Canadians Frustrated by Lack of Access to Front Line Government Services

MP Malcolmson's Rebuttal to Maclean's Magazine

August 10, 2018

To the Editor:
Re: “MPs spend too much time on constituents’ problems—and they like it just fine” - July 25th, 2018


The terrible barriers Canadians face when trying to access government services were woefully misrepresented in your article “MPs spend too much time on constituents’ problems—and they like it just fine.” The notion that helping people navigate dysfunctional bureaucracy is a “welcome reprieve from Parliamentary work” is ludicrous. It flies in the face of what my constituency staff and I have experienced firsthand, trying to help desperate constituents who have nowhere else to turn because government systems and programs upon which they rely are incredibly backlogged, underfunded and under-resourced. You reported my comments as the Member of Parliament for Nanaimo—Ladysmith entirely out of context and minimized the true damage done to people who need government services most.


When I said in Parliament that “even some at Service Canada say, ‘Go up the hill to the MP’s office,’” I was citing just how exasperated some frontline staff are with these government agencies which are supposed to serve the needs of Canadians. Faced with enquiries from people awaiting crucial benefits like the Guaranteed Income Supplement or employment insurance, Service Canada agents recognize that wait times are far too long and the backlog is only getting worse, so each case must be expedited by the MP’s office to get the attention it requires.


Here’s how I summarized the frustration of my constituents:


“Being given a jigsaw puzzle and turning out the lights.” That is what a young veteran with PTSD told me it is like to deal with Veterans Affairs. My Nanaimo—Ladysmith office is flooded with urgent requests from desperate constituents who cannot access the services they need. They are frustrated trying to get the guaranteed income supplement, tax refunds, immigration okays, old age security, and pensions.


Wait times stretch from weeks to months, to years, and waiting years for family reunification means that children grow up without their parents. People with disabilities, seniors, and low-income Canadians are left in limbo while they await crucial approvals and financial support. Staff are scrambling to deal with the ever-growing backlog. It is time for the government to hire back the workers the Conservatives cut, and give Canadians the services they deserve. Hansard October 20th, 2017)

Unable to get through on the phone or wait the 34 weeks for their Old Age Security to start flowing, constituents are regularly forced to seek aid from my office. The same goes for people trying to communicate with the Canada Revenue Agency or access critical information from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Once the last resort, getting help from an MP’s office is now often the only way for vulnerable constituents to get the timely assistance they need. If these government systems were adequately funded and functioning correctly, MP offices wouldn’t be juggling such a massive volume of casework, and could instead focus on the high-level, policy-focused advocacy that’s needed rather than the stickhandling of individual crises.


But sadly, it’s the reality in a country where the Trudeau government is more interested in photo-ops and sound bites rather than the unglamorous work of ensuring our government agencies are adequately funded and actually able to serve the needs of Canadians. Our government must act now to undo the damaging cuts made by the Conservatives and invest in our vital government services which are currently hanging by a thread.

Sincerely,

Sheila Malcolmson
Member of Parliament for Nanaimo—Ladysmith

 

Read the original Maclean's article here:  https://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/mps-spend-too-much-time-on-constituents-problems-and-they-like-it-just-fine/