In Debate: We Need Better Service from Service Canada

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):  

Mr. Speaker, there are many problems with how Service Canada is operating. People are not receiving the services that they need. I have heard from the London location of Service Canada that the front end staff have been reduced and it is causing a considerable backlog.

While the minister argued that additional staff were hired to deal with the influx of cases during the economic downturn, it is clear that additional staff are still needed and demand has not declined. In fact, there has been a 6.6% increase in the number of people receiving EI.

Access to help from Service Canada is vital. In documents obtained by the NDP, the government's own numbers show that in the last week of September, 50% of Canadians who tried to call for assistance with their CPP or OAS could not even speak to a machine, let alone a person. The facts are clear: Conservative cuts are hurting families that rely on Canadian services.

 I would like to remind the House that these are some of our most vulnerable Canadians. They are asking for help. In too many cases, Service Canada cannot even give them an automated message.

This out of touch Conservative government is already failing Canadians in need and its cuts to Service Canada will just make things worse. Hang up rates in some regions, like Winnipeg and Vancouver, can be as much as a third of all calls. In Nova Scotia, the Glace Bay call centre is going to be closed, even though 25% of maritime callers hang up before they can actually talk to someone.

Stats show that other programs have also been affected, like the Canada pension plan and old age security. Half the calls made to these services between September 26 and October 2 did not even get an automated message. A constituent of mine, Joseph, sadly lost his wife in June of this year. After the funeral, the family said their good-byes, and Joseph began the process of applying for death and survivor benefits.

On July 18 he was able to confirm that Service Canada had received the necessary documents. He tried to call back to get an update on his status, but was never able to get a live human being on the telephone.

Finally on September 27, more than three months after Service Canada confirmed receipt of the application and supporting documents, Joseph received a letter informing him that he had not supplied sufficient documentation. Frustrated, he finally came to visit my office for help. Four months after the application was received, Joseph's benefits were finally approved.

For seniors on fixed incomes with all the expenses that come along with the loss of a spouse, this is absolutely unacceptable, particularly during a time of emotional and financial difficulty.

There are many issues. While modernizing the old paper system is needed, and I would say important, I am very concerned that people are going to be faced with complicated forms requiring access and an understanding of computers. Many of those accessing Service Canada struggle financially and they struggle with disabilities. These new computer models and these complicated access points are not going to help them.

My point is that Service Canada should be there to help the people in our constituencies and this minister is responsible to make sure that that happens.

Ms. Kellie Leitch (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour, CPC):  

 Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the member for London—Fanshawe today on CPP-related calls to Service Canada.

 First, let me assure the member opposite that Service Canada is not only meeting but is exceeding its service standards related to the Canada pension plan applications and payments. Over 95% of benefits are paid within the first month of entitlement.

 Last week 9 out of 10 Canadians resolved their calls through the automated voice response system or talked to an agent at at least 1 of our 14 CPP call centres.

I find it unfortunate that the member opposite would attempt to mislead or misinform our seniors about the level of service they can except from Service Canada. Our government's support for seniors is a matter of record.

In budget 2011 we increased the guaranteed income supplement to help seniors in poverty. This was the largest increase in 25 years and the money is already flowing to those in need. We provided income tax relief through pension income splitting and enhanced the pension income credit.

We are educating Canadians about elder abuse and increasing seniors involvement in their communities through a number of initiatives, including the new horizons program. Our government wants to ensure that Canadian seniors receive timely services and accurate information, no matter where they live.

 At the present time, Canadians have access to more than 600 points of service across Canada, including Service Canada centres, outreach offices and community offices. In addition, there is a Service Canada call centre network that consists of 14 call centres primarily assigned to provide services for unemployment insurance, old age security and Canada pension plan benefits.

 Between April 1 and October 1, 2011 our call centre agents answered 1.7 million calls and our automated telephone services received over 3.2 million calls.

 Our goal is to provide all Canadians, including seniors, with one-stop accessible service, whether they deal with us by telephone, by Internet or in person.

 We also have other ways to reach out to seniors directly. For example, we can identify Canadians who are approaching the age of 65 based on information related to their CPP contributions. Using this update, we mail CPP and OAS applications to Canadians who may be eligible for these benefits.

 Through the tax system, we can identify those low-income seniors who are not receiving the guaranteed income supplement, so we can send them a GIS application form.

 The government is committed to delivering programs and services that are efficient and effective, aligned with the priorities of Canadians and financially sustainable over the long term for Canadian seniors.

 Ms. Irene Mathyssen:  

Mr. Speaker, when I come into the House and talk about people like Joseph or people trying to struggle with disabilities who cannot get through to Service Canada, it is my obligation. It is not misleading. It is not misrepresenting. It is telling the government that people need services and it is not providing them. There is less and less every day.

The government's plan makes no sense. Between the middle and the end of September, there were over 100,000 fewer calls per week because people had abandoned those calls; they could not get through.

Seniors are struggling to make ends meet. People need a government that cares. They do not have one.