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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.
Roger Gauthier
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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.
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.
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
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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 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 9:33
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
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
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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 10:22
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—
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
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.
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.
Robert Orr
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Robert Orr
2016-12-08 16:21
Madam Vice-Chair, I don't think I have any numbers on exactly how many go through without any issues at all. The overall acceptance rate is very high, so I think it's fair to say that the majority of applications do indeed go through that way. When we define complex versus non-complex cases, the vast majority of cases are non-complex and go through in that way. That being said, we're very conscious that there is an incomplete rate. Something that we're trying to do is give better information so that there's less reason for an incomplete rate. The incomplete rate in certain lines of business can be as high as 30%, and so we are trying to do what we can to clarify instructions and to simplify the process.
Gary Walbourne
View Gary Walbourne Profile
Gary Walbourne
2016-10-06 16:25
No. I could do the math if I had a couple of minutes and a calculator, but proportionately if I bring in 1,000 and currently I have a force strength of about 55,000 to 60,000 and I'm losing 8% on attrition and then about 2% of those are medical releases, so say 28 out of the thousand.
Donna Achimov
View Donna Achimov Profile
Donna Achimov
2016-03-07 16:34
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I want to thank you for this opportunity to provide an overview of our mandate at the translation bureau and how we work eagerly to support the government and official languages, as well as the language tools that we are developing to support a bilingual public service.
Joining me today is Adam Gibson, our vice-president of linguistic services, and David Schwartz, until recently vice-president of corporate services.
The translation bureau's mandate is to provide government translation, interpretation, closed captioning, and terminology services. We are the sole in-house service provider to one of the world's largest consumers of translation services—the Government of Canada. This makes us a major player in what is in every sense a global business.
We translate 354 million words a year, of which 44 million are translated for Parliament. We also translate regulations, scientific publications, policy briefs, contracts, and trade agreements.
We enable government officials and ministers to exchange ideas and negotiate with their counterparts all over the world. We do this by offering translation services in more than 100 languages and dialects. We provide interpretation services for over 2,000 parliamentary meetings, 1,800 official language conferences, and 500 foreign language conferences.
We also provide 2,500 sign language interpretation assignments for deaf and hard of hearing public servants and parliamentarians, and live simultaneous closed-captioning in English and French for all House of Commons and Senate proceedings.
I'd like to take a moment to point out that at today's committee we have talented interpreters who are providing these sessions in both official languages. They're at the back of the room.
I'm proud to say the superb skills of not only our interpreters, but also our translators, are often mentioned by colleagues in other governments. The translation bureau is recognized as a world leader in language services and innovation, on par with the United Nations, the European Union, and other organizations.
Here is a bit about our history, with some high-level facts.
The translation bureau was created in 1934 under the authority of the Secretary of State department. In 1993 the government decided to amalgamate most common services into one portfolio. The translation bureau was moved to Public Works and Government Services Canada, with the rationale being that the bureau does extensive procurement with the private sector and should be housed with the rest of the government's procurement activities.
In 1995, we were made a special operating agency by Treasury Board. This meant that we became an optional service and we had to generate revenues. That decision laid the groundwork for making our operations more cost-effective and competitive by giving departments and agencies the authority to purchase translation services directly from the private sector.
In 2004, Treasury Board made a second decision to make the bureau the sole employer of translators in the public service.
Today, thanks to a combination of hard work and the willingness to innovate, we have retained 80% of the government's business.
As far back as the 1970s, we set out to explore how technology could support our operations, the public service, and Canadians. In the following years, the bureau was asked by provinces and the public service to share its terminology and glossaries.
In response to this, in 1999, we launched our first computer-based language tool, Termium Plus. It has since evolved from a fee-for-subscription French/English database on CD-ROMs to an online repository of more than 4 million terms in English and French. Today, it is available to everyone, free of charge through the Government of Canada's Language Portal. Last year, it was used over 61 million times by students, Canada's language industry, and internationally.
Over the past 15 years, we have steadily increased our use of automated tools, alongside the rest of the major players in the language industry, with tools such as translation memory databases and computer-assisted translation.
Most recently, we realized that we needed to do even more in order to keep pace with the rapid changes and access to free and sophisticated information and communications technologies. In order to stay relevant and to offer government quality, we knew we had to rethink the way we offered our services and the way we worked.
Let me be clear, our use of technology does not in any way replace professional translators or interpreters. Rather, it has allowed us to be more efficient, to lower our costs while maintaining our high quality.
In recent years, the size of our operations at the bureau has been shaped by two forces: increasingly competitive and innovative Canadian language service providers that our departmental colleagues and clients can turn to at any time; and changing trends in government communications, and the rise of social media and plain language. This has led to an overall reduction in the volume of our translation business. As business volumes shifted and turnaround times shrunk, the translation bureau had to improve its scalability.
Let me emphasize, no translator has lost his or her job at the bureau because our business model has changed. We are smaller today because we do not need the same number of people to do the work that we once did. We've reduced the number of positions in our organization through attrition. I need to be clear here, that's through voluntary departures, primarily through retirements.
How we build, use, and disseminate technology at the bureau is not only a big part of our business model, it's how we support efforts to advance bilingualism across the public service. Today, in the federal public service, there are one million uses of Google translate every single week and all government desktops are equipped with Microsoft translator. A simple right-click on the mouse gives you translation free, any time of day.
These tools are being used for work-related purposes every single day. They are very helpful, but they come with a risk. Our newest desktop tool, developed by the National Research Council of Canada, helps mitigate this risk. It puts translated texts and vocabulary tailored to the public service workplace and terms specific to government at the fingertips of public servants for the primary purpose of comprehension. When using this tool, simple translations are not done in a cloud offshore, they stay inside the Government of Canada's firewall.
We loaded the tool with millions of professionally translated government-specific terms and phrases to make it easier for public servants to function effectively at work in their acquired official language. It is a better and more secure alternative, meant to aid comprehension, to give public servants the confidence to practice their second official language and work in it more often.
This is not a tool meant to translate colloquialisms, such as “it's raining cats and dogs”, or to be used to translate official government documents. Over time, as more government-specific translated terms and phrases are loaded into it and the translation bureau's linguistic professionals play their role in ensuring its quality, the more sophisticated it will become.
It's worth noting that it is also the kind of tool that millennials, the next generation of public servants, expect in a modern workplace. They're heavy users of similar tools on their own personal mobile devices and they expect to have them at work.
We know the more literate and equipped our public servants are to function in both official languages, the better they will become at serving Canadians in the language of their choice.
In concluding my remarks today, I would like to recognize the extraordinary co-operation we have enjoyed with our colleagues at the National Research Council of Canada. This partnership, with people who work at the leading edge of technological innovation in Canada, has opened our eyes to the possibilities of the future.
In closing, as the translation bureau's CEO, I am very proud of the work of our translators, interpreters, and linguistic professionals, and the teams who support our efficient operations. We are all committed to official languages and to supporting the public service to communicate in both official languages.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the vibrant and committed network of official languages champions across the public service. They helped us pilot our newest machine translation tool, just as they have consistently supported all our efforts to encourage the use of official languages in the public service workplace.
Thank you for your time and attention, and we are happy to answer any questions you have.
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