September 28, 2017

Speech of the Ombudsperson - Tabling of the 2016-2017 Annual Report

Corps

(Check against delivery. The following is a translation of the original speech written and delivered in French.)

Good morning everyone,

Thank you for joining me, Marie Rinfret, and Attorney Jean-François Bernier, the Deputy Ombudsman for Institutional Affairs and Prevention, for the presentation of the 2016-2017 Annual Report of the Québec Ombudsman. Mr. Claude Dussault, Deputy Ombudsman for Citizen and User Services, is the acting Lobbyists Commissioner, so he could not be here with us today.

I took office as the Ombudsperson on March 27, 2017, and it is a pleasure and an honour. This appointment is a natural extension of my professional life thus far and is deeply connected to my convictions and values. I am thinking in particular about respect for every person and for his or her rights, gender equality and empathy for the most vulnerable among us. These are values that must be present within our public services.

In the last six months, I have held many meetings with officials from government departments and agencies and institutions within the health and social services network. We discussed the importance of really understanding and considering citizens’ needs when providing public services. We agreed that this presupposes a genuine desire for continuous improvement, for the common good. I cannot insist enough that it is the common good that is paramount, and not the achievement of pre-defined administrative performance indicators that come before the needs of the people who require these services.

The results presented in this Annual Report were obtained under the watch of my predecessor, Madam Raymonde Saint-Germain, and then Mr. Claude Dussault, who was the acting Ombudsman after Madam Saint-Germain’s departure. I am very proud to deliver these findings and recommendations, with which I concur completely.

This morning, it is fitting that I highlight how much the Québec Ombudsman’s mission hinges on a team that is dedicated, competent, rigorous and fully neutral and independent. The Québec Ombudsman’s results attest to this. More about the results later. But for now, I would like to talk about our findings.

First, I want to go back over recent public program reforms that lacked planning when it came to the needs of the people concerned. Efficiency and effectiveness are commendable goals, but they must never lose sight of the most important thing—service to people and the response to their needs. Let me be clear that I am not talking about expectations or wishes, but needs stemming from the state of health, economic condition or situation of the people who seek public services.

What I am referring to are administrative, technological or organizational changes that directly affect citizens. For example:

  • In tax matters, the new procedure for access to the solidarity tax credit created much confusion for an underprivileged client population. Because of the complexity of the information involved, people unknowingly made mistakes and found themselves having to deal with reimbursement even though they had acted in good faith.
  • Two years after the start of the reform of the health and social services network, access to certain services adapted to people’s needs continues to pose problems. Complaints show that the expected improvements have not yet materialized. This is especially true for long-term home support, where I see that the trend in terms of the slate of services is “a race to the bottom.” People’s service hours have decreased even though their needs have not. This is unacceptable.
  • Even though population aging in Québec is a long-known and well-documented fact, there is a glaring lack of places in residential and long-term care centres (CHSLD). The domino effect is that intermediate resources are overused even though, very often, people are admitted whose needs cannot be handled there.

It will come as no surprise when I tell you that long wait times figure among the main reasons for dissatisfaction by citizens. Delays pile up for:

  • processing files;
  • rendering decisions;
  • paying compensation;
  • or hearings before administrative tribunals.

We received complaints from people with serious occupational diseases, people who are crime victims, students in precarious situations, people with reduced autonomy who are waiting for a place in a residential resource, people who need mental health services and parents seeking a diagnosis for their child.

The situations were very different from one another, but they had one thing in common—unacceptable wait times. And all too often, lives were turned upside down because of these delays.

There is cause to worry about the fact that the number of complaints and reports handled by the Québec Ombudsman in the health and social services sector has risen 35.7% in four years, that is, since 2013-2014. For the same period, the number of complaints and reports considered substantiated has increased by 57.6%.

However, there are also findings that are not worrisome. We can be happy that there have been positive outcomes, too, notably due to action by the Québec Ombudsman. Our recommendations, in the form of realistic solutions, are approved in more than 98% of situations. In many cases, these solutions will not only benefit the person who approached us with a complaint, but dozens, hundreds or thousands of people experiencing the same difficulties.

  • A complaint concerning the shelter allowance program revealed that Revenu Québec had introduced a procedure that did not comply with the applicable order in council. As a result, it took even longer for recipients to receive the amounts to which they were entitled. We convinced Revenu Québec to change its process so as to comply with the initial order in council and speed things up.
  • We incited the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail to establish an action plan to reduce the delays for processing  pulmonary disease claims, and it agreed to.
  • We intervened for government departments and agencies to provide decisions in writing when they refuse to grant citizens benefits or requested services.
  • On the health and social services front, our recommendations made it possible to put an end to major failings in certain residential resources for seniors and to improve quality of life for many. We also intervened so that elderly people waiting for CHSLD placement are better respected in choosing one centre over another. These people expressed a legitimate desire to live close to their family and friends. We acted so that they were better heard and understood the decisions concerning them.
  • As for correctional facilities, one of the results this year was new directives governing strip searches in order to prevent any intervention that violates the dignity of detainees.

These are but a few examples.

In closing, I urge all persons—including associations and businesses—who feel that they have not received the services to which they are entitled, or who want to report a situation which they see as unacceptable, to contact the Québec Ombudsman. We are user-friendly—our services are free and there is no complicated red tape. People can call us, use our secure online form on our website, or write to us. By turning to the Québec Ombudsman, you will get the facts about the quality of the services received, or if we cannot help you, we will refer you to the right resource.

Thank you. Now I’ll take your questions.