September 25, 2013

Speech of the Québec Ombudsperson - 2012-2013 Annual report

Corps

Press Conference, September 25, 2013

This year, nearly 19,500 people turned to the Québec Ombudsman. Ninety-nine per cent of our recommendations were accepted and implemented, which allowed us to correct the mistakes and shortcomings we found. The public services concerned gave us their full cooperation.
However, year after year, the gap between the stated services and the services actually available continues to widen; this is because of budget constraints, which are being felt more keenly. Each budget cut is accompanied by the hallowed phrase, "direct services will not be affected". This is not true anymore.

To cope with this lack of resources – and faced with increasing demands – public services are doing their best to find alternative solutions. For example, they are referring more and more citizens to private companies or community organizations with whom they have signed service agreements. It may be completely legitimate to appeal with flexibility to the help of non-governmental resources for dispensation of public services. I have no problem with that. What I find deplorable is the lack of accountability we have observed concerning actual outcomes for citizens, that result from this way of doing. It is almost like everyone is now devoided of all responsibility.

Service quality should be at the heart of all agreements that public agencies make. Yet some transfers and referrals are performed without adequate monitoring of the quality of the services transferred, many of which are intended for vulnerable people  who must not be abandoned to their fate.

For example, we have found:

  • A lack of monitoring and quality control of care and security in some private residences where seniors with a loss of autonomy have been sent, pending the availability of spaces in public residential and long-term care centres.
  • Shortcomings in the living environment, the food, and monitoring in some intermediate or family-type residences contracted to the public network and housing people with severe disabilities, particularly intellectual. During the last year, there have been no assessment visits to intermediate or family-type residences, two substitute living environments under contract with rehabilitation centres for intellectual disabilities.
  • The need to tighten the Ministère de la Famille's supervision of coordinating offices for family daycare, to ensure educational quality and consistent application of standards. 
  • Significant disparities between one school board and another, in fees and requirements imposed on students taking a summer course or retaking a ministerial examination, showing that the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport should monitor the criteria more closely, and ensure the Education Act is respected.

Another sign of the gap between stated services and those actually available are the long wait times for citizens needing a public service, and problems accessing it. These were the cause of 37% of substantiated complaints lodged with regard to departments and agencies, and 44% of complaints and reports lodged with regard to health and social services institutions.

The disparities and harm arising from these practices are the cause of citizens' legitimate dissatisfaction. While I acknowledge the expertise and quality of Québec's public services, I appeal for more vigilance in keeping protection of people and respect for their rights a priority for both public agencies and external service providers. They have been given a responsibility, but it remains a matter of public interest.

To end on a positive note, I'd like to emphasize the willingness of departments and public agencies to make sometimes sizable efforts to rectify problematic situations that we have brought to their attention during the course of the year.