Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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Alex Benay
View Alex Benay Profile
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.
View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
That's good. I'll just weave in my message and keep saying how wonderful you are, because you understand how bad it is that the government's not giving the Auditor General enough money to do his job. That's why I'm so pleased to see.... No, I won't do that.
I thank you, Chair.
Secretary, what troubled me, on page 16, 1.62 stood out. “We found that the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat developed a government-wide service strategy in 2017: the Government of Canada Clients First Service Strategy.” That sounds great. “The strategy prioritized providing services online but did not include call centres or mention the government-wide modernization of call centres, despite the fact that they continue to be an important way for clients to get information.”
That number is 25%, a quarter of all Canadians use that. How on earth did you get to the point where you were planning contact for services for Canadians, and never gave a thought to the phone? Twenty-five per cent of Canadians.... Given the fact that Michael Ferguson's mantra was, again, “Do service well”, don't measure how well you move paper or a message from one desk to another. Measure the outcome for citizens and how they are, or are not, receiving the services they're entitled to.
How could something this obvious—a quarter of all Canadians—be overlooked in this grand strategy?
Alex Benay
View Alex Benay Profile
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
View Alex Benay Profile
Alex Benay
2019-05-30 10:10
The thinking at the time was that an agnostic service strategy was a better approach.
Alex Benay
View Alex Benay Profile
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.
View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
People are paid good money to be planners. The whole idea is that they're supposed to think these things through. I understand if it was a small percentage, but a quarter of all Canadians? That's really disheartening. It's further disheartening that you don't seem to be able to acknowledge when anything is wrong. All you want to do is talk about how wonderful things are. I've told deputies before, don't come in here and be defensive. Do what the Auditor General did and approach the criticism that way. If it's wrong, say so, admit it, acknowledge you failed, and then say what you're going to do about it.
Don't spin. That's our job.
Voices: Oh, oh!
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you very much.
We talked about the fact that senior women don't have a great deal of access in terms of programming. One of the things that bothered me—I was a seniors critic and a veterans critic—was that government is using technology more and more. They're putting things online and the answer to someone who needs help is “Well, it's online”. To someone who is not literate in terms of that, that doesn't help.
We have all of these 1-800 numbers, and if you sit there for 45 minutes listening to the recording, it finally drops off and you have to start all over again. I think this lack of human contact is problematic. Is there a role for the federal government in terms of re-establishing that human face to programs, the things that people need, so that they can access them as they did in the past?
Lia Tsotsos
View Lia Tsotsos Profile
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.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
How widespread is that kind of approach? You talked about it in Quebec, but does anyone know if it's something that is utilized in the other provinces and territories?
Vanessa Herrick
View Vanessa Herrick Profile
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.
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.
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.
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