Thank you, Mr. Chair and colleagues. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to the committee today about passport service delays.
It's important to acknowledge that we are meeting on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
Responsibility for the Passport Program is shared between Service Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC.
IRCC manages the policy, forecasting, and systems and program architecture, while Service Canada manages the processing and delivery of passports to Canadians.
Before the pandemic, passport volume was predictable, moving through five-year cycles of low volume, around 2.5 million, and high volume, up to five million. This year, 2022, was forecast to be the last year of low volume before a surge in renewals begins in 2023. These cycles are planned for and forecasted.
The arrival of COVID‑19 in Canada has had two major impacts on the Passport Program.
First, restrictions imposed to protect the health and safety of staff and clients at Service Canada centres have resulted in office closures and limited capacity both in our facilities and in program delivery.
Then, since people were not travelling, they were not applying for passports.
Demand and capacity were aligned. That changed this spring. With travel opening up, the number of passport applications has surged. Not only are we seeing those who would predictably be applying for passports on a five-year cycle. We are receiving applications from those who otherwise would have applied in the previous two pandemic years. We are seeing much of that volume arrive all at once rather than spread out during the year.
Meanwhile, Service Canada still had public health obligations to staff and clients. There was a mismatch between demand and the capacity to meet it. Statistics help tell the story. Beginning in April 2020, for the first pandemic year, Service Canada issued about 360,000 passports. During the next year, Service Canada issued about 1.2 million passports.
This year, in the months of March and April alone, Service Canada received nearly half a million applications. Service Canada now expects to receive 4.2 million passport applications this year.
That's more than three times as many as last year, with a huge proportion of that volume arriving now.
The fact of the matter is that, while we were anticipating increased volume, this massive surge in demand has outpaced forecasts and outstripped capacity. The government is acutely aware of the impact this is having on Canadians. We know that many people have been put in very difficult circumstances. That is why I have directed officials to work as hard as possible to meet the demand and to examine their operations to ensure they're doing everything they can to meet this demand—and officials have acted.
In every corner of the country, our staff are working overtime to help Canadians get their passports. Service Canada is hiring and training even more employees. Since January, 600 new employees have been welcomed to help process applications.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Service Canada was once again able to open all passport service counters. This is about a 40% increase, and it returns our centres to their prepandemic service capacity.
Waiting room capacity has also been significantly expanded, in line with health and safety protocols.
Despite this, processing times remain long, due to the high number of applications.
Ninety-seven per cent of Canadians who apply in person at a specialized passport office receive their passports in fewer than 10 business days. However, in light of the unprecedented volume of passport applications received by mail, about 96% of those who apply by mail receive their passports within 50 business days.
As we announced earlier this year, in response to demand, we have simplified the passport renewal process.
Applicants don't need to have a guarantor or provide their original documents and ID. These changes make renewing a passport easier and faster, while maintaining program security and integrity.
I also ask Canadians who are not planning immediate travel to check the expiry date of their passport.
For Canadians who have no immediate plans to travel, there are over 300 Service Canada centres that are available to receive passport applications in person. No proof of travel is needed.
I do encourage Canadians to check the expiration date on their passports and to ensure they have a valid passport before booking travel, unless, of course, there is an unforeseen emergency.
I also encourage Canadians to go to a Service Canada site so as to avoid accidental errors in their application. Applications by mail often have a rate of 25% with accidental mistakes that require verification and slow down the process.
Mr. Chairman, I want to assure you and members of the committee that Service Canada is working flat out to deliver passports to Canadians as quickly as possible. As members of Parliament, our offices have heard from constituents looking for urgent help, my own office included.
Frustrating situations have arisen at Service Canada centres as staff deal with the rising number of applications.
We know that Canadians are more excited about seeing friends and family and exploring the world outside our borders.
When that excitement bumps up against the reality of long lines and uncertainty, it creates stress and concern, and that is why we will continue to do everything necessary to ensure Canadians receive the service they are entitled to.
I welcome your questions.