Speech of the Ombudsperson - Tabling of the 2015-2016 Annual Report
(Check against delivery)
The Annual Report tabled this morning in the National Assembly is an opportunity to, among other things, draw attention to the strides made by public services in solving the problems that the Québec Ombudsman has brought to the fore in recent years.
I would like to point out three of these advances more particularly.
Last year, I spoke out against certain of Revenu Québec’s auditing methods. I illustrated the adverse effects on taxpayers, especially for businesses. Last January, at the request of the Minister of Finance, Revenu Québec released an action plan containing concrete measures to improve relations with taxpayers and mandataries. I applaud this plan aimed at fostering respect of citizens’ rights and citizens’ trust in Revenu Québec. Even at this early stage, we already see that the changes made and the shift in culture are having a positive impact.
I also salute the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec’s efforts to implement our Report’s recommendations concerning home adaptation for people who were severely disabled by automobile accidents.
This year, we noted and reported serious violations of the rights of incarcerated Inuit and dysfunctional administration of justice in Nunavik. The authorities promptly committed to ensuring “that the facilities would be overhauled as soon as possible.” The Ministère de la Sécurité publique took the required measures to rectify certain more pressing problems, including insufficient or unsanitary facilities and lack of essential equipment.
The Annual Report also brings into focus the fact that, generally, public services are effective in responding to citizens whose needs fit the mould, but that things are very different otherwise. In these situations, whether disability, illiteracy or loss of independence because of illness or age, adapted consideration is required.
More needs to be done—and done better—for certain citizens whose needs are not standard. Here I’m thinking of young people who do not have access to public school because of their parents’ precarious immigration status. I also have in mind the needs of children and adults with an intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder, for whom the lack of rehabilitation services jeopardizes their ability to succeed in school and fully participate in society.
I’m also thinking of people in need of mental health services and who deserve to have the commitments made to them honoured more often.
For them, and for other citizens who fall outside the standards of the Administration, we see deficient service quality all too often. These flaws have many forms—lengthy wait times and numerous delays that in many cases are tantamount to denial of service. Rigid interpretation of laws, regulations and programs can also lead to the exclusion of citizens at the expense of their rights and of a response to their real needs.
At the end of a decade as the Ombudsperson, I am taking the liberty of repeating and insisting on what is truly crucial—service to citizens. Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that cumulative budget cuts—which I have no argument with per se, but rather, with the fact that the real impact of some of them on citizens is underestimated—have been easier for the Administration than for vulnerable people.
Given the constraints, especially on the economic and demographic fronts, which will only persist and grow, I believe that public services face two major challenges.
The first is to intensify efforts to reduce bureaucracy.
Cases in point—excessive requirements, forms designed for administrators rather than for the people who have to fill them out, and exaggerated steps in the supervision and control process, that take up too much time when agents’ priority should be services to the public.
I am also critical of the silo approach. All too often, government departments and agencies impose sometimes contradictory requirements on the same citizen, without properly harmonizing their services and action in an approach aimed at simplification and an effective response to needs.
I also insist on the importance of making the most of public service expertise by removing professional protectionism that persists in certain areas, especially in health and social services.
I feel that the second challenge for public services—and this stems from our findings—is to offer handling adapted to the situation of people whose needs are not standard, many of whom are vulnerable. In other words, doing everything to enable them to access services by, first and foremost, taking their needs and vulnerability into account when interpreting requirements.
This inclusive approach would not only prevent excessive reliance on the courts, but also foster citizens’ trust in public services and help to curb cynicism.