Public Service at the Front Lines: My Latest Experiences

In this post, I’m taking a break from following the federal election campaign to discuss an ongoing function of government – service delivery. It happened that that my passport, health card, driver’s license, and vehicle registration were all due for renewal this spring, which provided a good opportunity to see how both the federal and provincial governments are doing.

With the passport renewal, I learned on the Passport Canada website ( that I was eligible to use the simplified renewal process. Essentially I could mail in my expiring passport along with the names of two non-related references. The process no longer required sending my birth certificate and two other identity documents as well as finding a guarantor. While Passport Canada promised delivery with 20 business days, I had by new passport in 10. So the process was both simpler and faster than in the past.

For the health card, I visited the Service Ontario website ( and booked an appointment – an option not previously available. When I arrived at the Service Ontario office, I was given a number, and it was called before I even sat down to wait. The service was being provided by a trainee (Richard) and trainer (Joanne). Richard noticed that my driver’s license – one of the identity documents I provided for the health card – was expiring, and asked if I wanted to renew it as well. I recalled that I needed to renew my license plate, which Joanne and Richard could also do. Thus I was able to complete the three transactions in less than 10 minutes. While Joanne and Richard were doing training, they were not inconveniencing me at all. The only inefficiency I noticed in the process was that one photo was required for the health card and another for the driver’s license, rather than a single photo that could have been used for both.

To sum up, I was very satisfied with both Passport Canada and Service Ontario. Evidently, both agencies are using up-to-date service methodologies. Passport Canada is reusing data it previously gathered and is also applying the 80-20 rule to speed up and simplify the easy transactions. Service Ontario now uses appointments to reduce waiting and applies single counter service.

It is noteworthy that these are areas of public service that do not appear to be politically contentious or that require extensive political oversight. Passport Canada appears to have convinced the politicians that it can speed up and simplify its processes without compromising public security. In the case of Service Ontario, the recent Ontario budget cites increases in customer satisfaction it has achieved. The budget sets a goal of saving $200 million over the next 3 years through increasing efficiencies in major agencies. Service Ontario is expected to be part of the solution, either through increased internal efficiencies or by taking over additional areas of service delivery on behalf of other agencies.

In my opinion, a measure of the effectiveness of a democracy is the liveliness, even raucousness, of the debate in its election campaigns. Both sharp debate about policy proposals and searching examination of the character of those who have the audacity to lead are desirable. But it’s also important to tell the good news stories of public servants who are quietly striving to improve performance on government’s front lines.

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