‘Lineups Still Exist’: Is Ottawa’s Passport and Service Delay Task Force a ‘Political Stunt’?

The union representing passport officials says it has not been approached by the government’s task force looking into passport delays as questions swirl around the cabinet committee’s work so far.

Amid massive queues at passport and Service Canada offices across the country, as well as major delays at airports, the Prime Minister’s Office announced on June 25 the creation of a task force made up of 10 ministers.

The cabinet committee was specifically tasked with “assessing service delivery, identifying gaps and areas for improvement, and making recommendations to ensure Canadians receive the highest quality of service from coast to coast to coast.”

A month later, the Union of National Employees, which represents passport officials, says it has had no interaction whatsoever with the task force intended to address the delays that still affect their members every day.

“I haven’t had any contact with the task force as it was identified a little over four weeks ago … I don’t even know if that task force has met,” said national union president Kevin King.

“There has been no outreach at all from anyone representing a task force of 10 ministers.”

King said that while there have been improvements, delays at passport offices continue and there is still a need for more well-trained passport officers to go through applications.

“It doesn’t matter who they hire off the street, it doesn’t matter who they bring in from other government departments, it doesn’t matter how many other executives they bring in,” King said.

“The fact is, they still don’t have enough passport officers who are fully trained to be entitled to a passport. It’s that simple, which is why lineups still exist.”

He noted that with a cabinet pullout expected in August, “the days are becoming less and less available for[the task force]to have a cohesive plan.”

However, King said his union and others are in talks to arrange a meeting directly with Social Development Minister Karina Gould, who is responsible for the passport file, possibly in August.

The union that represents Service Canada’s employees, including those dealing with passport confiscations, did meet with the task force, where they were given updates similar to those of government agencies, said Crystal Warner, national executive vice president. president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union.

“They told us we would be invited for future discussions, but haven’t received anything yet,” she said.

Not much progress has been made with delays, Warner said, with lineups still happening in some parts of the country. She said the union recently met again with the government to push for more weekend office hours and some sort of triage system.

“We are still in a situation where there is a constant need up front,” she said, saying that international students will soon be arriving for SIN numbers. “So we’re waiting for the next influx on the front lines.”

The June PMO release said the task force would also “monitor the situation” regarding airport delays.

The National Airlines Council of Canada told the Star it contacted the task force but never heard back. The Canadian Airports Council said it had “contacted PMO about the task force’s work”, but declined to comment further.

The task force’s co-chair, Minister for Women and Gender Equality Marci Ien, told reporters in June that she “would like to see something tangible in the coming weeks”.

Ien said the committee first spoke to ministers responsible for files, including passports, immigration and air transport. (Those ministers are not members of the task force.)

When asked this week about the task force’s work and who else they consulted with, Ien de Star’s office gave a response similar to the June PMO statement, almost word for word.

“The recent service delays are unacceptable and Minister Ien is working hard with the other members of the task force to resolve these issues,” the statement said.

“The Cabinet’s Committee of Ministers has reviewed service protocols, identified gaps and areas for improvement and made recommendations to ensure Canadians receive the highest quality of service from coast to coast to coast.”

The statement said the actions taken by each department are included in regular updates provided by those departments to the public.

An update from Gould last week acknowledged that passporting services are “not yet back to normal”, while announcing a new webpage detailing steps being taken to improve services and delivery statistics.

She said passport issuance has remained “relatively stable” over the past five weeks, with between 45,000 and 48,000 passports being issued for each of those weeks, excluding the week of July 4, when 54,000 passports were issued.

“We’re doing everything we can to increase that pace every week,” she said, including adding more staff at Service Canada. The government also announced on Monday the addition of five more passport collection locations across the country.

The task force “is a political stunt that is more about optics than solutions,” said conservative social development critic Laila Goodridge, who said it is the government’s “duty” to be more transparent about its work.

“When the task force was announced, we were told we would see change in a few weeks, and now we are a month further and just two days ago we saw a small change and it offered additional pick-up locations,” she said.

“If they’re working and trying to find a solution here, they should let us know.”

NDP transportation critic Taylor Bachrach said thousands of Canadians still struggle to access basic government services, and it’s “reasonable” to expect some degree of transparency from the task force.

“The question is why they thought it necessary to get so much public relations hay from the composition of the committee. The formation of a committee is not an outcome,” he said. “And what we need here are results and results.”

Leave a Comment