Mr. Speaker, I am always reticent to diminish the intellectual capacity of others but, nonetheless, this gives me a golden opportunity do just that.
What the Conservatives are doing, in the case of much of the legislation they put forward, is, instead of chasing the solution, they are chasing a headline. Whenever it comes to legislation, instead of starting a conversation, the sole attempt is to start an argument. That is unfortunate because they see the end in sight without testing the way to get there, in other words, to find the people who are experts.
That is another component I did not mention enough in my speech. I am glad the member for Guelph was smart enough to realize I needed to make that point.
The point is that the evidence is there and the government chooses to ignore it because there is so much evidence compiled that is not contained within legislation. Time and time again, evidence-based solutions within legislation have suffered greatly over the past little while.
There is nothing wrong with reading the data that is put in front of us. There is nothing wrong with interpreting it. We pay millions of dollars for people to interpret the data that we receive in order to make this into decent legislation, yet the government chooses not to do that in many cases.
Mr. Speaker, I will begin by acknowledging the member for Guelph for introducing this well-intentioned private member's bill. I think it is a noble pursuit and I am pleased to speak to it today.
When a loved one passes away, it is hardly a pleasant experience, least of all for the family members who must look after all the details, including the funeral arrangements and the paperwork that inevitably follows; so the last thing they need is to have to call myriad government departments to inform them of the death of their relative. That is why there is currently a mechanism in place with nine provinces through which Service Canada is notified electronically of all deaths occurring in Canada.
It is estimated that 96% of deaths occurring in Canada are covered by these agreements. When Service Canada receives this information, it discloses it to government departments or programs that have the authority to use social insurance numbers or SINs, as they are more commonly known. Information can be disclosed to the Canada pension plan, old age security, employment insurance, and Canada student loans. The Canada Revenue Agency and Veterans Affairs are also authorized to access this information.
In these cases, agreements and/or authorities are in place to enable the institutions, such as the Canada Border Services Agency, the Department of Justice, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, to have access to the social insurance register to validate information on individuals.
Currently, the people responsible for the estate of the deceased person are not required to notify Service Canada. Currently, they do not have to present an original death certificate that Service Canada would have to match against data from the relevant vital statistics agencies, and also currently, the burden is not on family members to present the death certificate in person to one of the Service Canada centres across the country.
Then there is also the question of privacy. Who gets access to this information? Our current approach when it comes to the use of social insurance numbers is to limit the authority to use them to select programs only. Our goal here is to protect the privacy of Canadians.
Service Canada is constantly working with the provinces and SIN-enabled programs in the federal government to improve and expedite the disclosure and exchange of personal information.
Since 1998, the Auditor General has been examining the SIN program and the social insurance register. In reports in 2009 and 2011, the Auditor General recognized the outstanding job the government has done in addressing past concerns about the register. Most notably, the Auditor General praised the agreements the government signed with all 10 provinces to develop electronic links between provincial vital statistics agencies and the social insurance register.
Through these agreements, Service Canada currently receives notices from nine provinces for deaths occurring within their jurisdictions, which are then matched against the social insurance register. This allows for the records of the deceased individuals to be properly identified and prevents the issuing of further benefit payments from federal programs.
Again I thank the member for tabling Bill C-247, and we will continue to examine this piece of legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I am fairly new around here. It has only been 14 years. This is my 14th spring session, and people get cranky around this time of year. However, it amazes me that, on a bill such as this, the NDP would decide to take the approach that it has, rather than speak to the merits of the bill that would benefit a number of Canadians. If anyone is watching the debate at home, I am thinking it could be framed as juvenile at best.
I want to thank my friend and my colleague the member for Guelph for putting the bill forward. It is a practical bill. It is a common sense approach to something we have all had an opportunity to experience. I myself lost both my parents in the last six years. They lived productive and long lives, but it is a tough time to go through when they are up there in years. I lost my mom just two years ago. I am fortunate that I have two sisters and they looked after a lot of it. They looked after the business around it. Dealing with the estate settlement, closing up the home, and dealing with all that has to be dealt with, it is a real tough time. It is difficult emotionally, and it can be so frustrating to try to wrap up all that is involved. My sister Kim and my sister Darlene took on that responsibility. The brothers were very fortunate that they did step up.
I want to also thank my colleague from Guelph, who put forward the bill, for engaging me early on in the process, so we were able to address any concerns I had early on. We were able to do that early on in the bill, and I like the way it is presented now.
I appreciate the comments from the parliamentary secretary from the government. She has indicated that they are willing to look at this. She brought forward a couple of important points. We certainly do not want to duplicate services, but if we can streamline services and make them more efficient for the operation of government, but also for Canadians, then we are doing our jobs as legislators. Every chance we get to help the government, that is what we try to do over on this side.
The parliamentary secretary also indicated there are a number of processes that take place upon the filing of a death certificate. Provincially, the mechanisms kick in once those processes are initiated. Each individual is a little different. For example, when a veteran passes, it is necessary to make sure the various programs the veteran was engaged in are shut down. My colleague mentioned an EI recipient. If EI or CPP payments continue to be made past the death of an individual, it is tough to pay them back. The government would sooner be notified, so that it can bring that program to a close for that person and not have to go back and try to get money back because of overpayments. There is the passport office and all those issues that were brought up during my colleague's speech.
The funeral industry has continued to improve its services and work with families. It has been helpful, but again, what it can do and how it can provide support can only go so far.
I want to make reference to some comments made by my colleague from Guelph with respect to the Auditor General. I also want to address some comments that were made by the parliamentary secretary with regard to privacy.
With respect to the comments made about the Auditor General's report, if any piece of legislation embraces recommendations from an Auditor General's report then it stands a better chance of being good legislation. In the 2013 report on access to online services, the Auditor General outlined deficiencies in how the federal government handles death notifications. In the summary of his report he stated that:
There is limited integrated service delivery among departments....
The federal government does not coordinate other common activities. When a death occurs, for example, someone must contact each department separately and follow different processes, as this information is not generally shared and departments do not offer the ability to do this online.
It is important that we identify that.
With regard to the parliamentary secretary's concern around privacy, this legislation would respect the Privacy Act. I would like to read part of the Auditor General's report, for inclusion in the Debates:
We examined whether the four large departments we audited had developed ways to share information while respecting the privacy of individuals’ information, in an effort to integrate and improve service delivery. The Privacy Act establishes the way government institutions are to collect, use, and disclose personal information in the course of providing services. This Act is not meant to hinder information sharing, but rather to ensure effective protection and management by departments of personal information provided.
The 2004 Treasury Board Secretariat report on serving Canada's veterans noted that Canadians indicated they accepted that government departments should share information, but they noted they wanted to be asked for their consent before this occurs. That is what this legislation is all about. These are Canadian citizens saying they want their information to be shared so that they are able to wrap up their business with the Government of Canada. This speaks to that and outlines it well.
My colleague also mentioned the system now employed in the United Kingdom, Tell Us Once. I am the father of three boys. It would have been a great way to raise three kids, only telling them once. For me, it is more like telling them a thousand times and then they catch on. Tell Us Once is something to which we should aspire. This program has obviously served the U.K. well since its initiation. The fact that it will save $300 million over 10 years cannot be ignored.
I am pleased that the government has indicated it is interested in getting this legislation to committee to learn more about it and how it could be moved forward. My colleague from Guelph has said he is open to reasonable amendments, and I know he is sincere in that. I hope that, if the NDP sees the merit in this, it would also support it. I hope the government will support this legislation. My colleagues in the Liberal Party look forward to getting this to committee because it would be of benefit to all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I have to say at the outset that I appreciate all the thought and effort the hon. member for Guelph has put into the drafting of this particular bill, and those who went before him in terms of starting the thinking around this initiative.
What he is proposing to do in the bill is expand the mandate of Service Canada to include the responsibility of informing all interested government departments and programs about the death of an individual once Service Canada itself has been informed of that death. I think we all understand that the hon. member is trying to do the right thing: finding a way to make things easier for family members when they lose a loved one.
I think it is very important that we know what the existing systems are. I think the House might find it interesting, because as we look at different bills, I think it is important to put them in context in terms of what we currently are doing.
When Service Canada is made aware of a death, it has a process in place to notify the most relevant departments, such as Canada Revenue Agency and Veterans Affairs, and programs such as the CPP and old age security, employment insurance, and Canada student loans. I would like to explain how the existing system works.
To ensure integrity and respect for privacy, Service Canada relies primarily on those who have the constitutional jurisdiction to collect this information in this particular area. That is mainly the vital statistics agencies of the provinces. The registration of births and deaths occurring in Canada is a provincial responsibility. It is these provincial agencies that issue death certificates and therefore are the most authoritative sources.
The way it works now is that every day, each vital statistics agency sends Service Canada an electronic list of the people who have died in that province. Service Canada then sends that information along to the interested departments, as I indicated before, especially the Canada Revenue Agency and Veterans Affairs, and programs such as the CPP, old age security, EI, and Canada student loans. It is estimated that about 96% of the deaths occurring in Canada are currently covered by these information-sharing agreements.
This system has been in place for several years. It is reliable, it is secure, and it was designed in a way that protects privacy. Of course, any system can be improved to make it faster and more efficient. The government is always looking at ways to make programs serve Canadians better.
Under the current process, a family member or a person acting for the estate of the deceased does not have to physically visit a Service Canada Centre to report a death. They also do not have to remember to bring along the proper documentation, including the original death certificate, at a time when we understand that they are under significant and considerable stress.
Again, I want to remind my fellow members that Service Canada already gets this information directly from the authoritative provincial sources.
To protect the privacy and the security of Canadians, the government monitors the use of social insurance numbers very carefully and severely limits the federal departments and programs that are authorized to know them.
Before we take steps that would increase this kind of personal information, we need to do a careful analysis of the potential impact of the bill. As we heard, the hon. member from the NDP raised that issue of privacy and security in her questions for the member.
I look forward to hearing the debate on this issue and to working with the member for Guelph on ways we can continue to improve the lives of Canadians.
The electoral district of Guelph (Ontario) has a population of 114,943 with 91,463 registered voters and 210 polling divisions.
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