Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee.
I'm delighted to be here today to speak to you about Passport Canada's fee-for-service proposal, the result of two years of inclusive public consultations under the User Fees Act.
I will begin with an overview of Passport Canada's operating environment and the challenges we face from a business point of view. I will then outline our accomplishments in preparing and consulting on our fee-for-service proposal.
Passport Canada is one of the most visible services offered by the Government of Canada. Last year, we issued more than 4.8 million passports to Canadians, and more than 99% of our clients received their passport on time or earlier.
Passport Canada is a self-funding special operating agency working on a 100% cost-recovery basis. We are funded solely through the fees paid by passport applicants. These fees have not increased since 2001, except for a $2 postal fee increase in 2005. And yet, the business of issuing passports is much different today than in 2001. Over the past decade, Passport Canada has more than doubled the number of passports issued annually. Today, 67% of Canadians hold a passport.
Passport Canada runs a deficit on every booklet issued. A fee increase is needed to support our move to the e-passport, to bolster our ongoing fight against identity fraud, and to support our shift from a five-year to a 10-year business cycle.
When I speak about a business cycle, it is because, as a cost-recovery agency, Passport Canada functions more like a business than like a conventional government department. We use activity-based management to monitor and track the actual cost of each part of our operations.
Over the past decade, we have streamlined our business processes, making effective use of technology, and have found operating efficiencies wherever we could. However, our existing fee structure has fallen out of step with our business realities, and it cannot support the investments needed to keep pace with the advances in technology, international standards, and recommended practices. These concerns were raised by the Office of the Auditor General in 2005, and were reiterated by the public accounts committee in 2006 and in 2008.
The national roll-out of the ePassport and the implementation of its associated technology is a very complex project. Adopting the ePassport requires the creation of an entirely new passport booklet. We must build up an operating inventory of blank booklets.
Producing the ePassport also means replacing our printing technology across Canada, as well as IT system changes. Moreover, to ensure consistent service to Canadians, staff here in Canada and in our missions abroad must be trained in the new technology.
I will now move on to a snapshot of our User Fees Act process.
We began by consulting Canadians about our services through a website questionnaire, and we received input from more than 7,000 Canadians. We involved external stakeholders by organizing round table sessions with representatives from consumer and industry groups. More than 70 non-governmental potential interest groups were also invited to provide input through a letter campaign. We believe that these consultations and outreach initiatives provided an accurate overview of Canadians' opinions and preferences.
Mr. Chair, I can assure you that we listened closely to what our clients and stakeholders told us during our consultations, and I'm pleased to report that the results highlighted Canadians' satisfaction with Passport Canada's services.
Further, there is widespread support for the 10-year passport. About 80% of Canadians said that they will opt for a 10-year validity booklet, but many still want the option of having a five-year e-passport booklet as well.
So we will also continue to offer Canadians the option of a five-year validity booklet at a lower upfront cost.
Canadians told us they value being able to travel freely to many destinations around the world, without the need for costly visas. That is why, once its technology and the new security features were explained, most Canadians expressed a favourable view of the e-passport, citing the need to comply with international practices and stay at the forefront of passport security.
Canadians clearly indicated that they support a reduced price for children's passports and this is reflected in our proposal. Children's passports will still be valid for five years and fees will remain at 60% of adult five-year passport fees. In preparing our proposal, our goal was to keep the fee for the 10-year ePassport as low as possible.
Under our proposed new fee structure, the 10-year ePassport will cost $160, meaning that it will actually cost less per year than the current passports. The 5-year ePassport will however cost more per year. In addition to our consultations, we conducted an international comparison. With this proposal, Canada compares favourably to other countries despite being in the unique position of operating on a fully cost-recovery basis, contrary to our international counterparts.
After listening to everything Canadians told us, consulting with consumer and industry organizations, and evaluating passport services in other countries, we published our fee-for-service proposal on November 10, 2011. We invited Canadians to provide input on the proposal until November 25. During that period over 7,000 people visited the web page, and 56 provided input.
Passport Canada replied to all the input by mid-December within the prescribed timelines. As per the User Fees Act, those who submitted input were allowed to request independent advisory panels if they were unsatisfied with our responses, and no requests were received.
This brings us to the parliamentary tabling of our proposal, which we believe will best serve the interests of the millions of Canadians who depend on Passport Canada for reliable, secure, and internationally respected travel documents. Our organization prepared a balanced and comprehensive fee-for-service proposal. The proposal accurately reflects our costs and puts forward a fee structure that will allow us to move to a 10-year business cycle.
After more than a decade without increasing passport fees, the new fee and service structure will allow us to modernize services and improve the security of the passport program, while ensuring the financial sustainability of the organization. Thanks to the implementation of the ePassport, Passport Canada is ensuring that Canadians will have travel documents that are secure and highly respected the world over.
Passport Canada is working closely with its public- and private-sector partners. In order to ensure a timely deployment of the ePassport, the months ahead will be critical. Passport Canada will ensure that services to Canadians will not be affected as we transition to the new technology.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I will be pleased to answer any questions you and the committee members may have.