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.