MP, Ottawa Centre: August 2014

I hope all of you are enjoying the beautiful summer so far with friends and family.  This summer I am reviewing and building on the work of the past session and will continue to take your ideas and feedback with me when I return to the House of Commons in autumn. Below are some issues that continue to remain at the forefront in my work.

Government Wrong Again about Sick Leave in Public Service

The government’s attempts to discredit public servants have failed yet again with the latest report that I requested from the Parliamentary Budget Office regarding sick leave in the public service. The president of the Treasury Board, Tony Clement, continues to pin the blame of rising costs in the public service on employees in an attempt to create a wedge between workers in public and private sectors.

The first report issued by the Parliamentary Budget Office in February demonstrated that contrary to the government’s claims, the amount of sick leave taken by public service employees was similar to that of employees in the private sector. The most recent report from the PBO shows that sick leave in the public service imposes no significant costs on the government or taxpayers.

These latest findings are very important in light of the latest round of bargaining between government and the public sector. According to media reports, the Conservative government is trying to make public servants take more unpaid leave or come to work sick. The government’s omnibus budget bills also eliminated the impartial research that used to inform bargaining processes. This makes research generated by the PBO even more vital.

It is high time the government stop its attacks on public servants and work towards a relationship based on respect and good faith, which is in the interest of all Canadians.

Frontline Services Increasingly Inaccessible

I continue to hear more and more from constituents that they can’t access basic front-line federal government services. Whether it’s finding information regarding their EI claim, tax return, Old Age Security application or even just trying to get basic information about a program, people are having a hard time meeting their needs.

Many people have come to my office for basic information regarding their immigration application because residents in the riding can no longer go in person to the local immigration office on Catherine Street or have reached a dead end trying to navigate the Citizenship and Immigration phone tree. Processing times for basic immigration documents such as replacement citizenship certificates (six months) or renewal of permanent residency cards (five months) are also unduly long causing serious hardship for many people.  The inability to obtain these documents in a timely manner has cascading effects: preventing constituents from obtaining government ID or accessing municipal/provincial government services.

This is also the case with the Canada Revenue Agency counter downtown, which is now closed to the public. I wrote to the Minister of National Revenue regarding this closure, and all I received back was a reply referring constituents to the CRA website.

We are continuing to see the government define ‘service delivery’ as providing automated 1-800 phone numbers and referrals to websites that are often difficult to navigate, understand, or obtain answers to specific questions.  While accessing services through technology is important, it can never replace the ability to speak to an employee in person or over the phone.

Under this government, it is unsurprising that the power to make decisions is also increasingly being concentrated in the Minister’s office, preventing public servants on the frontlines from escalating a file without prior approval from management. Frequently, constituents who have gone to Service Canada for help have been told to come to my office for assistance because nothing could be done to address an urgent issue on their file. My office then calls Service Canada, creating unnecessary inefficiencies when the department could have dealt with the issue originally. This also creates inequality and unfairness in the system where people who contact their Member of Parliament receive faster service than people who don’t.

Back in 2013, the Parliamentary Budget Office noted the focus of government cuts had been on frontline services.  We clearly see the results of this with Service Canada and the Employment Insurance program where people can’t get through on the phone, or are waiting a month or more for an initial assessment of their claim. The waiting period to receive EI benefits is supposed to be two weeks. This should not be happening and is completely unacceptable.

Protecting and Cleaning Up the Ottawa River

On a different note, all Ottawans can agree on the ongoing need for more resources to keep the Ottawa River clean. Raw sewage continues to be poured into the river, especially after heavy rainfall. At this point, both the city and the provincial government have dedicated funding for the Ottawa River Action Plan. It is high time the federal government stepped up to help implement the plan, which includes the building of sewage storage tanks to hold sewage until it can be properly treated.  Hopefully, by the time of Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, we may look out from Parliament Hill over a clean river as we celebrate a landmark Canada Day. I also continue to call on the government to designate the Ottawa River as a Heritage River, and reinstate the protections offered under the Navigable Waters Protection Act to its tributaries.

Conflict Minerals

Finally, as the Official Opposition’s Critic for Foreign Affairs, I continue to work on ending trade in conflict minerals. I first presented my Private Member’s Bill on this issue in March of last year. It sought to ensure that minerals in electronics we use every day are coming from mining operations that don’t support armed conflict or engage in abuses of human rights in central Africa. I am pleased to report that when this bill was debated for the first time this spring, all parties agreed on the need for greater Canadian engagement on this issue.  My bill will be voted on at Second Reading when Parliament resumes in the fall.

I have also developed the Just Minerals Campaign. This is a grassroots campaign in support of Canadian legislative action on conflict minerals that has brought together groups such as Amnesty International Canada, the Jane Goodall Institute, and the Grandmothers Advocacy Network. All of these civil society organizations agree Canada has a responsibility to do more to help end conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, major sources of conflict minerals. I will continue advocating on this issue in the autumn, and am calling for Canada to show international leadership in taking responsibility for where we obtain, and who profits from, these mineral resources.

I look forward to seeing and speaking to many of you at upcoming community festivals events and meetings this summer and hearing your thoughts on how I can best represent you with the return of Parliament.

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