Service Canada

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, we are all wearing the red ribbon which is very close to the heart of the Leader of the Government in the Senate. We appreciate the work that she has done in that field, and I understand the personal nature of it.

My question has to do with Canada’s elderly and unemployed citizens who are getting very few answers when they call Service Canada about Employment Insurance, the Canada Pension Plan or Old Age Security, and it seems that they are waiting longer. According to the government and documents that have been published, these calls should be answered within three minutes, but it seems that it is taking much longer, if they get an answer at all.

Honourable senators, what purpose does this reasonable three-minute benchmark serve when it seems as though it is being completely ignored? What will the government do to ensure that Canadians who have questions about their benefits will be answered in a timely fashion?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I wish to thank Senator Munson for acknowledging the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Red Ribbon Campaign.

I wish to congratulate Senator Munson on the passage of his private member’s bill. As a Parliament in general, we have been very successful in the last few years with private member’s bills. The number of private member’s bills that have passed through this and the previous Parliament is unprecedented.

In response to Senator Munson’s question, I agree with him totally that there are still some difficulties for people attempting to access Service Canada sites. The government is working hard to improve the service. Like many of these new services, there are wrinkles to be ironed out. I will certainly get an update for the honourable senator on the plans HRSDC has to improve service at Service Canada.

Senator Munson: Honourable senators, the same holds true for EI. I understand that it takes as long as 47 days to receive a first EI cheque. The leader explained what is causing the delays.

I am probably one of the most accidental politicians one will ever meet, but I am trying to figure out the political interference that seems to exist, although I do not know if it really does. However, this year a Service Canada call centre was moved from Ottawa-Vanier, a riding held by Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger, to Cornwall, represented by Conservative Guy Lauzon. An EI processing centre was also moved from Rimouski to Thetford Mines. Rimouski was formerly represented by the Bloc and is now New Democrat. Mr. Christian Paradis, the Industry Minister, is there in Thetford Mines.

I do not know; maybe there is a trend. I truly do not know if it is just that these things are happening for legitimate reasons. The result is that experienced workers are being forced to move, but they cannot or will not, which leaves Service Canada centres understaffed.

Why were these facilities moved? What will be done to improve client services at Service Canada?

Senator LeBreton: I thank the honourable senator for the question. Obviously, with respect to Service Canada and any decision to find new locales, this is not unusual. It happens in government all the time. I do not think it is fair to impugn political motives.

With further regard to Service Canada, as our economy recovers, we have seen an improvement in the number of EI claims — I think that was acknowledged earlier — as more Canadians are getting back to work. The volume of work, because of various economic conditions, fluctuates from time to time and, of course, that often adds to the demand on Service Canada. At other times, there is not as much of a demand. Obviously, this past spring, there was an increased demand. Service Canada increased its resources and brought in some part-time people. However, as I mentioned earlier, honourable senators, Service Canada continues to work to improve and update its operations so that Canadians are served effectively and efficiently and that the best use of our tax dollars is employed in this activity.

No situation is perfect. Service Canada tries to adjust to the demands as they ebb and flow, but it is working continually to improve the Service Canada operations.