Trudeau government pondering 'digital first' approach to address federal service backlog

Citizens' Minister Terry Beech says his 'innovative' government is open to using artificial intelligence to improve how they deliver services to Canadians.

Trudeau government pondering 'digital first' approach to address federal service backlog
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
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The federal government is broadening what services Canadians can access online, including passports and payments — beyond that, very little is known at this time.

"I think, fundamentally, it's my job to wake up every day thinking about how we're improving the customer service experience for Canadians," MP Terry Beech told the CBC.

As the first Minister of Citizens Services, Beech hopes to rectify service backlogs, including the long lineups that have plagued passport renewals in recent months. At its peak last year, the backlog hit 316,000 applications.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hand-picked Beech, a former tech entrepreneur, to iron out the details — of what exactly, is not yet known.

"I don't have a mandate letter yet," he explained.

On Friday, he said his 'innovative' government is open to using artificial intelligence to improve how they deliver services to Canadians.

Beech told the state broadcaster to expect 'big changes' for passports, including how Canadians can apply for those passports.

"If you think about passport lineups at passport offices or Service Canada offices, in the very near future here, you're not going to actually have to go to a passport office," he explained. 

"And if you do choose to go to a passport office, the lines there will be significantly reduced because people who prefer to transact with the government of Canada online will have the ability to do so."

Beech said their upcoming intake system, called Tempo, will print the new passports "five times faster than the legacy systems."

He also wants to hold the federal service accountable in its delivery of government services by making data on service standards and call times public.

Beech told the CBC another priority is exploring ways that artificial intelligence may improve the delivery of government services.

"There is no doubt that when we talk about the customer service experience when we talk about the utilization of data and being able to be flexible and innovative and to provide services that keep up with things that we're seeing in the private sector, that we need to be thinking about those things. And I'm certainly excited to consider those opportunities."

He aims to make service delivery faster, more secure and more user-friendly, with Conservatives critical of what they call a "broken government" amid concerns about the federal service.

"The government of Canada provides services to Canadians at every stage of their life, and really we should be there to be helpful," said the minister. "We shouldn't be a pain in your butt, right? [...] We should be a solution-oriented customer-service-providing entity Canadians are proud of and excited to interact with."

"We should be problem solvers."

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