The Ombudsperson calls for more—and more timely—action in response to citizens’ needs
Québec City, September 29, 2016 — At the end of a decade as the Ombudsperson, today Raymonde Saint-Germain presented her findings and recommendations on the occasion of the tabling of the Québec Ombudsman’s 2015-2016 Annual Report in the National Assembly.
The Ombudsperson began by pointing out that, generally, public services are effective in responding to citizens whose needs fit the mould, but it is a different story otherwise. In these situations, whether disability, illiteracy or loss of independence because of illness or age, adapted management is required. Unfortunately, all too often, exclusion criteria prevail over eligibility criteria. Increasingly, administrative conditions are given more weight than professional ones in determining service access and intensity. This is the case as much for health and social services as for education or payment of pensions or compensation. The result: people in desperate need of services are denied them.
"I see that, more and more, management performance is a greater priority than service performance. It should not be a contest. Annual "management" reports have a lot more to say about compliance with standards and procedure than about the ability of the various programs and services to meet citizens’ needs," said Raymonde Saint-Germain.
The Québec Ombudsman’s 2015-2016 Annual Report brings failings in terms of service quality sharply into focus. These flaws have many forms— lengthy wait times and numerous delays that in many cases are tantamount to denial of service, insufficient intensity in service provision, and rigid interpretation of laws, regulations and programs that lead to the exclusion of citizens at the expense of their rights and interest.
The Ombudsperson stressed the dedication and good will of most public servants, who have to cope with circumstances largely beyond their control. She feels that the public services face two major challenges today given economic constraints combined with certain social imperatives, demographics in particular. With public service expertise, these hurdles can and must be overcome in order to prevent widening of the gap between citizens’ pressing demand for services and outcomes which are far from ideal and late in coming much too often.
The first challenge is to intensify efforts to reduce bureaucracy rather than services. "Over the years, I have come to believe that cumulative budget cuts—whose relevance per se I have never had a problem with, but, rather, the fact that the real effect on citizens of some of them is underestimated—have nevertheless been easier on the public services than on vulnerable people," said Raymonde Saint-Germain. Zeroing in on the adverse effects of bureaucracy, the Ombudsperson described 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. She also is critical that government departments and agencies continue to work much too separately, imposing 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. Service quality and appropriateness should be the goal rather than an undue increase in controls or unreasonable requirements that up costs and drag out service delivery delays.
In Ms. Saint-Germain’s opinion, the public services’ second challenge is to offer handling adapted to the situation of people whose needs are not standard, many of whom are vulnerable. "This inclusive approach would help to curb excessive reliance on the courts and foster citizens’ trust in public services rather than generating cynicism," Raymonde Saint-Germain said in closing.
- Highlights of the Québec Ombudsman’s findings concerning government departments and agencies (Public service)
- Highlights of the Québec Ombudsman’s findings concerning the health and social services network
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Carole-Anne Huot, 418 646-7143/418 925-7994