Speech of the Ombudsperson - Tabling of the 2017-2018 Annual Report
Thank you for joining me for the presentation of the Québec Ombudsman’s 2017-2018 Annual Report. I am here with Attorney Hélène Vallières, Deputy Ombudsman for Institutional Affairs and Prevention, and Mr. Claude Dussault, Deputy Ombudsman for Citizen and User Services.
Last year, when the Annual Report was released, I had been the Ombudsperson for only a few months. This time, MNAs are the newcomers. From the outset, I want to assure them and any returning Members of my commitment—a commitment which they share with me—that I will to see to it that the rights of citizens are upheld in their interaction with public services. The term "citizens" also refers to businesses, associations and groups. Bear in mind that the Québec Ombudsman acts independently and is non-partisan.
Our Annual Report provides an account of the failings brought to light during our investigations, whether they concern government departments or agencies, correctional facilities or institutions of the health and social services network. In many cases, we recommended the needed changes and they were accepted. Other gains have yet to materialize and call for all the vigilance and perseverance that our outstanding team can muster.
I would like to give a brief overview of the primary obligations of public services, obligations written into formal commitments and which are enshrined in legislation, policies and service statements.
All government bodies are duty-bound to deliver services in keeping with existing programs. They must also convey appropriate information and handle all requests rigorously and fairly. After examining a file, they must provide a clear and accurate response within a reasonable amount of time. This is the only way that adequate redress can be exercised. They must also apply laws transparently and compassionately.
So how are these commitments faring? I feel that government makes a considerable effort to honour them. But year after year, complaints and reports to the Québec Ombudsman show that there are significant shortcomings, some of them chronic.
Here are a few examples.
- We will not soon forget the flooding in Québec in May 2017. However, some flood victims have not been compensated yet. For them, these delays are dragging on, despite the Ministère de la Sécurité publique’s commitment to use a special financial assistance program that enhances the usual provisions.
- In August 2017, the Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur’s Student Financial Assistance service, which like all public services, has the duty to properly inform its client population, only picked up 12% of the 188,969 phone calls it received.
- Sometimes the Direction de l’indemnisation des victimes d’actes criminels interprets the definition of victim too narrowly. As a result, people have to have directly seen or heard a crime in order to receive compensation. This deprives them of the compensation they are entitled to.
- In auditing the tax credit for childcare expenses, Revenu Québec established assessments based on suspected fraud instead of on hard proof. In breaching its own Charter of Taxpayers’ and Mandataries’ Rights by failing to give the reasons for the assessments, it did not respect these people’s right to defend themselves adequately.
- Because of prison overcrowding, correctional facilities cannot manage to fulfil their obligation to provide detainees with humane and safe detention conditions.
Health services and social services must also honour their commitments even if there is no denying the increasing pressure on the system, one of the reasons being population aging.
- As a result, CHSLD personnel are having trouble keeping up. Health teams often have to cope with staff shortages. When this happens, certain care or services are postponed or cancelled. These practices are contradictory to the Act respecting health services and social services and to Department policy on the provision of care in living environments. According to the guidelines, people’s needs should be the guiding principle for any decision in matters of organization and intervention.
- The Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux committed to ensuring that 85% of Quebecers would be registered with a family doctor by December 31, 2017. By the time this date had come and gone, the average registration level had topped out at 78.3% in Québec. However, I must underscore the progress made. This rate is a 3.9% increase over last year’s figure. Moreover, some regions, such as Bas-Saint-Laurent, Chaudière-Appalaches, Gaspésie and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, exceeded projections. However, for the Greater Montréal region, the rate was 66%.
- Lastly, the number of elderly or people with disabilities who received long-term home support services is below the target announced in the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux’s 2015-2020 strategic action plan. Even if this number is rising, it is insufficient given the increase in demand.
The Québec Ombudsman is still waiting to see what other government departments and agencies do about certain commitments.
A case in point is the student ombudsman within school boards. In October 2017, the Québec Ombudsman produced a report recommending options so that this form of redress is simpler, quicker and impartial. The Bill that integrated several of our recommendations died on the Order paper. I will therefore be attentive to the follow-up on this issue which is critical for our students and their parents.
I would also like to underline the advances in monitoring homeschooling thanks to the new provisions of the Education Act and of the Homeschooling Regulation. Now the commitments stemming from the new provisions must become part of the day-to-day reality of families where homeschooling occurs.
This Annual Report presents the results of the first 11 months of our new branch for investigating public integrity disclosures. Already, the number of disclosures received, 136, attests to the merits of this form of independent and impartial redress. This new branch is uncompromising when it comes to protecting the identity of whistleblowers or people who cooperated in an investigation. Such a guarantee is crucial to dispelling the fears of some about the possible consequences that disclosure could have for them.
Fifty years ago, on November 14, Parliament passed the law creating the Québec Ombudsman. More than 850,000: that’s the number of complaints received by us in five decades.
From the beginning, the mandate of the Québec Ombudsman has been to ensure that the rights of citizens are upheld in their dealings with public services. Throughout this half century, it has met its commitments. And going forward, I will be relying on a dedicated and solid team who takes our unique and essential mission to ever-greater heights.
Thank you for your attention, and now I’ll be pleased to take your questions.