House of Commons Hansard #153 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was measures.

Topics

7 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate the sentiments that the parliamentary secretary has put forward, but I am back in the same position I was in five minutes ago. Let us focus on the what the real issue is here. The real issue is that there is a private clinic charging for medically necessary services. The Canada Health Act says that one may not charge for a medically necessary service.

My other point, on which I am not much further ahead either, is that the minister promised to look into the private MRIs being sold by St. Paul's Hospital and to report back. I am still looking for a timetable to hear that report.

This is not about general opting out. This is a private clinic charging for medically necessary services, which is in contradiction to the Canada Health Act. I expect the federal government to uphold the Canada Health Act.

7 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, this government is upholding the principles of the Canada Health Act.

An important aspect of the Canada Health Act is that services provided by physicians who are not enrolled in their provincial or territorial health insurance plans, or “non-participating physicians”, are not considered ensured health services under the Canada Health Act, so the government is in fact upholding the principles of the Canada Health Act.

The Canada Health Act is an important piece of legislation. It ensures that Canadians have access to medically necessary services. It provides flexibility in how those services are delivered, be it not for profit or publicly or privately delivered, provided that they are publicly funded.

I think I have addressed the member's concerns. This government will uphold the Canada--

7:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette--Témiscouata--Les Basques.

7:05 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Thibault Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to participate in today's debate. It allows me to follow up on a question I asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the whole issue of the deplorable situation faced by a number of my constituents as well as those in many other ridings. There is no doubt about it.

As I indicated on April 23, the government is incapable of providing “adequate“ services. The word is deliberately chosen. We are not asking for the level of service to be outstanding, only fair and adequate. Simple passport applications and renewal applications are taking more time to process with each passing day. Canadian and Quebeckers who wish to travel are losing both time and money. Rural citizens—like those from my riding and many others—are at a particular disadvantage.

I asked the minister if he knew about this and if he was ready to commit to establishing a passport office for the Gaspé Peninsula and Lower St. Lawrence region. He answered by admitting that the situation was difficult. He spoke of 58 new Service Canada offices—and I will have something to say later on this topic—and of 500 new employees. I have something to say on this topic also, since they should be at work already but they are not. All this was done, as he said, “to address the bottleneck”.

Lastly, I did not appreciate at all, as some of my constituents, his call for patience. Patience is not what we need in my region, nor in other regions, in Neigette, Témiscouata and Les Basques. What we want is equity in services and adequate services from his department. We have already proven that we can be patient. We are ultra-patient, but there are limits.

The minister had the gall to mention Service Canada. In case he does not know, let me tell him: in Rimouski and in the Lower St. Lawrence, Service Canada offers no passport services whatsoever. In my office, my associates and I work diligently to help the citizens of my riding, and even those from other ridings that come to Rimouski for business. They come to the office of a member of Parliament. It is my pleasure to help them. That is what we are there for. However, the turnaround time is completely unacceptable. Let me give a few very simple examples.

The service called the MP Desk, where the turnaround time is two and a half months, does not include rejected passport photos, which can drive the turnaround time up by several weeks. In those cases, we have to inform Passport Canada to expedite the process. We must not forget that, when people do not include the amounts required and send everything by regular mail, the bags of regular mail are not even opened. Furthermore, there is no way of making sure that the letter was even received. Things are even worse when there is a receipt. We have learned—and this takes the cake—that Canada Post employees do not even have time to sign for the registered mail or priority post. That is extremely serious. The Canada Post CEO is investigating the matter.

The service given to MPs by phone and email is totally inadequate. Answers are vague and often inaccurate. I will give you four quick examples. We sent an email for an urgent request for example and only received an answer two weeks later. What a way to treat an urgent request! It also frequently happens that our calls are not returned, even if we have left a message saying that it was urgent. No call whatsoever. Officials at Passport Canada give us information on the status of a file, and a few days later we learn that the state of this file is completely—

7:10 p.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to discuss passport services with the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques this evening.

Due to U.S. requirements for air travel to the United States, Passport Canada continues to experience a sharp volume increase in passport applications in all of its offices and its mailing service. To deal with this, 500 new Passport Canada employees have been hired, and most of them are already at work. Only about 14 require further training.

These measures mean that we are now processing 20,000 passports a day. This is an increase in capacity of 40% from last fall. If the current demand continues, we expect to clear the backlog by the end of the summer.

Historically, passport offices have been located in large urban centres to maximize the accessibility rate in Canada. Today, over 65% of the Canadian population resides within 10 kilometres of a passport point of service. Over 98% of the Canadian population resides within 100 kilometres of a passport point of service.

This being put forth, the government recognizes that Canadians need access to passport services wherever they reside, especially given the current context of an east-west migration pattern.

To achieve this, Passport Canada is continuously looking at ways to improve security and client services while prudently managing its funds in order to ensure an accessible, reliable, flexible and efficient service at a reasonable cost.

For that reason, a key element of Passport Canada's service strategy is to offer efficient and economic alternatives such as receiving agents where it is not financially sustainable to open new offices. The receiving agent program, developed in partnership with Canada Post and Service Canada, helps broaden access for Canadians to passport services in urban, rural and northern areas. A Canada Post receiving agent is available in Rimouski at 136 St-Germain Street West.

Passport Canada is also looking at expanding its partnership agreements and investing in new technologies so Service Canada and Canada Post may broaden their passport services across the country. It is noteworthy that Passport Canada is doing all this during a period of unprecedented growth.

I assure the member that the objective is to improve security while maintaining the level of client service through multiple business channels. Passport Canada continues to be committed to ensuring consistency in service to Canadians and consistency in the application of policies regardless of where they live.

My government welcomes a dialogue with MPs on this matter.

7:10 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Thibault Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member just gave us some figures. Obviously, I am not at all surprised that these figures apply to major urban centres. I would like to reiterate that people in the regions are not rejects. They are hard-working, they care about national politics and they pay their taxes. They should not be made to wait unduly or have to travel 700 km or 800 km in order to get a level of service that someone in Montreal could get by crossing the street, or walking 3 km or 4 km to the Guy Favreau Complex.

My hon. colleague speaks of Canada Post. I would remind him that the taxpayer has to pay $15 for Canada Post's service. If the taxpayer comes to the MP's office, it does not cost a penny, thank God. So, the hon. member can say all he wants about the thousands of applications that are being processed and the progress that is being made, but my point remains, that the people in the regions, people in so-called “remote” regions, do not have the level of service they deserve.

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, again, I assure the member that we are doing everything possible to ensure that service is given to all Canadians, not just those living in urban centres.

Based on the demand volume in her riding of Rimouski, 2,271 passport applications in 2006, and the required infrastructure to support the operations of a fully functional office there, Passport Canada would be operating this a significant financial loss. That is why we have a receiving agent in her riding. It takes approximately 20 days to receive a passport from a receiving agent.

As I stated in my speech, we are working very hard to ensure the backlog is completed by the end of the summer.

7:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

A motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:14 p.m.)