September 29, 2011

2010-2011 Annual report

Corps

Hello.

I’ll comment briefly on the Québec Ombudsman’s Annual Report tabled this morning, and then I’ll be happy to take your questions.

In the past year, we’ve intervened regarding 61 of Québec’s 87 government departments and agencies, or 70%, and 174 of the 307 institutions in the health and social services network, or 57%.

The report reveals three disturbing trends that must be curbed by public services:

  • Restrictive interpretation of rules leading to injustices;
  • Unreasonable delays;
  • Gaps in quality control.

We noted problems in terms of the restrictive interpretation of rules, especially in departments and agencies whose decisions have a financial impact on citizens and enterprises.

For example…

We had to step in to have unfair administrative decisions reviewed.

  • Revenu Québec reconsidered its abusive interpretation of the Taxation Act that had resulted in a deceased person’s income being double taxed.
  • La Financière agricole lifted penalties totalling more than $24,000 against a farmer who, for medically established health reasons, wasn’t able to participate in a mandatory Centre d’études sur les coûts de production en agriculture study.

There were many examples of unreasonable delays. Here are a few:

  • More and more, we saw deep cuts in home support services, with the number of substantiated complaints on the rise. This meant reduced access in most regions, coupled with longer wait lists.
  • Waiting times for rehabilitation services are also getting longer, in particular for physiotherapy for citizens who are not receiving CSST indemnities or SAAQ compensation. Here we’re talking about months, if not years.
  • Last March 31, the waiting time for Régie du logement general civil case hearings was more than 17 months. For automobile insurance cases heard by the Tribunal administratif du Québec, it was nearly two years.
  • In three of the four regional directorates of the Ministère de la Famille et des Aînés, approval of the architectural plans required for obtaining a childcare permit went over the legal time limit by more than four months in one case and over two months in the two other cases.

As for gaps in quality control, the third trend we identified, this year we intervened several times to press CHSLDs, private senior nursing homes or residential resources for vulnerable citizens to take corrective measures to ensure a safe  and satisfactory living environment for residents.

Following a report, we showed up unannounced to an intermediate resource that lodges people with severe disabilities, where we found a situation of extreme negligence that led to the resource being shut down.

Lastly, I can say that the Curateur public doesn’t always give the required support to the people it represents, which is worrisome because these people are vulnerable. It took the Curateur four months after a Superior Court judgment to issue support arrears to a grandfather who had custody of his grandson and to adjust the support amount. More than three years went by before the Curateur took steps to recover a young orphan’s life insurance proceeds after her father died.

This is what can happen to citizens when the system fails. The report describes a number of corrective measures that could be or are being implemented to ensure that citizens with substantiated complaints or reports are treated fairly.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the cooperation of government departments and agencies, the vast majority of which accepted our recommendations and, in so doing, helped to improve the quality of public services.

Managing public services in Québec comes with major challenges, including job mobility and pressure on public finances, which has meant downsizing in different spheres.

Striving for efficiency is healthy and desirable, but it must be done in a way that enables citizens to be treated fairly and equitably and that ensures that they are given quality services.

Thank you.