Crisis at the SAAQ: Public services need to be rethought, according to specialists | The difficult digital shift of the SAAQ

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Crisis at the SAAQ: public services need to be rethought, according to specialists | The difficult digital shift of the SAAQ

At least 100 people lined up outside the offices on Monday of the SAAQ of Place Dupuis, in Montreal.

The failures of the SAAQclic online transaction platform look like deja vu. From the federal passport crisis to the problems of the Phoenix payroll system, various recent events bear witness to major problems that exist in the way public services are managed, believe several experts. According to them, serious changes are needed to avoid repeated crises.

The SAAQclic platform, launched last February by the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ), has since given headaches to many drivers: impossible services to obtain, endless queues at SAAQ branches, difficulties in creating an online file, etc.

Three guests gathered on Saturday on the show Les Faits d'abord, broadcast on ICI Première, brought to light multiple flaws in the provincial and federal public services at the origin of such setbacks.

Namely Pierre Bélanger, former Minister of Public Security in Quebec, Éric Parent, professor of cybersecurity at the École Polytechnique de Montréal, and Yves Giroux, parliamentary director of the budget in Ottawa.

According to them, public services are particularly struggling with problems in hiring outside firms as well as with lack of accountability and reporting.

“We may have reached the point where we should do a thorough examination of the nature of public service. Do we have the public service we need now? »

—Yves Giroux, Parliamentary Budget Officer in Ottawa

Yves Giroux said he was surprised by the various recent fiascos of public services, considering the growing resources that governments are granting them. More than 50,000 civil servants have been hired in recent years, he noted, leading to a 28% increase in the number of employees since 2017.

And when people request services from the federal government, as we saw last year with passports, as we see in several other sectors, for example employment insurance, or with Transport Canada, which must certify and recertifying airline pilots, services are much slower than people expect, he added.

According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the services offered are not up to what the population is entitled to demand.

I have done reports since I have been in office that show that the performance indicators of the departments, which the departments themselves determine, about half of them are changed over a five-year period because 'they are not achieved,' he said.

Mr. Giroux deplores the lack of significant changes in the management of these organizations, despite the strong criticism they have faced for several years.

You can catch up on this segment of the show Facts Firstby clicking on this link.

Éric Parent believes that governments underutilize local expertise.

We have the talent in Quebec, he said. […] We are world leaders in computing. So there's no reason not to recruit people with the right talent, pay them what it's worth to do a major project.

More and more government projects are outsourced to external companies, denounces the cybersecurity specialist. Since 2017, the amounts granted to these companies have increased by more than a third, according to the latest report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

“When you have a job that has become a specialty and you can work anywhere on the planet and get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars more a year, you're sure to go our account. Of course we are going to work elsewhere. »

— Éric Parent, professor of cybersecurity at École Polytechnique de Montréal

The problem is not only due to salaries, however, according to Pierre Bélanger . He believes that the lack of accountability in crises like those experienced by the SAAQ has a lot to do with it.

Normally, this kind of thing is planned, weeks, months, even years in advance, he pointed out. Have we got the ministry involved? Have we really done a risk assessment with the department so that if things fail, there is a plan B? We are in the dark.

Public services in Quebec are highly competent, insisted the former minister. Where the shoe pinches is rather in the persistent difficulties in clearly defining the role of each employee. You have to create a good dynamic to ensure that everyone knows their responsibility, knows what needs to be done and works in harmony, he argued.

Mr. Bélanger was also sorry to see ministers and senior leaders pointing the finger at each other for the failures of the SAAQclic platform, a consequence of this lack of clarity in the assignment of everyone's responsibilities. When we are in a crisis, we normally unite and form a common front in the situation. We don't try to criticize each other, he said.

In the opinion of Pierre Bélanger, better communication and more accountability between government departments and agencies will be essential to prevent problems like those of the SAAQ from recurring.

“It's still not rocket science. There is a minister, there are deputy ministers and there is the SAAQ. So how is it that information, at some point, gets lost in this very small maze? »

— Pierre Bélanger, former Minister of Public Security in Quebec

Especially since the provincial government has initiated a digital shift in the security sector. health. And for the moment, Quebec does not seem to have learned from its mistakes, warns Éric Parent.

What worries me is that we still seem to have taken on a large firm that will charge far too much for a project that was much simpler, he said. he advised.

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