This week I was asked by a local citizen what my views were on the idea that “constituency offices should be reimagined as civic hubs and outposts of Parliament, rather than service centres” and more to the point “to reduce the casework burden on MPs and their staff.”
These questions stem from a report that was produced by the non-profit organization Samara Centre for Democracy after conducting many exit interviews with outgoing or retiring Members of Parliament.
What is case work?
To summarize, case work often involves working directly with a citizen on a specific problem that they are having in accessing a federal Government of Canada provided service.
Some common examples in my riding can include challenges accessing Old Age Security (OAS), Canada Child Benefit, Immigration related concerns, veteran services and more.
Do I agree with the suggestion that an MP, and by extension the constituency office and staff, should do less case work?
I could not disagree more strongly with this statement and I will provide an example why.
Earlier this year, I heard directly from a number of single parents, typically single mothers, who were unfairly having their Canada Child Benefit either placed on hold, or in some cases even held back for dubious and arbitrary reasons.
Most often because a former spouse refused to update postal and other records indicating they no longer resided at their former matrimonial address.
The burden of proof for a single mother to confirm they were separated or divorced was subject to arbitrary interpretation by Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) staff and in some cases single mothers were having their status changed back to married despite reasonable evidence to the contrary. In essence these single mothers were being treated as guilty and child benefits were withheld unless they could prove CRA was in error.
As I saw a clear pattern developing in my riding, I raised the issue with the Minister during Question Period in the House of Commons.
As a result of that question a few national media stories arose and before long I was contacted by single mothers across Canada all facing the same challenge.
Credit to the Minister and her staff who have reached out to my office and I can report that many of these cases, that were often causing supreme hardship, have now been resolved.
There are other examples, however I referenced this one because were it not for the fact that I personally handle case files with the assistance of staff, it is unlikely I would have been able to see a systemic problem occurring across the board so quickly.
Ultimately I believe that elected officials are sent to Ottawa for a variety of different reasons, however one of those reasons is ultimately to solve problems encountered by the citizens we represent.
By working case files, I gain a direct insight to challenges, which is useful in determining if an issue is unique to a specific situation or is becoming increasingly common as a result of a bureaucratic driven process.
In summary, I believe that handling case files provides a critical connection to how government services are provided, and when there are challenges, how they can best be addressed.
My question this week is, do you agree?
Should Members of Parliament continue to be actively involved in case files or should we work more towards becoming “civic hubs and outposts of Parliament”?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.