In a report released on September 24, Québec Ombudsperson (Protecteur du citoyen) Marie Rinfret described the main shortcomings in the quality of the public services provided by Government of Québec departments and agencies. She also underscored failings in the integrity of certain public bodies.
For quality public services that take improvement to heart
This year again, the investigations by the Québec Ombudsman revealed substantial failings, some of which affect vulnerable people and families in particular. At a time when recurrent and major problems persist, the Ombudsperson is pressing the authorities to act to improve the quality of public services.
“Despite their own commitments to rectify well-known problems that have solutions, government departments and agencies continually put off the necessary changes. Meanwhile, people are faced with an unwieldy system, delays, mistakes, bad decisions, reduced services and out-and-out service cuts,” sa idMarie Rinfret.
Examples of failings by government departments and agencies
- A Revenu Québec directive describes the circumstances under which the agency can enter into agreements with taxpayers. However, the agency can use these agreements even if the facts do not line up with its position. This runs counter to the principles of impartiality and fairness incumbent on Revenu Québec.
- Not surprisingly, the intake of sponsorship applications in January 2020 by the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration led to the overspills seen in September 2018 during a similar operation.
- Because of the heaviness and lack of transparency of the mechanism for handling complaints within the school system, the Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur has considered a legislative solution. So far, the Department has not followed up.
- The Ministère de la Justice is slow to clarify the notion of crime “victim.” In the meantime, the Direction générale de l’indemnisation des victimes d’actes criminels (DGIVAC) has maintained a restrictive interpretation that deprives some people of crucial assistance.
The percentage of substantiated complaints about government departments and agencies is 25.4%. The three main grounds for these complaints are lengthy wait times (45.3%), failure to uphold citizens’ rights (20.4%) and financial damage (19.9%). In 2019-2020, the Québec Ombudsman intervened regarding 58 of the 79 departments and agencies within its jurisdiction.
Increase in integrity disclosures
In 2019-2020, the Québec Ombudsman received 244 disclosures—a 34.1% increase—and 82 requests for assistance—a 20.6% increase—under the Act to facilitate the disclosure of wrongdoings relating to public bodies. At the end of the investigations it conducted, the Québec Ombudsman made eight recommendations which were accepted and implemented.
For example, the Québec Ombudsman investigated regarding a high-ranking health institution official who had bought overpriced office furniture. This constituted a misuse of public funds.
In the context of a disclosure, a whistleblower felt that a public body was about to jeopardize public safety if it made infrastructure repairs based on existing specifications. Deeming the risk genuine, the Québec Ombudsman intervened promptly with the authorities concerned.
The findings at the end of an investigation established that the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation (MAPAQ) had failed in its obligation to ensure that the whistleblower’s identity and the denounced facts were kept strictly confidential. Since then, the failings have been corrected and the Québec Ombudsman’s recommendations have been implemented.
“The rise in the disclosures received by the Québec Ombudsman is proof of people’s growing interest in the integrity of public services. I am also delighted that more and more people trust us to carry out these delicate investigations with complete confidentiality,” said the Ombudsperson.
Acting impartially and independently, the Québec Ombudsman ensures that the rights of people are upheld in their interactions with public services. Its services are free and user-friendly.
See all the highlights at rapportannuel.protecteurducitoyen.qc.ca.