The federal government must work with the provinces and municipalities to broaden the mandate of Service Canada if the new agency is to be truly effective in improving the quality of services delivered to the public.
That was the consensus of several participants at a session on Service Canada at this year’s Lac Carling Congress.
Service Canada is supposed to provide Canadians with one-stop shopping for whatever government services they require. But at Lac Carling, its ultimate organizational form took a back seat to the inter-jurisdictional issue.
“We need a broader and more robust approach to delivering services to citizens,” said Peter Inokal, assistant deputy minister for the Canada-Ontario Service Collaboration Secretariat. “We have to get our act together.
“Governments at all levels are looking at citizen-centered services,” Inokal said. “All levels of government must co-operate in this initiative.” Service Canada is focused solely on Ottawa and lacks an outreach to other governments, he observed.
A similar assessment came from Laurie Sweezey, head of e-Government with the Office of the Corporate Chief Strategist for Ontario. “We need to talk about how to deal with the inter-jurisdictional issue and how we can work as a team.” There was clear pressure from the political level for all the bureaucratic work required to deliver services better and produce some cost savings.
Mike Cowley, executive director of the Service Delivery Initiative of the B.C. Ministry of Management Services, added that Service Canada “has to be more customer focused. It needs more of a marketing approach to meet customer needs.”
Cowley called for a strong emphasis on involving provinces and municipalities in joint service delivery. Such an initiative needed a solid commitment from all jurisdictions and the ability to reach deeply into government departments and agencies to deliver public services.
Other participants in the session noted later that the delivery of government services has a pyramid shape. Ottawa, at the top, delivers the least amount of day-to-day service to the public while the municipalities, at the bottom, deliver the most. This fact of life had to be incorporated into Service Canada.
Andrew Griffith, director general, service strategy for Social Development Canada, said Ottawa has taken steps toward inter-jurisdictional co-operation such as discussions with provinces on the joint issue of social insurance numbers and birth certificates for newborns.
For the time being, however, Service Canada will concentrate on getting the full co-operation of federal departments and agencies in delivering services to Canadians. For example, the agency could help Canadians ensure that their passport applications are filled out correctly – but the authority to issue them would remain with the Passport Office.
The emphasis will be on ensuring that Service Canada call centres can provide an authoritative compendium of government services, Griffith said. That will require the agency to carefully manage the content of information provided to call centre operators. “We have to make the information useful.”
Griffith outlined a number of guiding principles for Service Canada: Canadians want the service delivered in a friendly manner that keeps matters simple and protects their privacy. The government is researching the public’s service delivery expectations and testing its Service Canada modal with focus groups.
In time, a Service Canada charter will outline a commitment to the public to provide consistent and accurate service that will correct any mistakes.
Alex Binkley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Ottawa-based freelance journalist.