Images of people camped outside of passport offices, and news of a triage system that turns away any applicant not travelling immediately, have shocked Canadians and contributed to a halting travel industry recovery.
But a new report says it was all preventable.
A National Post report says internal reviews of Canada’s passport services in MAR 2020 found that the process was the “least efficient” way of delivering passports to Canadians and that passport offices would be unable to manage “unplanned volumes.”
That was before the pandemic travel shutdowns - and two years before surging travel demand created havoc for most travel-related operations.
The union that represents 800 federal passport workers says today’s passport crisis, “seems like a fulfillment of a prophecy.”
“We knew there was going to be a problem when the pandemic started,” adds Kevin King, president of the Union of National Employees.
A government statement issued last week blamed the crisis on complex and mail-in applications, which take longer to process. That and “pent up demand” after two years of passport application numbers at only 20 per cent of usual numbers.
However, the federal government’s own data show that the volume of passport applications is still within pre-pandemic ranges: between 2.5 and 5 million applications per year.
And the minister in charge of Service Canada, Karina Gould, also acknowledged the system failed to anticipate the surge in applications when travel reopened earlier this year.
Wait - Wouldn’t This All be Solved by an Online Application Process?
The government’s own pre-pandemic warning report - two years ago - said the “single greatest improvement” to the passport process would be an online portal. But there isn’t one.
In 2014 the government began the Passport Program Modernization Initiative (PPMI), an IT project that was supposed to have created an improved and streamlined process for Canadians to apply for and be issued passports. It had a $100 million budget and a launch date of 2016-17. Five years ago.
But, as the National Post reports, “like other major government IT projects, the PPMI hit significant snags early on.” In 2017, its projected launch date, CBC News reported it was behind schedule and already $75 million over budget, with “the current processing system for Canadian passports… on its last legs.”
That was in 2017. PPMI’s launch date was pushed to 2021-22 - and it still hasn’t happened.
According to the National Post, Canada’s Immigration Ministry tapped IBM in DEC 2020 to build a “digital platform that would allow people to renew and pay for their passports online, as well as upload the required photo from any device.”
However, it apparently is still only at the “pilot-project” phase.
Immigration Canada says it’s targeting “full deployment” of the new digital system this summer - about the same time as passport office officials say they’re expecting the backlog of passport applications to subside anyway.