Saturday, February 15, 2014

One example of the cost of Harper government austerity

When I saw the headlines and TV news stories about the veteran's groups angered by the closing of offices that delivered services to them I was reminded of an incident that happened to me.  It was revealing in that it does appear that the most basic of government services are being undermined by an administrative apparatus that is clearly overwhelmed.  Here is my story, the essentials of which I communicated a couple of months ago in a letter to my local MP, Andrew Cash.

Andrew Cash
NDP MP for Davenport
I noted in the news a number of weeks ago the report of the Auditor General that included a chapter critical of the government’s record in delivering online services.
This reminded me of my personal experience with a problem I had related to my Canada Pension Plan. 
I completed my initial application for CPP in person and without difficulty or delay. However, I made an error in the application. I transposed two numbers in my bank account.  The result was I did not receive the CPP payment when anticipated. 
To correct the problem, I went online but it was impossible to access the necessary information or make changes (reflecting the comments of the Auditor-General’s report).  I then phoned Service Canada but found it impossible to get through when I called. In fact, my calls were all terminated automatically by the Service Canada answering device. After several futile attempts at calling and getting tossed off the line, I decided to go to Service Canada office and arrived the next morning prior to the start of business.

I was able to see an agent fairly quickly and I must say she showed some skill and perseverance in assisting me.  However, the first thing she did was phone the same long distance number I had the previous afternoon. She said that staff had been directed to do so.  She managed to get through once (this was about 8:45 in the morning) but part way through the conversation (about 8:50 now) the phone call terminated for some reason that was unclear.  She then tried to phone back but wound up getting automatically terminated in a manner similar to my calls from home the previous day.  At that point she called another number that bypassed the public line, which she described as an "emergency" number.  She did get through and my problem was eventually resolved. 
It appears from my experience (this was in late July or early August) that the call centre was completely, hopelessly understaffed.  
I am well educated and persistent. I thought the agent who assisted me last summer was professional and helpful. It is the system that is antiquated and mismanaged. It must be incredibly frustrating to the thousands of seniors with less education and fewer resources to deal with the dysfunctional apparatus this government has created.  It ought to have been possible to make the changes I sought online. Failing that, there should have been staff available to answer the phone. Currently the Government of Canada is unable to deliver these essential public services economically and efficiently.  This is a fundamental failure on their part and a consequence of excessive austerity deeply harming public services.

In Mr. Flaherty's budget speech this week he claimed the following about balancing the budget:
We did not do this on the backs of ordinary Canadians or Canadians in need, or at the expense of our provinces and territories.
We did not cut the programs Canadians rely on.
We did not cut transfers to our provinces and territories—money they use for things like education and health care.
Rather, we did this by getting our own fiscal house in order.
And, Mr. Speaker, that is exactly how our Government will continue.
Our Government has reduced direct program spending for the third year in a row in 2012–13.
That is something no other government has done in decades.
Our Government continues to eliminate waste that will cut the cost of government without cutting programs Canadians depend on.
I would say that my experience (and that of the veterans and countless others) makes it clear that these assertions are false. Their austerity has imposed significant costs on "the backs of ordinary Canadians".

The Harper government seems determined to turn Canada into a failed state.