Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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Bob Hamilton
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Bob Hamilton
2019-06-11 11:24
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning.
Thank you for the opportunity to present the Canada Revenue Agency's 2019-20 main estimates to the committee, and to answer any questions you may have on the associated funding.
My understanding is that you have a copy of my full remarks. In the interest of time, I will just hit some of the highlights as I go through.
As you are aware, the CRA is responsible for the administration of federal and certain provincial and territorial programs, as well as the delivery of a number of benefit payment programs. Last year the agency collected approximately $526 billion of tax revenue on behalf of federal, provincial and territorial governments, and distributed over $33 billion of benefit payments to millions of Canadians. The CRA also offers help and information to those who need it, and is working hard to reach Canadians who might not be receiving the tax credits or benefits to which they are entitled.
In order to fulfill its mandate in 2019-20, the CRA is seeking a total of $4.5 billion through these main estimates. Of this amount, $3.5 billion requires approval by Parliament, whereas the remaining $1 billion represents the forecast statutory authorities that are already approved under separate legislation. The statutory items include the children's special allowance payments, employee benefit costs and, pursuant to section 60 of the CRA Act, the spending of revenues received for activities administered on behalf of the provinces and other government departments.
These 2019-20 main estimates represent a net increase of $297.7 million when compared with 2018-19 main estimates. Of this change, $236.8 million is associated with previous funding announcements, with the balance of $60.9 million related to proposed budget 2019 measures. The largest component of this change is an increase of $110 million for measures to crack down and combat tax evasion and tax avoidance, at $61 million; enhance tax collections, at $22 million; and improve client services, at $27 million. This represents the amount of incremental funding received in 2019-20 as a result of measures announced in budgets 2016, 2017 and 2018.
To give you a sense of the kind of programs supported by this funding, allow me to touch on some specific initiatives.
Increased reporting requirements for trusts, which will seek information on beneficial ownership, will help authorities to effectively counter aggressive tax avoidance, tax evasion, money laundering and other criminal activities.
We are addressing commitments to service excellence in three key areas. The first is improving telephone services, including reducing wait times for callers and improving the accuracy of responses provided by call centre agents. The second is enhancing the community volunteer income tax program, where community organizations host tax preparation clinics and arrange for volunteers to prepare, free of charge, income tax and benefit returns for individuals with modest or low income. The third is strengthening digital services by updating and modernizing the agency's information technology infrastructure to deliver a more user-friendly experience, allowing Canadians to easily find the tax and benefit information they need.
Other items contributing to the year-over-year change include adjustments for collective bargaining increases of $64.8 million and the implementation of the federal fuel charge of $56.4 million.
The CRA's 2019-20 main estimates also reflect about $60 million in proposed incremental resources for the announcements made by the Minister of Finance in the March 2019 budget. The largest component, at nearly half, is a proposed increase of $29.3 million to improve general tax compliance. These funds will be used to hire auditors, build technical expertise and improve the agency's compliance IT infrastructure.
A further $9.5 million is proposed to take action to enhance tax compliance specifically in the real estate sector. The proposed funding will be used to create four new dedicated residential and commercial real estate audit teams in high-risk regions, notably in British Columbia and Ontario, to ensure that tax provisions regarding real estate are being followed.
Other examples of items relating to budget 2019 include about $9 million proposed to stabilize Phoenix-related activities by the CRA in our role as administrator of the tax system;
$8.5 million proposed to support the agency's ongoing service improvement efforts;
and $3.5 million proposed to improve access to the Canada workers benefit throughout the year.
In closing, the resources being requested through these estimates will allow the CRA to continue to deliver on its mandate to Canadians by making it easier for the vast majority of taxpayers who want to pay their taxes, and more difficult for the small minority who do not, and by ensuring that Canadians have ready access to the information they need about taxes or benefits.
Mr. Chair, at this time my colleagues and I would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have. Thank you.
Bob Hamilton
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Bob Hamilton
2019-06-11 12:17
Mr. Chair, I have just a couple points on that, because you'll recall that a few years ago the Auditor General did a study on our call centres and found us not to be providing the level of service that he was expecting and, frankly, that we would have liked. Since then, I would say, a couple of things have caused us to improve.
One is that we've put in more resources and we've increased training for our call centre agents to make sure we improve accuracy.
However, one of the big changes we've had is that we now have a new telephone platform. New technology has come in and has allowed us to do things differently from the way we did them before. For example, it used to be that if you called us, we didn't have the ability to tell you how long the wait was going to be, so we had a rule within the CRA that we were going to try to address your call within two minutes 80% of the time, and if we didn't feel as though we could do that, you got a busy signal and called back. Now what we're able to do with this new technology, which is obviously more modern, is to tell people up front, “Your expected wait time is five minutes” or 10 minutes or whatever it is, and then people can make a choice: “I'd like to hang on” or “No, I'll call back later.” Up front, people get that choice, and the rare, rare exception will get a busy signal. You'll always get that choice, and if you decide you don't want to wait, then you'll call back. We also have beefed up our self-service efforts, so people can, if they have a fairly simple question, actually deal with it without talking to an agent.
Bob Hamilton
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Bob Hamilton
2019-06-11 12:19
Wait times go up and down. As you can imagine, if you take the pulse at the end of April, when people are frantically calling, it will be longer. We're just in the process of figuring out with this new technology what an appropriate service standard is for us. For example, we'll want to make sure that within the average wait time we will serve most of the people within x minutes. We're trying to figure out what that is. We've had wait times of about 10 to 15 minutes on average over the period of the filing season. Again, we're still examining the data to see how much that varied and whether there's anything we can do to even it out. Obviously the pressure will come down as the year goes on, but we're just taking all of the new things we've done with the new technology to come up with what would be an appropriate service standard.
Craig L. Dalton
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Craig L. Dalton
2019-06-10 15:36
Mr. Chair, committee members, thank you for inviting me here today and for providing me with the opportunity to share the results of our 2019 Office of the Veterans Ombudsman Report Card.
As mentioned, I'm joined here today by the deputy ombudsman, Sharon Squire.
Excuse me if I go back a bit to first principles, as this is my first time to appear before you. As you're aware, the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman has really a two-part mandate, and the first and most important part of that mandate is to respond to individual veteran's complaints, or complaints raised by spouses or survivors. The second part of our mandate is to recognize and identify issues that may be affecting more than one veteran, therefore representing perhaps a systemic issue. Under our mandate, we have the opportunity to investigate those issues and, where appropriate, make recommendations to VAC to improve programs and services. That's really where the report card comes in and that's why we're here today.
This is the third year that our office has released the report card. It was first released in 2017. The report card is a tool for us that allows us to capture, track and report publicly on recommendations that our office has made to Veterans Affairs Canada to improve programs and services.
The report card allows us to do a couple of things as we report publicly. The first is to acknowledge progress that's been made, and in fact to celebrate where changes have been made to programs and services to the benefit of veterans and their families. More importantly, from our office, it allows us an opportunity, on a regular basis, to shine a light on areas that we think still need some attention, and that's what the report card this year does.
I'd just like to share a few highlights with you, if I may.
Three areas where we've seen progress this year, progress that we believe will be well received by veterans, are as follows. The first is that veterans will now be able to retroactively claim reimbursement for treatment costs to the date of application as opposed to the date of decision for disability award and now pain and suffering compensation applications, which we believe is a significant improvement. The second is that, at the age of 65, all veterans who have a diminished earning capability assessment will now receive 70% of their income replacement benefit, which is very important in terms of financial security post-65. The third is that it's good to see movement on issuing of veterans' service cards, which the veterans community has been calling for, for quite some time.
We do like to acknowledge and recognize these improvements that have been made.
As I said, it's also an opportunity for us to shine a light on areas that still need some attention. As of the point of reporting this year, there are still 13 OVO recommendations that have yet to be addressed. The majority of those recommendations relate to the two areas that we hear about most commonly in complaints from veterans. They are in the areas of health care supports and service delivery.
In releasing the report card and sharing it with the minister, I took the opportunity to highlight three of those recommendations that we think would warrant attention as a matter of priority. They are as follows.
The first is expanding access to caregiver benefits, which is something we hear and continue to hear about on a regular basis from veterans groups and veterans advocates.
The second is covering mental health treatment for family members in their own right. Having had the opportunity in my first few months to meet with a number of veterans, and spouses in some cases, and to hear about some of the circumstances and challenges that family members, and in particular children, face when dealing with having a parent who was injured or is severely ill as a result of service, makes me wonder whether or not we're doing all we can do to support children and families. We think that's an important area.
The last is to provide fair and adequate access to long-term care and, to a lesser extent, the veterans independence program.
Those are three areas that we believe are important and I highlighted those to the minister. We will continue to follow government's actions in response to our recommendations and will continue to report publicly to you, the committee, and to Canadians on progress as needed.
As I mentioned earlier, I'd also like to take this opportunity to share my priorities with you, after having spent six months on the ground now and having had the opportunity to speak to a number of veterans, a number of veterans groups and advocates. We've taken some time to identify the priority areas that we think need to be addressed next. Again, these aren't ideas that we came up with sitting and talking amongst ourselves. This is what we hear from veterans who phone our office and from veterans groups and advocates. I'd like to share those priorities with you briefly.
The first priority, from my perspective, goes back to the key component in our mandate, and that's providing direct support to veterans and their families when they believe they've been treated unfairly. We're still a fairly young office, and our front-line staff have done very good work to this point in time. However, based on what we've heard from veterans and what we hear through our client satisfaction surveys, we have some work to do to make sure that we deliver an even better service and that we clarify what our mandate is, what we do and what we don't do, so that veterans who need our help will actually come to us. This is a significant priority for me and our number one priority.
Additional priorities include health care supports. As I mentioned earlier, this is the area that we receive complaints about the most. I'm led to believe that this area has not been looked at in quite some time, so we want to help move things forward in this regard by taking a broad look at VAC health care supports to identify areas we think might need some attention.
Third would be transition. I think we're all well aware of the importance of the transition process and ensuring that veterans and their families are well set up for post-service life. This is an area that continues to, thankfully, gain a lot of attention. We're particularly interested in looking at the area of vocational rehabilitation and the programs and services that help veterans find purpose in post-service life.
As we do this work—and we've also heard this through engagement over the last number of months—there are a few groups that we believe need to be considered a little more closely and a little more deliberately. They include women veterans. I've had the chance to speak to a number of women veterans and women's advocates. It's clear that a number of the programs and services they have access to were not designed specifically with women service members in mind or women veterans in mind. This is an area that we think is going to require significant focus going forward.
Second are veterans of the reserves. We've received a number of complaints, again related to specific programs. In looking into those complaints, it's become clear that, while the program is well intended, well designed and works well for regular force veterans, that's not always the case for reservist veterans. We think there's enough of an issue there to broaden that scope a bit and make sure the programs and services that are being provided adequately take into account the unique nature of reserve component service.
The last priority—and I mentioned this earlier—is families. Just in the brief amount of time I've been here speaking with veterans and families, we believe that this is another area we need to look at a little more closely to make sure we understand what the impacts on families, particularly children, are and that we have programs and services that adequately take this into account.
The last piece I would mention is just a bit of ongoing work that we initiated a number of months ago in terms of conducting a financial analysis of the pension for life. That work is more than just a financial analysis. We're going to monitor the implementation, and we are monitoring the implementation with a view to producing a report sometime late this year or perhaps even early 2020, after we've had time to watch it be implemented and get a sense of what the impact is on the ground.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to share an overview of the report card and also speak to some of our priorities going forward.
I'd be happy to take any questions, if there are any.
Craig L. Dalton
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Craig L. Dalton
2019-06-10 15:53
I have not, in the time I've been here, but I'll just check.
Craig L. Dalton
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Craig L. Dalton
2019-06-10 16:13
I should clarify my remarks and say that it's not that veterans tell us it's not an issue. It clearly is and it's the number one complaint we receive, but in talking to some veterans who were frustrated, what they have expressed is that, rather than be given an average adjudication time or processing time for whatever disability they are applying under, they would like a more personalized, meaningful number.
If they can't be given that, given that the average is 28 weeks, they don't find it overly helpful. It just adds to the frustration.
As I mentioned earlier, I certainly haven't been privy to any feedback on the impact of those additional people being hired or those additional sites or locations being opened. I don't know if the office has received that or not.
Sharon Squire
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Sharon Squire
2019-06-10 16:14
No, other than that they now have different mechanisms for support—there's guided support, self-support and the traditional case manager, and I know they are trying different streams to help people—we haven't heard many comments either way.
Alex Benay
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Alex Benay
2019-05-30 8:51
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the invitation to appear before your committee. I'll begin with a few brief remarks and I'll be happy to take any questions you may have.
My name is Alex Benay. l'm the Chief Information Officer of Canada at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
I am responsible for providing strategic direction and for the implementation of policies relating to service, information management, information technology, security, privacy and access to information across the federal government.
The finding in the Auditor General's most recent report identified opportunities where Treasury Board policy direction can be strengthened to better support improvements to call centres. The Auditor General made several recommendations that will help the Government of Canada fulfill its commitment to improve service delivery to Canadians.
Over the past few years, TBS has developed various policy instruments to help departments take a more client-centric approach to the design and delivery of services, including the development and publication of service standards. While we've made progress, we agree that there is still much work to be done.
l'm glad to say that we have already begun this work. Currently, the Treasury Board Secretariat is reviewing existing policy instruments, with the goal of identifying opportunities to strengthen policies to better support improved services through all service delivery channels, including call centres.
For example, we recently introduced a set of digital standards that will help guide departments and agencies in designing better services for Canadians. One of its key principles is to design and develop services with users in mind and to work with them to understand their needs and the problems we want to solve. While they may be called digital standards, they are, in fact, applicable to all the service delivery channels whether they are offered online, in person or by telephone.
In spring 2018, the government approved targeted amendments to the policy on the management of information technology and the policy on the management of information, setting the foundation for the long-term development of a comprehensive policy on service and digital for the Government of Canada.
This proposed policy will build on the client-centric principles of the current Policy on Service, and provide direction for the design and development of seamless, integrated services that meet the needs and expectations of the Canadian public.
We're also working on enhancing our existing guidance and tools to support the development and publication of clear and consistent client-centric service standards. Both the proposed new policy and its supporting directive and guidance will incorporate changes to ensure that government services have comprehensive and transparent client-centric standards, related targets and performance information for all service delivery channels in use, including call centres.
The Treasury Board Secretariat will continue to work with federal departments and agencies to ensure service standards for call centres are more consistent, meaningful and transparent to Canadians.
In closing, I look forward to your committee's report and recommendations on this important issue.
Thank you for your time, and I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Alex Benay
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Alex Benay
2019-05-30 10:09
When the service strategy was issued in 2017, it was supposed to be channel agnostic. Since then we looked at the recommendations from the Auditor General and will integrate phones into the next series and issues of our June release for the digital policy and all the policy instruments that will come with it, and we will become very specific on various service channels.
Alex Benay
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Alex Benay
2019-05-30 10:10
The thinking at the time was that an agnostic service strategy was a better approach.
Alex Benay
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Alex Benay
2019-05-30 10:10
Not necessarily targeting one particular service channel. It could be mail. It could be in person. It could be digital. The thinking at the time was that an agnostic approach was good. At this point we've seen all the recommendations from the OAG and we'll move to make every service channel clear.
Clayton Achen
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Clayton Achen
2019-05-14 11:05
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much for allowing my voice to be heard in this committee. I am truly honoured and humbled to be here with you all today.
My name is Clayton Achen. I'm a founding partner at Achen Henderson CPAs in Calgary. Given my practice area, my primary interest with respect to Bill C-97 is tax—specifically the taxation of private companies and small businesses and their owners. I'm primarily interested in what's missing from Bill C-97.
My firm's day-to-day work as a chartered professional accounting firm is to work directly with middle-class small business families. This has given us better perspective than most to see how hard it is for entrepreneurs to earn a living. We also see how easy it has become for our government to take those hard-earned dollars away, sometimes under the guise of fairness, which is a clever word that does nothing to consider the risks and ultimate hardships that an entrepreneur endures.
I'll spend a few minutes talking about some of their more recent challenges, including economic challenges, increases to tax, increased compliance burdens and uncertainty, and challenges in dealing with the CRA and navigating our tax system. I'll then make some brief comments on Canada's desperate need for a modern tax system and close with my thoughts on a few business-related items that are contained in Bill C-97.
It cannot be understated how complicated our tax system has become in the last 50 years, which was the last time that a comprehensive review was undertaken. Our last three budgets have heaped more and more layers of complication and burdens of compliance onto Canadian small businesses. While I am grateful that the attack on private corporations and their shareholders appears to have subsided in 2019, I am disappointed that the bill contains nearly nothing to help them.
What we've seen, particularly in my home province of Alberta, is that entrepreneurs have faced tremendous adversity in the last five years and particularly in the last three and a half.
In Alberta, some small businesses have managed to survive a long and sustained economic downturn with very little help from our governments. A lot have simply closed their doors and are out of work.
For all Canadian small businesses, the cost of compliance has increased dramatically as a result of changes to the inter-corporate dividend rules, tax on split income, the specified corporate income and association rules, changes to family trust reporting and new penalties for saving too much in your business regardless of the reason.
Many wealthier clients have increased their risk tolerance with regard to tax planning strategies and reduced their tolerance for economic risks. Many wealthier clients are shifting their wealth out of Canada.
Most of this is a direct side effect of the offensive and ill-conceived attempt at tax reform for private corporations and their shareholders that was announced on July 18, 2017. Moreover, all companies, including small businesses, are now shouldering significant CPP increases for the next seven years.
According to research conducted by the CFIB, Canadian small businesses are now being asked to shoulder nearly half of the federal carbon tax take, which increases the cost of everything—and I mean everything—while receiving disproportionately small rebates.
In many cases, small businesses have tried to pass these costs on to consumers in order to remain viable. In many cases, they simply can't. This results in corporate inequity, meaning smaller companies are simply unable to compete with larger corporations and multinationals who are better positioned or better equipped to shoulder these additional tax and compliance burdens.
I share these insights with you today not to complain, but rather to highlight that there have been real, rapid and sustained challenges for middle-class small businesses owners across Canada and Bill C-97 offers very little in the way of assistance or stimulus.
The next issue is the CRA's service levels. I can confirm the substance of the 2017 Auditor General's report, which says it is very difficult to reach the CRA by phone and even more difficult to get a complete and correct answer. We still deal with this daily. At Achen Henderson, we have been forced to add this to our service levels and have elected to do so at no additional cost to our clients.
While I'm thankful for my newfound love of chamber music and encouraged that the government recognizes the problem, we must ask ourselves if the measures in Bill C-97 are the correct approach. While advances have been made by the CRA to be more accessible and user-friendly online, it confuses us that the CRA requires five times the staff per capita to administer our tax system than the IRS does, with more hiring announced in the 2019 federal budget.
Based on our extensive experience in dealing with the CRA and helping many organizations who have experienced similar challenges, we've come to believe that the CRA's issues are cultural in nature. Defective cultures always result in operational bottlenecks. These bottlenecks are magnified by a tax system that is far too complicated for the average CRA agent or taxpayer to navigate, which is further magnified by a lack of or inadequate professional training, in our opinion.
Next, instead of taking steps toward modernizing our tax system to make it more transparent, competitive and easy to comply with and administer, Bill C-97 is a continuation by our government of using taxation to pick winners with tax breaks in various economic areas and industries. Furthermore, C-97 does nearly nothing to address tax competitiveness with the United States. Instead, the bill stretches the fabric of our tax act even further, mending holes where the fabric breaks with more patches, resulting in legislation that is impossible to comply with and administer.
lt's not all bad. There are some welcome patches in the bill, such as the improvements to the RDSP rules and the specified corporate income rules, but I can't help but wonder how many more holes will need to be patched until we consider modernizing our tax system.
The patch to the SR and ED program is a step in the right direction. lt undoubtedly makes the program more accessible to certain CCPCs. For them, this should help to tip the balance between compliance costs versus benefits and increased support. Unfortunately, these changes do not address the administration issues in the SR and ED program, and they only impact a very small portion of private companies in Canada.
While the accelerated investment incentive will be helpful to some private companies—namely those who are doing well and/or those who are able to expand or upgrade—the full expensing of M and P equipment, clean energy equipment and electric vehicles seems like boutique benefits that will only help certain private companies. We are disappointed that the accelerated CCA measures are temporary in nature.
ln closing, entrepreneurs have endured a lot these last few years. Many continue to struggle with uncertainty and excessive tax complexity, and have received very little from their government in return. While C-97 doesn't ask them to shoulder much more, it doesn't offer much in the way of assistance or stimulus.
We've seen improvements in the CRA's online offerings, but we have experienced very little improvement in hold times or service levels, and we question if Bill C-97's approach to resolving these problems is the correct one. Bill C-97 is a missed opportunity to initiate a comprehensive review of our tax system with the goals of modernization and simplification at its core.
Lastly, the accelerated CCA measures in C-97 are targeted at specific industries and temporary in nature, and we think they miss the mark on tax competitiveness with the United States.
Thank you very much for inviting me to speak today. I'd be happy to take your questions.
Clayton Achen
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Clayton Achen
2019-05-14 11:52
In terms of one of the biggest challenges, of course, we live in a self-assessment system where you're expected to file your own taxes and the tax of your corporation. You're responsible for those. A common source, particularly for middle-class small business owners who can't afford a fancy accountant, is to turn to the CRA for answers, and unfortunately, we get the wrong answers a lot.
Coming back to the impact that has on them, that results in improper tax filing, probably, in some cases, diminished revenues to the government, and a very high level of frustration when the CRA figures out that they've filed something wrong, and particularly in the area of GST/HST we see this quite a lot.
In a lot of cases, for people who can't afford tax accountants, the real costs are a sense of frustration, followed by a sense of a lack of trust in the tax system, followed by CRA reassessments because they got something wrong when they tried their best to comply with it.
Lori MacDonald
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Lori MacDonald
2019-05-06 17:04
Essentially, we looked at where we wanted to focus our attention, which was on things like addressing gap areas and addressing how we could make the process easier for the clients. We actually did costing around that, but not in relation to what gap analysis there would be in terms of spending.
Bruce Burrows
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Bruce Burrows
2019-05-02 11:40
This change alone would be a huge improvement to the out-of-date system that currently exists in other pilotage areas.
However, one issue that was not included for reform is one that we on the industry side believe is critical in giving pilotage authorities the full control of their service delivery. Authorities do not have the ability to choose the hiring model that meets their needs, often locking them into costly contracts with monopoly pilot corporations, instead of being able to hire employee pilots or contract with individual pilots.
This lack of flexibility will hamper pilotage authorities from being able to choose the service delivery model that is right for them, and will result in higher charges for their customers, while at the same time not providing any service improvements. This is a major concern. It was a recommendation in the review, but it has not carried through into the act recommendations.
I know that there will be a 10-year review of the Pilotage Act, should this pass, and we will continue to seek this reform in future reviews.
We're cautiously optimistic as this point. While a great suite of reforms has been proposed per this division in the budget implementation act, passing the bill is half the battle in reforming Canada’s pilotage system. The heavy lifting to reform the system will take place in the transition of the regulatory reform and the supporting policies and programs from the pilotage authorities to Transport Canada.
The updated system must take the clear direction provided by this bill, and that provided by the Pilotage Act review report, and apply it based on the new purpose and principles contained in the act.
Once again, thank you for the invitation to appear, and we'd be happy, of course, to answer any questions later.
Gemma Mendez-Smith
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Gemma Mendez-Smith
2019-05-01 16:23
On our funding level, we are funded to do our research at $280,000 a year, with three staff, and we have two training programs that we do for persons with disabilities and Ontario works, which is for people who need skills to enter the labour market, at about $500,000.
Lia Tsotsos
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Lia Tsotsos
2019-04-30 9:22
I would say there is a need for that, not only to provide a level of human contact but also to take into consideration the fact that, in addition to not being technologically literate, people may not have those technology devices, the Internet or the ability to get to a place where there is Internet, like a library, for example.
I think the removal of some of those person-based services really does a disservice to a much wider group than one might think upon first reflection. We just think, “Oh, you don't know how to use to a computer”. Well, they may not have access to one, they may never have had access to one and they may not have the ongoing ability to then continue that technological engagement as they continue to age and as they continue to develop sensory or mobility challenges, for example.
Maybe now it's okay that they can get themselves to a library, but two years from now they could have had a hip fracture and no longer be able to. I would say that, yes, the bare minimum of services should be able to be conducted in an in-person forum, or somehow talking to a person and not solely online, because that would really just impact a much larger swath of people than I think we might realize.
Vanessa Herrick
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Vanessa Herrick
2019-04-30 9:23
I think it requires a certain level of creativity. I was at a conference recently and I saw a really interesting presentation from a local CLSC in Quebec, and it was having difficulty with this. How do you reach these communities? How do you reach people who aren't online or who can't afford the Internet?
What they did—which I thought was really brilliant—was that they sent out messages with the Meals on Wheels people, and they had little notes saying, “Would you like us to call you with these services?”
This way it's not put on the senior to phone them. It's not onerous for them to find these people and find the information. Many of them are already benefiting from Meals on Wheels. These are people whom they know and are comfortable with. All they have to do is tick off a box, give it back to the person bringing them the meal, who is responsible for bringing it back to the CLSC, which follows up and says, “Okay, you expressed interest in these different services; what can we do for you?”
They had a really high level of success. It just takes some creativity and not always relying on the same ways we've done things.
Vanessa Herrick
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Vanessa Herrick
2019-04-30 9:24
I haven't heard of it anywhere else, but I don't know. I can't speak to that for sure.
Alain Dupuis
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Alain Dupuis
2019-04-10 16:13
The francophone lawyers' associations wish to offer more specialized services to francophone immigrants. That is a perfect example of gaps in the immigrants' integration journey. That is one of the sectors that needs to be developed.
Andrew Baldwin-Brown
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Andrew Baldwin-Brown
2019-03-18 16:43
Usually not, but some do. I tend not to. Most of the patients that we deal with deal with Veterans Affairs remotely through My VAC Account. The younger generation, usually those under 40 are high users of My VAC Account.
Then again, it's individualized. Someone with severe PTSD and depression may not have the capability to click 82 times to get what they need. Most of them are call-ins or proactive outreaches from the case managers themselves.
David Manicom
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David Manicom
2019-01-30 15:53
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My name is David Manicom and I am the Assistant Deputy Minister for Settlement and Integration at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
I am joined by Corinne Prince, the Director General for Settlement and Immigration Policy, and by Laura Di Paolo, the Director General for the Settlement network.
We hope that our testimony will be helpful to your study.
Immigrants from every corner of the world have made significant contributions to all spheres of Canadian life, and they continue to make influential contributions to science, business, and technology.
Through new perspectives and diverse insights, immigrants also help to drive our country's intellectual and artistic capital. Many of our immigrants also bring with them an entrepreneurial spirit, creating jobs and becoming important drivers of innovation and investment.
Immigration benefits Canada's economic and demographic growth, our innovation and prosperity and our efforts at nation building. With Canada's aging population and growing labour force needs, I think we can all agree, Mr. Chair, that immigration will be vital to the continued growth and success of our country's economy and society. This statement is also supported by research.
Statistics Canada reports that the lion's share of national employment gains, 66% of gains between 2016 and 2017, was directly accounted for by immigrants.
And the most recent labour force survey for December 2018 shows that immigrants' employment rates are broadly in line with the national average.
The unemployment rate for core working-age immigrants stood at 5.7% in 2018.
This is the lowest unemployment rate for this group since at least 2006. This bodes very well for the future of immigration in Canada and suggests that our settlement program is doing a good job of helping newcomers to integrate. This is key, because ensuring that immigration remains advantageous to Canada in the future means that all newcomers are integrated and supported so they may contribute to various aspects of Canadian life.
Settlement services are a key to newcomer success, and investing in that success will be key to our nation's future prosperity and inclusiveness.
By the end of fiscal year 2019-2020, this will represent a 32% increase in settlement funding since 2015-2016.
In 2018-2019, our department has funded over 500 organizations and provided services to approximately 460,000 clients. Of these clients, more than 100,000 accessed language training services, reflecting the critical importance of English and French language skills for successful settlement in Canada.
Looking ahead, the ongoing success of our settlement programming will continue to depend critically upon our partnerships, which go well beyond the Government of Canada. This year we developed a shared national vision on settlement and integration with our partners, including the provinces, territories and stakeholders. That shared vision is that the successful settlement and integration of newcomers benefits Canada by building a more inclusive, diverse and productive nation. This is achieved through a shared effort that helps all reach their economic and social potential.
As you know, improving the delivery of settlement services is one of the commitments identified in Minister Hussen's mandate letter and is a priority that our department is intently focused on.
Our goal is to offer services that will best meet immigrants' needs and produce the best settlement outcomes possible. Our outcomes-based programming will be informed by our research, analysis, evaluation findings and the results of our new pilot projects.
To assess the effectiveness of our services, the department conducted a formal evaluation of the program, completed in May 2017. This incorporated a wide range of perspectives, including program clients, stakeholders and program officials, and comprised the largest-scale survey of newcomers ever conducted to that point, with almost 15,000 respondents. Overall, the evaluation found that our program has been effective at meeting a growing demand for settlement services. A clear majority of clients—96%—reported positive outcomes, such as improving their language ability finding employment, participating in their communities, and so forth.
We also conducted separate evaluations of the pre-arrival services and immigration to francophone minority communities.
The evaluations made several recommendations to improve our settlement program. The department has developed an action plan that is addressing those gaps. This plan will guide future program improvements, and inform the next calls for proposals with service providers, which will launch next month.
To date, improvements to our settlement program have included streamlining our pre-arrival settlement services for newcomers who are still abroad.
A number of projects are also under way to experiment with and assess potential new service delivery improvement projects. This year we will devote $32 million toward a dedicated funding stream for service delivery improvements and innovations.
One of the first of such innovative pilots is employing newcomers in stable, good-paying hotel jobs. This pilot will connect as many as 1,300 unemployed or unemployed newcomers with jobs in the hotel industry while they strengthen their language skills in the workplace.
Our program evaluation shows that combining employment and language training is effective and ultimately improves settlement and integration.
As such, the department is exploring more of these types of projects that combine workplace experience with language training and other supports. The Atlantic immigration program pilot is another example of this type of innovation.
IRCC is also launching other innovative settlement programs to target more vulnerable populations, such as refugees and women. We launched a pilot project this past December to support visible minority newcomer women in gaining access to and advancing in the labour market. Through this project, we aim to support the employment of visible minority newcomer women by increasing existing services, establishing new partnerships and testing the effectiveness of different combinations of employment services.
In addition, we are looking at improving the services that we offer to French-speaking newcomers who settle in francophone and Acadian communities outside of Quebec.
As announced in Budget 2018, and included in the official languages action plan, the department will invest more than $40 million over the next five years on a francophone integration pathway.
We are also looking at improving our settlement services for refugees, which have been especially important for Syrian refugees. This spring, IRCC will issue a major report on the 52,000 Syrian refugees who have arrived in Canada. We have already compiled much data from various sources. Most notably, 57% of Syrian refugees reported that they were employed, a marked increase since our 2016 rapid evaluation findings and, I think we can say, exceeding our expectations. What a wonderful collective effort from Canadians and these newcomers.
Once our report is complete, we expect the overall findings to the positive. More importantly, this will also help guide future improvements to our settlement services for refugees.
The call for proposals process that we will launch next month also will place an increased focus on key areas, including the integration of vulnerable populations, such as youth, refugees and LGBTQ2+, a greater focus on mental health supports and further enhancing our services for francophone newcomers.
The department recognizes that we must continue to assess what is working and what must be improved, and to continuously adapt our settlement programs to the changing needs of newcomers.
Going forward, with true co-planning with the provinces and territories and close co-operation with our partners and stakeholders, we can create a clearer picture of what newcomers need and determine how to collectively meet those needs. Our aim is to maximize the social and economic contributions of all immigrants to Canada, regardless of how they arrive.
As one of our service providers said today at a meeting I was at, it's about building a better Canada one newcomer at a time. With that in mind, Mr. Chair, we look forward to the findings of the committee's study.
Thank you very much.
View Diane Lebouthillier Profile
Lib. (QC)
I thank my colleague for his question.
I'm determined to improve the agency's services to meet the needs of all Canadians. The purpose of everything the agency has put in place in the past three years is to make the client our central concern.
We've introduced a new service, File My Return, an automated telephone service accessible to more than 950,000 taxpayers who have straightforward tax situations. We've clarified and simplified the use of our My Account service and also launched the CRA BizApp application.
We've reinstated the Disability Advisory Committee.
We've launched two series of Serving You Better consultations with small and medium-sized enterprises to determine with them how the agency can further simplify the way it works with them.
We've improved the objection process.
In February 2019, we'll be opening service centres for northern communities in the territorial capitals. What people in the north are experiencing is important to us. Their situation is very different from that of people in the south
We've completed installation of the new call centre platform, and it will be functional very soon. Business information requests directed to call centres migrated in November, and the service line for benefit information requests migrated on December 3.
We've also appointed the chief service and data officer, who will ensure the clientele is treated equally in the Canada Revenue Agency's various areas of activity.
We have simplified the agency's letters and forms. Last year we mailed tax packages to Canadians who chose to file their returns on paper, and we will do the same thing this year.
As I mentioned, the agency is still working to put the client at the centre of its actions.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2018-12-11 9:16
Yes, indeed, we did earlier this year appoint a chief service officer at the agency and it's a piece of a broader exercise we have to try to improve service at the CRA and to take an approach more centred on the Canadian taxpayer.
I think in the past we have found ourselves sometimes working in silos within the agency. One part is doing something that is not as connected as it should be to another part. We have to recognize that when we provide services to Canadians we're providing a range of services. It could be telephone calls, correspondence, the website, and we need to take an approach that looks at it from the taxpayers' perspective and that we're providing the services we need to. We did name a chief service officer in that regard, and her job is primarily to look at the way we provide service to Canadians, both digitally and by paper, but across the board, so that comprehensively we can say, yes, we're doing things that make sense for the taxpayer.
We're listening to the feedback that they get. We have different channels to get feedback, whether it's public opinion, research, complaints that come in. We make sure that we're listening to that, and then further make sure that we're taking that information and looking for ways to improve, whether it's how we respond to phone calls or the accessibility of our website. That is really what her job is going to be. If I think of it, it's integrating the activities of the agency so that we can better focus on how we can provide services to Canadians better.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2018-12-11 9:18
Yes, I'm happy to talk about that.
Again, I think as we look at the services that we are providing in Canada.... One of the steps we have taken in that regard is in the north, where we're doing, I'd say, three things to try to improve services there.
The first is to provide more access to CRA employees. Putting somebody in an office up there in the north, to answer questions, is something that we are doing. Hopefully, it will help provide better information to taxpayers. What this is all about, and what you'll see in all of our service activities, is trying to better explain to Canadians what is required, what their tax obligations are and how we can make it easier to comply.
We think that providing offices in the north will help in that regard, and we will make CRA people available in those offices. We will be looking to expand the community volunteer program, which goes out to try to help people fill in their taxes. That's one key element.
The second is looking at the northern residents deduction, to see if, as you say, we can uncover any systemic reasons we might be verifying the same people over and over again. We're looking at the algorithms we use that decide how we test and review certain cases. We're also trying to make sure that we better explain earlier on and have good conversations about what the obligations are under the northern residents deduction.
That's a second place where we're trying to do a better job of communicating, explaining and even looking at our process to see if we can simplify it.
A final area was looking at a regulatory change on the low-cost airfare, just to make sure that we didn't have a system in place that was too hard for people to comply with, where you had to pick the lowest airfare on a particular day to be eligible for it under the program. We're looking at ways to simplify that and advance a regulatory change to that effect.
Those are the pieces that we think will help and hopefully reduce some of complaints we get in the north. It's part of a continuing effort to improve our services.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2018-12-11 9:23
Mr. Chair, I think very definitely that the chief service officer will help with the kind of perception you have talked about, which I don't like to hear about, frankly. I don't want people being treated like criminals on phone calls, as a starting point. The conversations may evolve down the road depending on how things go—people have to face the consequences of their actions—but we are very much about changing the culture at CRA, as I've said, to being a service provided to the taxpayer and the client.
What I would like to see us do and what we are doing, and where the chief service officer will help, is focusing more on the conversations about educating both sides of the conversation. For us it's making sure that we're explaining to Canadians what they need to do and why. Sometimes, because we deal with so many people, those can be shortcut conversations. They can be abrupt. We're trying to make sure that they are not, that they are fulsome explanations for people. That takes time and resources, but we need to do that to fulfill our service commitments.
We are also going to be paying attention to the feedback we get—because we hear some of the same things that you hear—and make sure that we listen to it, as I've said, but also to try to factor in what we can do about it, how we can correct those issues.
It's not to say that there will never ever be an issue at the CRA, but we need to make sure that we're correcting as many of them as possible, and that as many people as possible feel like they are being treated fairly and respectfully by the CRA. I would want that to be the case in every single interaction that we have.
When we talk about service culture, though, it isn't just the people picking up the phone and talking to you. That's obviously an important element of service, but we are also trying to embed a service culture within the audit and enforcement activities. Yes, we will ultimately need to make sure that the proper amount of taxes are paid, but we need to go about it in a way that tries to educate first. Let's make sure that there's an understanding and work through it, and that way maybe get some long-term compliance. If people understand the obligations and we understand their situation, hopefully we can get on a path of long-term compliance.
Having said that, if there are still issues, we will have to enforce the law and make sure that the proper taxes are paid, because that too is important, for the perception of fairness by other Canadians.
I'm very confident that the chief service officer is going to help us refocus our efforts to provide better service to Canadians. Some of the changes have started, but I look forward to even more changes down the road.
Roger Gauthier
View Roger Gauthier Profile
Roger Gauthier
2018-09-27 12:01
Part of it is political. Services were streamlined. Some offices were closed. Bilingual staff was not necessarily hired, even though Saskatchewan has a fairly large number of bilingual people, on both the francophone and anglophone side. At least 4% of Saskatchewan's population is bilingual. Of that, 1.4% are francophone and the rest participated in an immersion program. After taking an immersion program, people do not necessarily stay in Saskatchewan. Many of our francophones, who are qualified people, move away because they cannot advance in their career.
There are many factors that play a role, but the fact remains that the services are not there.
Robert Thibeau
View Robert Thibeau Profile
Robert Thibeau
2018-05-22 11:28
Initially when I started four years ago talking about the rangers, it was great news to me that the army had finally taken over the ranger program. That's a very unique program, and it should have been under the army because the rangers are doing army work. That gave them the ability to become and to be classed as reserve soldiers, therefore providing them with Veterans Affairs services, etc.
One of the things for communications—I worked a bit in the north visiting communities and teaching up there—is that there was already a connection up there with the military. The military travels the north quite extensively.
We have a suicide prevention program between DND and VAC. I've brought this up before. Is there a possibility for the senior NCOs or the NCOs who visit these communities to have a sit-down with the veterans of that community and talk about the benefits that Veterans Affairs has? In other words, can we design a package that you can take up north into each community? That's a start, but for that outreach, some of the communities there may not be.... There may be veterans in other communities. The army probably looks after only those communities where they have those rangers who come in, and there may be other communities out there that don't have the access.
I really get troubled when I start thinking about the Internet. I talked to a young Mohawk out there. When he was up in the north, if you got Internet, you were working on slow time, very slow time. That's if you have it. Some communities in the first nations, I believe, may not have the ability to have it, because they're so far into the remote area. If they do have it, it may be in only one location and there's a priority of use.
Emile Highway
View Emile Highway Profile
Emile Highway
2018-05-08 12:56
I believe it is required. I think more aboriginal veterans should be made aware of the existence of that office in Saskatoon, so they can access what the office is doing to help them fill out application forms and answer any questions they might have. I think it's necessary that it be there.
Steven Ross
View Steven Ross Profile
Steven Ross
2018-05-08 12:58
I don't think there's a difference. I think the problem for first nations veterans, wherever they might be, is knowing where to go. There's an office in Saskatoon, and that should be where they are going, but at the same time, the office doesn't know where the veterans are. That's one of the problems: communication and direction.
But there is no difference that I'm aware of.
Jessica McDonald
View Jessica McDonald Profile
Jessica McDonald
2018-04-17 11:57
For sure. I mean, as I say, there is a very active environment inside Canada Post looking at the strategic options: what our customers need, how our assets are currently being used, and where our investment in network expansion will be put, as well as what that means in terms of downtime in some of our plants and how we may be able to better utilize our entire system. Whether it is alternate day delivery, weekend delivery, or any of the other aspects, these are all always part of the strategic analysis inside Canada Post.
I do imagine that some of these elements, and maybe other ideas as well, will also come up in our discussions toward a new collective agreement, and I look forward to more creative discussion and more ideas about how we can use the system we have and support employees to be successful in continuing to meet the ever-changing needs of our customers.
View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Chairman Ellis and fellow members of Parliament, good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs today. I am always glad to meet with you because I know that we share the same goal, supporting the veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces and their families.
Our shared mandate it to ensure that Canada lives up to its duty to provide the care, support, respect, and economic opportunities that veterans deserve for their services to the country.
Before continuing, I would also like thank the committee for its dedication to ensuring that we keep that promise.
When I first appeared before the committee this fall, I was a newly appointed minister, and a lot has changed since then, including December's announcement of the pension for life. It will become another integral part of the package we provide for the well-being of our veterans. The pension for life provides three new benefits.
The pain and suffering compensation recognizes and compensates veterans for the pain and suffering they experience as a result of service-related disability. Additional pain and suffering compensation will be provided for those with severe and permanent service-related impairments causing a barrier to re-establishment in life after service. Veterans will be able to choose to receive those as tax-free monthly payments for life or as a single, non-taxable lump sum, whichever is right for them and their family.
The second component of the pension for life is the income replacement benefit that will provide up to 90% of the veteran's salary at the time of their release from the Canadian Armed Forces. This is for veterans who face barriers to re-establishment caused by health problems resulting primarily from service.
These components will be combined with the wellness benefit included in the New Veterans Charter in order to provide better support to ill and injured veterans as they begin their life after military service.
These components will build on our government's investments in budget 2016 where we increased the amount of the disability award; and as of December, veterans received $650 million. You can see that increase reflected throughout Veterans Affairs vote 5 in the 2017-2018 main estimates and throughout this year's supplementary estimates for the department.
We also increased the earnings loss benefit, which veterans receive while in rehabilitation, to 90% of their pre-release salary. We re-opened the nine offices closed by the previous government and opened a new office in Surrey, as well as expanding outreach to veterans in northern Canada, and we hired more staff.
Going live in two weeks are our budget 2017 initiatives, including the education and training benefit; career transition services; veteran emergency fund; caregiver recognition benefit; the expansion of our successful military family resource centre pilot; the veteran and family well-being fund; the centre of excellence on PTSD and mental health; and the elimination of a time limit on the rehabilitation services and vocational assistance program. I look forward to reporting back throughout the year on the progress in each of these.
The key to these benefits and programs is how we deliver them. Since December, I've had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of veterans, their families, and serving CAF members at town hall meetings. I can tell you how we deliver services and, in many cases, how services are not being delivered comes up loudly, and it comes up often, and for good reason.
When I was here last, I spoke about this committee's reports, “Reaching Out: Improving Service Delivery to Canadian Veterans” and “Mental Health of Canadian Veterans: A Family Purpose”. Many of your recommendations corresponded with what Veterans Affairs own service delivery review identified as key areas of need.
I also said that the department has an action plan to address those recommendations. Among the 91 specific measures to improve veterans' experience, the department has already responded to nearly half of them and I am committed to continuing to implement them by the end of 2020-21.
To accomplish this, we've made a number of fundamental changes to the way that Veterans Affairs works. The most significant one is completely turning around the approach to delivering services. Previously, it was up to the veteran to apply for benefits and services. Our service delivery review report called this the “pull” model. The problem with it was that veterans often did not have enough information to be able to ask the questions that would enable them to apply for benefits. Again, this is something that has come up over and over again with the veterans that I meet.
Therefore, we've flipped that to a push model. Now, Veterans Affairs staff take the initiative to give veterans all the information they need about the services they're eligible for. Let me take a moment to tell you a little more about that.
This month, the department is wrapping up a six-month pilot called guided support. The program assigned a veteran service agent to be the main point of contact at the department for a veteran. The agent gets to know the veteran, their family situation, and their needs and then determines what programs, benefits, and services they're eligible for. The agent helps the veteran navigate through the department's application and delivery system, and coordinates services.
The reactions of participants in the pilot study have been very encouraging. Veterans and families liked the fact that they only had to communicate with one person at the department. They appreciated the support they received in learning about services and benefits and in filling out the right forms to apply for them.
Veterans service agents were also enthusiastic. They like being able to visit veterans at home, getting to know them better, and developing a plan that is tailored to their individual needs. We are about to implement this level of support for all veterans who do not need a case manager, but need more than just a phone call.
However, it's important to realize that the fundamental changes the department has made to the benefits and services, and to the way it delivers them, are having an impact right now on the lives of veterans and their families today.
It's not only through the pilot project that veterans are getting more and better information about the services and benefits they're entitled to; the whole department is adopting the push model. It has made significant progress in improving communications to veterans, families, advocates, and stakeholders, whether in person, by phone, over the Internet, or even by mail.
As a result of these efforts, the number of applications for disability benefits has increased 32% over the past two years. We will ensure that every veteran who comes forward receives what they're entitled to, whether that's 10 veterans or 10,000.
I am here today in regard to supplementary estimates (C). As you can see, Veterans Affairs Canada is seeking $45 million in increased operating expenditures and $132 million in grants and contributions.
Our programs are driven by demand, which is why the bulk of these supplementary estimates will pay for benefits and programs that go directly to veterans, their families, and caregivers. They also include increases to disability awards and allowances, a doubling of the critical injury benefit, money for educational assistance for children of deceased members or veterans, payments for housekeeping and grounds maintenance for veterans, and funding for treatment benefits and operational stress injury clinics.
Chairman Ellis and members of the standing committee, we share a common goal to ensure that Canada's veterans get the support and services they need. Veterans Affairs Canada is working hard to enhance the well-being of veterans and their families.
With further improvements planned for the coming fiscal year and the reinstatement of a pension for life option in 2019, we are making real strides. With the support of this committee, we can continue making progress.
Thank you very much.
Michel Doiron
View Michel Doiron Profile
Michel Doiron
2018-03-20 12:31
Absolutely it has improved services. People can now go to a local office and get the services locally instead of having to travel. I was quite happy to open them, and we added one, and they're doing great.
Michel Doiron
View Michel Doiron Profile
Michel Doiron
2018-03-20 12:40
Yes. We are now going to the three territories on a rotational basis. That has been, actually, quite successful. We weren't sure what the demand would be. The numbers don't sound like much, maybe 14 in Iqaluit who now have case management, but the reality is that there are 14 getting help now.
We're now exploring a second tier to this, doing northern Quebec and northern Labrador. As you look at the territories, they're also up there. How can we serve those communities?
We have to remember that we have Rangers who actually work up north and are entitled to some of our programming. It's a bit touchy, what they're entitled to and not entitled to, but they are entitled. On a monthly basis, I have a team that goes up to Whitehorse, Yellowknife, or Iqaluit—they alternate. It's actually been going quite well. We have a lot of people. We work with the Legion's service in Canada, and they publicize it. When we arrive the appointments are made, but we still take walk-ins. Actually, the numbers are higher than we anticipated. They're not off the charts, but they're higher than we anticipated.
Mark Fuchko
View Mark Fuchko Profile
Mark Fuchko
2018-02-08 12:03
I would say there's value in that, because when I originally got sworn in to the armed forces, there was a whole different benefits package that I was aware of. Then, in 2016, the new Veterans Charter came out and arbitrarily changed the terms of service without my consent.
The briefing I got on the new Veterans Charter was rather shallow on surface, saying there's a new Veterans Charter and it's supposed to be better. That was the extent of the brief I got on it. If there was a longer briefing on it, I can't recall one. I knew nothing about his charter. I saw individuals get injured in 2006 whose benefit package I thought was the same thing I would receive in 2008. Much to my shock and dismay, that was not fact, and I was unaware.
I guess the problem is, as a young gentleman, you're invincible, and you don't feel like you're going to get hurt. Benefit briefings aren't necessarily the most thrilling or gripping entertainment you can have in the army. Whether I received a brief that was really thorough or in depth, or I even paid attention to it, I don't recall. That's one of the issues we have. I think it may be a symptom of who's there and the way it's delivered.
Debbie Lowther
View Debbie Lowther Profile
Debbie Lowther
2018-02-08 12:31
I think it's imperative that those services be offered earlier. I 100% agree with what Oliver said: that he would like to see the Veterans Transition Network become a service provider to DND as well as VAC. I think that would be a wonderful thing.
I know that with our organization we also are trying to work our way through the DND door to educate them a little bit more on the services that we do provide. There are members who release and appear to be doing just fine. Then they kind of fall on hard times and need us. I think that it's important for DND to make its members aware of the resources that are available when they do release.
Debbie Lowther
View Debbie Lowther Profile
Debbie Lowther
2018-02-08 12:48
As you said, we did start in Nova Scotia. Through the power of social media, actually, we were able to expand our reach across the country and encourage like-minded, caring, Canadians to step up and volunteer.
We do things in two ways, proactively and reactively. Proactively, our volunteers actually go out into the streets and visit the shelters. You know that, as you've come out with us before. We actively go looking for veterans who may be in crisis. Reactively, we take referrals from Veterans Affairs case managers, from shelter staff, and from veterans themselves or family members. Our reach is wide. We have a large volunteer database, so we're able to assist veterans pretty much anywhere.
Stephanie Weasel Child
View Stephanie Weasel Child Profile
Stephanie Weasel Child
2017-12-12 12:45
I think they would have to advocate and put more dollars into training to go to the high schools on reserve and pull out students who have an interest in working in the justice system and corrections and legal, and advocate for them to get some training. Put in the training dollars, because you can't just say this is necessary. I hope they get it. There has to be a concrete solution, a program offered within these remote communities where they can identify or take five students, bring them to Winnipeg or Saskatoon or Edmonton, train them, and then encourage them to go back to work on their reserve.
Lois Frank
View Lois Frank Profile
Lois Frank
2017-12-12 12:46
I think it's really important. The federal government can only do so much. It has to be the leaders in our community, and I'm hard on our tribal leaders. The federal government can make it mandatory, make it so chiefs and councils can focus on looking after their members and their children, and implement justice programs that work, rather than having something external.
View Jean-Yves Duclos Profile
Lib. (QC)
That is another very good question.
There are two things.
First, the community and the associations that represent the community groups are consulted before we agree, and before we sign the action plans. We conduct a broad consultation exercise in each of the provinces and territories to ensure that the organizations that represent minority francophone or anglophone communities are involved in the preparation of these action plans.
Second, in every case I can remember, a large part of the work is done through these community organizations, which are sometimes national in scale. That is the case in Ontario, since it is a vast province. Things are somewhat more concentrated, however, in Nova Scotia. So, we we work with the associations that represent francophone educational day care services in Ontario. Afterwards, most of the time francophone school boards do the work to ensure that early childhood services are well integrated into the educational services that follow early childhood. It depends on the circumstances, but that is often where the best work is done, that is to say when early childhood education services are integrated into the educational services that oversee them, and when this goes through existing structures. As we were saying earlier, this allows us to avoid situations where children in minority communities are sent to bilingual or immersion day cares. These services do not offer the quality we are seeking. It is preferable that things be done another way.
View Carolyn Bennett Profile
Lib. (ON)
I will start, Madam Chair, as the returning regular here.
I'm pleased to be back here today, on the traditional Algonquin territory, to present the department's supplementary estimates (B) for the 2017-18 fiscal year. As you know, this is my first appearance before your committee, as the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, so I'm also looking forward to discussing my mandate letter with all of you. I'm also very pleased to be joined by my colleague, the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services, whom you will be hearing from shortly.
I am joined by Hélène Laurendeau, the deputy minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs; Joe Wild, the senior assistant deputy minister for treaties and aboriginal government; and chief financial officer Paul Thoppil.
In supplementary estimates (B), we are requesting a total of $445 million.
Supplementary estimates (B) represent a net increase of $445.1 million. It comprises mainly the $200 million payment for the Crees of Eeyou Istchee settlement payment; $91.8 million for comprehensive land claims, treaty-related and self-government agreements; $52.2 million for specific claims settlements; $23.7 million for urban programming for indigenous peoples; and $21.6 million for Métis rights and Métis relationships with the federal department. This brings the total investments for the department to approximately $11.3 billion for 2017-18 to address the needs of indigenous peoples and northerners.
I would be very happy to provide a more detailed breakdown of these expenditures during the question and answers, but in my opening remarks I would like to just highlight a couple of things.
Last summer we signed the historic agreement on Cree nation governance, a true nation-to-nation effort based on partnership and respect for the traditional way of life of the Crees. This agreement is an important step forward in expanding the existing governance regime of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. As I noted, these supplementary estimates include $200 million to make the final settlement to the Crees of Eeyou Istchee in accordance with the new relationship agreement. The payment is conditional on corresponding legislation being passed. We are currently working with the Cree nation on the draft legislation. We anticipate having legislation ready in the winter. We are requesting the money through supplementary estimates (B) so that we can move expeditiously when that legislation is passed.
I also want to thank the committee for looking at both specific and comprehensive claims policies through your ongoing study. I look forward to reviewing your recommendations, as the government is absolutely committed to significant reform in both areas. These supplementary estimates include a re-profiling of $52.2 million from 2016-17 to 2017-18 for specific claims settlements. As we have discussed at this committee before, this is part of the government's usual practice of maintaining an ongoing source of funds by rolling it over, year over year, so that the money is available as soon as a claim is resolved.
I want to make it clear that this is not a matter of lapsing money. It's a matter of prudent policy. It was always the intention of the government to maintain a claims envelope over a number of years to fund this process. Having the money earmarked for this specific purpose underscores the government's commitment to resolving these claims in a fair and respectful manner.
Our government has also heard the concerns that first nations have with the specific claims process. We share those concerns and are working in partnership to identify fair and practical measures to improve the process. We are currently engaged in ongoing discussions with first nations and first nation organizations to identify and implement measures to improve the specific claims process. A joint technical working group with the AFN has been working on specific claims process reform.
This work, and your recommendations, will inform our efforts to reform and improve how we resolve specific claims.
We are committed to increasing the number of modern treaties and new self-government agreements in a manner that reflects a recognition of rights approach for individual first nation communities. I look forward to receiving this committee's recommendations on how we can improve these processes as well. We are already engaging in discussions with indigenous groups through the recognition of indigenous rights and self-determination discussions. These are more flexible discussions about finding areas of jurisdiction that indigenous communities or groups can draw down to move them closer to self-determination.
These initiatives are at the core of my new mandate. We know that strong governance and self-determination are the greatest contributing factors to the social and economic health of a community.
That brings me to the second topic of today's meeting, which is my new mandate.
A little more than 20 years ago, RCAP recommended that Canada dramatically improve the delivery of services to indigenous people while accelerating a move to self-government and self-determination. We agree with RCAP that rights recognition must be an imperative. We know that relationships built on colonial structures have contributed to the unacceptable socio-economic gap. That is why the Prime Minister announced the dissolution of INAC and the creation of two new departments.
Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs will advance reconciliation objectives and will lead on northern programming and Arctic policy. We must continue to address the day-to-day realities in indigenous communities directly, but we must also build a path to systemic change. The creation of two new departments is about dissolving a patriarchal, colonial structure that was designed to support the Indian Act.
This will allow us to focus our efforts on building strong, respectful, collaborative relationships between the crown and indigenous peoples. It's about understanding that we have to work together in a new way. We now get to rebuild two new departments in a way where form follows function.
A key part of my mandate is to lead a consultation process to determine how to achieve this goal.
In building this new system, we want to hear from indigenous people, people whose communities and nations existed in this land since time immemorial. We are listening to what indigenous groups have to say about their own vision of reconciliation.
Jane's department, which you will hear from in a moment, is focused on closing the gaps in the socio-economic outcomes, but we have to go beyond the federal government delivering services to indigenous people.
We must work to ensure that those services can be delivered and controlled by indigenous communities themselves.
We are working to achieve the goal of services being delivered and controlled by indigenous communities and indigenous-led institutions. My job is to help build indigenous governments and indigenous institutions that will deliver those programs that were once delivered by INAC.
Self-determination—the right to make choices about your community, your government, and your future—is a fundamental right. We know that if we truly want to move forward in partnership and reconciliation we need to look differently at the way we build crown-indigenous relationships. Part of my job is to make sure there is a whole-of-government approach—a sustainable approach—to these relationships to ensure all government departments are doing their part on the path to reconciliation and achieving the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
I look forward to answering your questions.
View Jane Philpott Profile
Ind. (ON)
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thanks to all of you for welcoming me here today with my honourable colleague, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. I very much look forward to discussing the supplementary estimates (B), as well as my mandate, with the members of this committee.
I also want to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
I want to thank this committee for your excellent work on a number of issues, including, of course, your important work on the study of the suicide crisis in indigenous communities. I want to thank you also for your work on the matter of third party management systems. Most recently, I know that you are doing a study on wildfires and fire safety on reserve, and I very much look forward to hearing the results of that study.
I look forward to building a positive working relationship with the committee as we work together to chart a path forward and advance reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
I'm privileged to be here today as Canada's first Minister of Indigenous Services. As Minister Bennett has already explained to you, the former Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs has been replaced by two distinct departments that are part of our transformative work in relationships with indigenous peoples.
Transforming how we structure ourselves, how we're sharing information, and how we're working with our partners and clients is helping to advance the nation-to-nation, Inuit-to-crown, and government-to-government relationships. The creation of this new Department of Indigenous Services is an important step in forging that renewed relationship with indigenous peoples that is based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. You'll have heard those words before, to the point that they may sound to you like buzzwords. Each of them carries deep meaning, and they are very intentional, such that we repeat them on a number of occasions.
I have been given a mandate to overhaul the way that programs and services for indigenous peoples are designed, developed, and delivered, and to do that in partnership with indigenous peoples.
With indigenous partners, we will ensure that our significant investments will produce real and improved results. Together we must close the unacceptable socio-economic gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Canada.
Madam Chair, we made a commitment to Canadians to pursue reconciliation with a renewed sense of collaboration, so I will be engaging and working productively with indigenous leaders and communities to identify and realize the systemic reforms that we all acknowledge are long overdue.
Much more than a name change, establishing a department whose sole purpose is to improve the quality and delivery of services in partnership with indigenous peoples underscores a desire to implement transformative change.
As the Prime Minister has said, “No relationship is more important to our government and to Canada than the one with indigenous peoples.”
The entire reason for this change is to enable first nations, Inuit, and Métis people to build the capacity to make their own decisions and deliver their own programs and services to fully implement their right to self-determination. That includes everything from family services and community infrastructure to health and education programs.
Once that is achieved, it is our hope and plan that there will no longer be a need for a Department of Indigenous Services. That won't be accomplished overnight, of course. In the meantime, the department has an ongoing responsibility to ensure the high-quality programs and services that indigenous peoples need, including improved access to services for indigenous children through programs such as Jordan's principle.
I want to take a few moments to elaborate on that. As this committee knows, the principle is named after Jordan River Anderson who died at Norway House Hospital in 2005 at the age of five after a dispute between federal and provincial governments as to who was responsible to pay for his care. In 2007, some of you were in the House of Commons, and others know that the House of Commons passed a motion declaring that jurisdictional disputes should never interfere with first nations children getting care. That motion was passed in 2007, but it was not implemented. Up until 2015, there were zero cases in which children received care based on this principle. Last year, we broadened the definition of Jordan's principle. We reiterated our plan to fully implement it, and we set aside enough funds to do so.
To date, we have approved more than 24,000 cases under that principle. These are children who were previously denied care and are now receiving mental health supports, respite care, medical equipment, physiotherapy, speech therapy, and more. Jordan's principle is being implemented to ensure that no child who requires care will go without it. No one should be left behind, no matter who they are or where they live.
In that spirit, I am very pleased this morning as well to announce that, along with the parties to the cases before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, an agreement has been reached to amend two aspects of CHRT's orders. The amendments address the CHRT's May 2017 ruling that the Government of Canada was seeking to clarify in a judicial review application to the Federal Court. As a result, Canada is withdrawing the federal application.
Madam Chair, I want to be very clear that how and by whom programs and services for indigenous peoples are developed and delivered must and will change. We know we must do more and do better. There is still criticism that we are not doing enough and not doing it fast enough. Let me respond in this way. Turning around the effects of generations of historic injustice and systemic discrimination against Canada's indigenous peoples could never be done fast enough.
In my mandate letter, I was directed to “leverage the ingenuity and understanding of Indigenous Peoples as well as experts from the private sector, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments and international experts on service delivery.” Working closely with indigenous peoples and these other important partners, my departmental officials and I will promote innovative approaches to all programs and services that increase equality of opportunity for indigenous peoples.
We intend to move forward on several key fronts. I'd be happy to elaborate on any of them. Let me itemize a few. We are taking an approach to transform the way health care is delivered in first nation communities. We are working with first nations to develop and enable their own solutions to address critical issues that are directly impacting their communities. We're developing and implementing an improved response, along with our partners, to child welfare to make sure the best interests of the child always come first. This requires a holistic approach focused on prevention, family preservation, family well-being and reunification, and community wellness. We will be discussing this with our partners at an emergency meeting on indigenous child and family services in the new year.
Improving essential infrastructure for indigenous communities, including housing, is another of our priorities.
We're also supporting the implementation of a distinct indigenous framework as part of a national early learning and child care framework that takes into consideration the unique needs of first nations, Inuit, and Métis children.
We're undertaking a review of all current federal programs that support indigenous students pursuing a post-secondary education to ensure the programs meet the needs of individual students and lead to high graduation rates.
We're leveraging investments in indigenous youth and sport, and promoting culturally relevant sport to strengthen indigenous identity and cultural pride.
We are promoting economic development opportunities in indigenous communities that improve the standard of living and quality of life of local residents.
Through supplementary estimates (B) this year, we have funded the new urban programming for indigenous peoples initiative, which has been designed to assist first nations, Inuit, and Métis living in or transitioning to urban centres. I would be happy to discuss the programming in detail.
In every instance, we will adopt a rigorous results-and-delivery approach that translates into real and meaningful changes in the lives of indigenous peoples. We have an obligation to seize this opportunity for bold change.
Madam Chair, rest assured we will engage and cooperate with indigenous peoples to determine the best way forward before we take action in these priority areas.
As we implement this ambitious agenda together, I have little doubt that together we can make great progress resulting in a measurable difference in the lives of indigenous peoples. I look forward to your questions.
Thank you very much. Meegwetch. Nakurmiik.
View Jane Philpott Profile
Ind. (ON)
Thank you. It's an excellent question.
As I indicated earlier, we work very closely with Inuit leaders in our work here. In fact, the Prime Minister established something called a permanent bilateral mechanism. We signed it almost a year ago now, an agreement between the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the representative of the four Inuit land claim organizations and governments, and our government on an Inuit-crown partnership committee. That is one of the tables that really drives our work forward in terms of setting the priorities of what Inuit want us to work on most urgently.
As it relates to my department, I can give you a few examples of that. One that I'm really enjoying, because it's so important, is the work that we're doing around our commitment to eliminate tuberculosis in Inuit Nunangat. This is something that's been a very, very long time coming. We've put together a task force within that committee. I've asked them, and Natan Obed has also commissioned this task force to come up with a very detailed plan as to how we're going to eliminate tuberculosis and what it's going to take. It's going to take things like housing. We have a really interesting approach to working with Inuit on a specific housing strategy for them. There is a whole range of services within our department.
I acknowledged in the past that Inuit have not necessarily known what their role is in terms of services. We are making sure that is clarified going forward.
View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Mr. Chairman, fellow members of Parliament, good morning and thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs for the first time. I appreciate the good work that members do on behalf of Canadian veterans and their families. I want to thank you for the hard work that went into your most recent reports, “Reaching out: Improving Service Delivery to Canadian Veterans” and “Mental Health of Canadian Veterans: a Family Purpose”. The former already precipitated a great deal of change since it was tabled a year ago and the latter is very near to my heart as a long-term advocate for mental health awareness.
We have been taking action on your recommendations to ensure the programs that we deliver are efficient, valued, and meet the needs of our veterans. As I'm sure you're aware, our own internal report, “Delivering Service Excellence”, released earlier this year, complemented many of the recommendations that you made. We are committed to improving our current system. We have a plan in place to address the recommendations. We are hard at work implementing them. We are overhauling how we deliver services. While it will take five years to successfully complete the transition, 90% of the recommendations will be completed within three years. A few of the things that will take longer rely on other government departments or policy changes that are outside our authority.
Those changes are key improvements to the many systems, services, support measures, benefits and programs that veterans need to successfully transition to civilian life. I am proud to take office during this pivotal time in order to help implement them.
I talk many times about my own connection to the Canadian Armed Forces: the fact that I grew up at CFB Goose Bay, and that my brother Danny is a lieutenant commander in the Royal Canadian Navy. Actually, growing up at CFB Goose Bay—I don't know if I've ever told you, Mr. Chair—I was taught at a very early age that Trenton was nirvana. All the CAF forces at CFB Goose Bay couldn't wait to get back to Trenton. I said, “Someday I have to visit it.”
In discussions with my brother, he made me aware of some of the challenges even before I came into this role. It was quite fitting and an honour and a privilege to be named Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Associate Minister of National Defence, and to work alongside members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, veterans, and their families. This has given me the opportunity to take on these essential tasks of improving service delivery, closing the seam between the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada, and ensuring financial security for the most seriously ill and injured veterans.
We are here today to talk about what my department is doing, how the supplementary estimates reflect our approach to veterans' well-being, our accomplishments, and the work that remains to be done. Specifically, Veterans Affairs will receive an additional $26.1 million in these supplementary estimates, a 0.6% increase to $4.7 billion.
Before I speak to where we increased our estimates for new programs, it's important to point out that 90% of that budget figure represents payments directly to veterans and their families. For many veterans, this means the pain and suffering disability award in recognition of her or his injury. More than that, though, it goes to the earnings loss benefit of 90% of their pre-release salary, paid out during vocational rehabilitation. It also goes to the vocational rehabilitation that works with the veteran through the injury, which might be a barrier to finding her or his new normal.
If that veteran cannot re-establish after rehabilitation, it provides through the extended earnings loss benefit of 90% of pre-release salary paid out until the age of 65. It also goes to the career impact allowance if the veteran has a severe and permanent impairment, and to the career impact allowance supplement if that impairment results in a diminished earning capacity.
When a veteran turns 65, it goes to the retirement income security benefit or the supplementary retirement benefit.
Ultimately, all veterans who come to one of our many area offices can now be assured that most of our funding is used to recognize their pain and suffering and to set up and maintain wellness programs that provide a safety net during their recovery.
Let me say this again because it's an important point. Ultimately, for any veteran who comes to the door of one of our many area offices today, they can rest assured that the majority of our funding is going towards recognizing their pain and suffering, and establishing and maintaining the well-being programs that provide a safety net while they are mending.
But we still have work to do. We are enhancing the financial security and wellness elements of the new Veterans Charter to help veterans and their families transition to civilian life and make choices about what they want to do next, whether it be work, education, or other activities.
These supplementary estimates (B) primarily include funding for several budget 2017 initiatives. This funding and our overall guiding focus is about improving the lives of Canadian veterans, whether it be through enhanced education and employment services, the new caregiver recognition benefit that will provide $1,000 a month tax-free to the informal caregiver, or other critical programs we introduced in budget 2017, which will be implemented on April 1, 2018.
Of course, some of the funding went to the Invictus Games Toronto 2017, where veterans and active military members alike embraced the power of sport as they pushed through barriers and proudly represented our country. While it was an incredible event for the millions of spectators, I know there are many veterans who need more support from us, and that's why we're here today.
We are on the right track to improving our support for veterans. For example, of the 67,000 individuals who received the disability award increase reflected in these estimates, which put approximately $700 million in the pockets of our veterans, around 37,000 received their amended payment immediately, as a result of our move towards a fully automated system.
Having already done so much in reinforcing the benefits that make up our wellness model and bolstering the successes of the new Veterans Charter, we will announce more details on our monthly pension option for veterans shortly. We know this is an eagerly awaited announcement. We are committed to giving veterans and their families the best options to ensure their financial security and getting them the best possible support in their post-military lives.
We are all here to serve Canada's veterans. At the end of the day, those who need our assistance now or in the future need to know that we are here to assist them, and that we will continue to expand and adapt to the needs of our growing and diverse veterans community, especially with the help of this committee.
Thank you for your time.
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2017-11-30 8:48
Thank you.
Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our fall 2017 report on Canada Revenue Agency's call centres. Joining me at the table is Martin Dompierre, the principal who was responsible for the audit.
Every year, taxpayers have questions about their taxes. The agency's telephone call centres are an important way for members of the public to obtain tax information, especially for those who do not have Internet access, those who are uncomfortable using computers, and those who cannot find answers on the agency's website.
Our audit looked at whether the Canada Revenue Agency's call centres provided Canadians with timely access to accurate information. We focused on calls received on three of the call centre's telephone lines—one for individuals, one for businesses, and one about benefit payments. We also examined the agency's methods of assessing and reporting on its call centres' performance.
Overall, we found that the agency did not provide timely access to accurate information.
We found that the agency blocked 29 million calls, which was more than half the calls it received. The agency monitored how long callers waited to speak with an agent. When the average wait time approached two minutes, the agency either blocked calls, usually by giving them a busy signal, or directed them to the automated self-service system.
The agency told us that callers would prefer a busy signal or an automated message to waiting more than two minutes to speak with an agent. However, the agency had not surveyed callers to verify this assumption. As a result, callers had to make an average of three or four call attempts in a week, and even after several attempts, some callers still didn't reach an agent.
Through our tests, we found that the rate of agent errors was significantly higher than what the agency estimated. Call centre agents gave us inaccurate information almost 30% of the time. This is similar to the test results of other assessors and significantly higher than the error rate estimated by the Canada Revenue Agency.
We found that the agency’s quality control system didn't test the accuracy of agents’ responses effectively or independently, so the results of its tests were unreliable. For example, in most cases, agents knew that their calls were being monitored, which may have encouraged them to change their behaviours to improve their performance.
Finally, the agency reported that about 90% of callers were able to reach either the self-service system or call centre agent. However, we found that percentage didn't account for the calls it blocked, which were more than half its total call volume.
Only 36% of all calls made to the agency's call centres reached either an agent or a self-serve system and lasted a minute or more. Furthermore, by blocking calls or redirecting them to the self-service function, the agency was able to report that it achieved its two-minute service standard for agent wait times.
We are pleased to report that the Canada Revenue Agency has agreed with all of our recommendations and has committed to taking corrective action.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.
Thank you.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:28
I'm actually very proud of the people who work at the CRA. I spent my first year visiting most if not all of the call centres. I've sat beside some of the people answering the phones, and I've sat in the rooms where they're trying to direct the calls through the system we have.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:28
I want to say that I am actually very proud of the people who work on our systems, and I think they're doing the best job they can with the technology they have. They've actually shown some innovation and a lot of integrity here.
We're going to give them the tools they want. On the reporting side, in the past we have focused our reporting on meeting the “80% within two minutes” objective. We are now broadening that out to, I think, provide a more comprehensive view of what's going on.
As I said earlier—
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:29
Right. We have focused on the 80% within two minutes. We are now going to provide more comprehensive reporting. In the departmental results report, we started to report on the more complete picture. Yes, there is that. If you get through, it's within two minutes, but we know that there are people who are not getting through. We want to report on that and we want to make progress on all of those fronts.
For example, that's one of the reasons why we experimented with increasing the wait time to see if we could change that, because it is a choice that has to be made in terms of how many people can come through and how quickly they can be served, until we get the new technology, which will allow us to provide wait times to people, and they can choose whether they'd like to wait.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:30
In that regard, I think, we always do the best we can with the resources we have. We don't have infinite resources, so we always have to make choices about what we do.
I'm telling you now that we are going to be investing in this technology, but I don't want to give you the sense that it's just technology. That will be a big help to us, but we are taking steps before then. We need to look at our systems. We need to look at our training. All of those things will be ongoing pressures.
The other thing I haven't mentioned, which is interesting to note, is that service is a more comprehensive vehicle than just call centres, and we have to think about the information that we provide in general in the service area. How's our website? Can people go there and get the information they want, to the point where they don't need to call as often?
We're looking at all of the aspects of how we provide information to Canadians, but today we're talking about the call centres. Technology will be a big change for us, but we also, as I said, are looking at our training and our systems and making sure that we're giving our people all the tools they need.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:32
I am not very surprised by the results.
We knew there were problems with access. We made the choice to have a wait time of less than two minutes, but that was necessary because clients were getting a busy signal. The result as to the veracity of the answers shows that there is certainly room for improvement, as well as the fact that our report is perhaps not as transparent as it should be.
There are things to be improved, but it is not a big surprise.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:33
I will not comment on that 84%.
Overall, we have to improve the training for agents and make sure that the answers provided to taxpayers are accurate.
Also, we have to continually improve the agency's services.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:35
That is why we have an action plan to improve the situation.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:35
Once again, that 84% pertains to a question in a survey.
I said we have to improve the situation. Overall, we have to provide accurate information to Canadians. We will take measures to improve through technology and training, and find out what exactly the problem is. We will be able to receive calls, better understand the source of the problems, and correct them. That is my commitment in this regard.
That is my answer.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:37
I have fully understood the questions and the problems and have committed to improving the situation through the action plan. It is clear that technology will improve our situation and will allow us to direct the questions to people who can answer fairly complex questions. Further, we now offer better training to these people and provide them with better tools.
I have taken the recommendations very seriously. We will make changes at the agency in order to offer better service to Canadians.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:57
I would just say that more information can be better, typically, and if we could typically report.... We answered calls within two minutes 80% of the time. That doesn't say anything about how many people didn't get through, so I would call that inadequate information. It's not misleading. It's not inaccurate, but it doesn't tell a part of the story that would be of interest to Canadians.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 10:09
The taxpayer relief provisions are important, but I think providing accurate information to people is even more important.
So it is by ensuring that the information is accurate and appropriate that we can improve. I think the agency has shown integrity over the years and that people have to trust it. To my mind, we have to ensure that we are providing the best information possible to Canadians. Since this is a very important responsibility for the agency, we will make improvements in this regard.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 10:11
Mr. Chair, it's an interesting question. I'm pleased to say that the morale in this area is high.
I'll just refer to the example last year on the appeals audit, which, again, was difficult for us because it pointed to a number of shortcomings in our appeals process in terms of timeliness. We weren't giving information in a way that tax payers expected. When I talked to the appeals people afterwards, they were actually somewhat energized. To go back, people there understand some of the problems in the system. When we have a motivated action plan to correct it, they get energized by it.
I did ask the question. I sent out the message, as indicated, to tell people about the report, the importance for us, and the importance of improving. I asked the representatives from the call centres how people are feeling. They said that they actually feel good. They're feeling that this is an opportunity for us to really improve, to make sure that we're giving them the right tools. We have the technology on the horizon, but there will be an importance, a priority, attached to this by virtue of what I'm doing and by virtue of what Frank and Gillian are doing. People are seizing that opportunity.
We have to deliver on that. I know that will be an issue for the committee and the Auditor General. Are we going to commit to improving the way that we've laid out in our action plan? I believe that we will. Our employees will be expecting that and putting our feet to the fire.
For the moment I can say, yes, they're feeling motivated to make improvements to the system.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 10:22
I think, Mr. Chair, this goes back to my earlier point. One can construct different measures of how one is doing. Again, the 80% in two minutes is one measure. What I prefer, and my commitment, is to make sure we're presenting the total picture. We can talk.... I'll let Frank speak a little bit about the potential, I think, of 87% or 90%, which could be caller acceptance—
Susan Hart
View Susan Hart Profile
Susan Hart
2017-11-23 11:58
We evaluate the applications using the criteria in our application guide. There are essential criteria and relative criteria. Technology is an essential criterion. Most of the applications we receive are for fibre optic. We consider the applications we receive. I said earlier that satellite service is offered in Nunavut. The reason is that fibre optic service would be extremely expensive. Those applications that we received were therefore for satellite service.
We consider the cost-benefit ratio, the partners, and the other stakeholders who will be investing in the project. We consider various criteria to determine the most cost-effective way of achieving the program objectives. Moreover, it is not just fibre optic and satellite service. There are also other technologies, such as wireless networks. That said, most applications are for fibre optic service. We do not decide that one location will have satellite service and another one will have fibre optic. We consider what is submitted to us and what is best for the communities.
Perhaps Mr. Delorme would like to add something.
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2017-11-23 9:44
I'll answer, and I'll ask Mr. Dompierre to correct me if I go wrong on this.
If a person does not make their payment by the time it's due, then the CRA, in all likelihood, is going to charge them interest.
Then, I guess, if the person wants to take that up with the CRA, they will have to navigate the system again to get back in contact with CRA and try to say, “Well, wait a minute. You told me I had to pay it on this date, and I paid it on this date, and now you're charging me interest.” They would have to navigate that system all over again—one they perhaps had some frustration navigating in the first place—just to be able to get the original question answered. How that will end up being resolved, I don't know. It wasn't the point of the question, but it would put the individual back to having to try to take up their issue again with CRA.
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2017-11-23 9:46
No, we couldn't get there because, again, we weren't asking taxpayer-specific questions. To get to that type of detail, we would have had to go through a taxpayer file. We just asked the questions in a general sense.
Martin Dompierre
View Martin Dompierre Profile
Martin Dompierre
2017-11-23 9:47
Mr. Chair, we did not make that sort of specific request. We were trying to keep the exchange anonymous as we were getting a right or wrong answer. If it was right, we were saying thank you; if not, we were cutting off the conversation at that point—
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2017-11-23 9:47
Of course, as you can see, we documented all the answers we got as part of our audit procedures. We didn't go that step—as you say, that would have been a little odd—but we documented all the answers we received.
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2017-11-23 9:49
I'll let the committee consider whether it should bring the clerk forward. What encourages me is certainly the committee's interest in trying to get the departments and the whole government machinery to understand the importance of this aspect.
This is just something that is coming to me right now, but perhaps some sort of a review of departmental performance reports could be done to look for any indicators in them that are dealing with services to citizens. In some of those you might see that at least on the surface some of them look good, but that some of the other ones weren't really telling very much about the service. You might want to do something like that.
I probably just created a whole bunch of work for your analysts.
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2017-11-23 9:51
I would suggest probably a couple of things.
One is that when there is the original acceptance of a project—if you're talking about a payroll system or about Shared Services, whatever you're talking about—the chances that the project sponsor will be able to come forward at the conception point of the idea and the acceptance of the project and give a precise number for how much that is going to cost, a precise date for when it is going to be delivered, and a precise number for the end impact in terms of whether there are going to be efficiencies are slight . I would say it would be extremely rare for somebody to be able to come in at the conception of these very complex projects and say this is going to cost x number of dollars, I'm going to deliver it on this date, and it's going to save you this amount of money.
Those things need to be updated during the course of the whole project, based on what is being learned through the course of the project. There will need to be some understanding that this is starting to look more complex than originally thought, so maybe it's going to cost more or maybe we need to delay it some more.
Those things will all have to be considered: “Maybe we can't do everything we thought we were going to be able to do in the first place, or maybe we can do this, but it's not going to provide all the efficiencies that we thought.”
Those things all need to be updated during the course of the project. I think what happens too often is that these projects get anchored on amounts that were established very early on. I think that's one part of understanding these types of projects.
I would say the other thing is to never underestimate the importance of a good governance structure on complex projects. It can't all be in the hands of the individuals or the team that is responsible for delivering the project. There needs to be some oversight by people who are not just the project deliverers. Then there needs to be some independent expertise that can advise the individuals charged with the oversight. That could be by internal audit or outside evaluators, but they should be reporting to the people with the oversight, not reporting to the people who are delivering the project.
I'm not saying that's what's happened in any of these cases. I'm saying that conceptually, those are the types of things I think are needed.
Michael Ferguson
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Michael Ferguson
2017-11-23 10:07
I'll start trying to give you an explanation, and I'll ask Mr. Goulet for more details.
The graph is dealing with just the 46 departments, so it is dealing with the departments that were being served by the Miramichi pay centre. Certainly by the time all of the second wave was done, everything had been transferred, and everything that happened after that was happening in the new pay system, but of course there was a transition period in getting the 46 departments' pay requests all processed at the Miramichi pay centre. That would have happened over a period of time as their pay advisers were removed and the services were starting to be provided at the Miramichi pay centre.
I'm not sure, and maybe Mr. Goulet has the details, about exactly when those services started to move over to the pay centre, at what pace those 46 departments moved over, and by what time all of that was completed.
I'll ask Mr. Goulet to provide those details if he has them.
Michael Ferguson
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Michael Ferguson
2017-11-23 10:11
They need to resolve this very quickly. I would suggest pushing for short time frames. A 30% error rate on people coming forward with tax questions certainly is not appropriate.
They need to get their own internal quality assurance measurement. They need to get that to the point where it is accurate, so that they can track the error rate and they don't have to wait for us or somebody else to do it.
They've been doing that, but again, the process they use is not independent. For example, they will make anonymous calls to the agents as well, and ask questions similar to the ones we asked. The agents say that when they get that call, their call display shows that the call is coming from a test line, so they know this call is monitoring their performance. Again, a right answer is to say you don't know and you have to pass it on. If you know you're being monitored, you might be more likely to say you don't know and you're going to pass it on, or there might be other ways that the behaviour is being affected.
They need to have a better way of making sure they get an accurate picture of the error rate. They need to get additional training in place; then they need to be able to demonstrate very quickly that this error rate is starting to go in the right direction.
Michael Ferguson
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Michael Ferguson
2017-11-23 10:13
I see three parts to the issue. There are the people answering the questions, and they need to have the ability to answer the questions. Again, in the audit we pointed out that in some cases they have to go to a number of different screens themselves to try to find the answer. The people need the tools and training to be able to answer the question.
The department is saying they need better technology to be able to respond to more calls, so they can explain that and explain to what extent that is part of the issue.
I think the other part is that they need to look at the front end as well. They need to look at their website. In their own survey, about 40% of the people who called on the individual lines, individuals looking for answers to their tax questions, said essentially that they couldn't find the answer to their tax question on the website. That was why they were calling. I think part of what they need to do is to be able to provide better, more easily accessible information on their website. That would help reduce the calls, and it would add more consistency to the responses as well.
Michael Ferguson
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Michael Ferguson
2017-11-23 10:16
Again, I think that's part of what is particularly concerning with our results. We were not asking very complex tax questions for which people had to get into a lot of detail in the Tax Act or anything. We were asking pretty general questions for which you would expect a high rate of right answers. I can't go any further, other than to say that we were obviously very concerned about the results that we were getting in these tests.
Jean-Philippe Tizi
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Mr. Jean-Philippe Tizi
2017-11-21 11:57
I'll respond to the first part and I'll let Bill do the second.
On the first part of the question, on financial assistance, I would say two things here. Obviously, the criteria of eligibility and households were defined by the province.
Jean-Philippe Tizi
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Mr. Jean-Philippe Tizi
2017-11-21 11:57
If I may, I will just correct the information here. It's not by address; it's by household. So here that was, I think, solid enough. Where we faced some difficulties was mainly around the fact that some communities were on alert and some were under evacuation order, and sometimes there were different situations on either side of the street. It was very complicated.
The only thing we would say then, as a lesson, is can we get organized in advance with regard to eligibility criteria, on the way to manage evacuation, on the way to deliver assistance? Is $600 enough for the first tranche? That's the kind of thing we need to go back to, and for us, it's about discussing ahead of time.
Bill, maybe you could complete the response.
Bill Mintram
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Bill Mintram
2017-11-21 11:58
In relation to serving and trying to meet the unique needs of indigenous communities, we also understood and continue to learn that the modality of electronic money transfer may not be the best choice, given people's access to banking. We do want to ensure that we have a variety of modalities so that we can meet the needs of people wherever they are, and can respond and work with leadership and communities in such a way that we can provide that vital support when it's needed. Within that, we as the Canadian Red Cross also offer a variety of different programs, as was mentioned, with community partnerships, support to small business, and other measures to provide additional supports that some of those policy measures provincially may not cover. Within that, we try to work with community and meet unique community needs.
I could go further, but I'll stop there.
Shannon Glenn
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Shannon Glenn
2017-11-06 16:27
In the survey we just conducted on emerging trends, there are a number of concerns that companies raised with respect to e-commerce, but I don't have the numbers here in terms of all of the concerns. The top ones were shipping costs, hassles of returns, and worries about cybersecurity, as opposed to connectivity. That said, we certainly recognize that it's a challenge on the intuitive level, but we don't have that quantification.
Serge Beaudoin
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Serge Beaudoin
2017-11-02 11:00
Good morning, Madam Chair and honourable members. Thank you for inviting us here today.
I am accompanied today by Lyse Langevin, Director General of the Community Infrastructure Branch of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
I am here today to provide information on this year's wildfires affecting first nations communities, emergency management on reserve, and on-reserve fire protection. I will also talk on our department's work on partnering with first nations and supporting their efforts to advance community resiliency.
In the spirit of reconciliation, the Government of Canada is committed to partnering with indigenous people in building resilient communities. It is really through this partnership that we action our shared priority of ensuring the health and safety of first nation residents. A critical component in ensuring the achievement of our shared priorities is departmental support of indigenous communities to effectively respond to and recover from emergency events, such as the wildfires that occurred this year.
As with any community in Canada, the responsibility for emergency management on reserve starts with the first nation communities themselves as the first level of response. When an emergency event exceeds the capacity or capabilities of the communities, they seek assistance from the provincial or territorial government, and if necessary, from the federal government.
Currently, the department supports first nation communities during emergency events through the emergency assistance program. This is a program that supports the four pillars of emergency management: preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery.
For response to emergencies, the emergency management assistance program reimburses first nations, municipalities, provinces, and territories, as well as third party emergency management service providers, up to 100% of eligible response and recovery costs, including costs of evacuations. Eligibility is determined according to the program's terms and conditions.
In recent years, events such as wildfires and floods are increasing in frequency, severity, and magnitude. This is a global trend, but this trend is also true in Canada. These events can result and have resulted in severe social, environmental, and economic consequences for both indigenous and non-indigenous communities alike. However, due to their relative remoteness and isolation in fire-prone areas, many first nation communities are more vulnerable to emergency events and the vulnerability can be exacerbated by remoteness or access to services during emergency events.
Thus, despite making up less than 1% of Canada's total population, one-third of wildfire evacuations over the last three decades in Canada have involved on-reserve indigenous communities. This year, 2017, has seen highly significant wildfires in four provinces affecting indigenous communities, including Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. During this period, first nations experienced the largest ever number of wildfire emergencies, 49 in total, resulting in their second largest ever number of evacuees. We're looking at over 12,800 people evacuated from first nations.
Alberta saw almost 500 evacuees as a result of wildfires in the southern part of the province. Statistically, this year, British Columbia experienced the largest ever provincial state of emergency. They experienced a record-breaking burnt land mass and approximately 3,200 first nation community residents were evacuated. In Manitoba this year, close to 7,000 remote indigenous community residents were evacuated and in the case of Wasagamack First Nation, community members resorted to using locally owned boats due to the immediacy of the wildfire threat. I'd like to emphasize that this was an extremely high-risk evacuation for the residents and demonstrates how quickly an emergency event can evolve and impact communities. Finally, in northern Saskatchewan, close to 2,300 indigenous community residents were evacuated from Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.
Overall for 2017, the estimated departmental response costs to support first nations communities in emergency events have been identified at just over $34 million.
During the immediate response phase of an emergency event, communities leverage existing service delivery capabilities within first nations, municipalities, provinces, territories and third party emergency management service providers such as the Canadian Red Cross.
Access to the services beyond the first nations capacity is secured through comprehensive emergency management service agreements between the department and the provinces or territories. Five such agreements are currently in place, and where an agreement is not yet in place, historical arrangements are in place, or other mechanisms to ensure a comparable level of service to those offered elsewhere in the province or territory.
However, the service agreements formally ensure that first nation communities have access to comparable emergency assistance services to those provided to neighbouring communities and non-indigenous communities.
In the spirit of partnership, the new agreements are being negotiated with the full participation of regional indigenous organizations. In the recovery phase of an emergency event, the department supports the repair or restoration of critical infrastructure on reserve to a pre-disaster condition to allow evacuees to return home. With the increase in wild land fire activity and increasingly strained fire suppression efforts, ensuring sustainable community recovery is becoming more and more critical.
In recognition of this, the department is also focusing efforts on the mitigation and preparedness pillars of emergency management. For preparedness and mitigation efforts, the department, in partnership with first nations, invested approximately $12.5 million in non-structural emergency mitigation and preparedness projects. These first nations community-led projects enhance capacity, placing emphasis on indigenous knowledge and practices. For example, since 2015 the department has funded regional partners to a total of $6.9 million to support FireSmart projects in indigenous communities.
To support the protection of first nation communities from the threat of wildfires, the department provides $16.5 million to provinces and territories annually under the emergency management assistance program for wildfire management agreements. Services provided in these agreements range from prevention to pre-suppression to suppression costs.
In addition to wildfires, community fire protection is an essential service that can make the difference between life and death for community residents.
First nations manage fire protection services on reserve. Community officials make the decisions regarding fire protection services under the annual core capital funding they receive from the department. To this end, first nations may establish their own fire departments or contract fire protection services from nearby communities.
Since 2008-2009, the department has provided almost 27 million dollars per year for capital investments, operating and maintenance costs, as well as firefighting training.
The department also funds the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada to support them in coordinating a number of fire prevention awareness and training activities, and advising on implementation of our joint first nations fire protection strategy. This strategy promotes initiatives that focus on fire prevention in order to support indigenous communities in reducing the risk of fire-related deaths and injuries, as well as losses to critical infrastructure.
The department is also committed to the creation of an indigenous fire marshal office. This would provide support to indigenous communities in their efforts to improve life safety and protection of residents, property, and environment. It would also support the development of appropriate indigenous fire services and relevant programs and services. We will continue to work in full co-operation with the Aboriginal Firefighters Association and other key partners on these and other critical elements that we know are needed to enhance fire safety for first nation communities across Canada.
The Government of Canada recognizes that a greater focus on fire prevention is absolutely critical to keeping people and communities safe from fire. This is not just about raising awareness of the importance of smoke alarms and fire safety, but also increased investments in first nation housing to help make homes on reserve meet applicable building codes and regulations.
I'll conclude by emphasizing that the department remains absolutely committed to partnering with indigenous organizations and communities in ensuring the health, safety, and resilience of their communities.
Finally, we will continue to work with them and other partners to ensure that indigenous communities receive comparable services to those of non-indigenous communities in Canada.
Thank you for your time. Merci.
Gary Walbourne
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Gary Walbourne
2017-11-02 8:57
It's a bittersweet thing, if I may say, because I do believe the mechanical pieces we require are in place in one form or another. I think the fundamental change that needs to happen first and foremost is that we must define what we want our programs of benefits and services to be. What ability we are trying to bring back to this transitioning member first needs to be determined.
I think the secondary issue that we're having is on who is responsible for what at any point in time. It's very convoluted now. I mean, there are various entities that can reach back to a member, so it's a little confusing on who's doing what. I believe there are programs that are running in duplication that could be sequenced. We could even see reductions in costs to the Government of Canada. There are many possibilities, but I think it's first and foremost, clear lines of responsibility and setting the program needs to our desired outcomes.
If we look at where the chief of defence staff is going, talking about the journey, he's talking about building some of these things. The JPSU needs to be the centre where these people are assigned, with a clear chain of command and one person responsible to decide when a member is being released and when Veterans Affairs Canada should be engaged.
The pieces are there; it's how we're exercising them, I think, is where we find the problem. Then we'll come up against some legislative...where there are certain authorities given to Veterans Affairs or not to the department, or they are given to the department. We need to decide who should have these responsibilities and who should be given this legislative right to implement these programs and services.
I think that the pieces we need are in place. It's a matter now of clearly defining what the programs are to be, who should be responsible, and giving that person the resources they need to do the job.
Gary Walbourne
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Gary Walbourne
2017-11-02 9:29
I've spent many years in the private sector also. I knew what my deliverables were, and if they weren't delivered, I knew my paycheques were going to be numbered in the future. If I have a public service standard that I've committed to meeting, and I'm consistently not doing it, there should be some questions. Why aren't we meeting this goal? Is this goal important? Is this the one we should be chasing? These questions, I think, are part of day-to-day business. They should be continuously answered, not addressed at a committee or in a report. These are things that everyone should be addressing every day.
If I'm not meeting 80% and I'm at 26%, what's the problem and what do I need to do to get there? No one is asking that question. I haven't seen any push or agitation in the system at all about the 26%. It seems to have flown under the radar.
Andrea Nalyzyty
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Andrea Nalyzyty
2017-10-31 12:28
Yes, not only with respect to gender issues, but all kinds of diversity issues and bringing products and services to clients in the way that they want them to be delivered and in what they want those products to deliver.
There are several examples of that. We obviously have branches. We have over a thousand branches across the country, or banking centres, but not everybody wants to bank with us that way. We make our services available through various channels—digital channels, telephone banking channels, mobile banking channels—and what we try to do is listen to our clients and bring them what they need. We also have a newcomer offer that we have developed to meet the unique needs of newcomers, and we have various employees supporting those offers.
Sayward Montague
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Sayward Montague
2017-10-05 17:04
The veterans independence program is something that's accessible to veterans who are eligible for it, obviously. It does some things quite well, and in other ways it could be improved. Obviously, scaling that with our geography and the numbers of people involved would be a challenge. The veterans independence program looks at those extra things that Ms. Mackenzie was talking about, which come to be considered necessities of living as we age: housekeeping, grounds maintenance, personal care, and so on.
The way the program is delivered permits some flexibility in which of those additional items the veteran chooses, to some extent, or what they must access the fund for. What works well is that there is some level of integration with provincial and municipal services or programs that may be available too, so it manages to tread that line between federal-provincial programs quite well in terms of its delivery.
Lola-Dawn Fennell
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Lola-Dawn Fennell
2017-10-03 16:20
I think I have more questions than solutions, really.
I wonder about increased reliance on volunteers to provide services for seniors. I don't think those volunteers are always skilled to do so, because seniors' issues are very complex.
I worry about the increasing reliance on community-based organizations to provide services for seniors. Community-based organizations such as my own rely on annual grants and fundraising, and I never know whether I have a job from year to year. It depends on our community gaming grant.
Again, I have more questions than answers. This is a really complex issue, and I honestly don't believe that talking about income security alone is the answer. We also need to look at housing and at community programs, because those issues are all so complex and so intertwined that you cannot pull one single issue out to address it.
John W. Boerstler
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John W. Boerstler
2017-10-03 9:42
That's a fantastic question. It's a huge dilemma for our public organizations that serve veterans.
Fortunately, within the system there are some extremely.... Particularly the Military Veteran Peer Network is a state-wide initiative that specifically goes to rural communities to which veterans return, and it connects them to institutional services, be those state agencies or other non-profits that may be headquartered there, which can provide them the services they need.
Also, the VA outpatient system—they call it the CBOCs, the community-based outpatient clinic system—is specifically punched out to areas from which it's too far to drive to the VA hospital for just routine medical appointments and mental health appointments. It makes sure that they are connected into those organizations and that they also have access to such opportunities as the 211 hotline, which covers the entire state here in Texas—Louisiana, our neighbours here, have a similar program—and that they are then triaged and sent to organizations that have the appropriate geographic coverage in that rural area.
It's not perfect. We're working on funding streams so as to be able to send more outreach workers to engage veterans in those rural communities, because the gap in the access to services, as you mentioned, sir, is a significant problem. This is the area in which we're seeing many of the more chronic mental health issues arise, because employment is down and entrepreneurship is down. We need to be more proactive on the front end and get out in front of those veterans.
View Terry Beech Profile
Lib. (BC)
Good morning, everyone. Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.
I'd like to start by thanking everyone on this committee for their hard work and for the relationship that we've been able to develop over the last number of months. Everybody on all sides has been very good about making sure that not only your riding issues are brought to the floor but also that we can work together on issues that affect the whole country. It has been a very positive relationship and I've enjoyed it greatly, so thank you.
Since the chair already introduced the staff, I'm going to move past that, but just know that there is a small army here as well, so if you have any specific details that you'd like to get into, we're well suited to get into the fine details.
I am here today to discuss the supplementary estimates (A). Specifically Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard are seeking Parliament's approval on $359.4 million for the following items: $166.7 million to maintain mission-critical services to Canadians, $145.5 million for the oceans protection plan, $32.2 million for the renewal of the Atlantic and Pacific commercial fisheries initiative, and $15 million to support negotiations on fisheries and marine matters.
Today, on behalf of the minister—and Minister LeBlanc sends his regrets for not being here today—I am pleased to share that our government has invested approximately $3 billion into the core operations for Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard through budget 2016, budget 2017, the oceans protection plan, and following a comprehensive program review. With these investments, Canadians will soon see a noticeable difference in the services they receive from Fisheries and Oceans and the Coast Guard. These important investments will improve the scientific evidence that decisions are based on, modernize aging infrastructure and IT capacity, renew efforts to restore habitat and rebuild depleting fish stocks, expand marine conservation and protection measures, create safer waterways for marine navigation, speed up response time for search and rescue missions, and strengthen our environmental response capacity.
These new resources will do more than just replace programs that have been lost in years past, as our oceans today face new threats with climate change, including flooding, droughts, and severe weather storms on every coast.
Our economy depends on safe navigation through waterways and ports that are busier than ever before. Our government has new priorities pertaining to reconciliation with Canada's indigenous people, working with municipal and provincial partners, and becoming global leaders in sustainable development.
The new investments will help DFO and the Coast Guard build the programs and services that Canadians need into the future. We know how much Canadians value DFO and Coast Guard programs. We understand how important these services are to Canadians. On the minister's behalf, I want to assure you that we are committed to maintaining those services related to Coast Guard's presence in inland waterways, that the Coast Guard dive team will remain at the Sea Island base, and that all elements of the salmon enhancement program will continue.
With significant, new investments in DFO and the Coast Guard, we will, in fact, be enhancing search and rescue services on all coasts and working with community partners on a number of ecosystem restoration projects. As you know, there are more demands on Canada's oceans and coastal areas than ever before. It is therefore vital that Canada have a plan in place that protects our oceans in a modern and advanced way and that ensures environmental sustainability, safe and responsible commercial use, and collaboration with coastal indigenous communities.
In order to meet these objectives, Prime Minister Trudeau announced a $1.5-billion national oceans protection plan last fall. I'm pleased to report that DFO, the Coast Guard, and other federal partners are making steady progress on key elements of this plan. For example, from a Coast Guard perspective, we are increasing search and rescue capabilities by investing in seven new lifeboat stations, four in British Columbia and three in Newfoundland and Labrador. A 24-hours a day, seven days a week emergency coordination capacity has been created within existing regional operation centres in Victoria, Montreal, and St. John's, complementing the new 24-7 emergency coordination capacity with the national command centre in Ottawa.
We are purchasing and installing emergency tow kits on 25 of the CCG's large vessels and leasing two new vessels on the west coast with the ability to tow large commercial ships and tankers.
We are creating four primary environmental response teams, which will strengthen the Coast Guard's on-scene capacity during marine pollution incidents. We are partnering with the Coast Guard Auxiliary to expand its network of over 400 search and rescue volunteers who engage in environmental response. We are also partnering with indigenous groups, coastal communities, and the private sector to ensure a faster and more efficient response to marine pollution incidents.
We are strengthening the Coast Guard's marine communications and traffic services centres to ensure uninterrupted communications with mariners.
The Canadian Coast Guard's efforts to deal with abandoned, derelict, and wrecked vessels, such as the ongoing operations related to the Kathryn Spirit and the upcoming work to be done to the Farley Mowat, speak to the organization's commitment, and that of its partners, to ensuring that such vessels of concern don't pose immediate risks to public safety or the marine environment.
This level of commitment will be enhanced by the oceans protection plan. Our government will continue to work in collaboration with provincial, territorial, municipal, and indigenous organizations to support the cleanup of smaller vessels that could potentially pose risks to Canadian coastal communities, while implementing a robust polluter-pay approach for future vessel cleanups.
In addition to this work, we have created a national, $75-million coastal restoration fund, which will be used for the preservation, protection, and restoration of marine environments and coastal habitat over the next five years. DFO scientists are undertaking a science-based review of three endangered whale species in Canada: the North Atlantic right whale, the St. Lawrence estuary beluga, and the southern resident killer whale. Online public engagement will be available soon. Harbour authorities, along with other eligible recipients, will have access to $1.3 million under DFO's small craft harbours program for the removal and disposal of abandoned and wrecked vessels from federally owned commercial fishing harbours.
Our government is committed to the long-term health of our oceans. In order to deliver on the minister's key priorities and commitments, a historic $1.4 billion is being invested in DFO and the Coast Guard over the next five years. Just to be clear, that is on top of the oceans protection plan. This will help shore up a number of key program areas, including an aging Coast Guard fleet; a wide range of communication towers, buoys, and maritime radars; search and rescue training; sustainable fisheries; conservation and protection activities; and the physical infrastructure and information technology the department needs to carry out its mandate.
The latest investment in DFO and the Coast Guard will also provide the resources required to support sustainable fisheries management, which includes the development and update of integrated fisheries management plans, or IFMPs. This will help address some of the concerns that were expressed by members of this committee and by the Auditor General. It will enhance DFO's capacity for conservation and protection, while investments in infrastructure and information technology will give employees the facilities and tools they need to do their jobs.
Before closing, I want to mention that the historic investments being made across DFO and the Coast Guard will result in the hiring of approximately 900 new staff, who will help deliver our ambitious mandate. DFO is working hard to accommodate this growing workforce.
Mr. Chair, this year Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday, but this is also a milestone year for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, whose heritage dates back to Confederation. While steeped in history, DFO is at the forefront of shaping Canada's domestic and global responses to very modem challenges. The historic investments I spoke about today will help ensure that Canada remains a world leader in all matters related to our oceans.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Michael MacDonald
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Michael MacDonald
2017-05-29 17:43
Again, I think that needs to be looked at in terms of the purpose of having a tiered model. I'm not sure, David, if you have anything more. I think it's worth assessing and seeing the value of a tiered model, and what more it gives you that perhaps doesn't exist today. What does it give to prospective and current clients?
Michael MacDonald
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Michael MacDonald
2017-05-29 17:48
Chair, that really comes down to three common areas where we've fostered the relationship and tried to move it forward.
The first area is around the complaints process. We have been having conversations with the ICCRC around the length of time it takes to resolve complaints, respecting the fact that things don't always have a perfect start and end date. That's understandable. But we feel there's more that can be done, and it needs to be done faster, and that's the message we've delivered.
The second area is around education. I think they can do a better job, and we're trying to help them do a better job, in ensuring that the consultants who are registered do have the best basis in understanding of the systems, including our forms and everything that's out there.
The third, which are the conversations we entered into not long ago, is really around the stability of the organization. Again, if there are areas where they need help ensuring the stability of the organization—the board or the organization itself—we are open to dialogue and to actively helping and sharing lessons learned and so on.
Michael MacDonald
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Michael MacDonald
2017-05-29 18:00
Graduated licensing could be adopted, and in fact it exists today in terms of student advisers at universities.
David Cashaback
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David Cashaback
2017-05-29 18:01
In December 2014, the ICCRC adopted a bylaw that granted limited licensure to international student advisers. It was a conversation that took place within the independent body—we participated, of course—in order to find a way for these student advisers to be able to offer some degree of assistance to students, but it's not full membership in the organization.
David Cashaback
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David Cashaback
2017-05-29 18:02
I don't have any from the student perspective. In the spirit of the conversation we're having today, Mr. Chair, this was an example of a situation where it was not clear what kinds of services these student advisers were providing, whether they were falling within or without the legislative and regulatory framework. This was a positive step at the time to address a need. Our understanding is that it has worked acceptably for students. It gives them a service where otherwise there would be a grey zone.
Faith McIntyre
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Faith McIntyre
2017-05-18 12:04
Thank you very much.
Mr. Chair and honourable members, it's certainly a privilege to be able to address you today. I have some very brief remarks just to situate the context of the changes that are being put forward for division 12 of the budget implementation act. I will be brief because I know there are some time constraints today.
We are here to discuss the budget implementation act that includes three of the eight budget 2017 initiatives that were provided for Veterans Affairs Canada. They include the veterans education and training benefit; a redesigned career transition services program; and the new caregiver recognition benefit; as well as a change in the name of the act and enhancements to simplify administration, all of which will come into place as of April 1, 2018 and total $624 million of investment over five years.
To begin, we are proposing to change the name of the act from the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act to the Veterans Well-being Act. This change highlights the important link to our ultimate goal, which is the well-being of veterans.
As well, the family caregiver relief benefit will be replaced with the caregiver recognition benefit, a monthly payment of $1,000 tax free and indexed annually that will go directly to the caregiver. It will be provided in recognition of the valuable role that caregivers play in supporting seriously disabled veterans.
In addition to the supports for families and caregivers, we are doing more for veterans transitioning to their post-military life. We are introducing the veterans education and training benefit. It will cover up to $40,000 in tuition and other costs for veterans who have served at least six years and up to $80,000 for veterans who have served at least 12 years. Of this, $5,000 can be used towards professional and personal development courses such as pursuing a real estate licence.
We're also redesigning our career transition services so that more people can use them, including serving members of the armed forces, and the survivors, spouses and common-law partners of veterans.
Labour market information, career counselling and job search assistance services will be provided based on needs. The service providers will have access to job search assistance and counselling in order to work with veterans and employers to ensure success. The veterans will be guided by coaches who understand military life and culture.
We are also adding ways to help streamline program delivery. The act includes a more simplified application waiver that will enable the department to waive application for benefits and to make decisions if the department already has the necessary information on file. This change is being added to the general provisions, so it will apply to all programs.
In closing, the measures included in budget 2017 and the budget implementation act will go a long way to support veterans and their families as they transition out of the military and settle into civilian life. However, the job is not yet complete. There are additional measures that are currently being pursued that will be announced in the coming months. An example is the lifelong pension. The department is committed to continue the research and work to understand the needs of veterans and their families.
I thank you for the opportunity to speak briefly to you today in my remarks, and I am certainly available now to take your questions.
Faith McIntyre
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Faith McIntyre
2017-05-18 12:16
Thank you again for that question. It's a very important one.
I acknowledge that the system is complex and is not necessarily the easiest to manoeuvre through, whether from a client perspective or at times even from a staff perspective.
As you know, we've made a significant investment in order to hire about 400 new employees directly in the field and in the service delivery area. We have developed a very robust national orientation training program that all of our new field staff have gone through—and will be going through, if they are very recent hires. Part of it is certainly explanation of policy and of benefits, and it includes explanation of systems.
As well, we will be rolling that orientation out to all of our existing staff to make sure that everybody is at the same level of understanding. Even more so, for example, in my area in policy, the training and orientation will also be offered to staff in other areas of the organization.
More specifically to your point, we also just completed a service delivery review. One outcome of that service delivery review acknowledged that communication needs to be more assured in terms of the way we communicate, from a functional direction perspective, with the field. As well, there needs to be a reduction of complexity, in the numbers of policies, of business processes; it ties back even to the legislative authorities that we have.
How can we best simplify that work going forward? We have already reduced our policies by more than 200 in the last few years. We are also looking, as an example, through what we're doing with the budget implementation act, putting in this waiver whereby, if we already have all of the information on file, we would be able to make a decision without having to have contact directly with the veteran to get further information. We can then also look at what other benefits they would be eligible for and make decisions on those. That should reduce the, as you said, unfortunate need for the veteran to be constantly going back and forth and possibly even requesting reviews and appeals.
It's certainly something we're very aware of through the training, orientation, and even our service delivery review action plan. We are looking actively at moving forward.
Michael Tutthill
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Michael Tutthill
2017-05-15 15:55
Starting 44 years ago in 1973, Gays for Equality offered a telephone information line, peer counselling service, and a resource library on the University of Manitoba campus. The group went on to become a leader and an important resource for the gay and lesbian community, providing community service, education, outreach, political awareness, and activism.
Today, known as the Rainbow Resource Centre, our mission is to provide support, education, and resources to foster a proud, resilient, and diverse LGBT2SQ+ community in Manitoba. This diversity includes refugees, asylum seekers, and other newcomers. We offer a newcomer-led social support group called New Pride of Winnipeg. The group meets twice a month, and it is a chance for gender and sexual minority newcomers to support one another and find community. Currently the group includes six claimants, two convention refugees, 23 permanent residents, one citizen, and 13 visa holders.
We provide support to newcomers in our counselling program. Currently we have five refugee claimants, one person considering a refugee claim, two under appeal, one facing a deportation order, three awaiting IRB decisions, nine with a permanent resident application pending, and two newcomers with unknown status.
Newcomer counselling clients may be newly arrived, have had a student visa and are making a refugee claim, have been sponsored through organizations like Reaching Out Winnipeg, or increasingly have crossed the border irregularly. Our counsellors provide support to prepare for the IRB hearing; follow up on the invasive questions faced by claimants appearing before the IRB; and begin to address the trauma experienced during the clients' journey in their home country or in the country of temporary asylum, which is almost never safe for sexual and gender minority people.
Often, our counsellors are the first people to ask the question, what's the best part of your LGBT2SQ+ identity? The answer to this question is the beginning of an assessment process to provide a letter confirming someone's gender or sexual minority identity or experience. Like many Canadians, many of the gender and sexual minority newcomer clients we see may not identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer, but use language appropriate to their own culture and personal history.
I'd like to thank and congratulate the department for releasing the Chairperson's Guideline 9: Proceedings before the IRB involving Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression. The guidelines address many of the concerns we experience during IRB hearings, and acknowledge the complexities of sexual and gender minority experience and identities. In preparing for an IRB hearing, our staff and clients' lawyers spend significant time addressing inconsistencies on the basis of claim.
Often, asylum seekers might be out to some service providers, yet not to others. Sometimes clients would be advised by settlement service workers or other service providers not to come out at all. This advice is well intentioned, given the Canadian LGBT2SQ+ people often come in contact with heterosexist or cissexist service providers. However, it does create perceived inconsistencies in the basis of claim for newcomer clients.
It is common for Canadian LGBT2SQ+ people to not be out to all of the service providers. One of our staff members has been married to a same-sex partner for five years and just came out to his doctor a couple of months ago.
IRB members have also asked our clients how they can have a child if they are a lesbian. The answer: for any of same reasons a Canadian lesbian can have a child. The guidelines provide IRB members, service providers, lawyers, and claimants with a framework of accountability in assessing claims of sexual orientation and if adhered to, will address some of these concerns.
These examples highlight our unique expertise as a community in assisting sexual and gender minority newcomers and refugees. This committee will hear from many organizations across the country that support sexual and gender minority refugees through sponsorship and settlement services. For decades, LGBT2SQ+ people in communities have been supporting one another in creating spaces to understand our identities and navigate the heterosexism or cissexism that we encounter daily.
We will continue to learn about the realities faced by sexual and gender minority newcomers, and we are well positioned to help you settle these clients in Canada.
Many newcomer clients, as I mentioned, will choose to be out in some parts of their lives but not in others. Many may be out in LGBT2SQ+ spaces, but not out within their ethnocultural community. Clients may be out to some family members, but not others. We also live with this reality. LGBT2SQ+ organizations are well positioned to make appropriate referrals, educate existing settlement services on gender and sexual minority realities, connect clients to their local LGBT2SQ+ communities and support, and create safer spaces within our own communities for newcomers to settle in. We're also well positioned to assist newcomers to navigate their new reality in a country that celebrates the achievement of same-sex marriage, but where it is not always safe to be out, where sexual and gender minorities continue to face discrimination in areas of health care, education, housing, and employment.
Continuing the rainbow refugee assistance program acknowledges and supports the communities who are best positioned to settle and sponsor gender and sexual minority refugees. Sponsorship by Canadian LGBT2SQ+ communities, like a contact with our centre, helps to ensure that gender and sexual minority refugees are met with community support upon their arrival in Canada. While we encourage non-LGBT2SQ+ people to sponsor gender and sexual minority refugees, given the humanity urgency of a situation, we also acknowledge that many sponsorship agreement holders are busy with the important work of family reunification. The rainbow refugee assistance program encourages our communities to sponsor persecuted people—
Kimahli Powell
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Kimahli Powell
2017-05-15 16:21
It all depends on the different countries.
If you're talking about Canada specifically, one area of concern for individuals here, particularly for those who have not filed a case, is the length of time. I'm sure you've heard about the issues surrounding legacy claims, as far as individuals who have waited to actually get a hearing.
There is also the issue of access to support. In the Netherlands, for example, when you arrive, you have immediate access to support. In Ontario, if you file a claim, you have to wait up to six weeks to get Ontario Works.
There are some issues as far as access to services when those individuals arrive, and the quality of those services as well.
Ron Parker
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Ron Parker
2017-05-11 8:55
Madam Chair, we are pleased to appear before your committee to discuss Shared Services Canada's 2017-2018 main estimates and departmental plan.
With me are John Glowacki, Chief Operating Officer, Alain Duplantie, Chief Financial Officer and Senior Assistant Deputy Minister for Corporate Services, and Sarah Paquet, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of Strategy.
Shared Services is mandated to modernize the government's information technology infrastructure. Created in 2011, we deliver email, data centre, network, and workplace technology device services, as well as cyber and IT security services to the departments and agencies across the Government of Canada.
Our work supports the digital delivery of programs and services such as employment insurance, pension benefits, and emergency responses. As outlined in our departmental plan, improving the delivery of IT infrastructure services is our top priority. As a recent example, SSC played a leading role earlier this year in managing the cyber-vulnerability related to a software called Apache Struts 2, which became a worldwide problem for government and private sector systems around the beginning of March.
Canada was well positioned to respond to this threat thanks to SSC's enterprise-wide security approach. This approach provides a better view of government networks and infrastructure, and therefore the ability to take quick and coordinated action for all departments and agencies that are part or our security perimeter.
Ultimately, all systems and services for Canadians remain secure as SSC coordinated with the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Communications Security Establishment to quickly isolate vulnerable systems and ensure the protection of government and citizen data.
This fiscal year is an important one for us. With our planned 2017-18 budget of $1.7 billion, we will continue to strengthen cybersecurity and refresh legacy mission-critical IT infrastructure. We will also build on our progress towards achieving our target state. Our goal, for example, is the consolidation of what's now estimated at approximately 700 legacy data centres to seven or fewer enterprise data centres. To date, we have closed more than 90 legacy data centres and opened two enterprise data centres. Construction is under way for a third enterprise centre in Borden, Ontario.
SSC's main estimates represent an increase of almost $176 million over last year. This is mostly due to the multi-year funding provided in budget 2016, which we're investing in a number of projects to maintain and replace legacy mission-critical infrastructure, critical IT equipment, and some security investments.
SSC is using these funds to replace more than 40,000 out-of-date components, such as older servers, networks and telecommunication systems.
This includes upgrades to a number of telephone systems, including six RCMP operational control centres in British Columbia for 911 capability.
We have also replaced 3,000 BlackBerry devices for Global Affairs Canada to ensure secure and reliable mobile communications at missions abroad.
Today many of the government's infrastructure components are reaching the end of their life cycles, and some are no longer supported by vendors. Our work in maintaining legacy equipment is therefore vital to keeping the operations of the government running smoothly to ensure continuity of services to Canadians.
Shared Services Canada also secures the integrity of the network systems and information. As I discussed earlier, the security we provide is a clear advantage for the Government of Canada. It did not exist before SSC.
Our cybersecurity efforts were supported by Budget 2016 funding of $77 million over five years. Our department collaborates closely with other agencies, such as the Communications Security Establishment, in putting in place security controls.
This work includes maintaining the integrity of the IT supply chain. To date, Shared Services Canada has performed more than 17,000 supply chain assessments and will continue to incorporate security controls for all of our procurements.
On procurement, I would like to mention that budget 2017 included proposed legislative amendments to make the delivery of IT goods and services simpler, easier, and faster. The proposed changes would amend the Shared Services Canada Act and were part of the budget implementation act.
This would allow the minister responsible for Shared Services Canada to delegate the purchase of certain items, such as workplace technology devices, directly from vendors through SSC's contracting vehicles. SSC will continue to set up IT contracts and ensure economies of scale. As well, we will continue to perform the supply chain integrity assessments to ensure only trusted equipment, software, or services are used in the delivery of services.
We welcome these changes as they will provide better service to our customers while ensuring value for money in enterprise security using our procurement tools.
This coming year, we will update the Government of Canada IT infrastructure plan to modernize IT infrastructure and government-wide cyber and Internet security.
The updated IT plan will reflect lessons learned from SSC's early experience as well as the broad-based consultations we held last year with SSC employees and other federal public servants, Canadians, and industry. Overall, we received more than 2,500 submissions from stakeholders. The updated plan will also reflect the views of parliamentarians, the Auditor General, and the independent panel of experts commissioned by the Treasury Board Secretariat.
Once the plan is considered by ministers, it will be our road map for the subsequent three years. It will include timelines for moving to a simpler, smarter, and more secure government-wide platform.
We have already taken action on some of the recommendations.
For example, we have developed a service management strategy to deliver service excellence and improve the planning, costing and delivery of our services to customers and Canadians.
As part of this, we survey chief information officers every month, asking them questions on five key areas: timeliness, ease of access, positive outcome, process aspects, and engagement experience. This past March, we scored 3.2 out of 5, up from 2.71 in July 2016, and the highest we've scored to date. This is an important achievement, reflecting the heroic efforts of our employees. We must continue, because there is still a lot to do.
We are also in the process of renewing all business arrangements with our customers. These arrangements clearly identify the IT services and support we provide, as well as our service performance standards. They are a key part of our commitment to quality service delivery.
We're also increasing the agility of government IT. This includes completing a collaborative procurement process to establish standard and secure access to commercially available cloud services for unclassified data for all of our customers. Among their many benefits, cloud services will permit easier and faster access to compute and storage services. They will also allow government workers to be more innovative in how they offer services to Canadians.
Much remains to be done to modernize government IT, but we are making steady and important progress. We are also proud of the partnerships we have established with our customers and what we've achieved together.
Madam Chair, this concludes my remarks. We would be pleased to take the committee's questions.
Marie Lemay
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Marie Lemay
2017-05-11 9:24
We're comparing apples to oranges, I think, because it's the actuals and the targets. We're putting a target and we're actually—
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