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.