September 28, 2017

Long wait times: the main ground for complaints about government departments and agencies

Québec City, September 28, 2017 – The 2016-2017 Annual Report of the Québec Ombudsman, made public in the National Assembly today, reveals that yet again, long wait times (file processing, decisions, compensation payments or hearings before an administrative tribunal) generated the greatest number of substantiated complaints about government departments and agencies.

“These delays sometimes can be as long as several months or even years,” Ombudsperson Marie Rinfret deplored. 

A few examples:

  • Some victims of pulmonary diseases had to wait for nearly a year for a compensation decision from the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST). This surpasses legally prescribed delays. After the Québec Ombudsman intervened, the CNESST reviewed how it handles claims and the training of its personnel with a view to reducing these wait times. (p. 35)
  • In response to the Québec Ombudsman’s report on free access to education for children with a precarious immigration status, in 2015 the Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur committed to proposing an amendment to the Education Act. It acted on the recommendation with Bill 144 two years later. (p. 50)
  • The Ministère de l’Énergie et des Ressources naturelles took years to reply to applications for the purchase of government land. It finally informed the citizens concerned that their application had been turned down, basing its decisions on recent rules applied retroactively. In some of these files, the Québec Ombudsman convinced the Department to review its decision. (p. 52)
  • More than a year after the January 5, 2016 rollout of the new web portal for processing applications for Québec selection certificates, as at March 31, 2017 the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion had yet to begin processing online applications (examination of applications from certain territories began this summer). (p. 55)
  • As at March 31, 2017, the wait time for assigning files to Retraite Québec investigations branch staff was one year (applications for surviving spouse’s pensions and the tax credit for child assistance). After the Québec Ombudsman stepped in, Retraite Québec agreed to take measures to reduce these wait times. (p. 66

Apart from long wait times, the main grounds for substantiated complaints concerning government departments and agencies in 2016-2017 had to do with financial harm, failure to respect rights and deficient information. Here are a few examples:

  • Revenu Québec changed its requirements concerning the solidarity tax credit, and its client population often had trouble understanding them properly. Given the lack of clear information, people unknowingly made mistakes in their tax return and afterwards had to pay back the Department for the amounts owing. Its bears pointing out that this tax credit is for people with low incomes. (p. 30)
  • After the Québec Ombudsman intervened, Revenu Québec agreed to cancel assessments based on suspected fraud by taxpayers who were not given the opportunity to provide their version of the events to prove that the allegations of fraud were unfounded. (p. 31)
  • The Direction de l’indemnisation des victimes d’actes criminels (CNESST) rendered decisions without making sure that all the medical documents were in the victim’s file. It agreed to review its decisions further to the Québec Ombudsman intervening. (p. 41)
  • Due to errors, at times the Ministère du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale proceeded to collect amounts owing while the recipients were seeking recourse with the Tribunal administratif du travail. At the Québec Ombudsman’s request, the Department introduced controls so that such situations, which violate the law, would no longer occur. (p. 58)

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Information: Carole-Anne Huot (418) 646-7143/(418) 925-7994
carole-anne.huot@protecteurducitoyen.qc.ca