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

In committee (House), as of Oct. 8, 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.

Votes

  • Oct. 8, 2014 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

October 2nd, 2014 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, today, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-247 on behalf of the residents of Sherbrooke. I would like to commend the hon. member for Guelph, the sponsor of the bill, on his initiative. In a nutshell, the bill seeks to provide a single point of contact for people who are acting on behalf of a Canadian citizen or resident who has passed away. Essentially, the bill would provide people who have lost a loved one with a single point of contact with the federal government. This single point of contact would fall under the responsibility of Service Canada.

Rather than contacting a number of departments when a loved one dies, Canadians would have a single point of contact, which would help them to do what they need to do more easily and efficiently. Departments have difficulty talking to each other. I think that the least we can do is provide quick and efficient service to Canadians who have lost a loved one. Canadians who are dealing with this type of situation should have the best service from every level of government. It is imperative that those who are grieving and dealing with emotional or financial stress get the best service possible from the federal government.

I believe that a government's first duty is to serve the people. Given that people pay income tax and other taxes every year, they expect to receive reliable, high-quality service, especially when they find themselves in a situation as difficult as losing a loved one and they have to inform the Canada Revenue Agency, for example. If the deceased was receiving a federal pension as a veteran, then Veterans Affairs also must be informed. These examples illustrate everything that grieving loved ones have to do when someone dies. I think it is important to commend the initiative to create a single point of contact, which would make things easier.

As I mentioned, these services are essential, and the government needs to pay more attention to them. I unfortunately need to remind the House that services have not been a priority for successive governments in recent years. I am pleased to see that the House, or at least my Liberal colleague, wants better services from the government.

Over the past three years, Sherbrooke has seen many cuts to services. The Canada Revenue Agency closed all of its offices in Sherbrooke. The office is still there, but many employees have been the victims of these cuts. The office is now closed to the public. No one can go there to ask questions or meet with a CRA agent. The only thing that happens when you go to the CRA office in Sherbrooke is that you get a door slammed in your face. They will give you the 1-800 number, but you could have called from home. People have to figure things out themselves, because there is no one there to help them.

The same is true at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, which has closed its office in Sherbrooke for good.This is causing problems for newcomers who are looking for service from the federal government, specifically Citizenship and Immigration Canada. They have to go to Montreal, which is about an hour and 45 minutes away by car, depending on traffic, to write their citizenship exam or even for their swearing-in ceremony.

There has been a dramatic cut in services in Sherbrooke in recent years. That is why I am emphasizing the need for better service to Canadians.

I believe this bill is a step in that direction. We will be able to examine some of the little details of this bill in committee, and I am certain that all of the parties will work together to do that. For example, the name of the department in question has changed since this bill was introduced. This is a small amendment we could make. The committee will certainly have other suggestions as to how to improve this bill, which has a laudable objective. We want to help people who are grieving to get the best service possible from their government.

This is a problem that my constituents in Sherbrooke and I are familiar with. People have to call a number of different departments to inform them of changes to their personal information because the departments at the same level of government do not talk to each other. That is a problem for grieving Canadians who have to settle the affairs of a deceased loved one.

This single point of contact is a good solution that should be adopted by the entire federal bureaucracy. People would have to notify only one public servant of any changes, and that information would be shared with all of the departments.

However, we must ensure that this single point of contact is not just accessible online, so that it is not difficult to access. In most cases, seniors are the ones who will need this service, and not all of them are comfortable using the Internet.

If this bill is passed, it will be important that this service not be limited to a website because not everyone has easy access to the Internet and not everyone feels comfortable using new technologies. It is important to think about those people.

The federal government is already heading in that direction. It is trying to put everything online. That is a problem for people who do not have the resources or the ability to handle these things online. The government will have to remember that if this bill is ever implemented.

In closing, I would like to thank the member for Guelph for his initiative. It is good to think about service to the public, which should always be the government's main purpose. The government must provide quality service for people who pay their taxes every year and expect that kind of service from the federal government. The least the government can do is provide a single point of contact to grieving people who have to settle the affairs of someone who has passed away.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

October 2nd, 2014 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-247, a truly practical piece of legislation brought forward by the eminently pragmatic member of Parliament for Guelph.

Before putting my name on the ballot, I had the good fortune of having a couple of careers, one in the management of a regional law firm and the other in a family business. One of the lessons I took with me to Parliament Hill was that a good employer always hires employees who are smarter than he is. Now, in my case, that leaves a lot of options. I say that just to draw light to the very capable employees I have in my constituency office.

There is a steady stream of people who come in to the constituency office with a wide variety of problems that need to be dealt with, but there are a couple of things that are consistent. Number one is their emotional state. They are generally frustrated about having to try to navigate the bureaucracy. The other, with the exception of passports, is the importance to them of the problem they have come to our office to talk to us about. It is generally the most important thing that is happening in their lives at that time.

They are stuck in this situation. They have generally tried other avenues to solve the problem. Their first recourse was not to the member of Parliament's office. They come into an MP's office, in my case, my constituency office. I am very fortunate to have very capable staff there.

I say this because the case for Bill C-247 is strong. It would require the Minister of Employment and Social Development to implement all measures necessary to establish Employment and Social Development 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.

In my opinion, this bill is a perfect example of how federal representation works in Canada. We are here, in Ottawa, representing a diverse collection of voices, bringing forward the concerns or issues identified within our constituencies and translating those concerns and issues into federally legislated solutions.

It is not always easy to identify how to fix what seems like an individual problem with federal legislation, but I believe that the member for Guelph has done just that with Bill C-247.

The death of a loved one is never easy. If we, in this House, can do our part to lessen the burden of responsibility that falls to someone who is grieving, then we should absolutely do just that.

It was reassuring to read the previous speeches on the bill from back in June of this year and to see that most, not all but most, members had only constructive and valuable things to add to this debate in a sincere effort to strengthen the bill. With this in mind, I hope to see the entire House support sending this bill to committee.

It is evident that the research for the bill is thorough and sound. The evidence the member for Guelph is relying upon comes from various well-known, reliable sources, including the 2013 fall report of the Auditor General. In that report, the notification of death is specifically mentioned on page 12:

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....

Perhaps the only situation worse than not receiving full benefits from a federal program is receiving too much, due to administrative errors, and then being told, “Sorry, you have to pay that money back”. This is an extremely difficult circumstance to be found in when a person is also dealing with the loss of someone they love.

Other members who have spoken to the bill have made reference to the various federal departments that would need to be contacted about the death of a Canadian citizen or a Canadian resident. There are a few that stood out to me, namely Veterans Affairs and Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

As we know, cuts to Service Canada have drastically altered the level of service across the country, and my province has not been spared. When the government decided to cut the civil service by about 5%, the level of the cuts was double that in my province. We no longer have a district Veterans Affairs office; we no longer have a Citizenship and Immigration office; we no longer have in-person counter service at the Canada Revenue Agency; and we have never had a passport office.

I am not bringing this up in an attempt to slight the Conservative government—though I have in the past and I reserve the right to do so in the future at every opportunity—but as an alternative argument to the potential value of Bill C-247 and the positive impacts it might have if it were enacted.

With fewer staff available to assist Canadians through an already painful process of grieving a loved one, it makes sense to streamline the process and simplify the administrative burden, both for those grieving and for the Service Canada employees. Due to the cuts to front-line personnel and the closure of federal offices in Prince Edward Island, my office tends to receive much of the overflow from Service Canada. I can say with confidence that the effects of the administrative burden can be absolutely devastating, particularly when it involves the repayment of funds that I just mentioned.

Sending this bill to committee would allow members to hear from public servants themselves as to what the actual implementation would look like and whether or not the proposed timelines were realistic and attainable. My colleague the member for Guelph has already indicated that he is open to reasonable amendments that would strengthen the bill.

Realistically, I think we can all agree that the bill is sound. In fact, much of it was drafted with the current government's plans and priorities in mind. Allow me to quote from the 2014-15 reports on plans and priorities from Employment and Social Development Canada, as well as that of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. 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.

Further, at page 61 of that report, it says:

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

In his message in the report on plans and priorities from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, the president stated:

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 2014-17, the report states that the secretariat will:

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

It is a fine day when we, as members of the opposition parties, can stand in the House and say that we share a priority of the government. In this case, it is a good priority, so we can absolutely support it with Bill C-247.

In addition to aligning with the current priorities of those respective government departments, the impact of Bill C-247 could potentially save the government millions of dollars. The savings in this case would be in the form of costs to the federal government for overpayments due to improper death notifications, as well as the cost to the federal government in retrieving benefit overpayments.

The member for Guelph, as well as a few other members of the House, referenced the success of this kind of initiative elsewhere in the world, specifically in France with its online service portal, mon service public, and the United Kingdom's Tell Us Once. In the United Kingdom, the savings are estimated to be an incredible $300 million over 10 years.

Of course, I want to reiterate that the savings are not just financial but also administrative in nature. As my colleague stated in his June speech, this is also good consumer legislation.

Some of the members who have spoken to this bill previously mentioned that they have some concerns with respect to privacy, and well they should. For this reason, I say send it to committee, let the Privacy Commissioner appear as a witness, and let us see how the privacy concerns can be addressed.

In closing, this bill is non-partisan, evidence-based, financially responsible, and immensely practical. It deserves our support and further study at committee.

In Canada, 80% of the care provided to ailing seniors is given by their loved ones. A citizen of this country should not be required to jump through administrative hoops in order to settle the accounts of someone they are still grieving.

I hope we will do our part to alleviate the stress on our constituents by voting in support of Bill C-247.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

October 2nd, 2014 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate concerning Bill C-247, presented by my hon. colleague, the member for Guelph.

First let me say how much I appreciate the time and effort that the hon. member has put into drafting this bill. I would also like to thank the member for his willingness to collaborate with us on potential changes that we can work together on to continue to strengthen the proposed piece of legislation.

Currently the bill is somewhat technical. It is a proposal that would make Service Canada the single point of contact in the Government of Canada for reporting the death of a Canadian citizen or a Canadian resident. Service Canada would then, in the words of the bill, have responsibility “...in respect of all matters relating to the death” of that person.

At first glance, the proposal seems very straightforward. The intent of making things simpler for the relatives of a deceased person is a laudable goal and one we fully support. Cutting red tape for grieving families is something I believe all parties should get behind and support strongly.

As we examine the bill as it is written, there are some costs and practical consequences that are not necessarily straightforward, and they will need to be considered during the committee hearings.

Currently Bill C-247 would require any federal program that wants to be notified of a death to become the authorized user of the social insurance number, since the number would be required to ensure the complete and accurate matching of client information. Without this number, errors and incorrect stoppage of benefits or services could occur, and we all want to avoid that.

Although the bill's intent is to enable citizens and residents to communicate only with Service Canada to resolve any outstanding issues related to a death, it would also expand the mandate of Service Canada to include the responsibility of notifying a host of other departments and other programs. This would happen as soon as the estate of the deceased person informed Service Canada of the death.

Since the social insurance number is an important piece of information linked to an individual's identity, expanding the process to include other programs that do not currently have the authority to collect and receive information linked to the social insurance number is something that we need to resolve and give careful consideration to before making any changes in that area.

As well, to implement the bill as proposed, processes would need to be established to ensure that we are receiving the information from the right person: the representative of the estate. This would require verifying both the person's identity and their authority to represent the estate of the deceased. The individual would need to bring the proper identification and documentation. This would create a cumbersome process for individuals dealing with the death of a loved one. We want to avoid that at all costs.

We think it is best if we work to improve the system that is currently in place.This would ensure that the privacy of Canadians would be protected while providing a streamlined approach for death notification. That is why we intend to introduce friendly amendments to the bill in committee to address the problems I mentioned and to make this a stronger piece of legislation. The amendments we are proposing would ensure that key Government of Canada programs that require death information are authorized to use the social insurance number.

We also have some concerns that a hard deadline might drive up costs and at times would not be realistic, but to ensure that the progress is tracked, we will be proposing that annual reporting to Parliament be included as part of this bill. In addition, we are advancing an incremental approach to improve notification of death services in a client-focused procedure.

The bill has shown that Service Canada has a long way to go in communicating with Canadians on the processes that are currently in place. I will not go into detail on the current processes, as they were discussed during the first hour of debate, but I can say that in the short term we will be improving communications and developing a strategy to give Canadians easier access to the relevant information they need when a death of a loved one takes place.

Service Canada will update its website and clarify the messaging regarding the steps to follow in the event of the death of a Canadian resident or Canadian citizen. This will include listing the federal programs and departments currently informed of the passing of an individual and what steps should be taken, including informing other programs and other departments. Examples would be the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for fishing licences and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for Indian status cards.

At the same time, Service Canada will work with key stakeholders, including the Funeral Service Association of Canada, to explore ways that the estate or survivors can be better informed.

The department will develop an outreach strategy to tell survivors which federal programs and departments are automatically informed and which ones they need to inform. The department will set out what benefits survivors may be eligible for and for which ones they may need to apply.

Over the longer term, we intend to work with programs and departments to gradually eliminate the need for separate notification procedures and to continue working to develop a government-wide approach that will be more efficient and eliminate any duplication.

We are committed to the highest level of and efficiency in service delivery. The government is constantly looking for ways to improve service delivery and making the best use of taxpayer dollars.

I am pleased that my colleague across the way who brought the bill forward is open to constructive amendments. We are going to work together constructively and collaboratively to deliver the best legislation on behalf of all Canadians.

I hope my colleagues will find these amendments to be acceptable and join us in voting in favour of the bill at second reading.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

October 2nd, 2014 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support the bill put forward by my colleague from Guelph.

I do not usually use the word brilliant, but in some sense I think this is a brilliant bill, brilliant in its simplicity. Simplicity is not a bad thing. Often the best things in life are simple and sometimes when somebody proposes a new idea that is simple, people will say that it is obvious, or they will ask why it was not done before. This legislation has those two characteristics. Why have we not had one-stop shopping of this kind for many years? Why did we not think of that before? Maybe someone has thought of it before, but it is new to me, and it would be an excellent addition to Canadian law.

The points have been made that the person whose loved one has just died is not in a happy state, to put it mildly, and the prospect of having to make a substantial number of calls to government bureaucracies to answer different questions about the death of one's wife, or husband or whomever is not a happy prospect. Given the cutbacks, the prospect of being on a 1-800 line and having to wait forever to even get any answer at all is not a happy thought. Therefore, the possibility of just going to one place and having experts there who know exactly how to do it would relieve a huge amount of stress and anxiety from those who are the least able to be in such positions of stress.

In my opinion, this is a great bill because when someone loses a family member, he or she is not prepared to telephone all the government bureaucracies to share the information with public servants.

If all of that can happen in one fell swoop, it is better for everyone.

As my colleague has suggested, there are subsidiary benefits, which are definitely secondary to the primary one of helping individual Canadians. However, it could save the government money. It could save lawyers and estates from money going down the wrong paths. It could make it less likely that there would be issues of overpayment, and so on.

I was pleased with the government's response. If we could work in such a collegial way on other things as the way we worked on this bill, this would be a better place. That would be perhaps hoping too much, but I think the parliamentary secretary's response in tone was excellent, co-operative, and collegial.

The devil is in the details and I will certainly defer to my colleague from Guelph as to whether what he is proposing is precisely right. As far as I know, everyone in the House is on the same page and in favour, and we should all work together to make this happen in the most efficient and effective manner.

Having blossomed forth on how collegial we are, let me turn to a slightly different issue, which is perhaps a little less collegial.

In an ideal world, we should have one-stop shopping for both federal and provincial government agencies because no doubt, when an individual dies, the successor has to contact provincial governments, even municipal governments, as well as the federal government. If we could have one-stop shopping for all three levels of government, what a wonderful world this would be.

I remember back in the late days of the Liberal government that I had some involvement with Service Canada, which we were promoting as a new agency. Our idea at the time was to begin at the federal level but then to work with provincial governments and try to do what I just described, which is one-stop shopping across levels of government.

Maybe if a Liberal government were still in power, we would be there today and were that the case, my colleague might have been able to introduce a bill that would go to all levels of government. I am not sure we would have reached municipalities even eight years later, but we might have at least incorporated provinces and then it would be even easier for the loved ones of someone who died.

Unfortunately, Service Canada has gone in the wrong direction. We hear all the time about people being stuck forever on 1-800 numbers wanting employment insurance and things of that nature. Therefore, the service has not blossomed forth to include at least two levels of government, but rather, seems to have become more and more difficult to administer for just this one level of government.

I suppose that is a challenge for the future, but I think in the longer term maybe the hon. member, in a few years time, perhaps after there is a government of a different stripe to put this thing in order, will be able to provide amendments to his bill that would extend it to include not just the federal government but provincial governments as well.

That is a longer term proposition. For the moment, we, of all parties, should be pleased at this very important and major first step toward one-stop shopping for the benefit of the loved ones of those who have died.

There is so much consensus on this that I need not take up my full 10 minutes. My colleague from Charlottetown has explained extremely clearly as to what the benefits are, so I do not want to belabour the point.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

October 2nd, 2014 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Colin Mayes Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Guelph for tabling private member's Bill C-247. I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate.

The time and the effort that the hon. member has put into drafting the bill is certainly commendable. The parliamentary secretary, my colleague, has put forward an argument that Service Canada has been working to provide online service and to update our systems to ensure that Canadians are served better and quicker. Changes take time, but this bill is just another step that would improve that service and make it more timely for Canadians.

Bill C-247, an act to expand the mandate of Service Canada in respect of the death of a Canadian citizen or Canadian resident, if adopted, will make Service Canada the single point of contact to report the death of a loved one to the federal government.

If I were to take a quick look at Bill C-247, it would seem to be a straightforward proposal, and I have no doubt it has been developed with the best intention. At first glance, Bill C-247 looks like a good idea as it seems to make things easier for people who need to notify the federal government of the death of a relative. However, when we examine the bill more closely, we quickly realize that the legislation, as it is written, could be improved. We look forward to working with the member for Guelph to make some common sense changes at committee.

When we look at the bill, I would like to remind my colleagues that the information on births and deaths in Canada falls under the jurisdiction of the provinces and the territories. Currently, provincial and territorial governments maintain birth and death registries and they are administered by vital statistics agencies. All provinces, except one, Saskatchewan, which is expected to join the system within the next two years, send Service Canada daily death information through secure electronic channels, under the vital events linkages agreements. Then Service Canada relays this information to all the federal departments and agencies that are duly authorized to receive it.

This two-step information sharing process is demonstrably reliable and has proven to be secure to protect the private information of all Canadians. In fact, it is a great example of a partnership that works.

Of course, as with any system, there is always room for improvement. That is why Service Canada will continue to work with the provinces and territories, as well as with various partners and stakeholders, to improve the vital events linkages and accelerate the processes involved in disclosing information.

As a House, we have the responsibility to consider all the possible repercussions for the privacy of Canadians. We cannot treat this lightly. The privacy of Canadians is too important to be played with. This is exactly what we are doing by recommending amendments to Bill C-247. We are looking at how we can improve the bill and make it better legislation.

As the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley has stated, we intend to introduce several amendments in committee study to make the bill stronger. The member who submitted the bill recognizes the co-operation of the government and is very willing to participate.

In the meantime, the bill has shown that Service Canada needs to do better at communicating with Canadians. Currently, there is work ongoing to update the Service Canada website. It will soon provide clearer messages on the steps to follow to notify the federal government of the death of a loved one. Service Canada's website will soon highlight which federal programs and departments are automatically informed of the passing of an individual and which departments and programs might need to be informed directly.

Service Canada will also work in consultation with funeral directors and other stakeholders to develop an outreach strategy, so Canadians are even better informed on this matter.

Service Canada will continue working with departments and programs to progressively move toward a simplification of the death notification process. I am pleased to see and support an initiative that cuts red tape for grieving families. Basically, we agree with the intent of the hon. member's bill. We need to do this the right way.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act
Private Members' Business

October 2nd, 2014 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did give it a great deal of thought before I put forward this bill. Members can sit in this house for quite some time and never have an opportunity to introduce a private member’s bill, debate it, and hopefully see it pass. I wanted to ensure that the bill I put forward would have an impact on the lives of Canadians and also would be something members from all parties could indeed come together on and support. For those reasons, it was my great pleasure to introduce a bill that would establish Service Canada as the single point of contact relating to the death of a Canadian citizen or resident.

The death of a loved one is not an easy time for any of us, so I am certainly glad to put forward a non-partisan bill that would create a practical, compassionate approach to helping Canadians through a very difficult time.

I am grateful to all MPs who contributed so constructively to this debate, especially the Minister of State for Social Development, whose genuine interest and collaboration were essential. Also, I thank the members for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, Saint-Lambert, Cape Breton—Canso, Brant, Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Don Valley East, Sherbrooke, Charlottetown, Markham—Unionville, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment and Social Development, and the member for Okanagan—Shuswap.

With reference to the remarks made by the member for Markham—Unionville, indeed, this idea, with all humility, was not my own. It was in fact the idea of Bryon Wilfert, who first brought the idea before Parliament but did not have the opportunity to navigate it through the House.

What I have heard from Canadians, industry stakeholders, and members alike is clear: the existing system for notifying the federal government of the death of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident can and must be improved. The program must be made more efficient for the grieving family on the one end, who should only have to tell government once of a death, and in the interests of the government on the other.

The process of notifying all the necessary government authorities when a loved one passes away can be tedious, confusing, and sometimes overwhelming, but it is also an often painful process at a very sensitive time. It is a disservice to everyone when Canadians are unaware of what processes currently exist, preventing them from receiving adequate services and assistance while bereaved.

What the bill would accomplish by establishing a single point of contact at Service Canada would be the removal of uncertainty and confusion for family members and estate administrators. Similarly, as a public policy gain, I believe that it would modernize service delivery and reduce duplication and thereby reduce costs. As was said by the member for Charlottetown, a similar system in the United Kingdom, Tell Us Once, has saved $300 million over 10 years.

What I have heard from my colleagues in their comments here in the House and elsewhere is that these are common sense changes, and this is a common sense piece of legislation that they would like to see succeed, regardless of political stripe. That does not mean there cannot be changes made. Some speakers highlighted areas of the bill that could use some modification, and I am pleased to say that I have begun work with the government on ways we can strengthen the bill to ensure that all parties can support it.

If passed at second reading, I look forward to a full discussion of the bill at committee. I remain open to amendments to ensure that the bill remains consistent with existing legislation while ensuring that the government continues to move forward in implementing a secure process by which government departments are promptly informed and that these departments promptly respond when a Canadian passes away. I have said before that I would like MPs to hear public servants on how they would implement the bill and whether they feel that one year, as stipulated in the legislation, is a reasonable amount of time to implement the required changes or if more time is needed.

In closing, we have before us an opportunity to make a real difference for Canadians. It may not be glamorous, but it is truly important and practical. It is my sincere hope that all members of Parliament will support sending the bill to committee for further review and discussion of any necessary changes. I thank everyone for their participation in the debate of this issue; stakeholders, like the Funeral Service Association of Canada, for its information and intervention; and each of my constituents and Canadians across the country who contacted me with their questions and support 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.

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Private Members' Business

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

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Private Members' Business

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

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Private Members' Business

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

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Private Members' Business

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

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Private Members' Business

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

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Private Members' Business

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

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Private Members' Business

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