadians experiencing the loss of a loved one don't need the added stress of trying to navigate an outdated system with multiple layers. FSAC is committed to providing quality service for clients, and this includes simplifying the death notification process. Service Canada brought forth to our attention that, while the vital linkages system exists, they are facing the challenge of receiving death data from the provinces in a timely manner. They indicate that the length of time between the date the death takes place and the date on which the registration is finalized with the province ranges from 7 to 48 days.
Throughout our work with Service Canada, it has become clear that there will likely have to be some amendments to the bill to strengthen it. For example, not all departments have access to SIN card information, changing the process by which the registration of a death to that department would have to occur. FSAC understands the need to protect the privacy of Canadians and of confidential documentation such as the social insurance number.
We are open to continuing to work with Service Canada to find ways to improve the system. FSAC represents more than 85% of all the deaths in Canada. We are more than willing to support Canadians by conveying information about this process to them. Ultimately our goal is simple. We would like to see the government provide a better road map for the death registration process, proper instructions, and a clear outline of the process.
Service Canada indicates that by updating the social insurance register in a timely fashion, Service Canada can reduce the chance of someone else using the deceased individual's social insurance number fraudulently or inadvertently, the burden of the survivors reporting the death to multiple government agencies, and the chance of overpayment of government benefits and the burden placed on survivors in correcting these problems once they've occurred.
I have a story I'd like to relate to you regarding that point. A while back in my funeral home, I was dealing with a gentleman who was looking after the estate for his wife's father. What happened in that case was we had the funeral; he took the documentation and notified the agencies he thought he should notify. He did not notify Canada pension plan, so the cheques kept going into the account, which was still open for nine months. He updated the passbook for this gentleman and saw all this money in there. He called me in a panic. There's all this money. There have been deposits going in. He didn't realize he had to let Canada pension plan know. I called Service Canada on his behalf. They were very cordial. They were very understanding. They said that this happens a lot. They acknowledged that to me. He just had to return the money to Service Canada and then everything was fine in that case.
I was shocked to learn how often this does occur.
There's something else I wanted to mention with respect to the proof of death that was mentioned earlier. With funeral homes, we issue what's called a funeral director's statement of death. It's like a death certificate from the province but it's issued by us. As funeral homes, when we're in contact with families making these arrangements the onus is on us to verify the validity of the person who claims to be the person in charge of the estate for the family. Canada pension plan accepts our statements of death as a proof of death. With that time gap that's involved with the registration being done provincially through vital statistics, to expedite the affairs for a family is probably one of the reasons I would assume that Service Canada accepts our statement of death as proof of death to finalize those arrangements.
To summarize, we believe that this bill is smart, will reduce red tape for Canadians, and will save the government money in the long term. It's also worth highlighting that this is just one of the areas that FSAC is working on to simplify the burden of end of life paperwork. Though outside the context of this bill, we have encouraged the government to allow individuals to assign their CPP death benefits should they choose to do so directly to funeral homes. Individuals often use these funds to plan and pay for the cost of a funeral, though currently they must receive the funds themselves before paying them to a funeral home. Allowing Canadians to assign the benefits directly to a funeral home would simplify the process for individuals and their families.
Again, thank you for allowing the Funeral Service Association of Canada to be a part of this process on this important piece of legislation. I look forward to your questions.
My name is Steve McCuaig. I'm the national president for the Canada Employment and Immigration Union. I represent the workers who would actually deliver this service. I'm here to speak about the practicality of that idea in the bill. CEIU certainly is pleased to see a very thoughtful bill like this one, and we hope for the success of it.
With that in mind, our workers at Service Canada right now simply can't take on a whole lot more work without there being more of an investment in Service Canada. Over the last five years, we've seen our membership decrease by roughly 5,000 employee members. The workers who are there now have as much as they can handle; they can't do more. If in fact this is going to proceed, and from the looks of it, it is a bill that has a lot of support and looks like it's going to pass, and I commend the government for doing this, just be prepared for the implementation process. Make sure there are enough resources for the employees to do the job because, as Mr. Bishop has already expressed, it's a difficult time for Canadian citizens to be dealing with government when they're talking about someone who has passed on. Whether or not it's one department or several departments, if there's still any red tape whatsoever, it's not going to have the desired effect that this bill is intended to have.
As I said earlier, we've lost a large number of members. They need to have the ability to do their job. To do that they need the numbers that are required to do it. The recent cuts in all of the federal public services were done, in my opinion, in a way that didn't really put emphasis on where those cuts should have been made. They simply gave the direction to the senior management and senior management went and cut where they felt was the easiest. Oftentimes that's at the operational levels.
Right now our members who work the call centres are unable to address all of the calls that are coming in. At one point, I believe on the EI side of our business, there were only about 30% of the calls getting through. With CPP and OAS the numbers may be better, but not by much. If someone who is in dire straits is calling and calling and can't get through, then this bill, as well intended as it is, will not have the desired effect.
My reason for being here today is to speak about the need to increase the number of people that you have doing this work. It would add an incredible amount of workload. It's going to be a very specialized workload. For those reasons, not only would you have to invest in the resources in terms of human resources, but you would also have to invest in a training program that is robust and addresses all of the needs this bill intends to cover.
As you can see, I'm not here with prepared notes. These are all things that I have in my heart and I am pleased to be able to present this information to you.
I'm ready to receive questions.
I'm not the best person to do that analysis.
As the employer, it is important for the federal government to look at the impact of the program. Do you expect this service to apply to the provinces as well or just to the federal level? Will the municipalities be included, since they surely have responsibilities related to deceased persons? That is why I cannot answer your question and give you the magic formula. I can only point out that, in the past, we have seen a number of federal initiatives that were inadequate, especially ambitious initiatives like this one.
I think that, if you are going to undertake this initiative and implement it, you need to invest the necessary effort in the planning, which has often failed in the past. Take the time to carefully examine the situation, see what the tasks are and which parts you are going to bring together. Once you have that information, you will be able to determine how many employees and what types of tools you will need.
As I said before, I cannot stress training enough. There is a training gap, not only at the federal level, but also in terms of many other employers who do not invest in the resources needed for the training of employees.
Thank you, witnesses, for being here today.
One of our representatives, from Employment and Social Development, I believe, had a statistic that 99% of all Canadians use a funeral home or funeral director for their death, which means that obviously most of the certificates that are being written up, as I believe you indicated, are already accepted by Service Canada, CPP, etc.
I quite like Mr. Valeriote's bill. I think it makes a ton of sense to move forward with this. It would seem to me that we should be trying to utilize the expertise of the individuals, the companies, and the funeral homes across the country, which are already processing this paperwork to our advantage, as Service Canada, as the Government of Canada, to make this as seamless as possible for the families of the individual who has passed away.
Do you see your members having an enhanced role in the notification to Service Canada if this bill is passed? How potentially could you see that working? Would it be something for which you could simply go online and enter the details and the certificate number and send it right in to Service Canada and let Service Canada do its bit? Do you see your members having a role in this?
No, they haven't come to the union and had that conversation, so I don't know. The amount of $900,000 doesn't sound like a whole lot, in my mind, for what this is entailing.
As I said, when I mentioned 30%, that was at an all-time low. If you can imagine that as an all-time low—it has happened—then let's be realistic: it could become that again if we don't invest the proper amount of resources into the workforce.
To say that I can tell you exactly how much is needed, again, until we....
Jim is speaking from a perspective of what's happening right now. You're asking me what things are going to look like in the future. I don't know. All I can give you is this example. Veterans Affairs had nine offices close across the country and those services were sent over to Service Canada. Our members were very proud to take that on—don't get me wrong—but the amount of time that was put into this was approximately three months from the day that the announcements were made to when the offices were closed, if I recall correctly. If it wasn't three months, it wasn't much more than six. I think you're talking about a very short period of time. I'm sure you recall the anxiety it caused the veterans, and the demonstrations that it created.
All I'm saying is take the time to do this right. Put in the proper investment. I'd like to see it succeed. That's the way it's going to happen.
I want to thank both of you for coming to present to us. As Mr Mayes said, we appreciate your thoughts, especially with last week and this week. It has been a very emotional and difficult week for everyone.
It also makes you reflect. One of the key things I hear about from everybody nowadays is how expensive it is to die. They look at the cost of funerals and all the pain and agony about communications. That is definitely a key concern, especially for seniors. I hear from them all the time. They're worried about how their expenses are going to be covered.
At the same time I want to thank, through you, all the people who do the job that you do and who work in the funeral homes and memorial homes in order to make that time as reasonably palatable as possible. It's a very difficult time, and I appreciate the emotions.
I want to talk about the stress on the system. There is no doubt that over the last number of years our public services, especially at the federal level, have felt a horrendous squeeze. Whenever we get a new program or a consolidation announced, there is the idea that because you pass a piece of legislation everything is going to happen just like that, but as with anything, once you have new legislation there needs to be an implementation plan that's reasonable and which has training.
Mr. McCuaig, I'm very sensitive to the comment you made that it's about staffing. It is about staffing, but it's also about the training that is required. To receive a phone call from someone, or to be in contact with someone who has just lost a loved one...my experience has been that it doesn't matter whether it's your child or your parent or your siblings, when you lose a loved one, you're very vulnerable, very emotional. The person at Service Canada is going to need training in order to interact with people who are phoning in. I absolutely agree that we will need to have that kind of training in place.
In the long term, maybe five or ten years down the road, maybe even sooner, there might be savings with this model, but I don't think this legislation was brought here by Mr. Valeriote because he is trying to save dollars. I believe he brought this legislation here because it's the right thing to do. It will alleviate a lot of personal pain. With respect to people receiving pensions when they shouldn't because their loved one has died, I hear about that all the time, and the kind of angst that places on the families.
The other issue is when they get phone calls from people like us. There are deceased people who are still on the Elections Canada list. Someone has to say, “Sorry, my dad passed away”. You feel bad. There is a lot of work that we can do to coordinate.
My question is for you, Mr. McCuaig.
What kind of a timeline would you like to see, and what kind of a transition process would be the most acceptable when you're dealing with sensitive legislation that aims to make life less onerous for those who have lost a loved one? We want to do it right.