Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to rise in support of Bill C-247, An Act to expand the mandate of Service Canada in respect of the death of a Canadian citizen or Canadian resident.
We usually do not think about these kinds of things until we experience it or someone else tells us a story. However, it comes as rather a shock to me that when someone passes away, the bereaving person in charge of the estate is left to contact so many different agencies. It really good to have legislation that will make life less onerous and less emotional in having to deal with so many government agencies. The bill would allow a number of services to be accessed through one phone call to Service Canada upon losing a loved one, and that is a good thing.
I have one concern about the bill, and that is that it is still rather vague. It specifies some of the services, but it does not specify all of them. There is a caveat at the end stating, “and all other services”. Like other Canadians, I would have been much happier if there had been more specificity around that so everybody could tell they had done absolutely everything they needed to do and contacted every government department when they made that one phone call. However, that is not in the bill. Nevertheless, the bill would make life less cumbersome and a lot easier.
All of these services would, as we know, be centred in Service Canada, so there would one-stop shopping, as somebody called this, though not quite because we are not sure of some of the other services. We always get carried away with modern technology. We think we only have one department to contact through email, but not everybody is technologically literate. There are technology challenges faced by many, especially seniors, in trying to resolve outstanding departmental issues on behalf of a deceased loved one. Therefore, we have to ensure the services we provide are accessible in a variety of manners: by phone, Internet, mail and in person at Canada depots. That is where the rub is, which is very disappointing.
The bill is good and the New Democrats are glad this is happening, but we have seen an incredible number of cuts to Service Canada. Under the Liberal government, $10.4 billion were cut over a two-year period, which reduced public sector employees by 45,000. A lot of that directly impacted ESDC. The Conservative government's cuts to front-line services are also harming Canadians. By 2015-16, the Conservatives will have cut $243 million from services focused on Canadians at ESDC.
While the New Democrats are pleased it would be one-stop shopping, I am still worried about the amount of time people will have to wait if they phone in or the response times once people submit their information in writing. Also, when we deal with people who have lost loved ones, they are very emotional. I hope the front-line service providers will get some additional training on how to deal with people who experience that kind of personal loss.
When my father passed away, I know how difficult it was. I thought I knew my way around the system, but it was still very frustrating at times, at times it angered me, and then when I would get letters, it was even more annoying. Members of Parliament all know how it feels when they send mail to someone and get a note back saying the person passed away a year ago. In many ways, it is time that we centralize our services so people do not have to go through that pain.
I also talked to a constituent of mine who had been left with the burden of paying back an amount of money that had been paid into her and her husband's joint account after he passed away. She did not even know the money was being paid. She had not kept a close eye on that account until she received a letter from the government demanding the repayment of a very large sum. She felt she had taken all the steps and had done all the right things.
This is good legislation. It will make life easier. As I said earlier, it does not list everything, but it is a step in the right direction. I believe this will make it a lot easier for those who are dealing with the loss of a loved one.