It is sometimes said that in public office the challenges are many and the victories small. As elected representatives in Parliament, we often have the tendency to focus on how much or how little is spent across the vast areas of service and infrastructure that is provided to citizens.
However sometimes we must also take a moment to look at how services are being delivered to citizens and if common sense is being applied or can further improvements be made? I raise these questions as there are circumstances that occur from time to time where I believe government could better serve citizens and I would like to provide an example on that point to better illustrate.
Most citizens will work a variety of different jobs, spanning a career until retirement. Over many decades citizens will typically file tax returns annually with Revenue Canada as well as making contributions to EI and CPP. Imagine, upon retirement and applying for OAS to be told you must first prove you have been residing in Canada to qualify. Obviously there are rules in place to prevent newly arrived citizens who have not been paying into the system through their taxes from collecting but for someone who has paid for many decades this can be a serious point of frustration. In some circumstances some Canadians applying may have spent time out of the country for parts of their working years. More so, the reasons that can trigger these situations may be decades out of date. For many citizens to have diligently paid taxes over many decades to discover that Government may not use such records can be a very emotionally challenging experience. Further complicating this situation is the fact that most citizens do not retain previously filed income tax information from a decade or more back in history nor do they keep expired Passports or other out -of-date documents.
Fortunately this kind of situation does not occur frequently, but during my relatively brief time as a Member of Parliament I have encountered this problem enough that in my view, it is a concern. Why does this happen? There are a variety of factors but the ultimate reason is that although citizens typically think of the Federal Government as a single agency in reality Government is made up of different departments, agencies and other organizations that in the vast majority of instances do not share your personal information between them as they have obligations not to do so, under various laws like the Privacy Act as a chief example. Finding resolutions to the situations I have mentioned above often requires obtaining information separately from different agencies of Government so that information can, in turn,be shared with another agency to ensure in this case that OAS benefits are paid. This process can be time consuming and create hardship for someone in need. Many citizens in this situation have also pointed to the frustration of one agency of government not being aware of the information contained by other agencies. In summary this process as it currently works can be improved.
Increased information sharing between different agencies of Government is potentially the most efficient means to avoid situations such as this one from occurring and also to improve government services to citizens. However, there are also those who oppose any increased sharing of information between different agencies of government for reasons of personal privacy.
The intent of my MP report this week is not to promote or oppose increased information sharing by government agencies but rather to ask citizens your views on this subject. Is increased information sharing between different agencies of government something you support or something you are more likely to oppose? I welcome your input on this or any matter before the House of Commons. I can be reached via email at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711. As 2014 is soon to come to a close I would like to sincerely wish all residents of Okanagan-Coquihalla a safe and enjoyable New Year’s celebration along with a prosperous 2015.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament elect for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.