moved that the bill be read a third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-247, An act to expand the mandate of Service Canada in respect of the death of a Canadian citizen or Canadian resident.
It has been an incredible and surreal experience to shepherd this bill through Parliament so far, and I am honoured by the support it has received on all sides of this House. Through this bill, we have demonstrated what parliamentarians can accomplish when working together with one another to provide for their constituents and all Canadians.
Few things are so daunting as the prospect of losing a loved one. Few things are so difficult as actually settling the affairs of someone after they have died. Over the course of my time as a lawyer and then as a member of Parliament, particularly while preparing and researching this bill, I have heard countless times of how unprepared people are for not only the grief of losing a friend or family member, but the administrative burden that goes along with the loss.
Marny Williams, vice-chair of Bereavement Ontario Network, put it especially eloquently in her testimony before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. She said:
At the age of 30, I found myself a widow and solo parent to two children aged three years and three months old. My world had been completely turned upside down and inside out. I was so devastated by the death of my husband, Keith, and the reality of supporting my children through their grief, that I didn't have the time or knowledge or desire to struggle through the multitude of paperwork that was required.
As parliamentarians, opposition and government alike, it is among our foremost responsibilities to Canadians to find ways to ease these burdens when the solutions are available to us. We can do that here.
As it stands, there is no single window that one can approach to notify the necessary officials about the death of a loved one. In the absence of a simpler streamlined process, a bereaved Canadian, husband, wife, child, or other estate representative, may have to contact many separate federal government departments and send death notifications to each.
Unfortunately, successfully notifying every necessary department or official can involve the repetition of submitting the same information to different people and is often confusing and tedious, and just as often emotionally draining and painful. More worrying, it may involve such an overwhelming amount of information that someone notifying the government of a death can miss a department, sometimes with detrimental results.
Service Canada lists that it must be contacted with the notification of “date of death” when an old age security or Canada pension plan recipient passes away, and for the application of potential survivor benefits. Similarly, if someone received employment insurance benefits prior to his or her death, there is a separate application to cancel those benefits, or to apply for additional benefits to which he or she may have been entitled. Had the deceased lived in Canada and in another country, their survivor could be eligible to apply for pension and benefits because of a social security agreement.
An estate's legal representative also makes a separate effort to contact the Canada Revenue Agency to provide a deceased person's date of death, in addition to preparing final tax returns and stopping payments on any tax credits. If the deceased person were receiving the Canada child tax benefit, universal child care benefit, or the working income tax benefit, those benefits must be stopped, and, if applicable, survivor benefits can be applied for.
That list is in no way exhaustive, but it serves to paint a picture of the myriad approaches to government that one must make after a loved one has passed away.
Jim Bishop, chair of the Funeral Service Association of Canada's government relations committee, related a story of a man who was handling the estate of his deceased father-in-law. After the funeral, he notified all of the departments he thought were necessary, but noticed nearly a year later that money was still going into his deceased father-in-law's account. He had not realized that he had to let Canada pension plan know, and so it was still paying out a pension. When he and Mr. Bishop spoke to Service Canada, they were given the impression that this happens often enough.
That sort of angst is not necessary. We can change it, and this bill would do that.
The bill calls on the Minister of Employment and Social Development to implement all measures necessary to make Employment and Social Development Canada, and more specifically Service Canada, the single point of contact for the Government of Canada programs, for all matters relating to the death of a Canadian citizen or resident.
While consulting with the minister and departmental officials after second reading, I learned that there would need to be some modifications to provide that this is for government programs that are authorized to use the social insurance number of the deceased. This was not provided for in the initial drafting of the bill. However, it became clear that it was essential in order to accurately match data, or, more plainly, to ensure that the person who died is the person receiving x benefit or y benefit.
A single window for death notification is not a new idea. In the United Kingdom, its government has already instituted the Tell Us Once registration process, and, in France, the online service portal “Mon Service Public” has been instituted for death notifications. It is estimated that beyond the more personal costs of eliminating considerable hardship and grief, the Tell Us Once process will save the government over $300 million over the decade.
Service Canada is ideally situated to perform this function for Canadians. Located within Employment and Social Development Canada, Service Canada already gives Canadians access to a range of federal government services and benefits. It was intended to streamline access to and provision of government programs and services for Canadians.
Bill C-247 is a practical expansion of Service Canada's mandate, and the logical choice for bereavement reporting. It is the first step in a wider strategy towards cost savings and reduction of red tape while improving client services.
The Auditor General found in chapter 2 of his fall 2013 report, “Access to Online Services”, that the integration of service delivery and the sharing of information among departments is “limited”. As we have seen through the various departments that require notification on the death of a Canadian, their family, friends, or agents often have to work with multiple departments separately, frequently requiring them to provide the same information multiple times to various sources.
The Auditor General also found at that time that instructions provided online by Service Canada about the process for certain life events were incomplete. Additionally, 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.
When it comes to the death of the loved one, the AG similarly found that:
[...] 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 hon. member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo said it very well at committee. She said:
[The Red Tape Commission] certainly heard consistently that Tell Us Once wants interaction and how difficult and time-consuming it is for businesses to deal with government. I think we can all imagine what happens when someone who's grieving and the difficulty of finding out many months down the road that they have to pay the government back. That's extremely challenging. It's better to get that stopped in the first place.
The government, for its part, has identified this type of modernization as a priority as well. In this year's report on plans and priorities, the minister's message states:
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.
It continues later, stating:
Service Canada will continue to work with other departments so that Canadians can better access more Government of Canada services through Service Canada.
What better way to start that process than by facilitating the client experience of Canadians at an incredibly difficult time in their lives?
When I look back on my time in Parliament, one day this bill and the collaboration and good will demonstrated by members from each party will stand out. It is an incredible feeling to know that my private member's bill might pass in the House of Commons.
At second reading, I remarked that members could sit in the House for quite some time without the opportunity to introduce a private member's bill, let alone see it debated, finessed and passed. It is all the more meaningful to me as I will not seek re-election when this Parliament comes to an end. This experience will stand out for me, and I am so very proud of what we have all accomplished with the passage of this bill.
A number of people were essential to the progress of the bill behind the scenes. I wish to thank the Funeral Service Association of Canada, the Bereavement Ontario Network and Hospice Palliative Care Ontario, for their early support, as well as for their testimony on behalf of the bill before the committee.
I wish to thank the Minister of State for Social Development, her staff and the departmental staff that provided invaluable advice and worked diligently to provide the amendments necessary to the bill's success.
I wish to thank Bryon Wilfert for initially proposing this measure, Wendy Leask for her advice on the subject matter, and Elizabeth Cheesbrough for her invaluable assistance.
Finally, I am sincerely thankful for every member from every party who spoke in support of the bill. They have demonstrated to Canadians what a Parliament working in their best interests looks like.