Family Affairs Minister Karina Gould, the minister in charge of passport services, said on Thursday the government is recruiting more staff on the ground to help sort through hours-long queues at many passport offices as tens of thousands of people seek travel documents.
The change in strategy comes as policy experts and conservative government critics say the situation should never have gotten so dire when it was obvious to many that there would be a lot of interest in travel after the pandemic receded.
Gould said following reports of chaos at some passport offices in the Montreal area this week, Canada Service is sending managers to bypass lines that have appeared at some offices.
These managers will talk to potential travelers about their applications before they get to the customer service agent, a system that will help staff identify the people most in need of a passport.
People who need a passport to travel in the next 12, 24 and 36 hours will receive priority service, Gould said, while others will be asked to return at a different time.
WATCH: Anger boils as passport applicants wait days in line:
The Minister said that after the first day in Montreal, the process “has not gone as smoothly as we had hoped, frankly, but today we are seeing much more progress.”
While Gould reported “progress”, the government website that tracks wait times warned people that there would be delays of at least six hours in busy places such as Montreal’s Guy Favreau complex and Ottawa’s only passport office on Meadowlands Drive.
The minister said a similar process is rolling out in Toronto on Thursday, and offices in the Vancouver area will also have managers screening passport applicants from Monday.
Gould also said that more passports will be printed in bulk in Gatineau, Que. processing center near Ottawa and being shipped to other locations, which will take some of the pressure off small passport offices that don’t have large industrial printers to stamp hundreds of passports every day.
“We received a large number of passports. That doesn’t make the situation acceptable,” Gould said. “Canadians should never have experienced this.”
Bureaucrats warned government about passport attack
Andrew Griffith is the former Director General of Citizenship and Immigration Canada and a former high-ranking Canadian Service and Privy Council Office official.
In an interview with CBC News, Griffith said the government should never have allowed things to get to this point.
In Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s 2022-23 plan, bureaucrats have told the government that there will almost certainly be a surge in passport applications as COVID-related travel restrictions have been eased, Griffith said, and yet not enough has been done to preparing passport offices for the onslaught of applicants.
In this departmental plan, which Griffith shared with CBC News, internal experts told the government that “forecasts predict a recovery in pre-COVID-19 demand will begin in the spring of 2022, and that demand for passports will continue to rise over the next year.” three years.”
“This growth will be partly due to the delay in filing applications due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the expected surge associated with the renewal of the first wave of passports issued with a validity of 10 years,” the agency said in a plan.
Griffith said the passport situation is a prime example of the government “neglecting its essential responsibilities and not planning and preparing properly.”
“It’s very clear that the politicians knew there was going to be an increase, but it wasn’t connected to the operational side to make sure they were adequately preparing. This is one of those unfortunate examples where the government tends to overpromise and not deliver,” he said.
Speaking on CBC radio House In an interview to air on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the government’s position on the passport issue but vowed to do more to address the “unacceptable” situation.
Trudeau said the government hired 600 more passport workers in January to support the existing workforce, and it hopes to add more in the coming weeks to close the growing backlog.
Griffith said hours of queues for thousands of Canadians could undermine confidence in government institutions. Canadians expect a certain level of service from the federal government, he said, and when it doesn’t provide that, trust is undermined.
“If they can’t get service in a timely manner, people get frustrated. People are understandably frustrated with such things. I think it’s a really big problem,” Griffith said.
“This is a waiting nation”
Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilivre said Thursday in a video posted to his social media that Canadians deserve better than what has been going on at passport offices in recent weeks.
The video shows Poilivre walking through the queues formed at the Ottawa passport office and talking to applicants who have been camping since 3 a.m. to get to the agent.
“What’s the matter guys? Well, it’s a waiting nation. We are being asked to wait for everything as sleepy bureaucrats and government gatekeepers prevent you from getting the basic services you are entitled to – one of them is a passport, Poilivre said.
“Do you see what is happening here? The government is doing a lot of things badly, not a few good things.”