STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
COMITÉ PERMANENT DES COMPTES PUBLICS
Wednesday 11 February 2004 Mercredi 11 février 2004
The committee met at 1047 in committee room 1, following a closed session.
MINISTRY OF COMMUNITY
AND SOCIAL SERVICES
Consideration of section 3.03, Family Responsibility Office.
The Chair (Mr Norman W. Sterling): My name is Norm Sterling. I'm the Chair of the public accounts committee. Welcome to our committee. Perhaps I will turn it over to you. You can introduce yourselves and make some opening remarks, and then we'll go to questions immediately thereafter.
Mr Kevin Costante: Thanks, Mr Chair. My name is Kevin Costante. I'm the Deputy Minister of Community and Social Services. With me today are Sharon van Son, the executive director of the Family Responsibility Office, as well as Pamela King and Melanie Herbin. Should I just start with remarks, Mr Chair?
The Chair: Yes, please do.
Mr Costante: First of all, thank you for having us today. I think it goes without saying that the staff of the ministry and the office believe very strongly in the essential service that we provide to Ontario children and their parents, and we're pleased to report on the progress that we've made to improve our systems and programs and processes. We value and appreciate the work that the Provincial Auditor does, and we welcome the opportunity to discuss the auditor's comments and findings and recommendations and have a good discussion here today.
I want to start by giving you a brief overview of the Family Responsibility Office -- or FRO, as it's more commonly known -- our mandate and direction for the future. As well, I want to briefly comment on some of the details of the improvements that our minister announced just last Friday, I believe. Then I'll move from there to talk about specific comments from the Provincial Auditor's report and update the committee on the steps that we've taken to address those concerns.
To start, FRO is a statutory program within the Ministry of Community and Social Services and operates under the authority of the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act of 1996. FRO works with the parents to help them fulfill their family support obligations, enforces the separation agreements and domestic contracts that are filed with the courts, and ensures compliance with support orders with reciprocating jurisdictions.
The work of FRO has a significant impact on Ontario families, directly affecting the lives of more than 700,000 families and children in virtually every community in this province. FRO is a neutral enforcement program that ensures compliance with support orders, such as court orders, private support agreements filed in court and orders filed with reciprocating jurisdictions. We aggressively pursue arrears. We perform trace-and-locate duties to find support payers. Currently FRO handles more than 184,000 active cases in Ontario, including more than 12,000 cases from other jurisdictions. FRO has reciprocal agreements in place with more than 85 jurisdictions across the world. The number of cases is growing. There are about 1,200 to 1,400 new cases each month. There are, as you would expect, cases closed each month, but the number of new cases does exceed the number of cases closed each month.
In 2002-03, FRO collected $561.1 million in court-ordered support payments for parents and children. FRO works to ensure that the funds are received by recipients in a timely manner. In fact, 95% of the payments received are processed within 24 to 48 hours. By enforcing support orders, FRO reduces the amount of need for social assistance benefits, which can be a factor in reducing child poverty. In addition, Ontario Works and the Ontario disability support program use FRO payment information to verify income and entitlement of social assistance recipients. Approximately 17,700 or 10% of FRO's total files are assigned cases. FRO directs payments to Ontario Works or ODSP to offset social assistance benefits provided when family support payments are left unpaid.
As you can imagine, FRO is a very busy place. We answer approximately 1,900 calls each day, and our automated 24/7 client information line answers 17,000 calls each weekday and 11,000 calls on the weekend.
We also work hard to ensure our clients understand their rights and obligations. For example, our plain language committee is updating all standard FRO letters and publications, and we conduct workshops and information sessions with courts, lawyers and social assistance delivery agents, as well as the public and other stakeholders. We work closely with MPP constituency offices. Every MPP's office is assigned a designated client service associate to respond to FRO-related client inquiries, and we handle about 1,300 of those each month.
Mr Chairman, we've also noted that the auditor found several positive areas of the FRO's operations, which we'd like to note. The auditor made mention that cases were registered and collection action was initiated within the targeted 30-day time period; that accounting controls over support payments received and disbursed were satisfactory; and that support payments received were generally disbursed within 48 hours.
We know that we all share the same goal: to ensure that families and children get what they are owed. However, we are limited in our ability to address many of the specific audit recommendations with our current service delivery model. It is important to keep in mind that the auditor's report represents an overview of FRO in late 2002 and early 2003. Since that time, we have acted on a number of the auditor's recommendations, such as implementing a new document management system, our recently announced trace-and-locate initiative, and our strategy to increase aggressive enforcement action, although we acknowledge there is still a lot more to do.
As we move forward with our improvements to FRO, we will use the comments and findings of the auditor to help inform us and guide us in our path forward.
I'd now like to deal with some of the specific recommendations of the auditor, and I'll start with information registration. The auditor stated that FRO "should ensure that it receives all the required information for registering and enforcing support obligations on a timely basis and promptly initiate follow-up action when it does not." In many cases, FRO does not have full control over gathering all the information it needs to enforce and register support obligations in a timely manner, because by necessity FRO relies on others, such as the courts and lawyers, to provide that information. However, we recognize this difficulty, and FRO will continue to work with our stakeholders through workshops and information sessions so that they understand the requirements.
Currently, consistent and timely follow-up is strongly hampered by our technology, not being able to provide bring-forward notes and automatic reminders. I'll talk more about that. This is one of the reasons why we're looking at changing our technology and reorganizing the way that our office works. If we can do that, we anticipate that we'll see significant improvements in the case registration process and the follow-up.
FRO is also undertaking a review and redesign of our filing package -- this is the initial package of documents that we give to new clients -- so they better understand the information that is required. Our plain language committee is reviewing our filing package with an eye to simplifying, where we are able to do so.
Another recommendation of the auditor was that FRO ensure that case documentation be scanned at an acceptable quality and that system downtime be minimized so the necessary case documentation is available on a timely basis.
Last year, FRO did implement a document scanning system that is faster, more efficient and meets our business needs. We have supported that with ongoing staff training and continuing monitoring of policies, procedures and adherence.
In the next recommendation, the auditor said that we should ensure "effective and timely enforcement," that FRO "should review its case management practices and consider assigning ... each case to an individual caseworker."
Since 1996, FRO has operated under an issue management system rather than a case management system. We have developed a proposal for an integrated service delivery model that includes assigning each case to an individual staff member, supported by integrated teams for providing client service.
Our recently announced trace-and-locate initiative will also help address this concern. Staff will be following up on outdated client contact information much earlier, so that the risk of losing track of payers is reduced from the outset.
In order to make FRO more easily accessible to those who rely on it, we have established a dedicated customer service unit to handle calls such as address changes and reports about non-payment. Because of this, enforcement officers will have more time to handle complex enforcement calls, helping us to achieve higher compliance rates, increase revenues and decrease arrears, and also improve customer satisfaction.
The next recommendation had to do with the timeliness of administration of cases. To help improve family support case administration, the auditor recommended that FRO establish criteria and standards for manageable caseloads and staffing.
As I previously noted, FRO recognizes that it must move toward a case management system with supporting technology. We believe that a shift to a case management model like the auditor recommended will allow enforcement officers to focus on enforcement. As a result, we can then go to a small call centre that will handle general inquiries, and that would look after standard questions.
In the area of inquiries and enforcement, the auditor also made recommendations. To ensure that client inquiries and enforcement actions are dealt with appropriately, the auditor recommended that all caseworkers conduct necessary and timely follow-up.
FRO is committed to providing timely follow-up of client inquiries and enforcement. However, only when we have the new technology implemented with the appropriate tools, such as bring-forward notes and automatic prompts, will we be able to do this.
Regarding the enforcement of arrears: To help ensure effective enforcement actions in collecting support arrears, the auditor also recommended that FRO (1) identify accounts in arrears earlier and contact the defaulting payer as soon as possible; (2) adhere to the established timetable for the prescribed enforcement steps; and lastly, ensure supervisory staff monitor case files for compliance and, where necessary, take corrective action.
There are existing policies and procedures to help ensure effective enforcement but, again, we are hampered by lack of appropriate supporting technology. FRO has implemented a strategy, however, to increase aggressive enforcement action. Currently, all arrears over $50,000 are assigned to an individual client services associate until the cases are in compliance. Our supervisors are regularly monitoring and acting on these cases.
In terms of internal controls, to ensure that our internal controls are strengthened and that all support payments received are forwarded promptly, the auditor recommended that we follow up and resolve all items in both the identified and unidentified suspense accounts where money is held until verification is complete and that we adequately document the basis on which initially unidentified receipts were identified, and management approval of the release of such funds.
FRO processes more than 95% of the payments received within 48 hours, as I previously recommended. Only about 0.3% of total payments represent items in the identified and unidentified suspense accounts. Monies are usually diverted into suspense accounts for reasons beyond FRO's control; for example, the need to wait for a decision from the courts, correspondence from lawyers, a response from an income source that indicates some sort of change, or that there is no case identification provided. The funds are then released as quickly as possible from the suspense accounts after the required information is obtained. As the auditor indicated, most of the unidentified funds received are adequately researched and validated before the funds are released. FRO will commit to regular management control checks to ensure that the policies in place are being followed.
The next recommendation was with respect to charging interest on arrears. The auditor stated that to help ensure compliance with support orders and encourage prompt payment, FRO should calculate and charge interest on arrears where applicable. This is a recommendation that we've had, I believe, in previous auditors' reports. However, at this point it is not practical to calculate interest on arrears because our current technology is inadequate. The computer is unable to calculate and accrue interest owing. It is not effective or economical, as well, for our caseworkers to manually calculate this amount of interest owing, given the heavy workload that we have in other areas.
With respect to the next recommendation, the auditor recommended that FRO review its call centre operations and take steps to ensure that all calls are answered or are responded to within a reasonable period. FRO has taken several steps to make improvements in this area, including hiring a call centre coordinator, introducing a call monitoring process along with monitoring and coaching workshops, preparing a monthly snapshot report combined with more frequent performance meetings, and introducing a complaint and tracking form. Again, progress on this front relies on our ability to upgrade our technology.
The next recommendation had to do with expanding access to account information. The auditor recommended that FRO consider expanding access to detailed account information and the range of services available through the automated telephone line and Web site. FRO is in the process of implementing a personal identification number, a PIN. That project will provide more information and protected access for clients who call the automated voice information line. In March, we will implement phase one of the PIN project to enable clients to securely access an expanded offering of case-specific information on our automated voice response telephone system.
The next area was that the auditor called for a speeded-up implementation of the needed computer support for the office's operations. We wholeheartedly agree with the recommendation that we must replace this system, as well as introduce a new business model that will change the way FRO works.
In the area of enforcement, FRO agrees with the auditor's recommendations but is again limited to address these issues with the current technology that we have.
Regarding client satisfaction, to help increase client satisfaction and effectiveness of services, the auditor recommended that FRO log complaints from all sources to ensure that all complaints are addressed and that we categorize and analyze the complaints received from all sources to identify areas most in need of improvement. FRO is reviewing its process for addressing complaints. Although all complaints are logged, our technology limits our ability to characterize and analyze the different types of complaints.
The auditor also recommended that FRO regularly conduct client satisfaction surveys. FRO is planning to conduct a client service survey and use those results as a benchmark for future-year reporting. FRO will continue to collect customer feedback as an integral part of our plans to improve services and increase client satisfaction.
I think that ends the comments about the auditor's report. Mr Chair, at this time, I'd like to make some comments about recent announcements about improvements in the way that FRO operates, many of which relate to the recommendations.
As I stated last Friday, our minister, the Honourable Sandra Pupatello, announced improvements to how FRO operates and that these will be a top priority, that family responsibility is one of her top priorities and that the minister intends to move quickly to initiate changes. On February 6, she announced several new initiatives designed to alleviate some of these immediate challenges.
In summary, our ministry is going to be moving forward on three fronts: first, making immediate improvements to customer service; second, laying the foundation for significant long-term changes in the way FRO works; and third, launching a series of consultations across the province with FRO clients to get their input on further measures to improve the system for families and those who rely on it.
Making FRO more accessible is one of our priorities. FRO has established a dedicated customer service unit of 26 staff to divert administrative calls away from the enforcement office. This alone will enable the enforcement office to answer up to 1,600 additional calls each day.
FRO will soon implement, as I mentioned, a personal identification number, a pilot project to enable clients to securely access an expanded range of case information on the automated voice response telephone system. The use of the personal identification number will be phased in after the conclusion of this pilot project.
The enforcement of support orders will be a priority. The customer service unit will divert routine calls away from the enforcement staff, freeing them up to focus solely on enforcing court orders and getting support payments to families.
FRO has also created a special trace-and-locate unit to focus on tracking down deadbeat parents. This new unit will have access to databases across the province, such as the Ministry of Transportation's database. The unit will be conducting an extensive search on 2,500 pieces of mail returned each month because the parent has moved without forwarding us a new address. As soon as the parent's new address is confirmed, FRO will immediately begin enforcement action.
Another initiative that we will take is that FRO will issue a notification letter to parents who are more than 60 days behind in their support payments, asking them to contact FRO within 15 days to make payment arrangements. Parents who do not respond within the time frame will be notified that their debt will be reported to the credit bureau. The 15-day notice period is expected to encourage more parents to meet their obligations in order to avoid damage to their credit rating.
We will also be moving to help employers understand their obligations. More information will be added to the FRO Web site, starting with new information for employers who submit payments on behalf of employees who owe support. Employers can look forward to a new section with information that will help them understand their role and responsibilities in making support payments. Employers can also complete forms on-line and print them for mailing to our offices.
We will also be reaching out to clients. New clients will be contacted when they are registered with the program. FRO will provide them with information to help them understand the program, review their court order, answer questions, and point out any problems that could delay payment. Currently, many of FRO's problems in enforcing support orders are due to incorrect or incomplete information provided at the outset.
We also want to lay the foundation for long-term change, as I mentioned, as one of our priorities. The province issued yesterday, I believe, a pre-release for a request for a proposal for the technology that would lay the foundation for long-term change and support the Family Responsibility Office's move to a new business model that will fundamentally change the way this office works.
The new technology will give staff needed tools to support the implementation of a case management model. This case management model is used by most other enforcement jurisdictions across North America. This model would replace Ontario's outdated assembly line business model, a model that for many years has not been able to effectively promote accountability and efficiency. It has not been able to track accounts for enforcement actions, nor has it been proactive in managing the business. It has relied almost exclusively on clients flagging problems to us. To acquire the software needed to support the new case management model, we will use a two-stage competitive procurement process to ensure that there is fairness and accountability, and we launched the first stage yesterday.
The ministry, as I said, will also be consulting with our partner ministries to determine which databases can be shared, to move easily and quickly to locate parents who are not paying their supports.
To help them learn how to better access FRO on behalf of their constituents, MPPs will have an opportunity to be briefed on FRO. MPPs across the province will be holding a series of round-table discussions in their local communities with people who are actually using the system.
We know that these will be the first improvements. They won't solve all the problems by themselves, but they will make a difference and will move ahead in addressing the auditor's concerns. We think we have set the stage for fundamental improvements to make a huge difference in the medium to long term.
In conclusion, Mr Chairman, I'd like to thank you for your patience in hearing my comments. I'd like to end by thanking the auditor for the support and guidance.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Deputy. I believe that you answered succinctly many of the questions that perhaps many of us would have originally asked. I'm going to ask Debbie Matthews to have the first question. She is the parliamentary assistant to the minister. Ms Martel is also on my list at this time.
Ms Deborah Matthews (London North Centre): The first comment I want to make is that I think we should all remember, as we immerse ourselves in statistics and paper, that what we're talking about is kids. We're talking about kids and their ability to have their most basic needs filled. Kids are counting on us to take the responsibility that we have been legislated to take. Let's remember that as we carry on today.
FRO is not a new problem. It has been mentioned in every auditor's report since 1994. That's a full decade where reports have identified the computer system as needing serious improvement, and the auditor has called for a case management system to be implemented over the past decade. However, it appears that problems have worsened rather dramatically over the past 10 years: the caseload has gone up for our staff; the arrears have continued to climb; the cost of social assistance has continued to climb; and customer service is at what can only be described as abysmal levels.
Can you explain why FRO has been so neglected over the past decade, why we have neglected our responsibilities under the Family Responsibility Office?
Mr Costante: It's hard to explain why. I think the key piece is in investment, that there needed to be a priority placed on the operations of FRO and the importance that it does have in serving families and children, as you so rightly pointed out. There needed to be an investment in a modernized computer system. The system they have is not appropriate. There needed to be investment in staff.
Again, you pointed out that several auditors' reports, I think, mentioned that, going back to 1994. I think what we have done over the last several years -- the staff have done; I'm fairly recent to this portfolio -- is a lot of research on the case management approach. They've done a lot of research on the type of computer support that we need. The minister is supporting us to move forward with those much-needed improvements.
In the meantime, we're going to take whatever steps we can take -- the minister announced some of those steps last Friday -- to have immediate service improvements, because you're right that our level of service is not adequate. But what we really have to do, and it's going to take us some time, is make those fundamental changes so that we have a system that serves those families and children that is effective and does what it needs to do for them and that we can be proud of as a province.
Ms Matthews: Thank you.
Ms Shelley Martel (Nickel Belt): Deputy, it's good to see you again.
Mr Costante: Yes, I'm back.
Ms Martel: Might not be by the end of the day.
I want to start with the computers. Can you tell me when cabinet approved the decision for the new service delivery model and computers?
Mr Costante: It was just in late December.
Ms Martel: Can you tell me how much money cabinet or management board has agreed can be spent on computers?
Mr Costante: Our approach here is going to be to issue a pre-RFP to make sure we have documented the requirements adequately and people understand it. Then we will be issuing a full RFP. So we will get that response back about cost at that time.
Ms Martel: If I might, I understand that you'll have to go out and get some estimates of cost. But in order for this to be cleared from cabinet, I would assume you've got some direction from cabinet or Management Board, probably more specifically, about the upper level that can be spent for this project. Can you tell us what that is?
Mr Costante: If I might, I'm a little nervous about putting a number on the table when we're going to be going into an RFP process. I think that it could set the amount that the proponents who want to bid on this -- I could give away information. I don't know.
Ms Martel: The Toronto Star reported up to $40 million and the minister on Focus Ontario went from between $10 million and $40 million. That's what she told Graham Richardson. Is that correct?
Mr Costante: We're in that ballpark, yes.
Ms Martel: All right, and is this buying us a new computer system versus enhancements --
Ms Martel: Pardon me?
The Acting Chair (Mr Jim Flaherty): Nothing. It was just about the size of the ballpark: $10 million to $40 million.
Ms Martel: It's interesting.
I want to be clear that this is a new computer system, not money for upgrades or enhancements.
Mr Costante: Yes, this is a new computer system. We are not thinking or hoping that we'll have to design every inch of it from scratch.
Ms Martel: Because you said there has been lots of research done in what is needed, I'm assuming you might have looked at other provincial jurisdictions and I'm wondering (a) if that's the case; and then (b), why it would take two years to actually implement a system here.
Mr Costante: I might ask for some assistance from the folks who actually did the research.
Ms Sharon van Son: Good morning. My name is Sharon van Son. I'm the executive director of the Family Responsibility Office.
We have been, as the deputy has indicated, doing a lot of work in doing research. There are enforcement jurisdictions all across Canada that do the same kind of work that we do. There are enforcement jurisdictions in the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Over the last while we have been doing our homework to see what's out there. I think the approach we would want to take is to not develop a model from scratch but to look at what's out there, what has proven technology, a structure that works, that we know works and has the experience around that.
So it's not a small undertaking. We didn't become the way we are now in a short period of time. It's going to take a long time or a fair bit of time to correct the problems. We want to do it right. We don't want to make mistakes.
Not only are we talking about technology, but we are fundamentally changing the structure of our organization. Right now, we're a very kind of labour-intensive structure. It's kind of, I hand the paper to you and so on and so on, and we need to fundamentally change that. We need to move to a new business model. Part of that is the technology that would support that model.
Ms Martel: I understand that, but it's not as if the FRO has not been working on looking at this very issue. The first report about new technology was in 1994. There was certainly a huge focus on it in 1999 and again in 2001; that's just from the auditor. The Ombudsman, and at least three of Clare Lewis's reports and probably two of Roberta Jamieson's, talked about a need for technology, and at one point money was allocated by Management Board under the former government to actually have a look at this. So I'm thinking that preparations around this started not just with the minister's announcement or even a couple of months ago but probably a couple of years ago. This leads me again to the question -- the minister said in her remarks that it might take two years. I'm assuming much more of that work has already been done and it shouldn't take us that long to get a new system up and running here.
Mr Costante: I think we're going to have to go through this. I would love to come back -- and I suspect I'll get invited back in a couple of years -- to report that we could do it quicker than that. Large technology projects are tricky, and you and I have discussed some of them in the past.
Ms Martel: We have.
Mr Costante: I think we've learned some lessons the hard way and we want to do this right. If it's going to take two years to go through a proper procurement process, get it implemented property, get people trained on it, have an adequate transition period from an old system to a new system -- we are talking about hundreds of thousands of clients -- I don't think that's unreasonable. Yes, we have been doing a lot of work and staff has done a lot of work, and I'd love to come back and report that we overachieved or underachieved the time period, but I guess my advice is, let's not rush this.
Ms Martel: You said the government yesterday did the pre-release for technology. What's the due date for that?
Ms van Son: The pre-release is a new process in terms of allowing us to -- it's not a binding process but it allows us to understand if there are interested vendors out there. It also allows us to get good feedback from these potential vendors if there are areas within the RFP that are what we refer to as showstoppers that we can then go back and fix and then we can release the RFP itself. I believe the time frame for the pre-release is eight weeks.
Ms Pamela King: Four weeks.
Ms van Son: Four weeks. So the pre-release, again, is just a process to find out what vendors are interested in this undertaking and to also give us a good indication if there are problems with the RFP that we can go back and fix. That process is four weeks.
Ms Martel: If I might just get a timeline for the process after that: four weeks for the pre-release, you'll get expressions of interest from vendors, and what happens then for phase 2?
Ms King: We are required to report back on the outcome of the draft RFP process. Following that, the final RFP will go out for 12 weeks.
Ms Martel: Does it go back to Management Board in between phases 1 and 2?
Ms King: Yes, it does.
Ms Martel: I have a question for the deputy. Deputy, you will appreciate this better than anyone else in this room. Can you guarantee that under no circumstances will the ministry allow Accenture/Andersen to bid on this contract?
Mr Costante: This is an open RFP.
Ms Martel: Oh, Deputy, don't say that.
Mr Costante: One of the things we will be using through the procurement process is a fairness commissioner, to make sure that we have an outside set of eyes that this procurement process is done absolutely 100% according to the procurement rules.
Ms Martel: Just to be clear, you cannot guarantee that Andersen or Accenture won't show up at the table or even indeed might be awarded this contract?
Mr Costante: That's correct.
Ms Martel: I'm just going to read into the record, if I might -- and then I'll stop -- what the current minister had to say about Andersen, because I just can't believe she wouldn't want to guarantee that Andersen/Accenture won't be allowed anywhere near this. This is from Hansard, April 2000: "This speaks to the fact that the privatization of that contract with Andersen Consulting, which we have said from the beginning is a boondoggle that takes money from the taxpayers in a very inappropriate manner," and she went on. I have a whole package. I just can't believe the minister herself wouldn't want to keep Andersen at bay. So I hope, at least from my perspective, you will tell her that I remember what she said in Hansard -- it's on the public record -- and she should do whatever she can to make sure we're not in the same horrible situation you and we were with Andersen over the last number of years.
Mr Costante: We are intending to do things much differently through this contract. This is a different type of procurement. The other one was a common-purpose procurement; this is a standard RFP process where we spell out in great, gory detail our requirements. I think staff -- and Sharon or somebody can correct me -- put out about 500 pages on MERX yesterday with the detailed requirements of this. So this is a much different thing. We think we have learned some of these things. The procurement rules of the government require us to make this an open and fair process. We're not allowed to discriminate against individuals or individual firms.
The Chair: I might add that the auditor is pleased because he at one point in time worked for Andersen.
Mr Jim McCarter: That was a long time ago, Ms Martel.
Mrs Liz Sandals (Guelph-Wellington): Just to follow up on that, I'm assuming that when the final RFP goes out, one of the components will be some evidence of past performance from the people making the proposals.
Ms King: Indeed. Yes, it will be.
Mrs Sandals: Very good. That may solve the problem.
Ms Martel: Oh, I don't know. If you've been around as long as I have been -- we're still paying them at ComSoc.
Mrs Sandals: One of the things that has struck me as I've been going through various sections of the auditor's report is that of the ones I've looked at so far, this seems to be the one in which most often the auditor notes that the ministry staff is actually agreeing with what the auditor has to say. On page after page we seem to find, in response to various things, "We understand that the business case was being reviewed by the minister. Should we receive approval from cabinet to implement the service...." Just flipping through pages, "We understand the minister is reviewing the business case. Should the office receive approval...." "The ministry is currently reviewing the proposal and it's to go forward to cabinet," they are hoping. "The move is pending the ministry's decision on the options provided." "Only when a new case management model with supporting technology is implemented can we comply." "Compliance is hampered by the current issue-management business model and lack of appropriate technical support." "Until the office has new supporting technology...." I can keep going through the pages, but I think I've made the point that in virtually every recommendation, the response is, "There is a business case. It has been put before the minister. We hope it will go to Management Board. We hope it will go to cabinet."
Between the time of the auditor's writing of the report, or at least review of the ministry in March, and September, did any of this in fact happen? Did you receive any ministerial approvals or any other approvals to go forward with the business case, with the switch in case management models or with the new technology?
Mr Costante: Sorry, were you asking whether anything happened in the period from March to September?
Mrs Sandals: From March to September 2003, because the auditor was writing from the point of view of March 2003.
Mr Costante: I think the quick answer is no. The approvals to proceed occurred in December, as I previously replied to Ms Martel.
Mrs Sandals: So despite the fact that this has been documented over and over again -- Ms Martel went through the list of things that had been studied and proposed and on and on -- there are in fact no approvals that have been given by the previous government, and here we find ourselves today.
One of the things that I found interesting in doing a little bit of digging around is that we're talking here about a 67% compliance rate, I believe it is, with full and partial compliance.
Mr McCarter: It's 65%.
Mrs Sandals: So approximately two thirds. I've been doing a little bit of digging around, and I understand that the definition of partial compliance may be slightly different, but it would appear that in BC, which has what people seem to think is a fairly exemplary model, there is 40% full compliance, 52% partial compliance, for a total of 92% compliance. It would seem to me that that dramatic difference in compliance rates highlights the sort of problem we have.
Mr Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre): Their car insurance ain't shabby either.
Mrs Sandals: That's a different topic, Peter. You can't jump topics that broadly.
But given those sorts of obvious failures in Ontario around compliance, how did we get into this mess of escalating non-compliance? Over years and years and years we seem to have had a major problem where, which is evident to everyone, but really not much movement in addressing it.
Ms van Son: If a may answer the question, this is a very complex issue. This is about families whose marriages have broken apart, have fallen apart. People go into marriages with great intention. It sounds hokey: They fall in love, they have children and they think they're going to live the rest of their lives with each other. Unfortunately, not in all cases does that happen. The divorce rate has been increasing every year. Last year nationally it was 3%, and in 2003-04 it was 3%.
The way FRO is currently structured, which is really the nub of the problem, is that we are completely reactive. Enforcement programs are all about relationships. They are all about the relationship that we have with our clients. They are about the relationships that people have with each other. If you are not able to establish or develop a strong working relationship with the payer -- because that's where we're going to be successful, the person who has to pay the support. Whether it's child support or spousal support, you have to have an enduring working relationship with that payer.
The way we are currently structured is that everybody knows, and it has been documented over and over, that when you call in to our office you never get to speak to the same person twice. So our ability to develop that working relationship -- on average, we work on a file for 12 years, because unfortunately when families break down the children can be quite young. So the court orders says, "Thou shalt continue to enforce support until that child has become 18," or 21 or is no longer living at home or whatever the circumstance is.
In the new model, we're moving to a case management model where my staff can work and develop an enduring, constructive working relationship with the payer. That's when you see your compliance rates begin to change. If you have the tools to support you, the technology to support you, that says to you, "By the way, Joe Blow or Mary Smith has missed her first payment," then that enforcement officer can take action immediately, as opposed to us waiting for someone to call in three or four months later to tell us that they're not getting the support they deserve. So our compliance rates, you're quite right, are not where they should be.
The model in British Columbia, as you suggest, is a program that has been in place for the last 15 years and has had a structure and a technology to support the work that it does. As a result, their compliance rates reflect that. It reflects the working relationship they have with their clients.
So it's not about sending people to jail or suspending their driver's licence; it's about having people fulfill their obligations to each other, and that's what we want to do.
Mrs Sandals: I certainly wish you luck in the move to a switch in management models and the technology to support it. Certainly the parents out there who aren't receiving support will thank you and our MPP constituency office staff will thank you.
Ms van Son: No doubt.
The Chair: Since we don't have a questioner, I'm going to ask a few questions, with the committee's indulgence. I've got you on there to ask questions as well; we're trying to do some kind of a rotation in some ways.
You have 400 staff now and a budget of $30 million, and you're collecting $560 million a year. That's about a 6% cost on what you collect. In terms of these improvements, do you have an estimate of what your percentage cost will be on any additional money you collect? In other words, will it in future cost 10% to collect whatever you collect? What is the outcome going to be with regard to these additional investments you're going to make?
Mr Costante: I don't think we have an exact number for you. Undoubtedly there will be some increased costs for the new system, for some additional staff, for a case management model. We're also expecting that there will be increased payments made, so that would go up appropriately as well. As well, we're hoping that there would be increased savings on the social assistance program as those things are done. We're going to be tracking the costs and benefits of this very closely, and I think our Management Board colleagues are also tracking it very closely.
The Chair: Can you provide to the committee -- and you can do this in writing after today's meeting, if that's more convenient -- what the outcomes are that you're going to measure so that a committee sitting in this place five years hence will find out whether the investment you made was worthwhile or not worthwhile in terms of the collection, the amount of money you're saving the social assistance system, those kinds of things?
As well, my concern with regard to the numbers we use in this whole area of the Family Responsibility Office relates to information you don't presently receive, and that is where there has been an accommodation between two estranged spouses as to what is going to be paid or how it's going to be paid or whether there was a gift or a cash payment or whatever it is in lieu of payment and that is not recorded within your system as it is presently put forward. Are we going to be able to track how much of the $1.3 billion that hasn't been paid has been accommodated or agreed upon between the two spouses that it never be paid because the two spouses realize that it's an impossible task or that circumstances have changed and they haven't returned to court and that kind of thing? Is that going to be included in your particular system, that somehow you're going to be able to track that?
Mr Costante: On your first question, about getting back to the committee, I will make that undertaking. If I could beg the committee's indulgence, I'd like to do that after we have got the results of the RFP so I'll have a better sense of what the costs are, and then we can get you what the outcome measures are that the committee may want to review in the future to see whether we've achieved what we said we were going to achieve.
The Chair: Just in that light, your RFP is not defining the outcomes you want?
Ms King: Not in the draft. We'll certainly have it as part of the final RFP. The dollars will be defined as part of the final RFP which will go out subsequent to the pre-release.
The Chair: But I think the ideal time for us, as politicians in the Legislative Assembly, to try to deal with these is when you're creating a new system, for us to say to the bureaucracy, "We want such and such measured." You may say you want other factors measured, but we as politicians may want some very basic data tracked over a long period of time. Now, I don't know when that's best to do. Is it best to do after the RFP or should it be included in the RFP that was yesterday --
Mr Costante: Yesterday was just a pre-release of the more technical requirements of the system. We will have that information in the final RFP. Before that RFP goes out, of course, there will be extensive discussions about what those outcomes are, what those costs are, what those expected benefits are with the minister and Management Board and cabinet, I suspect, before they get embedded in the final RFP that goes out. That's why I had asked that I provide that information to the committee post that process.
The Chair: OK. I think it's really, really important, because I would like to know such factors as, what are the incomes of the people we're dealing with? Prior to 1988, this was a private citizen's responsibility. I'm all for the fact that the province is acting on behalf of people who cannot afford or don't have the expertise to go after their spouse with regard to payments, but I do find it a little disconcerting that the taxpayer in general is paying for a dispute between two people who are well-heeled enough to deal with that matter outside of provincial responsibility. We're spending $30 million of taxpayers' money to do what is essentially a civil matter between two people. Notwithstanding, I know there are people who need help to carry out this function, and that was what we were trying to aim at in 1988. I would like to see us recoup some of the cost from people who can afford to pay for those costs.
The other question is, what kind of revenue does FRO generate in a year?
Ms van Son: We have revenues through administrative fees. We charge a number of administrative fees. For example, if people ask for a director's statement of arrears, there's a fee attached to that. I'm just going to check my numbers to make sure I give you the right number in terms of what we've collected.
The Chair: Perhaps once you find that out -- not to stall the committee while you're looking.
Ms van Son: Actually, I have it here. The thing with administrative fees is that we charge the fees but we collect them after support has been paid, because we never want to take monies away from families. To date, since April 1, 2000, we have collected $2.2 million in funds returned to the general revenue funds of government. We've charged $9.7 million. So in time, once people pay their support -- it's a slow process -- we will gain those monies as well.
The Chair: But on an annual basis, the auditor shows me a figure of $750,000. So on an annual basis, it's three quarters of a million dollars approximately that you're collecting of the $30 million you're spending.
Ms van Son: Is the $750,000 the admin fees?
Mr McCarter: Yes, we have that at year-end as of March 31, 2003, total admin fees collected by the office were $744,000. That looks about right, if you collected $2.2 million over the three years.
Ms van Son: Yes, that is about right. That's correct.
The Chair: I have a little bit of a problem with your concern and the auditor's concern, quite frankly -- I would like to debate this particular item. That is, you find some problem with a reactive system in that by saying that, you are then saying it is the state's responsibility to deal with these two people, to intervene in their matters, even when perhaps they don't want you to intervene. I just don't understand why a reactive system isn't adequate if somebody's not receiving a payment. If we have a system, I believe the citizen should be able to call the system and say, "I want action, and I want action within a reasonable period of time." But if the citizen doesn't want to call or both spouses are satisfied with what is going on, I don't understand why the Family Responsibility Office would want to intervene.
Ms van Son: I think it's important to understand -- I understand your point as well; many people have shared that with us -- that 51% of people who divorce or separate are able to come to agreement on their own. They don't come to the courts. They don't come to us. That's 51% of the folks out there. The other 49% -- for reasons that they could be very bitter, they could be so angry with each other they never want to talk with each other -- go to court and ask the court to make those determinations around child support, spousal support, custody and access, a whole range of issues. They are -- you're right -- mandatorily registered with our program, but they always have the option to opt out of the program should they decide to do that. So they can mutually agree to opt out of the program.
I have to say, though, that anecdotally, our experience has been that of the people who opt out, two thirds come back into the program, because they're not happy campers. These are not people who want to talk with each other. They don't want to deal with each other. Some people like our program a lot simply because we are the facilitator. We're that third party, and they work through us. I understand that other people would have other opinions on that.
The Chair: My opinion is that each one of us can rely on the government to do certain things for us, and we have to provide services for those who are most in need in terms of what you're doing, but I don't believe government should be proactively intervening in people's lives. That's what you're proposing here, and that's what I disagree with.
I have Mr Kormos next.
Mr Kormos: In June 2001, then-Minister Baird said that the government had allocated $525,000 to study the office's computer needs. Was that money spent?
Ms van Son: Yes, the $525,000 was specifically used to undertake a feasibility study.
Mr Kormos: Of?
Ms van Son: The feasibility study was that, as part of our research, we were looking at enforcement models that existed in Canada. British Columbia is considered to be a leader in enforcement in Canada. So we threw an RFP -- did we do an RFP?
Ms King: No, single sourcing.
Ms van Son: No, we did a single sourcing; sorry. We asked British Columbia to undertake a feasibility study to determine whether there was a solution -- a software solution, a technology solution, a case business model solution -- out there that could fit our business needs. That's what the $525,000 was for.
Mr Kormos: Who was that paid to?
Ms van Son: That was paid to Themis. It's a company out in British Columbia that undertook that study.
Mr Kormos: For $525,000, they conducted a study and they prepared a report?
Ms van Son: Yes, they did.
Mr Kormos: Where's that report?
Ms van Son: We have the report.
Mr Kormos: You have it. OK. What's it called?
Ms van Son: What's it called?
Mr Kormos: Yes. For reference purposes. For FOI purposes. How would one describe it?
Ms van Son: I don't know the long name. I just know it is a feasibility study. I'm sorry. I could get back to you on that. I understand that.
Mr Kormos: We don't have to go through FOI, do we, Ms Broten, for a copy of that report? I was here Monday. Can we have a copy of that report? That's $525,000, half a million bucks and change.
The Chair: Ms Broten is not representing the ministry. It's the ministry's document. I presume they will respond to you.
Mr Kormos: I just wanted to draw her into it.
The Chair: Do you want to respond?
Mr Costante: Sorry, Mr Kormos. I think we'll have to get back to you on whether we can provide it. There are perhaps FOI issues with the report. So we'll have to study that.
Mr Kormos: Fair enough.
Mr Costante: We'll get back to you fairly quickly on whether we can or not.
Mr Kormos: So you obtained and paid for the report. Is that report being relied upon in your current process?
Ms van Son: It's certainly one of the elements that we are using, because there was a series of reports that came out of that study around our business requirements, our current business processes. They looked at our current business processes and said, "If you want to move to a case management model, this is the gap. These are the things that you don't have in place now and that you will need to do in order to move to that process."
So there was that whole analysis of what we have now, where we need to go in the future and then what we would have to modify or build to make us get to where we need to go.
Mr Kormos: A recurrent observation by Ombudsmen and auditors is the inadequacy of the computer system. That's a given. The concern that I share with Ms Martel is the minister's indication that it's going to take almost two years to get a new computer system up and running, and also the ballpark, the $10-million-to-$40-million ballpark.
I suppose my concern is that in two years -- it seems to me the technology changes so rapidly that it's always one step ahead of you, but also it seems to me that computer technology has been expressed to be of concern so frequently. You spent $525,000 addressing it, announced by Baird. It's worrisome that there's nothing more concrete in terms of what you need. Now you're doing an RFP basically for people to tell you what you need when it seems to me you should know what you need.
Ms van Son: I don't want to mislead you. We have done an enormous amount of work in terms of what our business requirements are. We've done business process mapping. We have done an extensive amount of work, using our staff, who are our best resources, to tell us what we need in order to do our business better. So we're not just relying on one document. We're relying on the experience of other jurisdictions across Canada. Quebec came a few weeks ago to meet with us, to talk to us about our system. So there's a lot that goes into it. Frankly, it's not just about technology, it's about changing our organization.
Mr Kormos: What are the timeframes here? You've got this first RFP out, this preliminary one, and you said how many days?
Ms King: The draft RFP is four weeks.
Mr Kormos: Four weeks, one month, and then we're talking about an RFP. What's the timeframe for that?
Ms King: It's 12 weeks.
Mr Kormos: It's 12 weeks, so three months.
Ms King: It's going to be posted on MERX for 12 weeks. So it goes out for 12 weeks.
Mr Kormos: Then presuming that it's responded to, what's the amount of time you expect to use to assess the submissions?
Ms King: Approximately 10 weeks.
Mr Kormos: That's 10 weeks, so two and a half months. Then presumably you'll be entering into an agreement. You're saying you expect the work to be done over a period of one and a half to one year and nine months? I'm wondering where the minister gets the two-year timeframe.
Ms van Son: The overall project, we anticipate, will take anywhere from 18 months to 23 to 24 months. These aren't projects that have always worked fluidly, and you know that. So we're being cautious. We want to do this right. There are training requirements, there is a huge move of data that has to come off the old system, that has to be converted into the new system. That's millions and millions of fields and data bytes and all of those things that I don't all understand. It is a large undertaking, and we want to do it right.
Mr Kormos: OK, fair enough. In view of the auditor's observations over the course of so many auditors' reports, is the auditor going to be involved at, as it has been put, the front end so that they don't have to do cleanup after the fact? I'm dead serious.
Ms van Son: As the deputy has indicated, we do have a fairness commissioner who will be involved throughout the procurement process. Our internal audit folks no doubt will be involved. We want to do this right.
Mr Kormos: Who is the fairness commissioner?
Ms King: The name of the company is Partnering and Procurement Inc, and the person I'm working with is Ron Edgar.
Mr Kormos: Ron Edgar and Partnering and Procurement Inc. I don't travel in those circles, you understand.
Ms King: They're based on a vendor-of-record list. So they've been identified as being able to perform this type of work in terms of procurement work. They've been around and they've done a number of very large IT projects such as this. So they have a lot of extensive expertise.
Mr Kormos: So what is the fairness commissioner?
Ms King: His role is to ensure exactly that, that the process is fair, that it's open, that it's transparent. He will monitor the the entire process from the time we release the RFP. In terms of the evaluation process, he will actually facilitate any of those pieces.
We are intending to have a data room. He will ensure that the information that will be put into the data room is the same information that everyone has.
Mr Kormos: And it's Partnering and Procurement Inc that's going to fill the position of fairness commissioner?
Ms King: He has already been retained.
Mr Kormos: What's that costing? Is that a percentage of the overall contract?
Ms King: Because of the nature of the work, it's going to be $50,000 for the duration of the procurement piece only.
Mr Kormos: Fifty?
Ms King: Five-zero thousand.
Mr Kormos: So that's a flat rate? Nothing more is going to be charged by him?
Ms King: Nothing more is going to be charged to that.
Mr Kormos: Why aren't we using the auditor's office to do that?
Ms King: We're not. We're using -- why are we not using the auditor's office? I'm sorry.
Mr Kormos: Yes.
The Chair: Mr Kormos, I'd like to have one other questioner before we rise at 12 o'clock.
Mr Kormos: In view of the grief that was caused by Andersen/Accenture -- you were here. Ms Martel was one of the combatants. There was grief. This is part of the problem. You've got Partnering and Procurement Inc being paid 50 grand replicating a role that would have been played by similar private sector people in Accenture, and then the auditor has got to come in and clean up the mess after the fact -- or at least try to -- with his push broom. Why isn't the auditor being involved at the onset if you're going to want to --
The Chair: Perhaps I could ask the auditor just to respond.
Mr McCarter: We wouldn't normally get involved in the development of IT projects. One reason would be that we wouldn't have much time to do audits given the number of development projects across the government. Second, it's difficult to go in, to be honest, and audit and comment on a project that you were involved in in the front end. I thought the comment that an internal audit should be involved, though, was a good one.
The Chair: Ms Broten?
Ms Laurel C. Broten (Etobicoke-Lakeshore): Mr McNeely will have a series of questions that will take longer.
Mr Phil McNeely (Ottawa-Orléans): We went through much the same process in the city of Ottawa when the 12 municipalities came in. I was on the committee that looked at the proposals. The 18 to 24 months seems reasonable. We had 12,000 employees. We had all our roads and sewers and the management programs for those and all the staff salaries etc. It was $35 million.
I think we can look at that $525,000 as an expenditure that's out there, or the $50,000. You're probably doing scoping through the preliminary RFP. One of the things I would suggest to you is to make sure that your consultant and staff -- I don't know who they report to, but we had them report on a quarterly basis. There was a motion that I made at committee and council accepted that we get this report on a quarterly basis because IT programs have the tendency to get out of control. Look at the schedule, look at budget and look at meeting the objectives. This went very well. What you're telling me is that the dollars we might be quarrelling over now are the important dollars, because if it's not scoped properly, you're going to get into difficulties down the road. You're not going to deliver.
I think your timing is correct. If it's $35 million to $40 million, it's amazing the amount of work that gets piled into three or four months at the centre of that project. It's just amazing what happens there. I think it's obviously the way to go.
Are there any other studies that have been done to define this? You've mentioned the $525,000. Are there other studies that were already paid for and done?
Ms van Son: No. Our starting point was the feasibility study, and that was the formal study that we did. Throughout this whole process, as I said, we've been working with staff, we've been doing intensive business process mapping so that we're clear on what our business requirements are.
In terms of reporting out, we have, as part of our plan, that we will be reporting regularly to our deputy, to the minister and probably to Management Board. We, more than anyone, want this to be a successful process. We want it to be cost-effective and we want it to work well for our clients.
Mr McNeely: I know that we're dealing with the responsibility, here, to children in the province. That has to be the paramount issue, but have you looked at cost-benefit to see when the payback is? It seems to me that, hearing from you so often, "modern technology," right through your presentation, I agree with you completely. I think the auditor said that and staff have agreed. What is the payback on this, if it's $35 million or $40 million? Is it three or four years? It seems to me it should be.
Ms van Son: Yes, we actually see this as being a very strong project for a strong return on investment. We know that we can achieve some significant savings by moving to new technology. Our current technology is quite costly. It's written in COBOL so, therefore, it's pretty expensive. We expect to see a return on investment in about 2006-07, one full year after implementation.
Mr McNeely: The $210 million that it costs the province, the taxpayers, for social assistance -- what reduction do you see in that? Is that $210 million over 12 or 15 years?
Ms van Son: The $210 million that is owed to government is a cumulative cost so, yes, you're right about that. Experience has indicated -- and what we're estimating is -- that we can see a 20% increase in recoveries to government. Last year we collected about $34 million back to government. We know that we can probably increase that by $6 million to $8 million every year. We used to have teams that were just specifically focused on recoveries to government and social assistance dollars returned, but because we are kind of stretched to the limit we've had to move away from that. So we know we're not collecting as much as we could or should be; we're hoping in the model that we will.
Mr McNeely: This should have been put in place in the late 90s. Have you estimated the dollars we've lost, the government has lost, the taxpayers have lost as a result of not taking action, not providing the proper technology for our workers?
Ms van Son: I think the most remarkable number is the $1.3 billion that is owed to families across the province. The $211 million that is owed to government certainly, as I mentioned, is a cumulative cost. Our ability to do a lot of analysis in our current system is something else that we're hoping to -- we will -- fix in the new model because we are quite limited in what we can do now.
Mr McNeely: Thank you.
The Chair: We'll reconvene at 1 o'clock.
The committee recessed from 1203 to 1305.
The Chair: I have Ms Broten, Mr Zimmer, Mr Delaney and Ms Martel on my list. We'll start with Ms Broten.
Ms Broten: For a lot of us as we prepared to come today and just from our own knowledge of FRO, the best description I can say is that over the last decade that I've watched what has happened in family responsibility as it's gone -- it's really quite a disastrous system for everyone involved. I was a family law lawyer. I've collected debts on behalf of large financial institutions, and whichever way you look, the system really didn't work for people and hasn't worked for people. I know we're preaching to the converted when we talk about the problems in the system.
You've shared with us today some of the improvements that are going to come forward. One of the things I think is that as we sit in this building, we get dissociated sometimes from the people. We've said we've got to think about the kids and talk about the real people. I'm wondering if you could in some concrete ways share with us how the system will be improved, the point being that it could have been improved some time ago if the computer system you're talking about had been in place.
It's kind of a distant thing to talk about systems management, but I want to know, if you focus on what I think are the two groups, generally the good folks out there who are trying to pay and still find the system very challenging -- frankly, as a family law lawyer, I advised every single client not to go through the system, to opt out and not participate in the system. So for the folks who are good folks, how is this new system going to make their life better in concrete terms? We focus on what we've described at times as the deadbeats, which is the other side of it. How is this new system, in concrete terms, going to make improvements in enforcement? How are we going to move more quickly?
I'm guessing that when you talk about a BF system, it's a tickler system -- that's what we would have called it in law -- that something's going to come forward to notify you, "Mr So and So has not paid and we're going to track this." We're not going to wait until someone calls us seven months later; we're going to know. You might make a decision on the first day not to do something. I don't know what your system will be. But those are things that we need to understand better so we can see this system rolling in and how it really is going to make concrete, measurable change for the people who call my office every day looking for their money, not looking for their money, on every side of the spectrum.
Ms van Son: That's a big question, and I'm going to try to be as concrete as I can. In terms of the work we've done in looking at other jurisdictions, fundamentally -- and you'll tell me if I'm not being concrete enough. One of things that we have to do first and foremost is to build a better working relationship with our clients. When I started at FRO four years ago, the feedback I was getting was that we were not accessible, that we didn't return phone calls, we didn't follow up, and we were pretty confrontational and sometimes adversarial. One of the things we need to do is better outreach, and I'll get to the concrete stuff. I know we need to have a better informed clientele. We need to do more education, not only with our clients but with the bench and the bar. We do a lot of workshops with the bench and the bar, but that is something we need to continue to work on.
The model itself is a team-based model. Right now, we have nine teams in FRO that comprise what we refer to as client service associates and client service clerks. We have a call centre and the people who person those phone calls are enforcement officers and their client services clerks. Sometimes some of them are on shifts for four hours; some of them are on shifts for three and a half hours. If you're spending four hours of your day on the telephone, you're not taking enforcement action. You're dealing with issues; you're dealing with people's immediate problems in terms of, "Where's my support payment?" and so on. We want to develop teams that comprise not only enforcement officers but the appropriate client service clerks to support that. The teams will also have financial people right there on the team, and also, as they do now, they'll have access to legal resources.
We're also changing our intake area where all the mail and all the paper and documentation comes in. Some of the functions that are now kind of out there in the branch will be more streamlined, more focused into the team. The team will have all the supports it needs, not only in terms of each other but they'll have better technology; they'll have the kinds of equipment they need right with the team. I know this may sound small, but it's a big thing when you're dealing with a program of this size. They'll have their printers and fax machines right at the team so everything is accessible there.
We're moving from nine teams to 14 teams. We're changing our skill sets. We're going to be rewriting a lot of the skill sets and job descriptions that we have.
The focus will be to deal with -- enforcement is all about timing, and if you miss opportunities about enforcement, then you're not doing your job. It's about relationships and it's about timing, so the system itself, the technology itself, will have the tools, the bring-forward systems, which are absolutely essential. For example, if I'm an enforcement officer, when I sit down at my desk in the morning and turn on the system, it's going to tell me that I have X number of things that I have to do today that are part of my bring-forward system. It's going to tell me that I haven't done a number of things that I need to do today, and the system won't allow me to move forward unless I do them.
So there are some security measures in there. It's also going to generate letters for me right from my desk so I don't have to walk down the hall and do those kinds of things. It's the kind of support that people need to do their job. They'll still be a small call centre where people can call in with general inquiries, change of address, just general kinds of things. They'll be that, they will still be part of that team, but the focus will be on the payer and me as an enforcement officer. They will have my direct line so they won't have to call into the call centre and speak to 45 different people every time they call in. They will speak with me -- not me; the enforcement officer. The enforcement officer will have that relationship with that client from the moment that file is in our office until the moment it leaves, if it ever leaves. So we will be able to work out payment rescheduling; we'll be able to deal with that person's situation. For example, if I lose my job, the enforcement officer will be there to work with me about what my obligations still are, how I need to go back to court to change my court order because my circumstances have changed. It's that kind of involvement, that kind of one-on-one relationship.
Ms Broten: OK. I understand how that system will work in terms of the benefits of technology. I don't understand what prevented the better outreach from happening over the last decade. It's not clear to me why that didn't happen.
Ms van Son: We have had very limited resources, so you make decisions every day about what you're going to do and what you don't do. Frankly, we also made a decision that if we went out and did more outreach, we might be creating expectations that we couldn't meet and creating business that we couldn't deal with. So we have limited our outreach.
We did a very successful project up in Thunder Bay, where we went up with a number of staff for over a week, and we would like to do more of that stuff.
We did case-specific-type work with clients. We did workshops in the evening, workshops in the afternoon. We were up there for a week, and it was very successful.
We know we need to do more. We know we need to do outreach to people whose language is not English, but we have made decisions that we would limit that activity because of resources and volume, work load.
Ms Broten: OK. So how are these improvements going to better affect the lives of the payees? We've talked about the payers. They're going to have somebody who actually knows their file: "You and I are going to be dealing together. You're going to know me. I'm case number whatever, or Mr Jones." But what about the payee? How are the improvements going to better her circumstance?
Ms van Son: The bottom line is that the recipient receives the support payments that she is due, that we don't miss enforcement opportunities, that we take action in a timely way, that she's able to pay her rent, that she's able to put food on the table, that she's able to send her children to school properly clothed. That's what we're there for -- to enforce those court orders, to make sure people receive the support that they are owed. That's our goal.
Ms Broten: Is she going to have the same type of relationship with the person at the end of the phone?
Ms van Son: She will have access to the smaller call centre, but because they are all part of the same team -- the 14 teams that we will be developing, we're not quite sure yet whether it will be done by region or alphabetical or whatever -- people aren't working in isolation of each other as they are now. We work very much in silos. So everybody will be knowledgeable about those cases. It's a much more holistic approach to a case.
Ms Broten: How are the new systems going to improve in terms of going after the folks who are trying to evade and are trying not to pay? They're out there. How are these improvements going to directly improve the collection on arrears?
Ms van Son: One of the things this whole structure and technology will give us is a greater flexibility and a greater ability to adapt to our business needs. So, for example, one of the things that we're anticipating is putting together a specialized team just to do trace-and-locate.
We might develop a specialized team that goes after the most egregious cases so that you are focusing your resources on those things that need priority action being taken. So we'll have that flexibility and that ability to do that.
Ms Broten: How do we compare right now in that trace-and-locate capacity to other jurisdictions?
Ms van Son: Part of trace-and-locate is a very difficult challenge. People, unfortunately, sometimes will do anything that they can do to not be found. We've had people who are employed and then they leave their jobs because we have found them. Then they actually leave the country. While that may sound dramatic, that happens every day.
So one of the projects that we actually have in place right now is that we are negotiating with our ministry partners to work with them in getting more access to more databases, because what's important is -- we have limited access, as everybody knows, to the Ministry of Transportation database, and that can give you some very useful information. But we're negotiating with some other ministries that have very large databases that may be able to give us information as well in terms of where these people are located, or give us an address, or give us a SIN number, or give us some piece of information that will help us find these people.
We talked about the British Columbia model. In British Columbia, they have access to about 29 different databases of other ministries, crown corporations, WSIB, places like that.
So that's part of the solution, increasing our ability to tap into that kind of information: having a discrete unit just to deal with trace-and-locate issues, highly trained individuals who go on the Internet, who use 411, who can do all sorts of things to find these people.
Ms Broten: What prevented, again, over the last decade, expanding the data bases available? That, obviously, is not really a financial issue. You can have all the databases in the world, but if you don't have the people to do what is very intensive work -- having done it, I know how intensive it is to trace money. There are specialists in it and there are special skills that you need to have to be able to do it.
Ms van Son: That's right. We've been limited in our resources. I don't know how else to say it. We've had to make some very tough decisions about the things that we would do and things that we don't do.
Ms Broten: So you're hopeful now?
Ms van Son: I'm very hopeful.
Ms Broten: OK.
The Chair: Mr Zimmer.
Mr David Zimmer (Willowdale): I am glad to see that you are studying some other jurisdictions where this exercise was somewhat more successful. I take it British Columbia is an example of a system that, from your point of view, works or at least works a lot better than ours.
Ms van Son: Yes, that's correct.
Mr McNeely: Mr Chair, could I ask the speaker to get closer to the mike. I'm having trouble hearing.
Mr Zimmer: Sorry. I said that I am happy to see that you've gone out to study some other jurisdictions that seem to work better than ours, particularly BC. I understand one of the elements of the BC model is that it's a opt-in model, rather than mandatory participation. Is that correct?
Ms van Son: Yes, that's correct.
Mr Zimmer: What are some of the other jurisdictions that you looked at?
Ms van Son: Really, we've looked at all the jurisdictions across Canada, because we work with these colleagues all the time.
Mr Zimmer: Overseas? Australia and so on?
Ms van Son: Yes, we've looked at Australia, we've looked at the UK model, and the United States.
Mr Zimmer: I understand, from what you said this morning, that in your view those are pretty good models.
Ms van Son: Yes. Some of them have their down sides, but yes.
Mr Zimmer: Am I correct that all of those models have opt-in participation rather than mandatory?
Ms van Son: No, that's not correct.
Mr Zimmer: Who else has a mandatory?
Ms van Son: Just about every program in Canada is a mandatory program. British Columbia is a voluntary opt-in. I think it's Alberta and/or Saskatchewan that have a semi-voluntary opt-in, but most programs in the United States and Canada are mandatory, or universal.
Mr Zimmer: But the program that you think is really well run, BC, does not have mandatory participation.
Ms van Son: That's correct.
Mr Zimmer: And Alberta?
Ms van Son: They have a quasi --
Mr Zimmer: Quasi. I understand that's a well-run one.
Ms van Son: It's in the midst of a major reorganization.
Mr Zimmer: Is it better than Ontario's?
Ms van Son: Those are not black-and-white answers. Their compliance rate is low for their caseload.
Mr Zimmer: What I'm interested in is why you feel so strongly that it ought to be mandatory, rather than opt-in, given the track record of other jurisdictions.
Ms van Son: I think there are pros and cons to both. The voluntary opt-in program gives people a choice. It says, "Do you wish to come into this program?" But that's all it does. Everything else is the same, but it does give you that choice. We have a mandatory program where people can agree to leave the program if they so desire. I think some of the experiences that other programs have had, which is why they've actually moved away from voluntary opt-in, are that sometimes your most vulnerable individuals are not aware of the program and therefore don't have the benefit of an enforcement program. People who are in domestic violence situations or abuse situations or lower income, perhaps not well educated, they have that right to have the same kind of protection as anybody else. A voluntary program puts the onus on you to come into the program.
Mr Zimmer: Yes, I understand that, but the BC model seems to attract you in all other aspects, except the participation scheme. Putting on your objective hat, give me two or three things that are good about the opting-out model and two or three things that are good about the mandatory. I want to look at this issue.
Ms van Son: Please don't get me wrong. I'm not opposed to either one. This is what our program is; it's a mandatory program. They both have their benefits. I think choice, being the voluntary opt-in, can be beneficial as long as people are well educated and informed. A mandatory program is equally beneficial, because you do protect some of our most vulnerable people.
Mr Zimmer: I'm very interested in protecting the vulnerable people, but it seems if someone has an order and they've got to pay X dollars -- and there must be a lot of cases where the money is being paid and there's no problem, so there's no need for those to be in the system. It seems to me that if your system is overwhelmed with caseload and so on, one way to eliminate a lot of the unnecessary caseload is to only take in those who really need the assistance of FRO.
Surely, if there's a parent, a husband or a wife who needs the assistance of FRO and they choose to register, then you bring down the full power of FRO on them and collect it. For those who don't want to participate in FRO, you can just eliminate all of those files and all of that unnecessary work from your systems and devote your systems to those cases where two things have happened: (1) there's a need; and (2) somebody has asked for help.
Ms van Son: Let me just say a couple of things about that. Our compliance rate averages about 32%, but it's not a static number. People fall in and out of compliance all the time, so that moves a fair bit. Sometimes that compliance rate is what it is because we are there, because we facilitate a process. You have to understand that these are not happy people, and a lot of them don't like to talk with each other. Through the support deduction order, for example, it's like when I take a loan out at the bank. It just comes off my paycheque. I don't have to think about it, I don't have to bother about it. It just happens. My family gets the support it needs. It's simple.
On the other side, for example, in talking to my colleague in Quebec, originally theirs was a mandatory program. They went to a voluntary opt-in, and now they're back to a mandatory program, because what happens with a voluntary opt-in is that you end up with the most complex cases. You end up with cases that are already substantially in arrears because they thought they had an agreement, the two of them, and for whatever reason it stopped and the woman or the man has been trying to get the money from the other. By the time it actually gets to the office they're significantly in arrears, so they're much more difficult cases. Quebec's experience was that it was a disaster, and their compliance rates fell significantly.
Mr Zimmer: Let me put this hypothetical case to you, because it might illustrate what I'm trying to get at. If there was an order, and I had to pay money to my wife and I was inclined to be a deadbeat, I might be --
The Chair: Is this a true story?
Mr Zimmer: No, this is hypothetical; I qualified that. If it was a voluntary opt-in system -- and the opt-in system, once you got into it, was very well run. So it was a lean system; it got after those people who needed to be gotten after. Suppose I, as a payer out there, knew that the reputation of FRO was that it was an efficient model, it got after deadbeats, and that was the reputation in the community. So my wife has an order against me, and she says, "We'll work out an arrangement. We're not going to opt in, but keep your payments up, David." I know that if I get behind or I start messing around on the issue she's going to drop it into FRO, and I know if it gets into FRO they're going to be all over me in a flash.
It seems to me that that would have two results: (1) It would keep my payments up because I don't want to end up in FRO; and (2) from FRO's point of view, you can get rid of a lot of unnecessary work by keeping it out of the system so that the cases you have to deal with are the really recalcitrant payers. The whole system is premised on FRO having a reputation for being efficient and effective. One way to be efficient and effective is to use your resources prudently and wisely. So if you have an opt-in mechanism rather than mandatory, you save your assets, you have a better organization, the word gets out on the street that you're not to be diddled with, and everybody is a winner: the parent who is waiting for the money, and the bureaucracy, which has less of a caseload.
Ms van Son: Mr Zimmer, I'm not arguing with you. In the scenario that you've just portrayed, absolutely, everybody is a winner. But in terms of where we are as an organization right now, if we fundamentally don't fix it, we're never going to get to that part where we're a well-run organization, where we are efficient and timely and out there.
It's quite feasible for a government at some point in time, I assume, to take a look at the legislation, and not just that piece of legislation but a number of legislative amendments that they may wish to bring in. But we're not there yet. We wouldn't be able to sustain that kind of change before we do some of the more fundamental, basic, structural stuff that we must do. I'm not opposed to it, but this is who we are right now. If at some time or another the government, in its wisdom, decides to move to a different way of dealing with this --
Mr Zimmer: But the opt-in mechanism reduces all the busy stuff that you're doing in the office.
Ms van Son: I would argue with you on that, if I may, because the cases that are in full compliance, I assure you, we spend very little time on. They are not a big workload.
Mr Zimmer: Then get rid of them.
Ms van Son: But people want to be in the program. People have the opportunity to opt out at any time. If they choose to stay in, they stay in. If you want out of the program, you can write me a letter and say, "We are withdrawing from the program." If you withdraw from the program, your case is closed. If at some time you wish to come back into the program, you can come back into the program. We're not holding you there against your will, I don't believe.
Mr Zimmer: Well, it's my last word on it, but it just seems odd that we're going to have a mandatory system, so you've got a file, fill out the papers and you're into our system, but if you don't want to be there, you can ask to be taken out and we'll take you out. There's a whole paperwork exchange, which is crazy. If people didn't want to be there in the first place, why could they not just opt out, rather than having to be put in and then opt out?
Mr Costante: Just a couple of other things, if I can get my two cents' worth in. The situation that you've described is with very knowledgeable people. Often the clients of the system aren't as knowledgeable, aren't as aware. I don't know how, outside of a mandatory system, you would deal with issues of spousal intimidation. I think the mandatory nature actually has that advantage, that of the most disadvantaged groups, the very hardest cases get in, and, as Sharon said, there's an opportunity, where things are OK, to opt out. I don't know how the voluntary system -- and it sounds like Quebec had this experience -- deals with those other, quite troubling cases.
Mr Zimmer: It seems to work in BC, as you've said.
The Chair: I sat in probably this same room when we were debating this issue, when this bill was brought forward to take over this responsibility, and I was in opposition at that point in time as well. The suspicion was that the government wanted to have high compliance rates. If you include the 32%, you can say that two thirds are compliant or partially compliant and only one third are not compliant. So the suspicion of the opposition at that point was that it was done purely for statistical purposes, to say that the program is a success and carry on.
But I think the odd part of that wonk has been the inability to probably put forward enough resources and deal with the problems, because governments are able to say that two thirds of the cases are taken care of. So in the public's eye, it's not 50% of the cases that are not being taken care of, which is really the case, and therefore the urgency doesn't seem as great. In my view, sitting in the room when it was decided in the first instance -- and I put forward the same arguments that you put forward a few moments ago -- it was purely politics in terms of trying to produce good statistics in the future.
Mr Bob Delaney (Mississauga West): Just as a quick recap, you asked an entity in British Columbia to prepare a feasibility study on whether a software solution exists that would suit Ontario's needs. That's an accurate encapsulation. Could you give us the name of the entity that prepared that report?
Ms van Son: The company is called Themis Inc.
Mr Delaney: I think you did actually give us that. Did they find that there was an existing solution whose capabilities can be adapted to suit Ontario's needs?
Ms van Son: When we did the feasibility study we were very open about this. The study we were doing was against BC's model. We were looking at BC's model, both structurally and through their technology, as to whether or not that type of solution, that type of model, could fit our business needs.
Mr Delaney: Did it?
Ms van Son: They said it met 80% of our requirements and would require 20% modification.
Mr Delaney: You've talked about the fact that we have reciprocity in Canada and, I believe you said, throughout 85 other jurisdictions. I'm making the assumption that most of those other jurisdictions are in the United States. Describe to me what type of automated solutions are in use in what you consider to be the most effective of those jurisdictions.
Ms van Son: A year and a half ago we signed a federal agreement with the United States which gives us reciprocity agreements with every state and protectorate, obviously in the US. Every enforcement program has a variation of a case management model. Many of us used to be on mainframe systems, and they're all moving to different types of solutions. I would say to you that, from a business perspective -- Australia, for example, is considered quite a leader in this area of enforcement. We've had discussions with them. They have sent us a lot of material in terms of their structure and how they do their business. They've also sent us some information on their technology.
They're all different. Frankly, any of them are better than ours right now. Alberta has an interesting model. They're in the midst of changing their technology as well. They've been working on a project now for the last five years. They made a decision to build from scratch. Certainly BC's model is something worthy of our looking at and learning from. Nova Scotia has a very good model as well.
Mr Delaney: In looking at your 23-month timeline, it seems to me that you face three options. Option A would be to write a new proprietary system from scratch; option B would be to license and adapt software in use by other jurisdictions, such as British Columbia or Australia, which provide services similar to what happens at FRO; and option C would be to license and adapt an enterprise resource planning package to do FRO functions. Which of these three are you leaning toward?
Ms van Son: Just as a point of clarification, when we went to Management Board to get approval to proceed, part of that approval was for us to buy a software solution. So we would be buying a software solution as opposed to building from scratch or enhancing what we have or leaving what we have as is.
Mr Delaney: OK. Describe for me, please, the in-house IT skills and expertise within FRO, in other words not including outside consultants, that you will use to evaluate the proposals once the RFP submission deadline is reached.
Ms van Son: FRO is a little unique. As you may be aware, in most ministries they have human IT clusters. We continue to have our own IT support within FRO to help us run the day to day, to do some basic application programming and that kind of activity. In terms of the evaluation team for the RFP, though, that will be a mix of people both from our organization, from the human services IT cluster, who have experience in this area, as well as --
Ms King: As well, actually, to the extent of their business requirements that will need to be adapted, we will also have our business as well as our IT staff working as part of the evaluation. So we'll have the staff in the human services cluster in terms of the architectural staff and the application development staff, the staff within our business who know our business and who can evaluate the proposal effectively, staff within our IT group, and our fairness commissioner would obviously facilitate the process. There may be some opportunity, as needed, to have our legal staff involved as well, and they will probably provide an oversight function.
Mr Delaney: Just as a benchmark, how many IT staff do you have in total?
Ms van Son: I think we have about 20.
Mr Delaney: You mentioned a 23-month development time to implement the new software. Does this 23 months include such implementation details as data migration of the data that you currently have in electronically indexed and retrievable format, such as data that already live in a database regardless of what it is?
Ms van Son: Yes, that's correct.
Mr Delaney: Does this include migration of data that currently exist in what we believe to be many thousands of cardboard boxes in your offices in Downsview?
Ms van Son: I want to be really clear about this: We don't have thousands of cardboard boxes in Downsview; we have a very large filing system that has over 334,000 files.
Mr Delaney: Let me clarify that, then. Does this include migration of data that currently exist in what we know to be 334,000 paper files in the Downsview office?
Ms van Son: Yes. We worked hard at that filing system.
Mr Delaney: Could you describe for me, please, your plans to test the software and ensure that it meets the needs of the RFP?
Ms King: As part of the RFP process, there will be opportunity for the vendors to come in and demonstrate the application. So within the RFP process itself there will be, first, an initial opportunity for a demonstration to occur based on the requirements that we've included as part of the RFP process. They will be evaluated, so they will be scored against what the requirements are. Following that, once the vendor is selected, we will need to reconfirm the requirements, and then the whole development process occurs.
Mr Delaney: How long during the development process do you anticipate it will take to test it once the system has been developed apparently according to specs?
Ms King: The system itself will not be developed for several months; however, there will be an opportunity within three months after we've selected a vendor to look at a prototype, basically to take a look at what they have completed to date, but as you know it's an application that will take at least 18 months to develop. We will also have a team of staff who will be supporting us through this, so they will actually be testing as the application is being developed. That process is also underway in terms of defining that strategy.
Ms van Son: We have a document imaging system that we just recently brought into fruition, and part of that process is the testing phase. Just on that product itself, we did a testing of over two months before we went into live production. We're very aware of the need to do that. That will definitely be looked at and will happen as part of our plan.
Mr Delaney: How will you make the choices on what capabilities to deploy in the initial phase and what features and capabilities you'll deploy in either subsequent releases or versions of the software?
Ms van Son: I'm sorry, I don't know that I understand your question.
Mr Delaney: How will you make the choice on which of all the capabilities you can dream up you will deploy in a version 1.0 and how will you make the choice on what features and functionality to set aside for the next phase or the next release of the software?
Mr Costante: The RFP will be quite extensive and, maybe this is overly optimistic, we would hope that 1.0 would have all of our requirements in it. If, in coming back, it makes sense to delay some things for operational reasons or if the price tag is overwhelming and we have to give up on a few things that we would like, we would have to assess that. But our going-in position is that we want everything that we've asked for. Hopefully we can get that within the budget, given that we're buying largely an off-the-shelf solution.
Mr Delaney: While it's not my function to design your software for you extemporaneously, you may wish to consider a list of priorities of what you absolutely need and what you may wish to have.
Who will own the intellectual property rights of the new software?
Ms van Son: The province of Ontario.
Mr Delaney: Including the source code?
Ms van Son: Yes, including the source code.
Mr Delaney: That's a definitive yes?
Ms van Son: Yes, it is. Those were two very difficult questions that we've spent a lot of time working on.
Mr Delaney: Is there any possibility of developing this software in partnership with other provinces or other jurisdictions and in so doing enhance its system capabilities or ensure a better data interchange, as well as share costs?
Ms van Son: I guess the answer to that will be, it depends on who the vendor is and what the solution is that they are proposing and whether it would be similar in nature to some of the other jurisdictions. I want to assure you that we work very closely with other jurisdictions, particularly across Canada. Those are my colleagues; those are the people I -- we support each other on this stuff. So if there are lessons learned elsewhere, we'll use them.
Mr Delaney: It stands to reason that, if you're working very closely, and especially if a lot of the agreements are enforced across provincial and other jurisdictional boundaries, almost certainly other jurisdictions aren't running the latest and the greatest of everything. It may make sense. Has any thought been given to doing something in co-operation with other similar jurisdictions?
Ms van Son: Under the federal/provincial/territorial work that we do, we are developing national strategies. One of the areas that we have a working committee on is around technology. We recognize that in order for us to work better together, it would be useful if we all had common platforms; for example, that we could transfer funds electronically. So the intent is definitely there. We do have a working committee on this. The short answer is, my hope is that we work closely with each other on these issues.
Mr Delaney: By version 1.0 or a subsequent version?
Ms van Son: We'll see, I guess. We don't work in isolation around these issues, so I guess, yes, I could say to you: 1.0 and on.
Mr Delaney: What is the annual opportunity cost of doing nothing and of not developing or acquiring a new system?
Mr Costante: I guess the opportunity cost of not developing it -- sorry, maybe I'm answering it the wrong way. The cost of not developing it is the $6 million or $7 million that we lose each year in terms of social assistance costs that have to be made up; the opportunity cost to the families and children who won't get as much in support payments and the cost that that could have elsewhere in the system in terms of school boards, health care, other items, because their life is not as rich, perhaps, as it could be; the opportunity cost in terms of some of the expense that we're having to put in now trying to maintain a very old, cranky system that we can't make any changes to and that money being better deployed on the front line to provide service doing that. So I guess there are a number of opportunity costs or losses, depending on how you look at it.
Mr Delaney: It would total up to, just as a rough estimation?
Mr Costante: Those that you could document for provincial -- I guess it depends on what site you want to take this from -- the provincial costs are $6 million or $7 million a year.
Mr Delaney: So using the high end of the bracket -- that being about $40 million -- it would be reasonable to assume that it would be roughly a seven-year payback period for the development of the projected new software as it's now envisioned?
Mr Costante: If you use the high end there and the low end, that would be seven or eight; it would be a lot less if you used some other --
Mr Delaney: Was it significantly different the last time you came in and sat before this committee?
Mr Costante: I wasn't here before.
Ms van Son: Significantly different in what way?
Mr Delaney: You were here several years ago. I gather, according to the Provincial Auditor's report, the requirement has been ongoing, but was the opportunity cost of doing nothing significantly different the last time you were here? Why didn't you do it then?
Ms van Son: We needed approval to move forward.
Mr Delaney: Why didn't you get it?
Mr Costante: I think you're asking the wrong people.
Mr McNeely: On a point of order, Mr Chair: I'm not sure, but a different answer was given before. Is this an opportunity to present that, or do I have to wait?
The Chair: If that's OK with Mr Delaney. Mr Delaney, do you want to yield the floor?
Mr McNeely: I'm sorry to interrupt, but the question I asked the lady before was, "When would be the payback on this system if we spent the money?" I was told that it would be 2006-07, with 2004-06 being the time to implement. So there's a one-year payback. Now we're hearing six or seven, so I just would like to know which it is.
Ms van Son: I perhaps misinformed you, on further reflection. Payback starts in 2006-07. So we will start to see some of those benefits coming forward in 2006-07, but we won't see full payback until --
Ms King: Three years after.
Ms van Son: Three years after that, in 2008-09.
Mr Delaney: I'm through with my questions.
The Chair: I'm interested in the BC model. When Mr Zimmer, I think, was asking a question -- you asked about their particular IT. I think it was 80% OK and 20% not OK. Why would we just not adopt holus-bolus their particular system? Then you wouldn't get into software problems, which was a big problem, I can tell you, with the integrated justice project -- huge problem. Once you start into fresh software that's untested and you try to run it on a big system, you're just inviting trouble. So it's much better if you can buy stuff off the shelf that has been tested, tried and true. Why wouldn't you look to modifying some of your requirements and adopting the BC system?
Mr Costante: I think that's a very good question. I think there are two main reasons. We do have to work within an Ontario environment. So the system that we build has to be able to connect, for example, to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation's system. So there is going to have to be some modification just because it's a different environment here than in BC. Their system was obviously built to connect with their provincial systems and their architecture.
Secondly, we have a requirement to do this through an RFP system and not through a sole-source application, which this would be.
Mr Delaney: On a point of order, Mr Chair: In addition to what the gentleman has just said, the other issues that any vendor of any type would face would be, first, scalability. Can the existing software scale up from British Columbia, a province of about five million, to Ontario, a province of about 13 million. Another issue would be the evolution of technology. We don't know what platform and what software the BC system runs on. It may be completely appropriate, but it may not be. The third issue, of course, would be compatibility with the specific and unique aspects of social services and the laws that govern it here in Ontario.
The Chair: Yes, but you know basically, we're trying to serve a clientele, and I'm sure the BC government is trying to serve a clientele. The bottom line is that you are trying to get better service and collect money for people. I don't think there's anything political about our system or our decisions or their system. I had the opportunity to listen to Scott McNally, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, on that fateful day of October -- whatever it was -- the morning of the election day. The whole high-tech industry, the whole IT industry, which represents itself very well in the area that I represent, which is part of the former city of Kanata, the whole point that McNally was making was that you don't create systems where you don't have to. What you do is you alter some of your decisions, your management decisions, to fit what's already on the shelf.
What I get from the presentation here is that we are about to create a whole new system without reconsidering some of the base decisions. Maybe it should be a combination of both. You might say, "You know, we can't have our way 100%, but we can get 95% and we can have a heck of a good operating system that's tried and true."
Mr Delaney: This was the essence of my question regarding whether it was possible, or feasible, to develop the system envisaged by FRO in Ontario in conjunction with one or more other jurisdictions to achieve not only longer-term compatibility but also to share costs and come down to that base set of functions that serve as a platform on top of which each province can render its own individuality with code unique and specific to that province or that jurisdiction.
The Chair: But what I'm saying is that where large business is going, where large operations are going, what they are saying is that the back office, the accounting, the record-keeping isn't really the key to your enterprise. Therefore you alter what happens in the back office to be able to do what you're supposed to do in the front office to better degree.
Ms Martel: I want to focus my concerns on some of the improvements you referenced and some of your hopes for the new system. I want to give you three specific examples, Deputy. Two of these were ones you reference earlier this morning. You talked about some of the recent improvements, and you said that letters are going out to those people who are in arrears, and if they're not paying up, that information is going to credit agencies. Except that when I look at the 2001 report by the auditor, that was already in place in 2001, when letters were sent to delinquent payers when their accounts were 30 days in arrears; they got a follow-up letter to pay; then a monthly report went on to list accounts that were 60 days overdue; then that went to a special team of client services associates to initiate some kind of enforcement. We now have the highest level of arrears ever, so I just can't see how that has been working. It's something that allegedly has been in place since 2001.
Secondly, you talked about the specialized group for enforcement. There was certainly a special team of client services associates who were supposed to act as a special team for enforcement, at least in 2001. That didn't appear to be working very well. You also referenced the fact that cases over $50,000 owing are sent to individual client services associates until they are resolved. But as the auditor pointed out, in November 2002 you had 1,500 such cases that still had not been assigned to a client services associate and about $127 million owing.
Thirdly -- this had to do with concerns raised in a discussion around the bring-forward capacity and how there was going to be a lot of improvement with the new system about bring-forward notes. But if I look at the most recent auditor's reports, you have that capacity in the system now, and the auditor discovered that most caseworkers were not following up on a timely basis. I just want to put this into the record:
"The number of bring-forward notes that were not followed up on within the required 30 days ranged from 46 to more than 800 per caseworker, and averaged more than 300. In addition, many of the outstanding bring-forward notes were more than a year old, indicating that required action had not been taken for a very long time."
Even if your new computer system has a similar bring-forward capacity, or one where action is blocked and you have to do the bring-forward action before you can continue to do other work, just the sheer volume of bring-forward notes is not going to allow someone to do their job.
I listened carefully to what you suggested were improvements and many of these were already in place and were not working. I'm very suspicious about the bring-forward notes, given that was already in the current system, and I really do wonder where the concrete improvements are or where they will be. Maybe the only thing that's going to make a difference here is new staff, which I haven't heard any reference about except to, I think, a small reference you made, Deputy, in response to a question, but it certainly wasn't in the minister's announcement Friday. When is all this change going to take place? We're not in any better position than we were, despite many of these things already being in place.
Ms van Son: Ms Martel, I'm not sure that I understand the first part of your question. Were you talking about collection agencies or credit bureaus?
Ms Martel: No, the deputy said this morning that -- and this was under his comments in recent announcements. He listed as point number 3 letters to those in debt -- it might have been arrears -- pay up or the report is goingto a collection agency.
You already had those letters going out from as far back as 2001 encouraging people to pay. You also had a specific team that was supposed to deal with that. But we're still no better off in terms of what's been happening.
Ms van Son: We do have the collection agency program, as you're aware, and we have sent over the last year about 22,000 cases to the collection agencies. One of the biggest things that collection agencies do is they have a very sophisticated trace-and-locate capability. So their ability to find people is superior to ours. It doesn't necessarily mean, though, that when you find someone they actually have the ability to pay. But those cases would otherwise not be dealt with as they perhaps should be. Going out to the collection agencies, I think I have the stats in terms of what we've been able to collect through that.
Ms Martel: It was listed in the auditor's report.
Ms van Son: Right.
Ms Martel: It's about $2 million that came back to the FRO and $400,000 that went as fees to the collection agencies.
Ms van Son: Right. So those are funds that would not have been received at all.
In terms of some of the new initiatives that we've talked about, and I want to get back to the specialized teams and the bring-forward notes, one of the things that the minister did announce last week was around credit bureaus. In the past, we reported people to credit bureaus without any notification, so this may be where some of the misunderstanding is. Now we are dealing with that differently in terms of greater fairness and accountability. We're giving people notice and saying, "If you don't fulfill your obligations we will report you to the credit bureau and you have 15 days in which to respond to us." So we are giving them notice and we think that's a much fairer and better process.
In terms of the bring-forward notes, I think what the Provincial Auditor was referring to in the audit report was case log notes. You're right, people do have the ability to write notes on their cases and they are supposed to be reviewing their case log notes on a regular basis in order to take the appropriate action. But is it a system that actually brings it forward to their attention and says that they need to take action on this? No, it is not. It is not a true bring-forward system. It still relies on the staff person to go into the system, look at their case log notes and take the appropriate action.
In the new system our hope is, because we'll have more teams, more specialization and better tools, that in the morning when you come in, the system will actually say to you, "You have to do these things, take these actions today," as opposed to now, where it's dependent on the staff person having the time to go into the system, pull those case log notes off the system and go through them and manage that work. So it's slightly different in that respect.
Ms Martel: But it still is contingent on the staff person having enough time to do either one, right?
Ms van Son: Indeed.
Ms Martel: So here's my second concern. I've looked at the minister's announcement. I saw nothing about new staff. You can have a new computer system and you can have specialized teams, which as I read it right now just means the existing staff being re-assigned into teams, and you can have another new enforcement tool. Ms Pupatello is talking about credit cards. You've got 10 enforcement tools at your disposal and the problem is they are not being used now -- I think the auditor made that very clear -- seven months before enforcement is taken and usually only because someone calls.
In my opinion, unless and until you have some new staff, even with new technology, you're going to have an ongoing problem. Even if you move to a case management system, which we have long advocated and which I believe was in place before 1996, unless you have some new bodies in this operation, you are not going to be able to keep up. Have you been given some commitment by the government that you are going to get money for staff? How much? How many new bodies and when?
Mr Costante: There were 26 bodies added or about to be added.
Mr Costante: They're there.
Ms Martel: Are they new or are they reallocated?
Mr Costante: They're new.
Ms Martel: Full-time?
Mr Costante: Yes, full-time. We will have to do an assessment, once we get the response to the RFP, about staff resources required to effectively handle the caseload in the future. We'll have to take that through the budget process. Do we have future approvals? No. We are starting the budget process. We just got additional staff. We will go from there and see how many are needed in the future.
Ms Martel: Let me focus on the new staff, because if I heard you correctly it was to work in the call centre to divert administrative matters away from enforcement matters. That is essentially the job responsibility of the 26 new staff?
Ms van Son: No, they're broken into three groupings. We have a new customer service unit and there are 15 staff in there who are dealing with the more general types of inquiries. We have 16 staff in the customer service unit. We have five staff who are focused just on the trace-and-locate on the returned mail. We also have an initiative where we're contacting people when the court order is registered with our office. We have five of those folks as well.
Ms Martel: So none of these people are in enforcement at this point?
Ms van Son: No, they're not.
Ms Martel: And none them will be in enforcement over the next two years as you try to ramp up to the new system?
Ms van Son: These are new initiatives and we're going to be evaluating and monitoring the process and whether there need to be changes or whether we need to do things differently. At this point it's not foreseen, but I don't know that for sure.
Ms Martel: The auditor said that since 1994 you've got probably 40 fewer staff doing casework or acting in a caseworker capacity, which I assume includes most responsibilities around enforcement. Is that true?
Ms van Son: That would be correct.
Ms Martel: Yet your caseload has grown to about 40,000 more since 1994. Over the next two years, clearly you're going to have an increase again, and at this point not a clear sense, at least from what I can get, that you'll be able to recover even the 40 staff, much less any new staff that you might need to deal with that increased caseload.
Over the next two years, without any increase in funding, how are we going to deal with all the concerns that just keep coming? I've got to tell you that even with the new initiatives you've described to me, I cannot see how you are going to be able to cope and get enforcement to a point where it's not taking seven months for something to be done.
Mr Costante: I think the government has agreed and taken action. That was approved in December. As I said earlier, we are about to go into the budget process again and have started. The minister has asked to see options as to how we are going to manage this program in the next two years. We will be bringing her a variety of options. It's too early to tell you what the outcomes of those are. I assume the decisions will rest on that budgetary context, and it might be a couple of months before we know exactly further measures such as what you're talking about in terms of staff.
Ms Martel: Can I ask, Deputy, without knowing the outcome, and I appreciate that, is one of the options that you will go forward with for the budget process an option to increase caseworker staff?
Mr Costante: We haven't fully done the options yet or presented them to the minister. My suspicion is yes.
Ms Martel: Moving from that, going to the call centre, you had said that under the new model there certainly would be a smaller call centre. This goes back to some of the improvements I think you've already made. If I remember correctly, you're saying about 1,600 calls are being diverted now based on the new staff who are working in the call centre. Did I get that number correct?
Ms van Son: We're moving toward that number of 1,600 calls that are being diverted from the call centre into this new customer service unit.
Ms Martel: All right. I have a number of 17,000 calls daily. Is that correct?
Ms van Son: The 17,000 calls daily are on the automated voice line. In the call centre, we receive 1,900 calls a day.
Ms Martel: And people on the automated line are looking for a call back?
Ms van Son: No --
Ms Martel: They're just checking their statements?
Ms van Son: -- they're getting status on their case.
Ms Martel: So 1,900 calls direct from people who are looking for information, wanting to talk to someone, either to provide address change, court action etc.
Ms van Son: Yes, that's correct.
Ms Martel: Do you have any sense of that diversion of 1,600, how long you foresee that will take before you actually get there?
Ms van Son: The numbers are showing that we'll probably get there fairly quickly.
Ms Martel: Is that within the same office hours, or are you also contemplating a change in office hours?
Ms van Son: That's within the same office hours.
Ms Martel: Can you tell me, right now among the staff that you have, how many would be off on either sick or stress leave?
Ms van Son: I don't have that number at hand.
Ms Martel: Could you make that available to the committee? Part of my concern also, and I think the auditor has mentioned this before in a previous report, is that although the staffing complement appears to be about 400, give or take, at any given time any number of people are off on sick or stress leave legitimately. But that makes it much more difficult for the office to operate as well, so if you have some recent numbers with respect to sick leave and stress leave, that would be really helpful.
Ms van Son: We'll certainly provide that.
Ms Martel: Within the context of the criticism that the auditor raised about enforcement, if we have a two-year time lag before we have a new system up and running, I'm assuming it's also a two-year time lag before you have the new case management model up and running. Am I correct in that assumption?
Ms van Son: Yes, you're mostly correct in that assumption. At this point, we've already moved to a discrete unit that just deals with cases moving in and out of our province. We've been able to move toward that, and we will attempt to deal with our caseload as we do every day throughout the transition.
Ms Martel: To get at the issue of enforcement, there are a number of new tools. I don't really know what the credit card information is going to get you if there isn't someone who can actually deal with that. Tell me again how you foresee operating in the next two years, trying to deal with very specific concerns around enforcement or a lack of enforcement, unless a recipient or advocate is calling.
Ms van Son: I guess we're going to do what we do every day, which is try to manage our portfolio to the degree that we can. We have taken measures. We have hired a call centre coordinator. We are monitoring for performance better than we have in the past in terms of our staff. We're doing more training of our staff so that the responses they provide and the enforcement actions they take are more consistent. We do have specialized teams when we need them, and we are continuing to work with the collection agencies around enforcement. We did collect $561 million last year and we hope to continue that process to the best of our ability.
Ms Martel: I appreciate how much you've collected. It's the flip side -- and you will be worried about it as well. I'm not saying that you're not committed to your job and that the staff aren't; I know they are. I'm just thinking that if you continue to work under a circumstance where you have no additional staff, nothing's going to change in the next two years either. I'm quite worried about that.
You talked about specific teams doing specific actions. I think you referenced in and out of province, which I'm not clear I understood. I don't think that has anything to do with reciprocal agreements, does it? It's just payers who are moving back into Ontario and their cases are coming with them now?
Ms van Son: No, that is reciprocal agreements. We have almost 13,000 cases that we have to enforce that either come into the province or are people moving out of the province to other parts of either Canada or around the world.
Ms Martel: And is there a high level of arrears owing on those cases, or is it essentially contacting the new employer in the province and doing the deduction?
Ms van Son: It's a fairly complex process, because you're dealing with other -- for example, if the payer is living in Nova Scotia, we have to send the file to Nova Scotia and they enforce it for us. It's not a matter of just finding the employer; it's actually taking that enforcement action on our behalf in Nova Scotia, for example, as long as the recipient is living here.
Ms Martel: But the Nova Scotia government would be doing the enforcement in that case.
Ms van Son: Indeed, yes, and vice versa.
Ms Martel: And as to the ones that you have coming to Ontario -- maybe you can't answer this question -- do you have a sense of whether three quarters of those cases, half, are in arrears and require that specific team to undertake enforcement?
Ms van Son: I actually don't know the number, but I think I can get it for you.
Ms Martel: Let me clarify about the specialized team. The deputy said this morning -- maybe he didn't say this morning. Sorry. Maybe it has to do with the changes, what the minister announced, that a specialized team of Family Responsibility Office workers will be dedicated solely to tracking down deadbeat parents. Is this something that's going to be over and above the current structure in which a case in arrears by over $50,000 goes to a client service associate? Is this the same thing or is it something different?
Ms van Son: This is our new trace-and-locate unit.
Ms Martel: If I heard you correctly about trace and locate, the first thing they're going to do is deal with all the mail that's coming in every day?
Ms van Son: Yes, that's correct.
Ms Martel: So that's one bit of enforcement. You'll have a lot of cases in which you have that information already but that require a driver's licence suspension, passport etc. So who's dealing with the other enforcement activities where you already have information but just need to take action?
Ms van Son: Our enforcement officers. That's their job.
Ms Martel: So the same group. Tell me how many are in that trace-and-locate unit right now. Is it five?
Ms van Son: In the new unit, yes. It's five people.
Ms Martel: And they're essentially focused on the mail?
Ms van Son: Yes. For example, just as a sample, of 346 pieces of returned mail, we were able to update 192 with new addresses. So those were cases that we didn't even know had moved and we are now able to take enforcement on.
Ms Martel: Because you could find the payer or you could find the employer or both?
Ms van Son: Both.
Ms Martel: OK. If that unit starts to operate, how many of the files would be taken out of your bigger enforcement category? I still am assuming that a big part of your enforcement is beyond that, where you have the necessary information, but now you have to go and suspend a driver's licence, move to a default hearing etc. Do you understand what I'm getting at?
Ms van Son: Yes. I know what you're saying. Once they do that work, it still will be up to our enforcement officers to take action on those cases.
Ms Martel: My question is, though, is it going to deal with about 5% of your arrears, 3% or -- ?
Ms van Son: I don't know. It's too new to tell. I'm hoping that it will have, as the minister refers to, some modest improvement at this point in time. We hope it will have an impact.
Ms Martel: OK. The change you want to make with respect to credit cards: Can you tell me what kind of action that is and what that will require?
Mr Costante: This one we're still investigating. It is quite complicated. It does get us into areas of federal law. I don't think we've definitively taken it to ground yet as to whether we can actually do it or not. It's still under active review, but we don't have a green light to go ahead yet.
Ms Martel: I appreciate that, Deputy. You know what? I'm even a step ahead of you on that. What is it you're trying to get from the credit card? An address?
Mr Costante: Yes. It's another source of information. It would be similar to getting other provincial databases.
Mr Kormos: Could you track ministerial credit cards?
Mr Costante: If we get the proper privacy agreement, we could.
Ms Martel: But this would not be something for your trace-and-locate unit, would it? This would not be something that the five people in the trace-and-locate unit would be dealing with. This would be one of your regular enforcement staff dealing with this, if it comes to pass?
Ms van Son: If it came to pass, it is a trace-and-locate function. We have this new unit, but our staff also have the capacity to do trace-and-locate. It's not about enforcement; it's about trying to find more information, if it came to pass.
Ms Martel: OK.
The Chair: Ms Munro.
Mrs Julia Munro (York North): Perhaps it's the fact that we're dealing with such a complex issue, but there's something I want to come back to that you mentioned this morning about changing your attitude, I guess, or your approach. You referred to "reactive" and that it hasn't been proactive. I look at the tools you have that the auditor lists on page 80, where they're divided between the initial what he refers to as passive enforcement and then the more aggressive enforcement steps. When you look at those steps, I wonder if you could explain to us, in your comments about changing your method of operation, would you be looking at changing significantly any one of these or adding to them? Where would they then be more in a proactive mode than a reactive? Earlier today you were asked a question about the fact that obviously nothing happens until the person doesn't pay, so from the point of view of your fundamental role, it is a reactive one. I just wondered if you could give us some information to demonstrate the change you anticipate and how it would be reflected, then, in material such as we have here.
Ms van Son: When we talk about being reactive, we're being -- when a file comes in, when a court order arrives in our office, we should be able to manage that court order in a very timely way. Collecting arrears or support is about timing. If you're not timely in it, if you miss opportunities to garnish somebody's wages or to put a lien on somebody's property or to seize somebody's passport as they're going to travel -- if you're not timely about that, if you're not doing that when you should be, you miss those opportunities and therefore the enforcement doesn't happen or you miss an opportunity to collect money. For example, if somebody's selling the house and we've been informed about it but we haven't reacted in a timely way, we miss that opportunity. We should be managing our portfolio in a way that people don't have to call in and say, "I haven't received any payments for three months." We should know that immediately, as soon as somebody has missed a payment. That's when we talk about being reactive.
In terms of the enforcement tools we have, our whole goal is to get people to fulfill their obligations, so we take, as we refer to it, initial passive enforcement and we're ready to enter into a payment schedule with the payer. We'll garnish the wages; we'll use the support deduction order to garnish wages if necessary. Those are kind of passive steps.
There are certainly other opportunities, in terms of possible legislative amendments, that would make some of our enforcement tools perhaps more aggressive. There are any number of options we can look at and certainly the minister has indicated her interest in doing that. So it's being timely and it's having the proper enforcement tools to do the job well. Being reactive is a timing thing, and our ability to respond quickly to situations. The tools we use, the possible legislation we may have, is something we will be exploring more.
Mrs Munro: I had a question I wanted to ask you when you were talking about using those tools. When you do the investigation of someone who has fallen into arrears, would it be fair to say that generally people have found themselves in some kind of personal difficulty and their inability to pay is not based on some kind of frivolous "I don't want to do this any more"? Those tools you have may begin to pile up against this individual, but if they can't pay, they can't pay, and it doesn't matter.
Obviously, you can move down to garnisheeing bank accounts and things like that, but I just wonder if you have -- because earlier today we had quite a conversation about what are actually people in arrears or partial arrears and how that is defined. Is it fair to say that for many of the cases, the fact that you have those tools that are listed here doesn't really matter if the person can't pay?
Ms van Son: I think that's a fair statement. People's lives change. Obviously, people's circumstances change. They become ill or they lose their job or any number of circumstances. The way the system is set up in Ontario, the onus is on the payer to go back to court and say, "My circumstances have changed and therefore could you please lower the support payment I have to make." The role of the Family Responsibility Office is fairly narrow in the sense that our legislation says that we shall enforce those court orders. We can't change them, we can't vary them. Our system is fairly litigious, so the onus is on the payer to go back to court and inform the court of that change of circumstance.
Mrs Munro: My next question deals with that. When I asked you the first question about the shift, if you like -- more of an attitudinal thing, I think, from what you're saying to me in terms of going from the reactive to the proactive -- are you suggesting that in the software you're talking about, this individual is going to be able to know that money has gone through that account?
Ms van Son: Yes.
Mrs Munro: Would we be right in assuming that, to avoid having this meeting four or five years from now and looking at exactly the same problems, we can expect to see that the individuals who are involved in this process will be able to meet those kinds of performance measures; that it will be relatively easy to be able to say they have X number of cases; that because of the technology you can monitor, you can tell that someone has fallen behind; you're able to then track that these further steps have been taken and we should be able to look at the system not only as system-wide in terms of its improvement but also in terms of the performance measures that are related to those individuals and the use of the software you are envisioning?
Ms van Son: That would be our expectation, absolutely. Is there something more I should say on that?
Mrs Munro: No. I think one of the things people are very interested in, of course, is recognizing -- and we've had a lot of conversation around the kind of investment you are hoping to see happen. We've also had a lot of conversation about recognition of the need for this to operate in an efficient way. We certainly all agree about who the clients are and how important it is to have that money out. At the end of the day, we also need to be able to say that we also have a system whereby individuals working within the system are able to demonstrate the ease with which they are able to make the process happen.
Ms van Son: That's right, absolutely.
Mrs Sandals: I'm interested in the chart on page 86 which talks about blocked phone calls. There seems to be quite a startling difference between blocked phone calls within the GTA, which seems to be about 37% of the calls, and blocked calls from outside the GTA. It seems to be that 90% of the calls from outside the GTA are blocked. Given that I come from outside the GTA, I'm obviously interested in this. Why is that so dramatically different?
Ms van Son: I'm not sure I'm going to be able to say this well. First of all, we have the capacity to open more lines but we don't have enough resources to man those lines. Our call centre has, I believe, nine or 10 active lines where calls come through. My understanding is that in the north, for example, there are issues that are beyond our control in terms of access that people have to lines available to get through to our call centre. The bottom line is, we have more calls than we have people to answer the calls. The bulk of our calls come from the GTA.
Mrs Sandals: Except that doesn't seem to be exactly what the data are saying. I realize the blocked callers keep calling over and over again nevertheless, in terms of total calls, you've got almost one million calls from outside the GTA and 74,000 from inside the GTA. If the issue here is 1-800 lines versus 416 or 905 lines -- is that the issue? What I can't figure out is why it is this skewed. Is it simply that nobody ever thought to put in more 1-800 lines?
Ms van Son: I'm going to have to get back to you on that. I'm afraid I'm going to give you the wrong information and I don't want to do that.
Mrs Sandals: OK. It's just so remarkably different that it begs the answer. This says it was March to May 2001 when somebody was obviously tracking it. The questions would be, is it still that badly skewed and, if this is data from the spring of 2001, is it still this badly out of whack and if it is still that badly out of whack, why hasn't something been done to address it? You can see that while the number of people actually getting through to have cases may be smaller, the number of people who are calling in and constantly frustrated is obviously huge. In terms of wasted time if you're outside the GTA, one does hear stories about people who can't get support cheques and literally take a day off work to sit at home all day remaking calls. This is a pretty serious issue if you're a mom who can't get the cheque and you're sitting there on a 1-800 line all day.
Ms van Son: It's true, it's a very serious issue for us. It's one of the things we're addressing as part of our new case management system in terms of getting a new telephony system in place, new software, more capacity. Again, if you're diverting calls so that people are calling me directly as opposed to having to go through a call centre, that should alleviate some of the problem.
We're also moving in terms of the personal identification number, the PIN number. Eventually people will be able to go to the Web site. In fact, we've implemented just recently the ability for people to enter online, fill out complaint forms and stuff. So we're hoping that too will move calls away from the call centre so that there will be more lines available for people.
I know it has something to do with 416 versus a 1-800 line and I'm sorry, but my mind has just gone completely blank on it.
Mrs Sandals: I would appreciate that because obviously for those of us who don't hang out in the GTA, this is a serious issue.
Ms van Son: Indeed.
Mrs Sandals: You said that of the 26 new people who we are just beginning to put in place, 16 are customer service. So if we leave aside the skewed behaviour here on the call blocking, if we've got 16 additional people doing customer service calls, should that in some way address the backup here, so that now, if you want to register a change of address or make some sort of lower-level inquiry, some of this will get dealt with more quickly? Is that the intention?
Ms van Son: Yes, that's correct. When people call in now they have a choice. So if they want to just change an address -- we get a lot of information from recipients. If they want to tell us where they think their ex is now working, they can provide that information through that customer service unit much more quickly and it's much more accessible. It will alleviate and it will move away some of the calls that would normally go into the call centre.
Mrs Sandals: The five people you talked about on trace-and-locate, I presume that the problem at the moment is you're getting returned mail and that should theoretically trigger, "Oh my goodness, they're not where we think they are." These five people who are on trace-and-locate are going to address the issue of the returned mail?
Ms van Son: Yes. We get about 2,500 pieces a month of returned mail and we haven't had the resources to actually take action on those, so, in truth, they've been sitting in bins for a while. Now we have these people who are working their way through them. As I mentioned, of the 346 pieces that we just used as a sample, they were able to update 192 returned with new addresses. We were able to find the payer and also, in most instances, an employer.
Mrs Sandals: OK. So that will facilitate, then -- it actually gets into this issue of reactive versus proactive in some ways. At the moment, this stuff is coming back and it's just sort of sitting there until somebody screams.
Ms van Son: Right.
Mrs Sandals: Now you're going to actually look at it and start the trace on the person before mom calls and says, "What's going on here?" You're actually going to initiate trying to figure out where they went?
Ms van Son: Yes, that's correct.
Mrs Sandals: Is that part of this change in culture?
Ms van Son: That's right. Our hope is that in time -- some of the models in other countries take a much more holistic approach. They work very closely with the families and the parents. For example, in Australia and the UK, and certainly by some of our colleagues across Canada, these programs are seen as players in reducing family poverty. They are programs that are celebrated and encouraged. They work very closely with the families about being a good parent and what it means to be a good parent. Even though you're no longer living together, you can still be a good parent. We need to be getting some of that message across. We need to be following it up, though, with the appropriate measures that we need to take to ensure that people fulfill their obligations.
All of these things we're doing, while they're not the final answer, will help. All of these will come together; they will all make a difference, and I know that. Then, when we get to the new model, that's the longer-term solution, I hope, in terms of managing our portfolio.
At the end of the day, however, if somebody doesn't want to pay child or spousal support, they don't want to pay child or spousal support. It always comes down to the people. But our goal is to work better with these people to help them understand that they have some obligations they need to fulfill. So I'm hopeful.
One of these initiatives about just calling people when we get their court order -- you have no idea what a big deal this is to people, because the court system and the justice system are very intimidating. People don't understand it. They don't feel comfortable in it. They may not have good legal advice. They're already upset. They're already unhappy. Now they're going through the courts and then they get to us. So now that we're calling them and saying, "This is who we are. Here are some of our responsibilities and these are some of your responsibilities," and we give them information, it may seem to some people to be a small thing, but for them, the feedback we've received has been quite overwhelming.
Mrs Sandals: I'm intrigued by this vision of all this returned mail sitting in bins. Just how many bins of returned mail do we have?
Ms van Son: We get 2,500 pieces approximately a month.
Mrs Sandals: How long has it been since anybody actually attended to opening it?
Ms van Son: Last summer, when we were able to bring in some students, we had them focused on that.
Mrs Sandals: So essentially since whenever the summer students went away again. It's been sitting there collecting ever since?
Ms van Son: We try to do as much as we can every day. In truth, we had a backlog in this, but we've actually been able to clear that out and we're now on top of it.
Mrs Sandals: It never occurred to anybody before that we should have some permanent staff actually attending to this? I'm sure this isn't a new phenomenon that this has been building up. It builds up and here are some summer students: Has this been the regular cycle?
Ms van Son: It's not that it's never occurred to us. It's that we have been limited in our resources.
Mrs Sandals: You have never got the approval to put the staff on before now. Anyway, I am quite pleased that there are some new staff there to attend to some of these things, and when you're getting the phone lines for the new call-answering people, I would really appreciate it if you'd look into how many 1-800 lines you have. OK?
Ms van Son: Yes, I will get you that information.
Mrs Sandals: Thank you.
Ms van Son: Thank you for your patience.
Mr Zimmer: Mr Chair, Mr McNeely spoke to me. We'd just like to put something on the record before I begin my comments.
The Chair: Sure.
Mr McNeely: I misinterpreted what the executive director had told us earlier about the payback time. It starts payback in year one, but it takes three years to pay off the $30 billion. So I think the answer was 2006 if we do it now: 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09. In 2008-09, the $30 million, if we're talking $30 million, just roughly, is paid off?
Mr McNeely: Thank you. In addition, we would serve the families and the children much better, would we not, with that new system?
Ms van Son: Absolutely. That's our whole goal.
Mr McNeely: This was presented in 1994, and it could have been implemented easily by 1997. Is it fair to say that in today's dollars, we really cost the taxpayers $70 million, seven times 10? It cost the taxpayers $70 million over those seven years, and we haven't been serving the children and the families well. Is this correct? Is this generally in the right direction? It may not be $70 million, but it's in that ball field?
Mr Costante: That's correct. It's in that ballpark.
The Chair: I would humbly disagree with some of the conclusions, but Mr Zimmer?
Mr Zimmer: Earlier, Ms Martel asked you if you could give some statistics on stress and people away on sick leave. I wonder if you could include in that the turnover rates in your staff. That is, how long is the average person working there and how long are they there before they leave, whether they ever come back and that sort of thing. That's an important point, I think: stability of staff and staff turnover.
My second question is: Dealing with all the pressure that you're under on the collection side or the enforcement side, getting the money into the hands of the intended recipient, what sort of priority do you give to clearing up the inevitable errors that we hear about, the payees/payers who have fallen into the system because of some oversight or glitch or paper error? All sorts of consequences descend upon them and they can't get themselves out of the system. That's the other part of the equation. Those people who are in the system wrongly, what priority do you give to getting them out, given the other priorities that you have?
Ms van Son: When errors are brought to our attention -- as you know, many times they are brought to our attention through our MPP offices -- we pay immediate attention to those. They are given high priority.
Mr Zimmer: And absent a call from an MPP, what priority?
Ms van Son: We do the very best that we can. I'm very proud of my staff. I think they do an enormous amount of work and, against all odds, I think they accomplish a great deal. We do our very best. We try very hard to pay attention to those cases and those issues as quickly as we can. Are we perfect at it? Obviously not.
Mr Zimmer: But what priority vis-à-vis the obvious priority for collection? Does the cleaning up of the errors get someone who has fallen into the system mistakenly?
Ms van Son: For example, I have somebody who works with me who deals solely with those kinds of issues, issues that people have written to us about, or they've called me, or they've called into our call centre. We take action immediately. In terms of enforcement, that's what we do every day. Enforcement is our everyday job, but when people are at risk, I can assure you we deal with them as quickly as possible.
Mr Zimmer: Just a final observation, and that will be it for me for the afternoon. There's a paradox or an anomaly here, because one of the themes of your answers throughout the day, and rightly so, is that in this exercise of the FRO collecting money, it's trying to teach or educate or bring to the attention of the payer their responsibilities in meeting these obligations. Hence the name, the Family Responsibility Office. The paradox or the anomaly is that when these people who need some guidance in meeting their obligations are dealing with FRO, there's a sense that the FRO is not meeting its obligations. I just pose this question: What sort of message does that send out to your clients, whom you are asking to meet their obligations, when in their dealing with you there is a deficiency there? It's an anomaly. Do you have a comment on that?
Ms van Son: Well, it's very frustrating for everybody. We have a legislated obligation to enforce court orders. That's our job. It's clear that we have not been doing it as well as we could and should be, but that doesn't take away people's responsibilities to look after their children or each other. You're a parent whether you are living together or whether you are 40,000 miles away from here. You want to be angry with each other? Be angry with each other, but don't take it out on the children. From my perspective, you have an obligation that you need to fulfill, regardless of how bad we are at what we do.
Mr Zimmer: But you would agree there's a conflict there between the standards you're trying to get the clients to hold themselves to in terms of meeting their obligations and their experience in dealing with the Family Responsibility Office?
Ms van Son: I understand that, and we are focusing on the things that we don't do well, but yesterday I received a letter from a person who told me that we changed their lives, that by doing what we did, her life is starting over again. Yes, there's a conflict there, but we do terrific work and I'm not ashamed of that. We can do it better; there's no question about that. But the people who work in our office are well-intentioned people who care about children and families. If there's a conflict in that, then so be it.
The Chair: I have Mr Flaherty, Mr Kormos and Ms Matthews left on the list. It's now about 12 minutes to 3. We'd like to adjourn around 3 or shortly thereafter.
Mr Jim Flaherty (Whitby-Ajax): I should only be a few minutes, I hope. I have some familiarity with FRO, of course, from being responsible for it at one time. I regret to say that what I'm hearing is not new. It may be the human condition. It may be the folly of the Liberal government of the day getting the government of Ontario into the collection business at the expense of taxpayers, which is what this is. We're talking about a collections operations. There are, of course, lots of people in the private sector who are in the collections business across Canada and across the world.
But since we are in the business, I think we have to assess how we're doing at it. I was concerned in the auditor's report -- sorry, this is the research paper from the legislative research staff -- with the comment at the top of the page 14: "The only publicly disclosed performance measure is the number of accounts in full or partial compliance with their support obligations." Are there some performance measures which are not publicly disclosed?
Ms van Son: We did have internal performance measures. We actually had more public performance measures, but our ability to meet those targets or those measures was very difficult. So the only published performance measure is the compliance rate. Certainly our staff have performance targets that they must meet in terms of the number of enforcement actions they take, calls they answer and those kinds of things, but those are internal business ones that help us attempt to manage our volumes.
Mr Flaherty: Is there a measure, for example, of how long, on average, it takes on a given day for a phone call to be answered, of those 1,900 calls per day?
Ms van Son: No, there is not.
Mr Flaherty: You don't know that?
Ms van Son: No, I do not.
Mr Flaherty: The organization doesn't know how long it takes, for example, this morning, to answer a phone call at the call centre?
Ms van Son: I'm sorry, I misunderstood. On average, the wait time can be 23 minutes for a call to be answered. Somebody has to wait, on average, 23 to 24 minutes before their call is answered.
Mr Flaherty: That varies, I gather.
Ms van Son: We have peaks and valleys during the day. The peak periods are between 10 and 12 or 1 o'clock, and then again in the afternoon between 2 and 3. Then in the evening, it's quite low. So it varies throughout the day.
Mr Flaherty: And this is an average over what period of time: the past year or the past month?
Ms van Son: The past year.
Mr Flaherty: So, roughly, for the year 2003, people are waiting 23 minutes, on average?
Ms van Son: On average.
Mr Flaherty: So after the fancy computer system is put in, in the next of couple of years your goal is to have that down to what?
Ms van Son: I think that is something we're going to work out as part of our overall process around performance measures. Those are things we're going to be having discussions about in terms of the technical piece or the RFP, in terms of our business processes, with Management Board, with our minister, in terms of what are the appropriate performance measures and targets for this business.
Mr Flaherty: Let me put the question more broadly. How are you going to measure the efficacy or lack of efficacy of this new computer system and all the training that's going to go with it in the future? How are you going to compare the performance of the Family Responsibility Office in 2003 with the performance after the taxpayers of Ontario are going to spend all this money on this system and to train people? How are you going to be able to tell whether it's efficacious or not?
Ms van Son: Obviously, if our wait times are lower; if we're able to collect more monies for families across the province; if we're able to take more enforcement actions with more benefit in terms of support dollars, in terms of ongoing dollars or arrears; the numbers of calls that we answer on a daily basis; the numbers of complaints. We'll be reviewing all of those things. Certainly we know what we're not doing well now. We will use those as comparatives as we move into the future, and we will keep building on those year over year.
Mr Flaherty: So the anticipation then is that the call waiting time will go down.
Ms van Son: Yes.
Mr Flaherty: By how much?
Ms van Son: I don't know yet. I don't know what the model is that we're going to actually end up with at the end of the day. I don't know what our staff numbers are going to be. I don't know what our caseload is going to be. All of those things are moving targets that will have to be taken into account.
Mr Flaherty: When will they be fixed?
Ms van Son: When will what be fixed?
Mr Flaherty: Those moving targets that you're talking about. Quite frankly, I'm not prepared, as an MPP on behalf of my constituents, to say, "Let's just roll ahead with spending this money on this system" without some assurance by the government, by the people operating the system, that this is going to result in some determinative improvement in the quality of the service rendered.
Mr Costante: I think that's similar to the question that Mr Sterling asked earlier. We will be putting into the RFP some of those performance measures, and they will be identified. Have we got them worked out now and are they available for the committee today? I'm afraid not. But many of those that we've talked about will be in the RFP.
Mr Flaherty: Just so I can know what to look for in the RFP, what are the performance measures that you contemplate? I don't think it's a performance measure to say number of calls received. The number of calls is going to go up. The population is increasing. The divorce rate is relatively high, as you know. So there will be lots of calls. I guess one measure is how quickly you answer them. One measure is the amount of -- what is it called? -- full or partial compliance. What other measures are there in the business of collections in family law?
Ms van Son: My colleague has just handed me some of our performance expectations in terms of our current model and the proposed model. For example, in the call centre, many people receive a busy signal. We're estimating, or talking about a performance measure, that the busy signal will drop by 40%. In terms of our compliance, right now we're at 65%. We're targeting a 70% compliance rate within the first full year after implementation. Collections is $561 million in 2003-04. We're hoping this will increase by over $50 million per year. Social assistance recoveries: We're looking at increases in that. Client contact: in terms of the effectiveness of providing more information to people. Case continuity: Clients phoning the call centre, as you know, now speak with a different person every time they call in, so a performance expectation under the new model is that each case will have a case owner who will be familiar with their clients and their cases. Complaints: obviously, fewer complaints. In terms of enforcement methods, everyone is well aware that with our case follow-up and our system notification, because of our lack of timeliness, we've been holding over 14,000 hearings a year. We know that with a more proactive case management system we will be targeting about a 25% reduction in default hearings.
So it's not that we haven't thought these through. We are thinking about them, because we know that we must have accountability, and this is what this new system will provide us. We don't have accountability now, and we need it.
Mr Flaherty: I'm glad you're convinced that the new system will provide all of these things, and I look forward to seeing the measures in the RFP so that a few years from now we can look, and hopefully that will have happened. But I think we do need to have the benchmarks in order to make some determination, on behalf of the taxpayers of Ontario, whether or not these kinds of initiatives are worthwhile.
In the collections business, it's common to give persons who are working in the business incentives to achieve. Do you do that?
Ms van Son: Incentives to our clients?
Mr Flaherty: No, to the people who work at the Family Responsibility Office. If they're really good at their jobs, that is, they collect a lot of money for spouses and children, do they get any reward?
Ms van Son: I guess the greatest reward is doing your job well and making sure that people get the support they deserve. Do we have incentive programs? No.
Mr Flaherty: Have you looked at that? Knowing the industry a little bit, as I'm sure you do, I'm sure you'll agree with me that that's not uncommon. Have you given some consideration to that?
Ms van Son: You use the term "collection program." I guess I might argue with you that we're not solely a collection program. I know people think of us that way, but the work that we do with people is about their lives and how they live those lives, so we do think about ways to reward our staff.
The managers have small things that they provide their staff. We have a staff appreciation day that the managers pay for out of their own pockets, and during lunch hour, because the call centre is never allowed to be closed down, we have a staff barbecue for 400 of our staff, through two shifts, and the managers pay for this out of their own pockets. We do all the cooking. Staff really appreciate it, because it does tell them that they are appreciated and valued. But beyond that, we work in the OPS and we're somewhat limited in what we can provide as incentives.
Mr Flaherty: It has been a while since I was up to the FRO offices. Are you still in the old Ministry of Transportation in Downsview?
Ms van Son: Yes, we are.
Mr Flaherty: It has been a few years.
I've been in a few call centres, and I'm sure you've been in some of them. It's not uncommon now for them to have a big screen on the wall where people working in the call centre can tell, minute by minute, how long people are waiting on the phone. Do you do that at FRO?
Ms van Son: Yes, we do.
Mr Flaherty: So people are able to react to that?
Ms van Son: Yes. They are called pixel boards, and we have them on every floor, in most of the corners, and staff can see how the wait times are either going down or going up and the volumes. In their offices and on their computers, the managers are able to monitor each of the staff in terms of someone spending too much time on the telephone or spending too much time off the telephone. They are able to monitor that kind of performance and that management.
Mr Flaherty: Has there been any going back of late and looking at so-called deadbeat cases? The reason I ask is that we recently had a call in my constituency office, a gentleman who I guess is supposed to be a payer and who has a mental disability and has not paid in a number of years. We went through this several years ago in my constituency office in Whitby on his behalf, and FRO was satisfied at that time that he has no money and no ability to pay. In fact, he's not working and lives with his elderly parent. They're back again in the past couple of weeks from FRO, and I'm wondering why. Is there some program going on now where you're going back and trying to rejuvenate files that were, I thought, resolved several years ago?
Ms van Son: Without knowing the real specifics, I can't answer that.
Mr Flaherty: Well, is there any program going on now to pull up old files and try to do something about them? This thing was resolved. This is what troubles me, that my staff and I have to get involved in this case again and go back to FRO --
Ms Broten: How do we know it was resolved?
Mr Flaherty: Thank you, Ms Broten. It's my turn, I think. I appreciate your point of view. I'm talking about real people now and a genuine problem in my riding with a constituent. That's why I'm asking for an explanation.
Ms Broten: -- for several days, but in terms of looking at the issues of the auditor, we are over time --
The Chair: Order. Mr Flaherty has had the floor for 10 minutes today. He's a regular member of this particular committee and should have his own time to ask his questions.
Mr Flaherty: My question was, and my staff in Whitby asked me the same thing, is there some kind of program going on now to resurrect these old cases? That's my question. If there isn't, then I'd like to know there isn't and I can tell my staff that.
Ms van Son: Not to my knowledge. I mean, we have our ongoing projects. Unless there has been a phone call that has come in about this particular case -- something may have initiated it. But if you wish to give me the particulars afterwards, I could certainly try to follow up for you on that.
Mr Flaherty: Thank you.
Mr Kormos: In the last year, for instance, how many garnishments of payers' income tax refunds were made? Do you have that data? While you're looking for that, I'm going to ask how many lottery winnings were intercepted.
Ms van Son: On the lottery winnings, since 1998 we have collected $1.3 million.
Mr Kormos: Talk about the good news-bad news story. How many people was that? How many instances?
Ms van Son: I don't know.
Mr Kormos: Can you find that out?
Ms van Son: Sure.
Mr Kormos: And how many garnishments of payers' federal income tax refund?
Ms Melanie Herbin: My name is Melanie Herbin. I'm policy and legislative counsel for the Family Responsibility Office. What we can tell you is that in the calendar year 2004 to date we've issued 1,988 support deduction notices to the federal government. Those would capture income tax refunds, assuming those people were entitled to them. But I can't tell you specifically if each of those resulted in money coming through the program.
Mr Kormos: You don't know yet, by and large.
Ms Herbin: Yes, that's true. We're going to find out probably in a couple of months.
Mr Kormos: That's in the year 2004. So that's in the last 40 days, give or take.
Ms van Son: Yes. In 2003, we issued almost 23,000.
Mr Kormos: That's 23,000 individual garnishments.
Aggressive enforcement steps: garnishment of bank accounts -- numbers.
Ms Herbin: I don't know that we track that, actually.
Mr Kormos: If you haven't got it now, could you get it for me? I'm going to ask you about that. I'm going to ask you about how many drivers' licences have been suspended; how many federal licences and passports have been suspended; and how many payers have been taken to court for a default hearing. I trust that's the old judgment debtor examination. Is that what they call it? I'm going to ask how many of those have happened. I'm asking for those numbers within a 12-month frame and then, if you've got them, within a broader time frame. When are the mug shots of deadbeat parents going to be getting posted on our government Web site?
Ms van Son: What you're referring to is part of the Liberal platform, and we have had some discussions with the minister on this, and she has just recently given us some direction on it. But it will require a legislative amendment in order for us to do that, because we don't have the authority to do that at this particular point in time. So I would assume over the next few months.
Mr Kormos: Has that been vetted through the office of the privacy commissioner yet? What has she got to say about that?
Ms van Son: I have had discussions with the privacy commissioner, and we're actually meeting with her next week.
Mr Kormos: Was that as premature an announcement as the announcement around attempting -- appreciate attempting -- to strike deals with credit card companies to get information?
Ms van Son: It wasn't a premature announcement. It's an initiative that we will be undertaking.
Mr Kormos: How hopeful are you that American Express is going to provide you information about American Express's customers?
Ms van Son: The issue around the credit cards, as the deputy referenced earlier, is still under review and we have not made any decision about that.
Mr Kormos: How hopeful are you?
Ms van Son: I think it's a very complex issue and we need to learn more about it.
Mr Kormos: And doesn't have a snowball's chance in Hades of coming to life?
Ms van Son: I think it's a very complex issue and we need to learn more about it.
Mr Kormos: Got you.
We dealt with the mug shots. We dealt with the credit cards. The so-called deadbeats: We were talking about this earlier. What I find interesting is, for instance, back in 1996, after Shelley broke into the office up there, that the Attorney General, Charlie Harnick, responds with a huge announcement about going after deadbeats. Once again there is an attempt to divert the issue away from the meat and potatoes, the viscera, of the operation to going after deadbeats with extraordinary measures. Mind you, after hearing Mr Flaherty, now I know why you didn't get any new investments while he was Attorney General.
You've got them going after deadbeats. Who are these people? We were asking about that earlier. Do you have profiles? Do you have a sense? Surely there's a continuum, from the person like Mr Flaherty's constituent, who has lost his ability to pay -- it appears forever -- through to the person who lost their job and didn't go back to court to get the variation of the support order, through to the hotshot who is profiled on the front page of the Toronto Star who is a flagrant deadbeat. Do we have any idea of where the total number of non-compliance cases fit on this continuum, this spectrum? Do we have any data around that? Do we know who these people are?
Ms van Son: I have a problem with the term "deadbeat," to begin with, in terms of how you define that. Obviously, if somebody is going to any length not to pay spousal or child support and owes hundreds of thousands of dollars of support, I guess one could say that was a person who would fall into that category. Can I give you some demographics on it? No, I can't.
Mr Kormos: Fair enough. Then, when you're giving us data on the enforcement tactics, some of the enforcement tactics where you go in and scoop the money, like suspension of drivers' licences, like taking the lottery funds, like garnisheeing a bank account, garnisheeing an income tax return, when it comes to suspending passports or federal licences -- and I really want to see how many have been suspended -- can you also tell us what the impact was? In other words, what was the success rate? This goes to the sort of things Mr Flaherty was talking about. Did suspending the driver's licence result in people coughing up, people putting the cash on the dash, so to speak, or was it futile?
Ms van Son: No. Driver's licence suspension is a very strong tool. People like to have their driver's licence.
Mr Kormos: Passport suspension?
Ms van Son: We have been able to collect $59 million from driver's licence suspension. That's worthwhile.
Mr Kormos: Yes, but we want to know how many driver's licence suspensions and then, out of that number, what percentage. I agree it's a great way of getting people's attention. How many -- 50%, 60%, 70% -- paid up? What was the success rate? I suspect you say a whole lot of money.
People who opt out: Do we have a number? What's the percentage on an annual basis of the people who get -- because Ms Broten, and I think she's probably right; at least, I'm relying upon her numbers, said 51% of all domestic disputes never go through the process where they make a court order such that it is registered with FRO. Is that what you said: at least half?
Ms Broten: Those were your numbers.
Mr Kormos: OK, but she's the one who related them to us. So of the other 49% of matrimonial or spousal breakdowns or child support applications that are put into your system on an annual basis opt out?
Ms van Son: I don't have the number on that. That's something we have difficulty tracking. But we do know that from April 2003 to December 2003, 5,099 people opted out of the program.
Mr Kormos: How many opted back in?
Ms van Son: That's the problem; I can't tell you that.
Mr Kormos: Yikes.
Ms van Son: I can tell you anecdotally that we know that two thirds of most people return to the program. But that's anecdotal, so can I --
Mr Kormos: That's based on your experience --
Ms van Son: That's based on our experience.
Mr Kormos: -- in your position of stature there at the Family Responsibility Office, right?
Ms van Son: Indeed.
Mr Kormos: OK. That's interesting.
Ms Martel: Chair, could I just raise a point? For some reason or another in the hearings in 2000, after we did the 1999 report, we were given that statistic. At the time we were told that of the 12,000 who had opted out of the program from the time that Bill 82 was passed until we had public hearings on this in 2000, 8,000 had opted back in. Those were figures that we were given from the ministry during those hearings. Do you not collect that any more?
Ms van Son: I'll check into it but my understanding is that -- I'll check into it. We'll get back to you.
Mr Kormos: Somebody told me just a few minutes ago that there are 40 less caseworkers today than there were in 1994 and that there are 40,000 more cases. Is that what you told me, Shelley?
Ms Martel: Yes.
Mr Kormos: Is she right? I was in and out of here during the day. Are those numbers pretty close?
Ms van Son: That would be pretty close.
Mr Kormos: You've got this incredible pressure on you from various Ombudsmen's reports and from auditors' reports about the computer system, which has been described as antiquated. "Ancient computers" were spoken of once. You've responded that you spent $525,000 in 2001 getting a private consultant to look at the BC system and you're going to spend $10 million to $40 million, give or take, on a new computer system to be installed in the course of two years. What have you put to the ministry in terms of your needs for staffing?
Mr Costante: I think I answered that one earlier, Mr Kormos. Maybe you weren't here.
Mr Kormos: I could have been here and just not listening. But I don't think so.
Mr Costante: We are in the process of doing our budget for the coming year. We'll be looking at many options and staffing will be one. We did also answer, and I made a comment in my remarks, that we did add 26 staff very recently to the staff complement. That has happened, so we do have 26 more staff than we had last year.
Mr Kormos: What about caseworkers? You talk about this new approach of one worker handling the same file to create that continuity. I trust that you've developed some sort of ratio as to what the optimum number of files is because you are going to spread it out. You're going to give a caseworker some easy ones, some middle-of-the-road ones and some tough ones, right? That would only be fair. I presume you've reached a ratio of how many cases a caseworker can be expected to handle effectively, right? So, how many?
Ms van Son: It varies across the province but I think the average is between 700 to 900.
Mr Kormos: Is that the current ratio?
Ms van Son: No, that's not the current ratio.
Mr Kormos: What is the current ratio?
Ms van Son: We do have some people who have bigger caseloads than that, but on average it's about 700 to 900.
Mr Kormos: That's your goal, to have 700 to 900?
Ms van Son: Obviously, we'd like to have a smaller caseload per person, for sure.
Mr Kormos: You're going to be able to stick with this even when you've got this single caseworker handling the same file throughout the course of months and years?
Ms van Son: We're realigning a lot of our business processes. We are changing our team structure. We're redesigning job descriptions. We are going to do a lot of things to make all of that work well. As the deputy has said, the staffing levels will be discussed and options will be put forward.
Mr Kormos: It's interesting, in Quebec the average caseload is 400. In Alberta the average caseload is 335. That's less than half of what the caseload is in Ontario today, right? We know what the caseload is doing in terms of effectiveness. It's not working very well, is it?
Ms van Son: It's a challenge.
Mr Kormos: You need more staff, don't you?
Ms van Son: I think we need lots of things.
Mr Kormos: But do you need more staff?
Ms van Son: I think we need lots of things. I think we need tools. I think we need a new structure. I think we need many things.
Mr Kormos: But do you need more staff?
Ms van Son: There isn't one answer to this.
Mr Kormos: You need another computer; you weren't equivocal about that.
Ms van Son: I think we need to review all our options before we can come out definitively and say what's the answer to the problem.
The Chair: Mr Kormos --
Mr Kormos: OK, I've gone down the list. We're going to get those stats on the various passive and non-passive enforcement measures and the effectiveness. We've dealt with the credit cards -- that ain't going to fly; the mug shots on the Web site -- can you imagine the lawsuit when you put up somebody's face and name in error? Yikes.
The Chair: OK, questions from Ms Matthews.
Mr Kormos: Ms Broten will be wanting to practise law again, or Mr Zimmer.
Ms Matthews: Clearly, this has been a very badly neglected part of government service over the past decade, and I am delighted that finally we are going to focus on it and make the changes that need to be changed. I just want to comment that this has been a long day for you, I'm sure. You have, for years now, been working under very difficult circumstances, as have your staff. We respect that and applaud the work you've done under those circumstances.
I want to get back to something that was raised earlier by Mr Sterling and Mr Flaherty and others, and that relates to benchmarks. I just want to reiterate how important it is that we have measurable outcomes here. The one outcome that we do use, which is the arrears stats, to me, is pretty useless in that we don't know how long people have been in arrears. It's a cumulative total, so you wouldn't expect it to go down. We don't know how many are technically in arrears but really in compliance; it's just been a bit of a glitch or a time delay. We don't know how many are a result of FRO malfunction. We don't even know how many are dead. Is that right?
Ms van Son: We certainly get notified through a variety of means when somebody has died.
Ms Matthews: If somebody died and they had arrears, would it still show as arrears?
Ms van Son: No, we would close the case.
Ms Matthews: You would close that case. So those are active cases only. All I'm saying is that those aren't particularly useful stats.
My question though is, following up on Mr Flaherty's comment, I understand that there were performance measures in place some time ago. I think you mentioned that earlier, that there were performance measures that were no longer put out there.
Ms van Son: Yes, that's correct. We had performance measures a number of years ago that were developed with management board, but at some point in time, the decision was made to not go forward with those performance measures.
Ms Matthews: Can you tell me why?
Ms van Son: I think basically we were not meeting them and there was some concern about that, obviously.
Ms Matthews: So if the report card is showing all failures, you just stop issuing the report card. That's what happened.
Ms van Son: That appears to be what happened, yes.
Ms Matthews: Can you tell me when that happened, when they stopped issuing those performance measures?
Ms van Son: It was probably about a couple of years ago.
Ms Matthews: A couple of years ago? So the same people who are calling for performance measures now are the ones who cancelled them in the first place?
Ms van Son: Certainly we have our compliance measure, which is a public measure, but that's the only one.
Ms Matthews: That's the only one?
Ms van Son: Yes.
Ms Matthews: But there were others?
Ms van Son: Yes.
Ms Matthews: OK. Thanks.
The Chair: In that light, could you then provide us with those performance standards now? Can you provide us with those performance standards that you claim were not --
Mrs Sandals: They were told not to collect them.
The Chair: You didn't collect them?
Ms van Son: We don't track them, no.
The Chair: What were the performance standards?
Ms van Son: The performance measures at one point were the wait times on the telephones, the number of calls received, the compliance rate. There was a measure around something that had to do with the arrears. It was all tied in to funding that we received at some point. To be honest, at some point we just stopped being asked for them, so we no longer provided them. I don't think it's --
Mr Flaherty: That's a little different.
The Chair: It's public knowledge. We've got it in the report from the researcher.
Ms van Son: I'm not trying to hide anything from you. I'm just saying that we were no longer required to provide them.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your long day. We appreciate the deputy's staying for the full day and, again, your ability to answer as directly as possible. We appreciate it very much. Thank you.
The committee continued in closed session at 1523.
Wednesday 11 February 2004
Auditor: Section 3.03,
Family Responsibility Office P-63
Ministry of Community and Social
Mr Kevin Costante, deputy minister
Ms Sharon van Son, executive director, Family Responsibility Office
Ms Pamela King, senior project manager, Family Responsibility Office
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
Chair / Président
Mr Norman W. Sterling (Lanark-Carleton PC)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Présidente
Mrs Julia Munro (York North / -Nord PC)
Ms Laurel C. Broten (Etobicoke-Lakeshore L)
Mr Jim Flaherty (Whitby-Ajax PC)
Mr Peter Fonseca (Mississauga East / -Est L)
Ms Shelley Martel (Nickel Belt ND)
Mr Bill Mauro (Thunder Bay-Atikokan L)
Mrs Julia Munro (York North / -Nord PC)
Mrs Liz Sandals (Guelph-Wellington L)
Ms Monique Smith (Nipissing L)
Mr Norman W. Sterling (Lanark-Carleton PC)
Mr David Zimmer (Willowdale L)
Substitutions / Membres remplaçants
Mr Bob Delaney (Mississauga West / -Ouest L)
Ms Deborah Matthews (London North Centre / London-Centre-Nord L)
Mr Phil McNeely (Ottawa-Orléans L)
Also taking part / Autres participants et participantes
Mr Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre / -Centre ND)
Ms Melanie Herbin, legal counsel, Family Responsibility Office
Mr Jim McCarter, assistant Provincial Auditor
Clerk / Greffière
Ms Anne Stokes
Staff / Personnel
Mr Ray McLellan, research officer,
Research and Information Services