Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act

An Act to expand the mandate of Service Canada in respect of the death of a Canadian citizen or Canadian resident

This bill was previously introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Frank Valeriote  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (House), as of June 12, 2014

Subscribe to a feed of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-247.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment requires the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development to implement all measures necessary to establish Service Canada as the single point of contact for the Government of Canada in respect of all matters relating to the death of a Canadian citizen or Canadian resident.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

June 12th, 2014 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

moved that Bill C-247, An Act to expand the mandate of Service Canada in respect of the death of a Canadian citizen or Canadian resident, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise today to speak on my private member's Bill C-247, An Act to expand the mandate of Service Canada in respect of the death of a Canadian citizen or Canadian resident. I am equally delighted that the member for Avalon agreed to second my bill.

If passed, the Service Canada mandate expansion act would require the Minister of Employment and Social Development to implement all measures necessary to establish Service Canada as the single point of contact for the Government of Canada in respect of all matters relating to the death of a Canadian citizen or a Canadian resident.

We must improve the system that presently exists for officially notifying the federal government of the death of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. The notification process must be made easier. It must be streamlined for the benefit of Canadians and, frankly, for the benefit of efficiency in government.

Under the current system, following a death, a bereaved Canadian may have to contact a multitude of federal government departments and send numerous death notifications, because there is no single point of contact for the information to be processed. This can be a very painful, tedious, and sometimes confusing task for a grieving individual who must repeat the same information to different government departments. As well, each federal government department can have different documentation requirements to establish proof of death.

As parliamentarians, we need to provide relief to grieving seniors, survivors, caregivers, and estate representatives, who are responsible for the settling of obligations of a deceased with the Government of Canada.

It is essential that we deal with the issue of bereavement in a professional and compassionate way. Bill C-247 will improve a federal government service and reduce the burden on Canadians during a difficult life transition.

I would like to outline some examples of the range of possible types of contacts to explain the justification for Bill C-247.

According to the Service Canada website, the department must be contacted with the notification of date of death when an old age security and Canada pension plan beneficiary passes away. Service Canada would also have to be contacted for the application of any survivor benefits.

If the deceased was receiving employment insurance benefits before his or her death, the legal representative must complete a form to cancel the benefits. If the deceased person had not applied for EI benefits to which they were entitled, the legal representative may apply for the benefits in the name of the deceased person. If a deceased individual had lived in Canada and in another country, their survivor could be eligible to apply for pension and benefits because of a social security agreement.

Besides contacting Service Canada, a legal representative would also have to make a separate effort to contact the Canada Revenue Agency to provide a deceased's date of death. In addition, the estate is responsible for the completion of final tax returns and making arrangements to stop payments on any GST or HST credits.

If the deceased was receiving the Canada child tax benefit, the universal child care benefit, or the working income tax benefit, those benefits must be stopped, and if applicable, survivor benefits can be applied for.

If the deceased was a Canadian veteran, Veterans Affairs should also be contacted for the notification and cancellation of benefits and the application for survivor benefits. These benefits may include the benefits for survivors of disability pension recipients, the death benefit, the earnings lost benefit for survivors or children, and the supplementary retirement benefit, to name just a few.

If the deceased had a valid Canadian passport, a legal representative should contact Passport Canada to return the document by mail to the Passport Canada program for cancellation. This transaction would have to include a letter with a copy of the death certificate, indicating if the cancelled passport should be destroyed or returned.

If the deceased was a member of the public service pension plan, the Government of Canada Pension Centre under the Department of Public Works and Government Services would have to be contacted immediately for any survivor lump sum, an ongoing pension, and one-time supplementary death benefits.

If the deceased possessed a Canadian citizenship certificate or a permanent resident card, the legal representative must send a letter enclosing the citizenship certificate or PR card and a photocopy of the death certificate, funeral home notice, or newspaper report to the case processing centre in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

If a deceased owned a firearm, the RCMP may also have to be contacted in order to make any necessary transfers. Documentation must be submitted to confirm that the registered owner is deceased and that the new owner is eligible to acquire and possess the firearm.

If a deceased was a fisher in possession of a licence from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the department would have to be notified and the transfer of the licence would have to be arranged.

Respecting social insurance numbers, informing Service Canada of a death reduces the possibility of anyone fraudulently using a SIN. However, there are different rules depending on which province or territory in which an individual lives. Individuals are required to inform Service Canada of the death of a family member if the death occurred in Saskatchewan, the territories, or outside Canada, but not if they are from another province, where it is sent automatically from provincial vital statistics agencies.

Death notifications therefore are not yet consistent throughout Canada. As well, this notification does not successfully trigger the series of responses intended by my legislation.

It is clear with the examples I have raised that Canadians are faced with a labyrinth of possible contacts and different requirements for a death notification to the Government of Canada.

As a lawyer, I was often asked to do this work on behalf of estates because of the confusion and frustration estate executors faced when executing their duties. As well, the process is made even more difficult because the information that is provided on the Service Canada website is not comprehensive. Bereaved Canadians should not have to spend hours online searching for information or have to call the department's call centre to get information. For example, that is the case with the cancelling of Citizenship and Immigration identification.

The creation of one point of contact at Service Canada would remove the guesswork for survivors and estate administrators who may not be fully aware of the deceased's obligations to the federal government. A first contact to Service Canada would trigger a notification process to all relevant departments, which would then communicate to the deceased's estate representatives the responsibilities for the cancellation of benefits, the return of identification documents, and access to any survivor benefits.

Bill C-247 would also reduce the costs of the administration of estates, making it good consumer legislation as well. In fact, the United Kingdom already has the “Tell Us Once” registration process. France has the online service portal “Mon Service Public” for death notifications.

I would like to take a moment to discuss Service Canada and why it is a natural fit to serve as the single point of contact for the notification of a death to the federal government.

Service Canada, located within the Department of Employment and Social Development, helps Canadians access a range of federal government services and benefits. It was created to improve the delivery of those services to its citizens. It is a multi-channel delivery network whose charter is to provide Canadians with one-stop, easy-to-access, personalized service and to bring Government of Canada services together in a single service delivery network. It was created within the former HRSDC to serve as a single window for Canadians to access government programs and services. Bill C-247 is a practical expansion of Service Canada's mandate and the logical choice for bereavement reporting.

I would like to discuss the fall 2013 Auditor General's report. In chapter 2, titled “Access to Online Services”, the AG examined whether the online services offered by federal organizations were client focused and supported by service delivery strategies with defined and measured benefits. It also examined whether there was a Government of Canada strategy for delivering online services and an integrated service delivery among major partners. The report had a number of findings that are relevant to Bill C-247, and it is clear the AG recognized the issues that I have discussed so far.

First, the AG found that the integration of service delivery and the sharing of information among departments were limited. Individuals must work with departments separately, which frequently requires them to provide the same information multiple times.

Second, the Auditor General found that there was no government-wide strategy to guide departments on how online services should be delivered and not all departments had developed integrated service delivery strategies that had identified key factors such as cost, benefits, and consideration of client expectations. This has limited the opportunity for the government to identify and move toward cost-effective service delivery alternatives that address the expectations of Canadians.

With regard to the notification of death, the Auditor General found that the federal government did not coordinate information. Page 12 of the report states:

When a death occurs...someone must contact each department separately and follow different processes, as this information is not generally shared and departments do not offer the ability to do this online. This makes it difficult for users who may be trying to stop the payment of certain benefits to prevent overpayments...while trying to apply for others...

The AG also found that the instructions provided on the Service Canada website about what to do for certain life events was not complete. Thus, Canadians following the instructions provided by Service Canada on its website may not do everything that they are required to do. He noted:

—departments are focused on delivering the statutory programs and mandates for which they are accountable. There is no incentive for departments to share information.

I would like to review some of the Conservative government's written priorities.

When the 2014-15 reports on plans and priorities for Employment and Social Development Canada and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat are examined, we will see that Bill C-247 fits into the strategic goals outlined by the federal government.

In the Minister of Employment and Social Development's message, he stated:

ESDC will focus on achieving service excellence for Canadians by further modernizing service delivery, focusing on its core business priorities and increasing the use of technology. Through Service Canada, [the government] will ensure that Canadians quickly receive the benefits to which they are entitled and access to a wide range of programs and services.

On page 61, of the ESDC report, it states:

Service Canada will continue to work with other departments so that Canadians can better access more Government of Canada services through Service Canada.

In the RPP for the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, the president's message states:

Canadians need and deserve a public service that is equipped to deliver modern, cost effective and responsive programs and services...we will continue to streamline government operations.

For the period 2014-2017, the report states that the Secretariat will:

—promote client-centred service...efficiency through a whole-of-government approach to service delivery...

With regard to the legislative process, I am hopeful that the bill will receive unanimous support from all parliamentarians to pass second reading and go to committee for review. I would like MPs to hear public servants on how they would implement this bill and whether they feel that one year, as stipulated in the legislation, is enough time to implement the required changes. If they feel that the time frame is too difficult, I am certainly open to a reasonable amendment on what would be an appropriate implementation time frame. As well, the bill would have to be amended to change the ministry named in the legislation, as Bill C-247 was introduced before the name change of the department.

I would also like to hear from departmental officials on what their estimates are of the costs to the federal government for overpayments due to improper death notifications, as well as how much the government currently spends to retrieve benefit overpayments. I am hopeful that this legislation could potentially save the government millions of dollars after its implementation. In the United Kingdom, it is estimated that the “Tell Us Once” service would save the government over $300 million over ten years.

I would like to take a moment to express my gratitude.

First, I thank the former Liberal member of Parliament for Richmond Hill, Bryon Wilfert. Mr. Wilfert is the original author of this legislation.

Second, I would like to thank the Funeral Service Association of Canada, the Bereavement Ontario Network, Hospice Palliative Care Ontario and Robert Berry from the law firm Miller Thomson for their wonderful letters of support.

This legislation is a non-partisan bill that would create a practical approach to assisting Canadians with their obligations to the Government of Canada. Eighty per cent of care given to ailing seniors is given by their loved ones. Let us help those caregivers who are faced with the obligations of settling loved ones' affairs after they have passed away.

In conclusion, I believe that Canadians expect their governments to make efforts to improve services for citizens. They do not want a system built around individual programs and services, each unique and belonging to its own department. Regulation within the federal bureaucracy must be changed in order to reduce duplication and costs, and free up resources for improved public service delivery. Administrative simplification, new technology and e-government can be powerful vehicles for modernization.

Bill C-247 would provide our great country with the opportunity to be a model to the world for service excellence. As parliamentarians, we should want to make that happen.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

June 12th, 2014 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo
B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour and for Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the thought that the hon. member has put behind this bill. I have one question for him.

Having worked in the health care field, when we had a death in any of the facilities that I worked in, we always had to complete a provincial form. To what degree would this connect with the provincial responsibility in terms of vital statistics and death certificates? Has he given any thought to that sort of interplay between the federal government and the provincial governments?

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

June 12th, 2014 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is an automatic system right now whereby provincial agencies and vital statistics agencies inform Service Canada of a death, except in Saskatchewan or the territories or if he or she was out of Canada. That process does not trigger the responses that are intended by this bill.

However, it is my intention, and I am hopeful, that the bill would speed up the process of better communication even between the federal government and provincial governments. Many provinces already have their own single points of contact within the province. This could accelerate a full nationwide federal-provincial harmonization of the process.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

June 12th, 2014 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech.

In our view, his bill is a positive one. On the other hand, it will be difficult for Canadians to believe that the Liberals are going to improve services, given their past history in cutting services and transfer payments when they were in power.

In light of the repercussions on privacy, which certainly will come up in the exchange of information between departments, can my colleague tell us whether the former privacy commissioner was consulted on this bill?

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

June 12th, 2014 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I regret her question opened with a partisan comment.

I did not contact specifically the department the member speaks of, but we anticipated the issue. When the first-time contact is made with Service Canada advising it of the death, the form would include a permission from the estate representative to distribute that information to all departments automatically. This issue is important, but exceedingly easy to deal with.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

June 12th, 2014 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Scott Andrews Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, just recently the government announced some initiatives of harmonizing birth legislation with the provinces as well. This leads into the question that was asked earlier.

Has the member done any research on how this transition has gone with respect to harmonizing when a child is born and bringing in the provincial and the federal government departments into a single one-stop agency? Could this even lead to more co-operation with the provinces?

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

June 12th, 2014 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, we had not considered that at all because it was not particularly relevant to the legislation. However, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Bereavement Ontario Network for its letter of support. It called this bill a “practical and compassionate attempt to ease the burden for bereaved Canadians during what we know, from extensive experience, can be a very difficult time”.

The Hospice Palliative Care Ontario wrote to me and said:

Compassionate bereavement care and support for caregivers are foundational to the philosophy of hospice palliative care. Bill C-247 will help reduce the stress of grieving families and minimize the bureaucratic process that many now find daunting or overwhelming.

The Funeral Service Association of Canada, which came to the Hill yesterday to support the bill and speak to members about the bill, said:

We believe this bill addresses a non-partisan issue that would serve to reduce red tape for Canadians and ease the process of dealing with the death of a loved one.

Finally, I would like to thank Robert Berry, from the law firm Miller Thomson, who stated in his letter of support a very simple notion: “this is common sense legislation”.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

June 12th, 2014 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo
B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour and for Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I have to say at the outset that I appreciate all the thought and effort the hon. member for Guelph has put into the drafting of this particular bill, and those who went before him in terms of starting the thinking around this initiative.

What he is proposing to do in the bill is expand the mandate of Service Canada to include the responsibility of informing all interested government departments and programs about the death of an individual once Service Canada itself has been informed of that death. I think we all understand that the hon. member is trying to do the right thing: finding a way to make things easier for family members when they lose a loved one.

I think it is very important that we know what the existing systems are. I think the House might find it interesting, because as we look at different bills, I think it is important to put them in context in terms of what we currently are doing.

When Service Canada is made aware of a death, it has a process in place to notify the most relevant departments, such as Canada Revenue Agency and Veterans Affairs, and programs such as the CPP and old age security, employment insurance, and Canada student loans. I would like to explain how the existing system works.

To ensure integrity and respect for privacy, Service Canada relies primarily on those who have the constitutional jurisdiction to collect this information in this particular area. That is mainly the vital statistics agencies of the provinces. The registration of births and deaths occurring in Canada is a provincial responsibility. It is these provincial agencies that issue death certificates and therefore are the most authoritative sources.

The way it works now is that every day, each vital statistics agency sends Service Canada an electronic list of the people who have died in that province. Service Canada then sends that information along to the interested departments, as I indicated before, especially the Canada Revenue Agency and Veterans Affairs, and programs such as the CPP, old age security, EI, and Canada student loans. It is estimated that about 96% of the deaths occurring in Canada are currently covered by these information-sharing agreements.

This system has been in place for several years. It is reliable, it is secure, and it was designed in a way that protects privacy. Of course, any system can be improved to make it faster and more efficient. The government is always looking at ways to make programs serve Canadians better.

Under the current process, a family member or a person acting for the estate of the deceased does not have to physically visit a Service Canada Centre to report a death. They also do not have to remember to bring along the proper documentation, including the original death certificate, at a time when we understand that they are under significant and considerable stress.

Again, I want to remind my fellow members that Service Canada already gets this information directly from the authoritative provincial sources.

To protect the privacy and the security of Canadians, the government monitors the use of social insurance numbers very carefully and severely limits the federal departments and programs that are authorized to know them.

Before we take steps that would increase this kind of personal information, we need to do a careful analysis of the potential impact of the bill. As we heard, the hon. member from the NDP raised that issue of privacy and security in her questions for the member.

I look forward to hearing the debate on this issue and to working with the member for Guelph on ways we can continue to improve the lives of Canadians.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

June 12th, 2014 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for allowing me to speak on Bill C-247 introduced by the member for Guelph.

This bill aims at establishing a single point of contact within the government for people acting on behalf of a deceased Canadian citizen or permanent resident, to resolve any outstanding issues.

Of course, we want to make services more accessible and simpler for families who have lost a loved one, because many of them are already under a great deal of emotional and financial stress.

I am very pleased to speak on this bill, because the primary duty of a parliamentarian is to represent his or her constituents in working toward the common good. We must never forget that a society’s level of civilization can be measured in the way it treats its weakest members.

Let us take a look at the current situation in light of our own experience. We all know people who have suffered the loss of a loved one and are on their own in dealing with the government and resolving outstanding issues. I am thinking of an isolated elderly woman in my riding whom I met one day when I was going door to door.

This woman has been a widow for a few months, and she lost her brother quite recently. Her independence is decreasing because she recently had several serious operations, and as her pension is very small she is no longer able to make ends meet. She is 76 years old. We can imagine her feeling of helplessness and her difficulties in trying to deal with all the administrative procedures when she has no one else around her to whom she can turn for support. Now she has to deal with many different officials.

For the Canada Revenue Agency, she must file two final returns, one for her husband and one for her brother. If one of the two had a passport, she will have to contact Citizenship and Immigration Canada to have it cancelled. To cancel any Canada pension plan and old age security benefits, she will have to contact Employment and Social Development Canada. If the person who died was a member of the Canadian Forces or the RCMP, she will also have to contact Veterans Affairs and National Defence or the RCMP.

This 76-year-old woman, who is unable to travel, is on her own in dealing with six federal departments and agencies, let alone the provincial government.

The only way for her to do this is by telephone. In 2013-14, only 64% of calls to Service Canada were handled within the maximum waiting time of three minutes. Once you have managed to get through, however, in most cases, you reach an automated voice messaging service.

Even for people who are active, it is difficult to be served and find your way through the labyrinth of numbers to dial on your telephone as you follow the instructions. We can imagine how difficult it is for an elderly person who sees poorly, hears poorly and has no one close by to help her.

What is the Conservatives’ solution to improve the quality of service? The answer is twofold, and it demonstrates how contemptuous this government can be toward the most vulnerable members of our society.

First, because too few calls met the quality criteria, the statistics were bad. The Conservatives, true to form, rather than dealing with the cause, prefer to twist the facts. The quality threshold guaranteed by Service Canada was that 95% of calls were to be handled in three minutes. Well, since the Conservatives were not able to meet this target, they lowered the threshold to 80%.

Second, they found a trick to reduce the volume of calls. They thought it was infallible: you have to contact Service Canada via the Internet. This is a disgrace. How can they imagine telling a senior citizen, someone who helped build our country, perhaps even someone who shed blood to defend it, that now he has to use the Internet.

That is the outcome of a disastrous policy that we, the members of the NDP, have condemned ever since it was brought in. This government spends its time demonizing public servants and their ineffectiveness. The current Conservative government has reduced accessible front-line services in every single department.

In 2012 alone, in Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, which has now become Employment and Social Development Canada, the Conservative government announced that there would be a reassessment of the essential nature of the jobs of 1,500 employees. In the meantime, the government changed the name of the department. This government spends taxpayers’ money on changing the names of departments and considers that the jobs held by public servants are superfluous expenses.

By 2015-16, the Conservatives will have managed to cut $243 million from the services provided by Employment and Social Development Canada.

This is a drop of 50% since 2010-11. This government can only say one thing: “cut”. The only thing the Conservatives can say to Canadians in need who are asking for help is that they cost too much.

Our seniors do not need Conservative solutions that come straight out of Cracker Jack boxes; they need front-line officers. Our seniors need access to public servants who answer their questions. Our seniors deserve our full care and attention. They need to be able to meet with an officer face to face who will look after their file and help them.

This is the result of one single policy. Rather than strengthening the front line, they lower the quality criteria. Rather than offering services, they cut the public service. Rather than helping people, they tell them to use the Internet. However, the Conservatives are not the only ones responsible for this policy of cutting services.

The Liberals must take their share of the blame. There were the ones who started the cutbacks. When they were in power and had an opportunity to establish the single point of contact that they are proposing today, the Liberals preferred to cut program spending. They cut expenditures by 10% over two years starting in 1995, and over the same period, they cut 45,000 jobs in the public service. How paradoxical it is that this party is now proposing to make public services more accessible.

Even though the Liberals’ intention to establish a single point of contact for the government is commendable, who can trust the Liberals? They had 12 years to do it, but instead they chose to cut budgets and staff. The Conservative and Liberal records speak for themselves: Canadians cannot trust either party to provide the services they need. This is why we are supporting this bill, with all due reservations.

On the other hand, when the members of the NDP form the next Government of Canada, we will establish a single point of contact in the government for everything that must be done by someone who has lost a loved one.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

June 12th, 2014 / 6 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am fairly new around here. It has only been 14 years. This is my 14th spring session, and people get cranky around this time of year. However, it amazes me that, on a bill such as this, the NDP would decide to take the approach that it has, rather than speak to the merits of the bill that would benefit a number of Canadians. If anyone is watching the debate at home, I am thinking it could be framed as juvenile at best.

I want to thank my friend and my colleague the member for Guelph for putting the bill forward. It is a practical bill. It is a common sense approach to something we have all had an opportunity to experience. I myself lost both my parents in the last six years. They lived productive and long lives, but it is a tough time to go through when they are up there in years. I lost my mom just two years ago. I am fortunate that I have two sisters and they looked after a lot of it. They looked after the business around it. Dealing with the estate settlement, closing up the home, and dealing with all that has to be dealt with, it is a real tough time. It is difficult emotionally, and it can be so frustrating to try to wrap up all that is involved. My sister Kim and my sister Darlene took on that responsibility. The brothers were very fortunate that they did step up.

I want to also thank my colleague from Guelph, who put forward the bill, for engaging me early on in the process, so we were able to address any concerns I had early on. We were able to do that early on in the bill, and I like the way it is presented now.

I appreciate the comments from the parliamentary secretary from the government. She has indicated that they are willing to look at this. She brought forward a couple of important points. We certainly do not want to duplicate services, but if we can streamline services and make them more efficient for the operation of government, but also for Canadians, then we are doing our jobs as legislators. Every chance we get to help the government, that is what we try to do over on this side.

The parliamentary secretary also indicated there are a number of processes that take place upon the filing of a death certificate. Provincially, the mechanisms kick in once those processes are initiated. Each individual is a little different. For example, when a veteran passes, it is necessary to make sure the various programs the veteran was engaged in are shut down. My colleague mentioned an EI recipient. If EI or CPP payments continue to be made past the death of an individual, it is tough to pay them back. The government would sooner be notified, so that it can bring that program to a close for that person and not have to go back and try to get money back because of overpayments. There is the passport office and all those issues that were brought up during my colleague's speech.

The funeral industry has continued to improve its services and work with families. It has been helpful, but again, what it can do and how it can provide support can only go so far.

I want to make reference to some comments made by my colleague from Guelph with respect to the Auditor General. I also want to address some comments that were made by the parliamentary secretary with regard to privacy.

With respect to the comments made about the Auditor General's report, if any piece of legislation embraces recommendations from an Auditor General's report then it stands a better chance of being good legislation. In the 2013 report on access to online services, the Auditor General outlined deficiencies in how the federal government handles death notifications. In the summary of his report he stated that:

There is limited integrated service delivery among departments....

The federal government does not coordinate other common activities. When a death occurs, for example, someone must contact each department separately and follow different processes, as this information is not generally shared and departments do not offer the ability to do this online.

It is important that we identify that.

With regard to the parliamentary secretary's concern around privacy, this legislation would respect the Privacy Act. I would like to read part of the Auditor General's report, for inclusion in the Debates:

We examined whether the four large departments we audited had developed ways to share information while respecting the privacy of individuals’ information, in an effort to integrate and improve service delivery. The Privacy Act establishes the way government institutions are to collect, use, and disclose personal information in the course of providing services. This Act is not meant to hinder information sharing, but rather to ensure effective protection and management by departments of personal information provided.

The 2004 Treasury Board Secretariat report on serving Canada's veterans noted that Canadians indicated they accepted that government departments should share information, but they noted they wanted to be asked for their consent before this occurs. That is what this legislation is all about. These are Canadian citizens saying they want their information to be shared so that they are able to wrap up their business with the Government of Canada. This speaks to that and outlines it well.

My colleague also mentioned the system now employed in the United Kingdom, Tell Us Once. I am the father of three boys. It would have been a great way to raise three kids, only telling them once. For me, it is more like telling them a thousand times and then they catch on. Tell Us Once is something to which we should aspire. This program has obviously served the U.K. well since its initiation. The fact that it will save $300 million over 10 years cannot be ignored.

I am pleased that the government has indicated it is interested in getting this legislation to committee to learn more about it and how it could be moved forward. My colleague from Guelph has said he is open to reasonable amendments, and I know he is sincere in that. I hope that, if the NDP sees the merit in this, it would also support it. I hope the government will support this legislation. My colleagues in the Liberal Party look forward to getting this to committee because it would be of benefit to all Canadians.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

June 12th, 2014 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by acknowledging the member for Guelph for introducing this well-intentioned private member's bill. I think it is a noble pursuit and I am pleased to speak to it today.

When a loved one passes away, it is hardly a pleasant experience, least of all for the family members who must look after all the details, including the funeral arrangements and the paperwork that inevitably follows; so the last thing they need is to have to call myriad government departments to inform them of the death of their relative. That is why there is currently a mechanism in place with nine provinces through which Service Canada is notified electronically of all deaths occurring in Canada.

It is estimated that 96% of deaths occurring in Canada are covered by these agreements. When Service Canada receives this information, it discloses it to government departments or programs that have the authority to use social insurance numbers or SINs, as they are more commonly known. Information can be disclosed to the Canada pension plan, old age security, employment insurance, and Canada student loans. The Canada Revenue Agency and Veterans Affairs are also authorized to access this information.

In these cases, agreements and/or authorities are in place to enable the institutions, such as the Canada Border Services Agency, the Department of Justice, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, to have access to the social insurance register to validate information on individuals.

Currently, the people responsible for the estate of the deceased person are not required to notify Service Canada. Currently, they do not have to present an original death certificate that Service Canada would have to match against data from the relevant vital statistics agencies, and also currently, the burden is not on family members to present the death certificate in person to one of the Service Canada centres across the country.

Then there is also the question of privacy. Who gets access to this information? Our current approach when it comes to the use of social insurance numbers is to limit the authority to use them to select programs only. Our goal here is to protect the privacy of Canadians.

Service Canada is constantly working with the provinces and SIN-enabled programs in the federal government to improve and expedite the disclosure and exchange of personal information.

Since 1998, the Auditor General has been examining the SIN program and the social insurance register. In reports in 2009 and 2011, the Auditor General recognized the outstanding job the government has done in addressing past concerns about the register. Most notably, the Auditor General praised the agreements the government signed with all 10 provinces to develop electronic links between provincial vital statistics agencies and the social insurance register.

Through these agreements, Service Canada currently receives notices from nine provinces for deaths occurring within their jurisdictions, which are then matched against the social insurance register. This allows for the records of the deceased individuals to be properly identified and prevents the issuing of further benefit payments from federal programs.

Again I thank the member for tabling Bill C-247, and we will continue to examine this piece of legislation.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

June 12th, 2014 / 6:15 p.m.
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NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise for a few moments to speak about Bill C-247. I want to thank the member for Guelph for introducing it. I think it has incredible value.

In fact, just a couple of days ago, I spent some time talking on the phone with a woman from Dartmouth whose husband died recently. She was in the midst of going through some of the problems other members have talked about. She was trying to clarify with the Canada pension plan what was going to happen in terms of her pension and whether there were any spousal benefits. It was a serious problem. She told me that she had some family who were working with her. I did what I am sure any member here would do. I told her that if there was anything my office could do, we would certainly help her.

There is no question that it is far too complicated. There is not enough sharing of information. I understand the privacy issues that have been raised, but surely we can overcome those. We could ensure that there is designated staff to provide this kind of information.

It was cited by others that funeral homes are very good at dealing with some of these issues. The funeral home I have had the unfortunate, yet fortunate, opportunity to work with on far too many occasions, White Family Funeral Home, in Kentville, Nova Scotia, is very helpful in terms of helping families who have lost loved ones work through some of these issues.

The bill, as I say, deals with finalizing all outstanding matters between a deceased person and the Government of Canada. The individual acting on behalf of the deceased person may be required to connect with several different departments. We think, of course, of the Canada Revenue Agency, where a final return must be filed for all deceased Canadian residents and citizens. There are several optional returns.

Employment and Social Development Canada is another place where somebody might need to go for termination of the Canada pension plan and old age security benefits.

If the deceased was a veteran or a member of the Canadian Forces, then Veterans Affairs and the Department of National Defence would need to be dealt with. It could be the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Each one of these different areas, depending on a person's circumstances, is a government department a person would have to deal with to clear up the affairs of a deceased person.

I recognize how important the bill is, and I recognize the value of the intent. However, I am concerned about the services that Service Canada personnel are already required to provide and the challenges they have in meeting those responsibilities, whether it is EI or dealing with Veterans Affairs files, or whatever it is. The staff in that department have been reduced. I am finding that people trying to reach Service Canada offices by phone, because we are not able to walk into Service Canada centres anymore and have to reach them by phone or through the Internet, are waiting days, often, to get a reply from a person.

In terms of providing service for people who have filed EI claims, the department says that it will get back to them and resolve the claim in 28 days. That is just a fantasy. That does not happen anymore. It does not happen, because there are not enough people working on these files to deal with the great demand. Waiting times for EI now, for example, are upwards of 40 days.

In Nova Scotia, the Veterans Affairs office in Sydney was recently shut down, one of the eight or nine offices across the country that were shut down, and all the files from that office were sent to the Halifax-Dartmouth area. That is more work put on an already stressed staff, an already depleted staff. The government has taken something in the area of $243 million out of the budget of Service Canada over the past few years and has cut hundreds of employees from Service Canada.

My point is that I very much support the idea of there being one point of entry, one point of contact, for a family that is trying to clear up these kinds of matters, but I am concerned that unless the government is prepared to assign some resources to get this done, all we will be doing is adding more burdens to an already stressed out and overburdened staff of that particular department. We will be adding more problems to an already difficult situation. That is my point.

We will be supporting the bill. We agree with the intention, but I make those points and I hope they will be received well. There needs to be more specificity in the bill about what departments have to be involved. Right now it just says, “including—but not limited to—” Canada Revenue Agency, old age security, et cetera. However, there are other departments. I have cited a few. I think it should indicate all of the places and all of the services that are necessary to make sure it is all encompassing, because surely we recognize that for many people, the places they need to go differ, but surely we can list that in the bill to make sure it is clear.

However, I would say again to the sponsor of the bill that we need to have a serious discussion with the government about what it will do with resources, what it will do in terms of ensuring that not only money but staff is assigned to departments.

Rather than just seeing the Conservatives agree and lay on more responsibilities without putting in the resources, they will first need to decide how best to deal with the privacy issues and how best to ensure that each department is talking to the others and is sharing that information in a way that makes sense, because it will cost money to get that done. Second, they will have to ensure that Service Canada is supplemented with the necessary resources and the necessary staff for the extra mandate.

I think all members will agree. We all deal, undoubtedly, with the kind of problems the bill is trying to address and recognize. We all need to support it, but it is not enough to say that it is important. We actually have to sit down and make sure that the government commits the resources to make sure that what we commit to actually gets done.

My time has drawn to a close. I want to thank the member for Guelph for introducing the bill and to indicate to him that I will certainly be supporting it as we move forward. We would be more than happy to work with him to try to make it as good and as effective a piece of legislation as it can be.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

June 12th, 2014 / 6:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-247 as proposed by the hon. member for Guelph.

If the bill is adopted, Service Canada would be responsible for notifying all interested departments and programs of the death of an individual once the estate had informed Service Canada. The sensible purpose of this legislation is to increase efficiency and improve service to Canadians, and that intention is laudable.

Let me explain how the current system works.

When a Canadian or a Canadian resident dies, a death certificate is created and issued by these agencies. Service Canada receives this information through agreements with vital statistics agencies in nine provinces. These agreements are called vital events linkages. This ensures that further payments to the deceased from federal programs are stopped. It is estimated that 96% of the deaths occurring in Canada are currently covered by these agreements.

This system has been operating for eight years. It has a track record of integrity, security, and respect for privacy. Service Canada is constantly working with the provinces and with programs that use the social insurance number, or SIN, as we often call it, to improve the disclosure of vital events information.

I want to assure the hon. member that even when deaths occur in jurisdictions that do not have a vital events linkage with Service Canada, they do not go unrecorded. Service Canada receives information on deaths through the administration of the Canada pension plan, the old age security program, the Canada Revenue Agency, Régie de l'assurance maladie du Quebec, and from survivors of the deceased.

We also have agreements with a number of departments that are authorized by the Government of Canada to use a social insurance number for identification purposes. Other departments and agencies, such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, also have legal authority to validate identity information with the social insurance register.

We have all heard about the plague of identity theft. The SIN may only be collected or used for the purpose expressly permitted by legislation or approved by Treasury Board or the Employment Insurance Commission. The current policy is to limit authorized users of the SIN to key programs only. To protect the privacy of Canadians, not every department or government agency is allowed to have access to the SINs of Canadians.

There is also the issue of reliability of information. The process in place does not require a survivor to physically go to Service Canada. It is a good thing not to force somebody to physically visit a Service Canada centre to tell it about the death of a loved one.

Service Canada is also working with Citizenship and Immigration Canada to determine how Passport Canada could benefit from receiving death notifications from the provinces.

The processes that are already up and running are not only reliable but are also efficient.

I look forward to listening to the second hour of this debate.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Routine Proceedings

June 22nd, 2011 / 3:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-247, An Act to expand the mandate of Service Canada in respect of the death of a Canadian citizen or Canadian resident.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce a bill, seconded by the member for Markham—Unionville, to expand the mandate of Service Canada in respect of the death of a Canadian citizen or Canadian resident.

The bill requires the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development to establish Service Canada as the single point of contact for the Government of Canada for matters relating to the death of a Canadian citizen or Canadian resident when cancelling social insurance numbers, passports and dealing with pensions and tax records for example.

The current system is far too cumbersome for those who have lost their loved ones and a new single point of contact system would save the government money by consolidating the agencies responsible for conducting this administration.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)