STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
Mr. Russell MacKinnon
MS. ROBYN MCISAAC: I am Robyn McIsaac, Communication Director for Service Nova Scotia.
MR. GRAHAM POOLE: My name is Graham Poole. I am the Executive Director of the Service Delivery Division of Service Nova Scotia.
MS. KATHY SMITH: I am Cathy Smith and I am the Manager of Financial Services for Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.
MS. JOAN FRIZZELL: I am Joan Frizzell and I am Coordinator for Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I am Russell MacKinnon, chairman for today's activities. Generally what we do is start off allowing our representatives to make some opening remarks and then we will open up the floor for some questioning, if that is fine with the committee. The floor is yours.
MR. POOLE: Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here this morning and to have an opportunity to speak about Access Nova Scotia. I am pleased to have the opportunity to do so and would like to share some information with people here this morning to start and then I will be pleased to answer any questions that people may have. I think you have been provided with a set of speaking notes that I would like to go through which highlights some of the activities associated with Access Nova Scotia and some of the undertakings that we are presently involved in.
By way of background, Access Nova Scotia goes back to about 1993, where there was a recommendation made to government to establish a number of one-stop information and service centres in Nova Scotia. Subsequent to that, in 1995, five Access Nova Scotia offices were opened in the province, at that time, under the direction of the Department of Economic Development. Those offices were located in Sydney, Truro, Kentville, Bridgewater and Yarmouth. Some of the background to that was that there was an emphasis and a wish at the time to provide more accessible service to citizens of Nova Scotia outside of the Halifax/Dartmouth area especially. That is sort of the basis for the selection of those sites.
The main service offerings within the Access Nova Scotia offices were associated with providing information on government programs and services and providing a source of referral to people as to where do I go to get this information, how do I access this program, et cetera. One of the main offerings that was extended to the Access Nova Scotia Centres was Registry of Joint Stocks companies information and access to that information, again in the rural areas so people are able to, if they were in business, seek out business name reservations or business name searches, again, in their local community.
Further to that, Business and Consumer Services was established in April 1996. The mission of Business and Consumer Services, at the time, was to develop and deliver innovative, convenient, quality service to customers and clients for the benefit of Nova Scotians. At that time, there were nine different organizations from seven different departments that were consolidated into the new Department of Business and Consumer Services. The department, at that time, included 700 people in 36 offices across the province. Access Nova Scotia was one of the entities that was then included in the Department of Business and Consumer Services, and one of the main initiatives of BCS, as it was referred to, was to continue the development of one-stop-shopping locations for customers and citizens across the province.
Some of the other organizations that were included in Business and Consumer Services at the time were Vital Statistics; Public Inquiries, which was a telephone inquiry service; the Registry of Joint Stocks; the Government Book Store; Consumer and Commercial Relations; the Provincial Tax Commission; the Registry of Motor Vehicles; and Financial Institutions.
So since 1997 Business and Consumer Services continued the establishment of Access Nova Scotia sites in Nova Scotia. In 1997, Access Nova Scotia centres were opened in Halifax and in Dartmouth. In 1998 a new site was opened in Sydney. Sydney had one of the original Access Nova Scotia offices but a new site was developed in Sydney which included the co-location of more government services and also in Antigonish in 1998. In 2000, just last fall, the Access Nova Scotia site in Yarmouth was again upgraded and moved to a new site in the Provincial Building in Yarmouth.
So Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations was established in October 2000 and that was basically the combination of parts of both Business and Consumer Services and Housing and Municipal Affairs. With the establishment of Service Nova Scotia, the department now has a presence in every county in the province, comprised of 49 different service locations in 32 communities. So there is broad representation right across the province. The department delivers 55 different programs in 10 major service areas, things like the Registry of Motor Vehicles, for instance. As a result of the distribution of offices, today 98 per cent of the population of Nova Scotia is within 50 kilometres of an office.
The department represents or conducts about 90 per cent of the basic consumer or public interaction with government outside of Health, Education and Community Services, but the majority of information requests and transactions conducted with government are handled through Service Nova Scotia.
Not to brag but I may be a little bit proud of some of our accomplishments. We certainly, in the customer satisfaction surveys that we do, rank consistently good marks in terms of meeting customers' expectations and satisfaction with the service provided. I think, as well, given the number of employees we have and the experience in service delivery, there is significant experience and expertise in terms of service delivery to the public.
In addition to the network of offices spread across the province, there are also a number of services available on-line today and I would just like to run through those quickly. There is extensive information available on the departmental website. So information about the programs and services offered and also certain forms that the public requires to do business can be downloaded and printed and then used to start their transactions. We have an automated, interactive voice response system, which is an automated telephone system which allows people to renew their vehicle registration using their credit card over the phone, 24 hours a day and that is quite convenient for customers and is used quite extensively in the process of renewing vehicle registrations.
There is a system available whereby insurance companies are able to obtain driver abstract information with the driver's permission, of course, on a real time basis so that really facilitates the process of administering insurance policies. Government publications, a wide range of publications are available for ordering on-line, again using a credit card to pay for them. There are subscriber services available whereby organizations or companies are able
to assess property records and topographical maps within Nova Scotia. My notes say coming soon, and that was as of Monday of this week, in Nova Scotia, you are now able to, on line through the Internet, renew vehicle registrations using a credit card to pay and request certain vital statistics certificates that people may need to obtain. That is actually coming within the next couple of weeks. Also, to change mailing address information, so again available on line. Coming soon, as well, is web access to Nova Scotia Business Registry information, so companies will be able to apply for certain registrations on-line and also renew certain business licenses and certificates. So that is coming in the near future.
I mentioned earlier we do a lot of work with customer surveys and customer research. The basis of service delivery organizations in most businesses or jurisdictions is to base what they are doing on what customers are looking for and what customers want.
Our research tells us that customers are looking for the ability to have one-stop shopping made available to them, with multiple services in one location. Really, looking for the seamless concept of doing business with government, and that can apply across different levels of government as well. The public doesn't always make the distinction between municipal or provincial or federal program offerings. Our research tells us that citizens are really looking for the same or higher quality than they might receive in the private sector, which is quite a challenge for us. Anecdotally, people will say we are already paying for the service, therefore we expect a good level of service to be provided.
Customers are looking for choice. They want to be able to do their business with government by mail, by phone, in person and, more and more we are finding these days, on-line. The bottom line: people, when they are dealing with government are looking for fast, friendly, knowledgeable, accurate and easy service. A tall order to be sure, but we are certainly making good progress in terms of meeting those requirements.
I would just like to speak then to some of the current initiatives we have underway within service delivery. Building on the presence that we have in every county across the province, we are looking at expanding the number of self-serve kiosk locations that we have. Currently, we have a self-serve PC and a phone connected to our call centre information service that is available in each of the original Access Nova Scotia sites. We are expanding that to some of our Registry of Deeds locations to ensure that we have that service available, again, in every county. Having an Internet-connected PC available in some of those offices will help facilitate the use of more of the on-line service offerings that we are providing. If someone doesn't have access to a computer at home, there will be a place to go within their community, hopefully, where they will be able to take advantage of the service offering through that location.
We are also extending our Registry of Motor Vehicles counter service beyond where we are today. We currently have 14 locations across the province where people are able to register vehicles in person or obtain a photo driver's license, which does require a visit to an
office to get the picture taken. We are expanding that to five other locations within Nova Scotia, on a part-time basis to start and then we will make decisions from there based on customer uptake. In terms of new locations, we are presently up and running in Shelburne, at the Registry of Deeds office, and also Guysborough, on a one-day-a-week basis. Our plan, by the end of March, is to be up and running in Liverpool as well. Again, this is the extension of some of the program offerings to other offices within the province.
We intend to add to the services available on-line. I mentioned some of the vehicle registration renewals, change of mailing address, Vital Statistics requests, and Nova Scotia Business Registry information, or all recent additions or items that are coming soon. We have plans to add to that menu of offerings in the future, and essentially ensure that we have information on all programs and services in all offices, or certainly as many as we can.
In terms of our customer service locations, again the objective is to provide access to a base level of services in all of our offices across the province. That may be accomplished through a combination of actually offering the service right on site - perhaps the transactions being able to be done right there in that office or providing information about the service there - perhaps a referral to another office where somebody may have to go to actually execute the service and, again, through our network of self-serve kiosk locations as well.
To that end, we are developing a facilities plan to make further decisions about what programs and services will be offered in each of our locations. Some of the things we need to consider in doing that is the customer demand for those services in each area, the availability of existing locations, the services offered there today, available space in some of our offices - some of them are on the small side and there is limited capacity for expansion - lease terms in some of our leased space, and certainly overall cost of any changes that we make in that area.
In the area of Internet service delivery, again, a real growing area, I think, and it will be largely driven by demographics as more and more people come of age to partake of the government's services, and having grown up on the Internet and the web people will be looking more and more for the availability of those services on-line. There are a number of ideas we have in mind for what we might do next. Some of them are things like being able to pay fines on-line; being able to pay certain fees that we have associated with the Registry of Motor Vehicles, like the fee associated with a new driver writing a learner's test, and perhaps being able to schedule a road test appointment, again on-line, providing a lot of convenience for customers and being able to do that at a time when it is convenient for them and quite often at home, when they are able to do that.
Just in terms of our general service delivery infrastructure, we are in the process of implementing credit and debit card acceptance at all of our locations. Credit cards are available in many of our locations today, as are debit cards. We are really looking to broaden that and be more consistent in our approach so that the majority of fees or payments that are
required can be made through either of those mechanisms at our locations. Consideration is also being given to the establishment of a business window, if you will, where we are able to concentrate some of the services required by businesses, and perhaps have a special window or transaction processing area for those services, just to provide a bit more of a business focus.
In summary, I would just like to say that I think we are making good progress in the area of service delivery in Nova Scotia. We are pleased that we receive high marks from our customers in terms of the satisfaction that they receive with the services provided. Certainly I think it is fair to say we are doing as well or better than many other jurisdictions. In fact, Access Nova Scotia has been recognized for the leadership work it has done in terms of managing its telephone inquiry service, the establishment of the access centres that we have in Nova Scotia, and certainly the work around the Nova Scotia Business Registry, there has been a lot of excellent work done in that area.
I think we have a good balance between the availability of in-person service and on-line service. Certainly the on-line service is a growing area. I think definitely our success rests with the abilities of our trained and knowledgeable employees who work in our offices across the province, handling upwards of 2 million customer interactions a year and really doing a good job with that. We are pleased with the progress we have made, and we are looking forward to continuing to build on that as we go forward. Thank you. That concludes my opening remarks.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, we will open up questioning, starting off with the NDP caucus, perhaps 20 minute rounds. Then we will apportion the remaining time. We will start with Mr. Dexter.
MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Thank you very much for being here this morning. I appreciate your taking the time to speak with us. I have some quite basic questions that I would like to try and work through. Did your budget go down from last year, over this year? I ask that question because I noticed that the net expenditures for the department, listed on Page 10, was $33,135,000 and that the budget estimate for 2000-01 was $31,201,000. Was it the case that you were over budget, or was it the case that your budget went down from 1999-2000 to 2000-01?
MR. POOLE: Yes, that is the case. The department budget was reduced by that amount, year over year.
MR. DEXTER: By that specific amount, was it? You are on budget this year?
MR. POOLE: Yes.
MR. DEXTER: You made a comment in your presentation which struck me as somewhat odd, and I would just like to get you to elaborate on it a bit. You said that the people of Nova Scotia seem to expect the same high-quality service as they receive in the private sector but that that is a challenge for you. I guess I wanted to know why you felt that was a challenge for you.
MR. POOLE: My comment around the challenge was, I think it is a challenge to meet customer expectations in any setting, whether you are private sector service provider or even within government. Customer expectations are quite high and customers aren't particularly forgiving if they have to wait longer than 10 minutes in an office, let's say, or their phone call is not answered immediately. I think the particular challenge for our area within government is to be able to meet the expectations of customers within, certainly, our fiscal setting which is one of restraint. We have to find innovative and creative ways to meet the demands of customers and also, just on the quality side, to ensure that our employees are well trained and able to deal with the requests of customers and to ensure that we meet the quality demands as well, to get it right the first time and to ensure when somebody approaches us that at the end of the transaction they're satisfied with all of the components of that; the timeliness of it, the quality, et cetera.
MR. DEXTER: Certainly, all the things you said makes sense, but you drew a distinction and you said specifically that they expect the same service as in the private sector, then you went on to say, that is a challenge for us. I am just trying to explore with you right now why you feel that it is a greater challenge to you than it would be to any business operating in the private sector.
MR. POOLE: I don't think I meant much more by that than what I commented on previously. I think certainly it has been challenging for our department as we have integrated more and more services that have come into the department. There is certainly challenging work around the integration required to do that. Many of the programs that we now have, going back a few years, were delivered within, let's say, their own department if you will. So when we bring those together under one department and then plan to deliver them through one office, there is a tremendous amount of integration required to make that happen: challenges in terms of training of staff to be able to deliver multiple programs; challenges associated with some of the systems we use to deliver those programs; and as well, the information systems. Again, I don't think my comment around the challenges were more in terms of the general challenge of delivering service in such an environment, again, with the expectations of customers being what they are.
MR. DEXTER: The reason why I have spent the time to ask you about these questions is because over the years, having served on municipal government and now in provincial government, I have become a little bit sensitive about our employees, both with the province and when I was with the city. In fact, the employees do a great job of delivering the service that they are paid to deliver. Their productivity levels, I believe, are as high as
anywhere in the private sector, but there is this myth, or at least there is almost an urban myth, at least in the way that that term is understood these days, that somehow government is always inefficient, always unable to deliver service on a timely basis. I don't think that is true and I am hoping what you are telling me now is that you agree with that?
MR. POOLE: Definitely, and in fact we are certainly very proud of the work we do in Service Delivery. I would go on to say that customer satisfaction with the service provided by employees, in particular, is very high. We give great marks in terms of our employees being friendly, knowledgeable and able to meet the requests that have been made of them. I believe our productivity numbers are very comparable as well to any other comparable organization anywhere.
MR. DEXTER: Good, which brings me to my next point. If we say we know the employees are working to their capacity and providing the service they are paid to provide, then the question that often comes up at my office is, why is there so darn much voice mail and so much of the press one to talk to whomever? People phone my office all of the time and say, why is it that I just can't get a human being on the end of the line when I call to ask a question? Surely, you must hear that over and over again.
MR. POOLE: Our experience with such systems is probably comparable to others in that there is not a high degree of tolerance for lengthy voice menus or voice prompting, you know, multiple layers, multiple selections. We use such systems with quite a lot of discretion, I think.
We do manage a telephone information centre. For some of the program offerings that are provided through that centre, there is a degree of voice prompting. We limit that to one or two choices and we do that only to help the caller get to the person they are looking for quickly. Our service level objectives around answering telephone calls - and we answer 700,000 or 800,000 telephone calls a year of a general inquiry nature through this operation - is that the vast majority of calls, 80 per cent to 90 per cent, are answered within 20 seconds, which is really an around-the-industry standard.
Given the ups and downs of telephone calls and the call volumes that we have, most organizations, you know, they don't try to staff the operations so that all calls are answered immediately. It is not really economically possible. Most organizations set that operation up around the concept that, well, perhaps we can have people wait on hold for a brief period of time. That is the way our operation works. And again, 80 per cent to 90 per cent of our calls are answered within 20 seconds, a short wait. And we really do limit the voice prompting that we use.
One of the common uses that we find, for instance, is that there are a large number of calls where people are simply calling to find out the location of an office or the hours that they are open. We find that if we make an offering up front that says, if you are interested in
this press 1, then the person can obtain the information they are looking for. They are satisfied, hopefully, and that shortens the wait time for somebody who needs to speak to a person. We try to use that though with as much common sense as we can and really stay away from deep layers or multiple phone prompting systems which, again, generally, people don't appreciate.
MR. DEXTER: Thank you. I wanted to raise that with you because it is something that I hear often from people that I come into contact with in my constituency. I accept your explanation. I guess it is going to be a continuing challenge in the future as we see more service delivery modes. I don't think we are finished yet, even with the Internet.
I wanted to explore with you just for a second something that came out of the Auditor General's Report. You probably followed, as many people did, the discussion of user fees that took place in this Chamber a short time ago. I asked you earlier what your budget was for this year and we agreed it was a little over $31 million. The Auditor General's Report points out that in licenses, permits and approvals alone you take in, in revenue, $64.7 million, more than twice the budget of the department. I guess what I wanted to know is if you could tell us how you set up your relationship between the fee that is charged and what it costs you to deliver the service.
MR. POOLE: It is a complicated equation, I acknowledge that. From a service-delivery perspective, the analogy I could make is that in many cases we are like a cash register, if you will, to the extent that when a permit or fee needs to be paid, we are the place where it can be paid. A majority of those fees and permits are then submitted to general revenue, so they are not really kept by our department, if you will. Many of those fees are collected on behalf of other departments.
MR. DEXTER: That gets to my point because what the Auditor General's Report says is that there are no government-wide policies, principles or practices related to user fees. So what you are telling me is that in your department, although you collect the user fee, you don't establish it?
MR. POOLE: In many cases, that's true. The fee can be established in another department and they may utilize Access Nova Scotia as the place where the fee is paid for convenience purposes to the customer.
MR. DEXTER: I'm not going to hold you to this, but could you tell me, roughly, what percentage of the permit fees or user fees are actually established by your department?
MR. POOLE: That is a really hard one for me to address. I don't want to guess at that. I can certainly look into that further and provide that information back to you.
MR. DEXTER: I would certainly appreciate receiving the information. I want to go on with this question because, of those that are established in your department, we would like to know - certainly, I would like to know - what rationale you use for establishing them, based on the concerns and questions that have been raised about user fees in this province, specifically around the potential for litigation around user fees as not being constituted in a proper fashion. I think it is something that bears a little bit of scrutiny.
Certainly, when I realized that you were coming here today, it was a thing that was kind of at the top of my list because I think people, when they get their driver's license and they pay that fee, what is foremost in their mind is, where is this money going? I think that's the same with any permit that has to be purchased. I think people would say, look, if my industry needs regulation, if we need to inspect the buildings of this operation, whatever it happens to be going on in and there is a cost associated with that, then they can understand the need to try to recover that cost, whether it is through taxation or whether it is through permits and fees. They would like to be able to know that that fee is, at least, transparent enough so that when they ask the question, what is it that this fee is going to fund, that there is some answer.
One of the observations that has been made in the Auditor General's Report is that there is no requirement for Service Nova Scotia to file an annual report. I guess I have jumbled a couple of these questions together but in follow-up, wouldn't that be the perfect opportunity in an annual report for you to be able to set forth these kinds of fees and an explanation as to the rationale behind them?
[8:33 a.m. Mr. James DeWolfe took the Chair.]
MR. POOLE: I think we can certainly provide further information on that. I would like to make the point, however - and this is not an attempt to avoid the question at all - that from the perspective of Access Nova Scotia or service delivery, we are not directly involved in the setting of the majority of those fees and permit charges. Those are established in the program area responsible for whatever program it is. For example - and it is a small example - hunting and fishing licenses are available through Access Nova Scotia offices. We sell those to the public upon request. The establishment of the fee and the determination of the fee is done through the Department of Natural Resources, for instance.
Again, I can provide further information on some of the fees that are the responsibility of Service Nova Scotia. Again, in many cases, those are managed through the area responsible for that particular program.
MR. DEXTER: But doesn't a hunter who buys a hunting licence ever ask Access Nova Scotia, what's this fee for? What am I supporting in this fee? Don't they ever ask that question to you?
MR. POOLE: Well, I'm not sure. I haven't been asked that question, but I take your point that people are interested in knowing what the basis is for the fee.
MR. DEXTER: When people come to you and pay the fee, it's great, the convenience is wonderful to be able to go to a particular place and obtain your permit but I think they also legitimately would be able to say in addition I want some information about this application and how you've arrived at the fee. Certainly it's not an onerous task for you to ask the other departments to supply you with information supporting the particular rate structure. Would it?
MR. POOLE: It's a good point, but to your question I can say it's not a question we are asked very often at all. Again, in the delivery of all the transactions that we do, it is not a common question.
MR. DEXTER: Just so I can wrap that up, you've said you would be prepared to go back and have a look at what percentage of fees are set in your own department and the rationale behind setting those fees and you said you'd be able to have a look at that. What I would ask you is, if you would agree to table through the Chairman of Public Accounts Committee that information so that all members of the committee could have a look at it.
MR. POOLE: Yes.
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: I am going to follow up on that if I could. Mr. Poole, apart from percentage fees that are set in your own department, could you give us some examples of fees that would be set within your department that Access Nova Scotia administers.
MR. POOLE: Yes, I can. Some of the fees associated with driver testing, for instance, and driver licensing, the photo licence fee itself, some of the fees associated with vital statistics registration and certificates, and some of the business licensing fees, I think, would be major categories that are determined within our own department. And those are areas for which we have program responsibility.
MR. EPSTEIN: Yes, that's the principle on which responsibility would go to your department. Can we go back to one of the points you made with us which emerged in your tracing of the history of the department. You made reference in your diagram that showed the functions of the Department of Business and Consumer Services earlier on. Can you just go through that circle with us and tell us which . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sorry to interrupt, but the time has expired for the NDP. Perhaps you could come back to that question. We'll turn our attention now to the Liberal caucus and Mr. MacKinnon, are you leading off?
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Yes, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I thank the good people from Service Nova Scotia for their presentation. I would like to go back, as Mr. Dexter would say, to some basic issues with some basic questions. You indicated that you receive approximately 700,000 calls a year, how many of those calls would be repeat calls because people can't get through to a voice rather than a recording?
MR. POOLE: In my opinion, it is a very low number. We are able to measure and monitor the telephone calls that come into our operation, and a couple of things that we monitor and have reporting on are first of all the number of busy signals that may be experienced from people trying to get through which, in our operation, aside from a few occasions during the year when things may be extremely busy. There are a few days a year, maybe the Tuesday after the long weekend in September, when you tend to be extremely busy on all fronts. Essentially our busy signals are practically non-existent. The standard that we set out to meet is no more than 2 per cent of callers would experience a busy signal. That is associated with capacity issues around the telephone system. So, the incidence of busy signals is very low.
The other aspect that we measure is for those callers, so they don't get a busy signal, they get a very simple voice prompting, let's say, then they may have to wait on hold until a customer service representative is available to serve them. We measure what we call abandonment, some callers will hang up while they are waiting on hold. Our objective is to ensure that that number does not exceed 3 per cent of callers. Again, we find that our abandonment rate is at 3 per cent or below, in terms of those people who may hang up while they are waiting on hold.
To the extent that the person hasn't realized that they have a wrong number or that they no longer want to do business with us, they are likely to re-call. Undoubtedly, any customers who abandon while waiting on hold will likely call back at a time when they may not need to wait. That number would be, in my estimation, very low; probably in the range of 2 per cent.
MR. MACKINNON: Do you have a tracking system to be able to monitor that, to find out, how you come up with that 2 per cent?
MR. POOLE: Yes, we do. We have quite a good system that we use to monitor, both from an historical basis what our call volumes were yesterday, how many calls arrived between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., how many between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. each day, for instance, and we have the wait times associated with that available to us on a reporting basis. The phone system we use also provides that information on a real-time basis. There is information available on a computer screen which allows the manager of that operation to determine if things are backing up a little bit, in which case we are able to perhaps redeploy some staff, et cetera, to meet the customer calling volume.
MR. MACKINNON: Since this new process was put in place - and obviously it was started under the previous administration and carried over under the present administration - your budget has shrunk somewhat. How many jobs have been lost as a result of these changes? Obviously there has been some reduction in employment. That was an issue in the last budget, I know we addressed it here in the House. In the last two years, how many jobs were eliminated as a result of the changes, or how many jobs, period?
MR. POOLE: In the service delivery division, which includes Access Nova Scotia, our labour budget included a provision for 312 full-time equivalent employees if you will, and in the current year that was reduced to 303. Our staff level within service delivery was reduced by 9 full-time equivalent positions.
MR. MACKINNON: How many out of the Sydney office? I can take that on notice as she is looking it up, and then we will move on to some other questions, if that is okay.
MR. POOLE: I don't believe there were any at the Sydney office in that number. No, there weren't.
MR. MACKINNON: No jobs? Are you sure? I know some individuals who are not working there now who were working there last year. We will just leave that on notice, and then we will move on to some others and perhaps come back to that.
MR. POOLE: Okay.
MR. MACKINNON: The user fees, in particular the Registry of Deeds - I use the Registry as an example because it is a facility I used quite regularly through my other life, registering documents and searching and so on - I understand that that process has been evaluated and there is a possibility that there will be an increase in the user fees. Do you have knowledge or information that you could provide to the committee on that?
MR. POOLE: I really don't on that topic. Again, from a service delivery perspective, I don't have the program responsibility for the Registry of Deeds. Also, I don't have any information available to me, at least on any changes being proposed there.
MR. MACKINNON: How many different user fees come directly under your purview that you would input into the design of what those user fees would be?
MR. POOLE: Directly within the Service Delivery Division, which is the division I am responsible for, very few.
MR. MACKINNON: How many; 5, 10, 15, 20?
MR. POOLE: Well, I don't think there are any directly within Service Delivery today. Within the department - and that is the number I committed to providing previously, in terms of fees established within the department - there are several. I mentioned Registry of Motor Vehicles, Vital Statistics, Consumer Commercial Relations and the Registry of Deeds fees would also be within the department, but again not within the area that I am responsible for. I am hard pressed to speak to those fee areas.
MR. MACKINNON: One thing, and maybe it is just a personal bias of mine, when you call any particular government agency it is always nice to have a nice, pleasant voice. I always find that with Service Nova Scotia, and more often than not it is because it is a female voice, it is a softer and gentler tone than if a man were on the other end. (Interruptions) I am being hard on the male gender here, I realize. Realistically that is not a negative, it is a real part of life. You have over 300 employees there. How many are male and how many are female?
MR. POOLE: I don't have that information available.
MR. MACKINNON: Would you give an undertaking to the committee to provide that?
MR. POOLE: Yes, we could provide that.
MR. MACKINNON: It is an unusual question, but it is very important because the point was made, 700,000 calls and you have a service menu there. The first thing that went through my mind, rightfully or wrongfully, was that when I call Service Nova Scotia I would like to talk to a person, I don't want to order some food. That is what goes through my mind, I didn't call to order something.
The other issue is with regard to this Red Tape Reduction Task force that was established last year, to establish a one-window access to government services. I guess the first question I would have is, did your department have any input into that task force and, if so, what?
MS. ROBYN MCISAAC: If you don't mind, I can answer that question for you. Prior to the Red Tape Reduction Task Force being set up, there was a Licence, Permits and Approvals Task Force, which was the LPA Task Force, that was led by Business and Consumer Services. A lot of the work that the LPA Task Force had completed will be continued by the Red Tape Reduction Task Force. As far as the department's involvement right now, in the set-up of the Red Tape Reduction Task Force, it was basically to turn over the work that the LPA group had done.
MR. MACKINNON: I understand from your comment that the Red Tape Reduction Task Force is continuing its mission. You say it is.
MS. ROBYN MCISAAC: I believe there was a task force set up under Voluntary Planning.
DR. JAMES SMITH: It was a make-work project for Tory backbenchers, that was the mission.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, that is true. Some would say it was a make-work project for Tory backbenchers. In an effort to eliminate redundancy and repetitiveness and double-tracking here, it seems like the task force would be doing what your department would be doing. Is that not correct?
MS. ROBYN MCISAAC: In terms of?
MR. MACKINNON: Finding ways to reduce duplication and service.
MS. ROBYN MCISAAC: I think that is probably a goal of all government departments internally, and the Red Tape Reduction Task Force working with outside partners to reduce red tape.
MR. MACKINNON: More specifically, what input did Access Nova Scotia have in the formulation of that particular report by the Red Tape Reduction Task Force? I looked at the different participants in there and I didn't see any representation per se from Access Nova Scotia, and I am just curious as to what input Access Nova Scotia had in that process.
MS. ROBYN MCISAAC: I don't know that Access Nova Scotia in particular was involved in that report.
MR. MACKINNON: Were they invited to provide any input or representation?
MR. POOLE: I can answer that. To my knowledge, I am not sure how the department was involved in that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: There is approximately eight minutes left.
MR. MACKINNON: I will turn it over to my colleague, Dr. Smith.
DR. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank our guests this morning. I think there has been a very positive development within our province and it has crossed both government's lines. The current government, I would like to feel, is still developing, and with what you say today, particularly moving to enhance the online service in various areas, it is a positive step. It is one we can be very positive on because we feel some ownership here.
The first question that came from Mr. Dexter, the private side versus public. I guess the way I would answer that myself, if I were in your shoes, is we get stuck doing a lot of things that private enterprise doesn't want to do or can't do. I think we see this in health care, some would say in public education and all these sorts of ways. I think you are there on the front lines. However, I complement you on the tracking. I know MTT, or whomever, can provide that information, but it is still trying to make a service. I always feel when I have gone, or my family, it is very positive; I often go to the Superstore area in Dartmouth on Portland Street which is next to my riding. Their calls will obviously go up because so many people are watching this this morning on television. (Laughter)
I don't have a lot of specific questions. I thank you for your presentation. I notice in there a couple of items that caught my attention, customer surveys. Have you done anything on Sunday shopping or access on off hours? Specifically, today, there was quite a bit of interest again in Sunday shopping. We have seen some surveys that I sometimes don't find that believable coming across our e-mails and others that this is a great thing and Nova Scotians are really crying for that. From your aspect in a customer service relationship, would you have a sense, or have you done anything specifically on this, in your surveys to do with Sunday shopping in Nova Scotia?
[8:55 a.m. Mr. Russell MacKinnon resumed the Chair.]
MR. POOLE: No, we have not specifically addressed that topic. Our hours of operation, generally speaking, are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. We are open in some of our locations across the province on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings until 7:00 p.m. That is primarily to provide people with an opportunity, in the sense that they have to visit our office for some of the things that they need, specifically the photo driver's license, and we like to make the opportunity for people to obtain those outside of the normal working hours. People are able to come in after work to get that activity done.
DR. JAMES SMITH: Do you have any impressions from the community or the front line on the movement towards Sunday shopping in Nova Scotia from the general public? I know some groups are very vocal in Nova Scotia and I think this is what the government has responded to. I think there is a silent majority out there, if you will, that does not favour Sunday shopping. You must discuss this in some areas. If it is personal then I don't mean to ask you that, I am not looking for your personal opinion, but you are an agency that is interacting with the public a great deal, do you have any feelings on that? Have you made any recommendations to government or anything like that?
MR. POOLE: No, we really haven't and again, it is not an area we have surveyed on or have any specific customer feedback on so I wouldn't really have anything to base any comments on.
DR. JAMES SMITH: Nobody comes in and says look, I wish you guys were open on Sundays?
MR. POOLE: I can't say that we have heard that.
DR. JAMES SMITH: Fuel rebate. We advised this government not to do what we did but they went and did it and then went and did it again, so I guess they are not prepared to take our advice but then that is probably wise. As well, that must have given you a bit of a hassle. I know I have had different calls to my constituency office on this particular matter. Do you want to comment on your experience with the fuel rebate, providing services to seniors who are trying to find their way through the system? What has been your experience?
MR. POOLE: The program has been delivered through our department. Our telephone information centre is able to provide the first line response to callers enquiring about the program, its availability, how they access it, et cetera. We received a large number of calls associated with that.
DR. JAMES SMITH: Do you know how many calls?
MR. POOLE: I am not sure of the exact number of telephone calls but we have approximately 23,000 or so applications received under the program.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Your time has expired. We will come back to Dr. Smith at a future time. I will now turn the questioning over to the PC caucus. Mr. Langille.
MR. WILLIAM LANGILLE: Mr. Chairman, I don't have a lot today but I just wanted to talk about Sunday shopping for a minute. I am not sure if Dr. Smith saw the announcement yesterday on Sunday shopping. There is no more Sunday shopping for at least four more years, so just in case you are going there . . .
DR. JAMES SMITH: That is no problem because we agree with . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
MR. LANGILLE: Not that there was, but there is not going to be Sunday shopping. Mr. Dexter brought up a good point about the telephone and getting voice mail. I left here a few minutes ago and went out in the lobby. The operator was contacted and gave me a number which I phoned and it rang 13 times. I then hung up and rang again and on the eighth ring a voice mail came on from the Department of Transportation. Obviously, it was a wrong number but it put me to another attendant which was another voice mail. The operator was recontacted and I received the right number. I want to say it rang once and it was answered, in person, on the first ring and I congratulate you for that because you are probably one of the few departments where it does ring once and is answered. I congratulate you for that.
A couple of things here, the service you provide, which is also being provided by other departments and I noticed in your opening remarks that one of them is topographical maps which I believe are now being provided by the Department of Natural Resources. The other one is fines collected, which would be provided by the Provincial Court.
How are you going to integrate this, and what is going to happen to these other departments as you go along and integrate them into Access Nova Scotia?
MR. POOLE: With respect to the topographical maps, I believe the maps originate with our Land Information Services Division. I think that is the area that creates the maps and manages the information associated with the maps. Those are certainly available through our Land Information offices in Nova Scotia. There is also an on-line subscriber service available, whereby people who have a need for regular access to that information or to the maps, maybe a forestry company or somebody who would really use those a lot, are able to access the maps and the information on them on-line through a subscriber service available through the department.
I understand these maps are available through other locations, perhaps Natural Resources. Some maps are also available through the Nova Scotia Museum system, et cetera. It is not really our intent to displace those other points of distribution at all. The other point you mentioned was . . .
MR. LANGILLE: Fines.
MR. POOLE: Fines, yes. I think that is a good example of the work we have done to broaden the opportunities for people to pay a fine, to the extent that somebody has a fine and it needs to be paid, typically that is done through the Justice courthouse. One of the things we have done recently, since last summer, was to make the payment of fines available through our Access Nova Scotia offices in Halifax, Dartmouth and Sydney.
The reason we did that was if somebody has an outstanding Motor Vehicle Act fine that they haven't paid, and the person comes to an Access Nova Scotia office, perhaps to renew their vehicle registration, they aren't able to do so until they have paid the fine. In the past that would have required a trip back to the courthouse to pay the fine and then back to Access Nova Scotia to obtain their permit. What we were able to do, working cooperatively with the Department of Justice, was to provide for, basically, payment of the fine at an Access Nova Scotia office. So two things happen: the fine gets paid and the person who owes the fine is able to make full payment and then complete their registry business.
I don't think we look to these things as being the exclusive distributor within Access Nova Scotia if you will, for fine payment or obtaining maps, but certainly we are looking for ways to broaden the opportunities for people to do their business with government and, again, going back to that one-stop experience, to be able to look after things under one location.
MR. LANGILLE: It is obvious that your department is expanding. What I am concerned about is duplicity when you expand. When will this be brought under control, the duplicity? Obviously if one department is providing topographical maps and another department and so on, when are you going to bring it under one umbrella? Is this a problem, or do you foresee this as a problem?
MR. POOLE: There will probably always be some exceptions, but certainly I think under the Department of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations today, we do speak of having upward of 90 per cent of the contact points with government. I think that is the main intention we are working towards. With respect to the topographical maps, certainly the production of the map, the creation of the map and the main points of distribution is managed through Service Nova Scotia. Again, to the extent that those maps are also available through other locations, I don't think that is problematic at all, it is probably convenient for the people who need to have access to them.
We are doing a lot of work on an ongoing basis with all departments within government. We do view ourselves as being sort of the service delivery entity, if you will, on behalf of government. We are working with other departments to help deliver programs on their behalf. If it involves answering of telephone calls associated with a program, especially the general calls, what is the nature of the program? How do I get access to it, if it involves the sale of a permit or a licence or the provision of other information about the program? We see ourselves as being able to provide that efficiently and on behalf of another department, and really do that quite cost-effectively. Those discussions are ongoing.
I mentioned the hunting and fishing licences as an example of some of the co-operative work that has been undertaken between two departments. That allows the Access offices to be used as one more point of contact where people can conveniently obtain those permits. Again, those discussions are ongoing with other departments.
MR. LANGILLE: Again, I just brought out the mapping and the fines as examples. I am sure that there are other areas too. The other thing is, with your expanding department and so on, and I am looking at Truro as an example because I know Truro, and I know that the transportation and licensing and so on is in another location in Bible Hill right now. I look at the office space that you have in Truro. With your expansion, how are you going to address this problem with the lack of office space? Where are you going to put your department? Obviously when it reaches maximum, you probably won't be able to have your offices where the majority of them are now.
MR. POOLE: I don't have an answer specific to Truro today, but one of the things we are doing is working to develop a facilities plan. Truro is a good example of an area where we have more than one office. We have our Access Nova Scotia location on Commercial Street, Truro. Our Registry of Motor Vehicles services are delivered through the Department of Transportation building in Bible Hill. Our plan is to, again, consider customer demand for services in that area, the space requirements that come from that, existing leases that we have, also the availability of space in the Department of Transportation building. For instance, our objective is to work within that and then make facilities decisions from there.
Clearly one of the things customers are telling us they are looking for is the ability to do things in one location, so that would be ideal. Certainly we have to look at that situation and make prudent financial decisions around what we do in a community like Truro.
MR. LANGILLE: I agree with you. I agree that it should be under one location. I also think that we should have a Provincial Building wherever possible so that we can bring all the departments into one location. That would take in Environment, Natural Resources, all the departments which would certainly make it easier for the citizens of Nova Scotia, where this is practical. I believe Truro is a prime example where this would be practical. I look at all the offices and the departments spread out in that specific area, and again I am only relating to that area because I am not familiar with some of the other areas of Nova Scotia. At this time I would like to turn it over to Mr. Carey.
MR. JON CAREY: For information perhaps, the red tape task force is still ongoing. Its purpose, of course, was to gather information and to use it, and it did gather some good information from citizens throughout the province. Perhaps Dr. Smith could get on that committee and then he would be better informed.
One of the concerns that came up was people wanted to be able to be navigated, if that is a term I could use, when they were getting permits or whatever. They would have liked to have had one person, if they could, because people, as you indicated, don't know if it is municipal, federal or in some occasions they are not aware. They would like to have a person be able to help them go through. I think we are working on trying to reduce the number of permits, and so on, that are required to do things. But could you indicate where that is going and if there is progress being made in trying to get personal help for people to get through programs that they find difficult?
MR. POOLE: I think, certainly, one of the things that we have done in the department in the recent past is with the establishment of the Nova Scotia Business Registry. It is a great step forward in terms of simplifying the process required for businesses when they register. This is really, I think, too, a piece of work that is sort of leading edge on anything that exists within Canada right now.
When a new business needs to start up, at least three of the main things that are required are registration with the Registry of Joint Stocks, which is within our department. Also, typically, registration with workers' compensation and registration with - what used to be Revenue Canada - the CCRA, for the obtaining of a business number. From the perspective of a business, this would often require three different stops to three different offices to essentially provide the same information three times, and it was recorded separately three times. So working co-operatively with workers' compensation and CCRA, the department played a leadership role in the establishment of the Nova Scotia Business Registry.
The process now is that a business intending to register for the first time is able to provide the information at one point of contact. What they call tombstone information or key information associated with that business is recorded once, it is recorded in one spot and then the three organizations are able to use that information to do the registrations that are required for those three lines of business.
I think that is, I guess, a good example of what I would see as the work that has been done to make some of the processes simpler for business.
In addition to that, we are, as I mentioned earlier, launching that NSBR process, the business registration process, making it available on the Internet within the next few months. So, again, that will be another step further in terms of extending the accessibility of a business that needs to go through that process.
In terms of helping a business sort of understand what permits they may need, I think we are true to the original intent of Access Nova Scotia, which was to provide that first point of contact and to be able to provide that information and guidance that is required, in terms of what steps people need to do to register a business, what permits they might receive, et cetera. That information is available today in our offices, including access to the Registry of Joint Stocks information and, also, through our call centre. Again, more and more of the information is available on-line through the Internet. Those are examples of some of the things that we have underway in terms of helping businesses get access to the information that they need.
MR. CAREY: You talked, for example, in your report about the distance between the different departments of Access Nova Scotia. Some of the red tape commission information found that Shelburne, for example, felt they were underserved, and I am pleased to see that that now has been rectified. Do you feel the number is correct at this time, or is there a plan to have more in place or to expand the service to other areas that are not presently within, what I think you said, the 30 kilometre range?
MR. POOLE: Well, the emphasis that we are putting right now is on further establishing the presence that we have available in every county. Again, some of the things we are doing there around the Registry of Motor Vehicles, for instance, we have offices in 13 counties now, 14 offices in 13 counties. We want to ensure that we have that in-person counter service available in all counties.
Again, starting this month in Shelburne, Guysborough and in Liverpool, we will be establishing that Registry of Motor Vehicle counter-service on a one-day-a-week basis to begin and we will take it from there. We also plan, in the near future, to look to establish a similar service in Hants County and also in Richmond County. Again, we are still in the process of looking for suitable space, et cetera.
I think it is also noteworthy, in the Shelburne, Guysborough and Liverpool areas, we are locating in our Registry of Deeds offices, which are located in turn in municipal buildings, so it is an excellent opportunity for us to partner with the municipalities in those areas and to be sharing facilities. Again, just to provide that convenient location for people in those communities to go to, to have their business looked after.
Again, with the emerging demand for on-line services, we are launching more and more information and services available through the Internet. One of the things that we are doing to make that more accessible as well is the establishment of our self-service kiosks, again, where there is an Internet-connected PC, a telephone and some commonly used brochures and forms available on-site. Those are currently available in seven counties; eight offices in seven counties, previously, and we are expanding that network to include all counties over the next several weeks. Some of these things we are doing to make the services more available to more communities.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have 19 seconds. (Laughter)
MR. CAREY: I guess I will pass on that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. We will now turn it over to the NDP caucus. We will go on, perhaps, 13 minute rounds. That will take us up to closing time. Mr. Epstein.
MR. EPSTEIN: Mr. Chairman, when we left off a few minutes ago, I was just asking if you could let us know which of the functions listed in the Department of Business and Consumer Services diagram that you showed to us earlier are still functions that are now in the department. Are all of those current?
MR. POOLE: The Government Book Store is - we now refer to that as Government Publications. We no longer have the book store facility on Granville Street as a retail outlet. The Financial Institutions unit has moved to the Department of Environment and Labour.
MR. EPSTEIN: In fact, it was exactly those two that I wondered about. Let's just look at the Government Book Store. You are now calling it Government Publications, did I hear you correctly?
MR. POOLE: Yes, that's right.
MR. EPSTEIN: Can you tell me what that actually means now, now that there is no actual outlet with a display? I wonder what the current state of play is with respect to what kind of information is being published and what kind of information is available to the public. Can you give us a bit of an overview of that?
MR. POOLE: The book store facility on Granville Street, as a retail outlet, was closed at the end of October of last year. Essentially, that was a point of distribution that was used by other government departments to distribute materials. Essentially, to my knowledge, all of the publications are still available, still being - well, to the extent they are still being used by the departments which own them. They are available for purchase on-line through our Government Publications site. People needing those publications can obtain them through the website using a credit card to order the publication and it is sent out to them. They are also available for distribution through the home departments as well.
MR. EPSTEIN: Well, I think what I really wonder is, are we engaged in a liquidation process? Is it a question of ceasing to publish new information and simply getting rid of back stock? Is that the function that we are looking at now? Or are there government departments still engaged in the process of actively publishing new data that will be available?
MR. POOLE: Well, as far as I know, there was no change to the decisions around whether the document needed to be published. So, yes, departments are still compiling and publishing the information that they want to make available. Any of the inventory that was on-site at the book store was either sold or returned to the department which owned it.
MR. EPSTEIN: So how does that work then? I thought that this was still one of your functions in Access Nova Scotia. People can't order through Access Nova Scotia?
MR. POOLE: Well, yes. What remains within Access is the responsibility. We are administering the website, if you will, for the ordering of the publications, but we don't manage the inventory at this point. The inventory is actually distributed through our postal services section within government.
MR. EPSTEIN: So you would take orders and then pass them on to the department where the documents or maps are stored, is that right?
MR. POOLE: Yes, that's right.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, all right. I know this kind of decision to close the outlet would not have been your personal decision. I am just going to go on record as saying how profoundly misguided I thought that was. It seems a very useful and long-standing function to have had a display of the government materials. People do like to browse and it was, I think, quite an effective draw for people.
In any event, let me ask you a couple of other questions. I see a reference to Atlantic Canada Online. Is that something that you have some responsibility for being involved with?
MR. POOLE: Not so much responsibility but we certainly use the services of Atlantic Canada Online to deliver many of our Internet services.
MR. EPSTEIN: Can you just explain what it is?
MR. POOLE: There is a fair amount of history associated with Atlantic Canada Online so I will attempt to be brief. Again, I have a limited knowledge of the arrangement.
Essentially, Atlantic Canada Online goes back to an agreement that was made in the Atlantic Provinces to endeavour to make more information and services available electronically through the Internet. That was an agreement and as much as a commitment, as anything, going back several years.
MR. EPSTEIN: That sounds like a piece of your mandate. Isn't that really part of your mandate, to move towards electronic availability of information?
MR. POOLE: Well, certainly, it is, yes. The relationship with Atlantic Canada Online - when we reach the point where we would like to provide a particular information or transaction available on-line, we are able to use Atlantic Canada Online as a mechanism to make that happen. For instance, the process of renewing a vehicle registration, we utilize the services of Atlantic Canada Online as a service provider to facilitate that transaction.
MR. EPSTEIN: The description that I read in the business plan of the department refers to co-operation among the four Atlantic Provinces but in co-operation, as well, with a private partner. In this case, Unisys, which I gather must be the company that sets up the actual linkage.
MR. POOLE: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: What is not clear to me is what forms of information do the four Atlantic Provinces try to either provide on a uniform basis or co-operate with each other in cross-checking? I am not sure what is actually at the heart of this. That is the problem, when I read this paragraph in the business plan. It is not clear to me exactly what we are talking about here.
MR. POOLE: Well, I think the basis of the arrangement is a partnership agreement with the Atlantic Provinces and also the service provider, Unisys. I think a couple of examples - and again, I don't have complete familiarity with these, but I think the work done with the Personal Property Registry is something that exists in each of the provinces and I think a similar format was used, the Personal Property Registry being established on-line in Nova Scotia, I believe was the model used in other provinces. The same with the on-line accessibility for insurance companies to obtain driver insurance abstract information. Again, it's a transaction that would occur in Nova Scotia and also in other provinces, so I believe that is now available in New Brunswick as well, as examples of the types of partnerships and the outcomes that might occur.
MR. EPSTEIN: So is the underlying thought that as well as having some kind of one- stop shopping for individuals that relate to Nova Scotia provincial information, there are certain classes of information for which one-stop shopping would relate to Atlantic Provinces information?
MR. POOLE: I don't know if that's the case, I think it's fair to say that the experience in Nova Scotia is very similar to the experience in other jurisdictions, if you will. Process of registering vehicles for instance occurs in many jurisdictions so, what makes sense in Nova Scotia no doubt makes sense in New Brunswick in terms of an on-line application. The benefits associated with that in terms of a partnership would be that, well to the extent there were common applications it would make sense to work with a private sector partner on an Atlantic Provinces basis so that certain economies might occur in the delivery of the service, not avoiding the duplication of the same investment in each province.
MR. EPSTEIN: I'm still perhaps at a bit of loss in trying to understand this. Would an example be a truck registration, if a commercial vehicle was operating throughout the Atlantic Provinces that they might be able to register and get all their licensing done at once or is there something else you have in mind? I have to say as you've described it, it sounds to me like a method for the four provinces to compare their own forms and how they do business, less than a customer-oriented or client-oriented service.
MR. POOLE: Well, certainly with the process of registering a commercial vehicle that is, in fact, the case for a commercial vehicle that is registered in home-province Nova Scotia that is travelling to other jurisdictions, it is possible to look after all the registration process in the home province and then the registration process is shared among the provinces that vehicle may travel through. That is not necessarily through Atlantic Canada Online.
[9:27 a.m. Mr. James DeWolfe took the Chair.]
MR. EPSTEIN: Then I am completely puzzled, maybe we'll leave this because its taking a lot of time to sort out. I am still left a little puzzled as to what it is. Can I ask you about the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency interaction here? I was quite amazed to see
the statement in the business plan that fuel and tobacco taxes that are both federal and provincial, that are built into the same product, in this case tobacco and fuel, obviously, are collected separately by the federal and provincial agencies, and there seems to be an initiative to try to work out something more efficient. Can you just tell us if there has been any advance in that?
MR. POOLE: I am not personally familiar with the status of that particular initiative. I know there were discussions underway with CCRA regarding the collection of those taxes, where they were collected both at the federal and provincial level. I can provide the committee further information on that subsequent to the session in terms of an update on where those particular discussions are.
MR. EPSTEIN: This isn't part of your direct responsibilities in that case then is it?
MR. POOLE: No, it's not.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, sorry, they were outside your area. One of the things I wondered about was the statement that there are now Access Nova Scotia locations of some sort in each of the counties, it wasn't clear to me when you went through the progression on just how that occurred. When I look at the list of Access Nova Scotia locations, again at the end of the business plan, there seems to be eight or nine of them rather than the 18 counties I think we have. What exactly do you mean by the statement that there are outlets or points of access in each of the counties? Could you just let us know what that means?
MR. POOLE: Where we are today with that - I think the statement is 49 offices in 32 communities - those aren't necessarily Access Nova Scotia offices, those are Service Nova Scotia offices. It may be that, for instance in Guysborough County the office we would speak to there today would be a Registry of Deeds office located in Guysborough. It is in fact an office location within that county. Our initiative is to then look to expand the range of services that we can provide through that location, doing things like providing Registry of Motor Vehicle services in addition to the Registry of Deeds services. That is the path we are on now, to look to expand the utilization of the offices we have, again based on customer demand and that sort of thing, to look to add to the range of services available.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Time has expired. We will now turn to the Liberal caucus. Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Poole, what changes did Access Nova Scotia make as a result of some of the recommendations from the red tape task force, besides softer voices, or anyone from the department for that matter?
MR. POOLE: I really don't have any specific information on what has been done in Service Nova Scotia since the task force report, but that is an item that I can provide additional information on, subsequent to this session.
MR. MACKINNON: Has anyone from the department read the red tape task force recommendations, that you know of?
MR. POOLE: Yes, we have received the report.
MR. MACKINNON: I know you have received it, but that wasn't my question. Have you read it?
MR. POOLE: Yes, the report has been received and read.
MR. MACKINNON: You have read it yourself?
MR. POOLE: Yes, I have read the report.
MR. MACKINNON: So you would know what recommendations have been made. Is that correct?
MR. POOLE: To the extent that I recall reading the report, yes.
MR. MACKINNON: Okay, so you would at least have a fairly good working knowledge of what changes were made in the department as a result of those recommendations. Is that not correct?
MR. POOLE: Within the department, I believe the report is still under review in terms of assessing the recommendations that were made within the report.
MR. MACKINNON: What you are telling me is that no changes to date have been made as a result of recommendations from the red tape task force. Is that what you are saying? If it is still being considered and reviewed, then no changes have been made as a result of the recommendations. Is that correct?
MR. POOLE: I am not sure in terms of the ongoing work that we are doing, in terms of how many of those items would relate to the task force recommendations, but I know our department staff is preparing a report in terms of a response to the task force recommendations, and it is under consideration in terms of how we work to meet those recommendations.
MR. MACKINNON: What you are saying is any changes that have been made are changes that would have been recommended or initiated within the department regardless of what the red tape task force would have had; that is essentially what you are saying.
MR. POOLE: No, I didn't say that.
MR. MACKINNON: I think we know what the answer is, we might as well just move on.
The government last year undertook an extensive review of programs and different agencies, boards, commissions and government departments. Did you or anyone from your department make recommendations to the ministerial level as to what changes you would foresee in making your department more effective, more cost-efficient, and otherwise would have been included in or would have at least contributed to that program review?
MR. POOLE: Well, certainly our department staff contributed to the program review process . . .
MR. MACKINNON: You made some recommendations?
MR. POOLE: One of the items I would use as an example of coming out of that work would be the work previously discussed around the Government Bookstore, to the extent that that was a program we looked at. We certainly made recommendations that we could deliver that program differently and those changes were incorporated into the budget plan last year.
MR. MACKINNON: Any other recommendations?
MR. POOLE: Certainly within my area of responsibility in terms of service delivery, the bookstore was probably the main area that we looked at.
MR. MACKINNON: Were there any other areas that you looked at?
MR. POOLE: Not within the service delivery area.
MR. MACKINNON: It wasn't the main one, it was the only one. If there were no others, it can't be the main, it is the only one.
MR. POOLE: I guess to the extent that the process included the department looking at all of the programs it was responsible for. I can really only speak to the changes that were made as a result of that. The example I would use in the service delivery area would be the bookstore.
MR. MACKINNON: But that was the only recommendation that you made. Do I understand that correctly? Perhaps one of ladies in the department could answer the question, a softer, gentler touch. (Interruptions) He knows we are just having a little fun here.
MR. POOLE: If a program is not changed, then perhaps that is a recommendation in and of itself, that the program remain intact.
MR. MACKINNON: Excuse me, you are not answering my question. My question is, is that the only recommendation you made? Yes or no.
MR. POOLE: In terms of service delivery, yes. The only recommendation for change that we made was to the Government Bookstore process.
MR. MACKINNON: Were there any other recommendations? Can anyone from your department tell me if there were any other recommendations made?
MR. POOLE: There were no other recommendations made within the service delivery area.
MR. MACKINNON: Perhaps I will ask one of the two representatives to your right. Do you know of any recommendations that were made? (Interruption) Not Ms. McIsaac, Ms. Frizzell and Ms. Smith.
MS. KATHY SMITH: There were other recommendations made, but they didn't go forward.
MR. MACKINNON: Can you tell us what they were?
MS. KATHY SMITH: They would have been included in the recommendations that went forward to Cabinet. I couldn't tell you specifically what they were at this time.
MR. MACKINNON: Can you tell me generally what they were?
MS. KATHY SMITH: No, not at this time but we could get that information for you.
MR. MACKINNON: Would you give an undertaking to the committee that you will provide that?
MS. KATHY SMITH: Certainly.
MR. MACKINNON: I will turn this over to my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Dr. Smith, four and one-half minutes.
DR. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Chairman, the earlier comment about the insurance companies accessing information on driver's licenses and that, can you be more specific there? What sort of access do they have on that? How do they access it? Can you just explain that process a little bit? I want to get at the idea of confidentiality and privacy issues here. As we move more on-line - and I know we don't have a lot of time, but just specifically on that issue - just explain how they access the system, what they are able to retrieve, and then maybe some other things you are doing to preserve privacy. I know you do debt counselling and all the other issues so you are dealing with some fairly sensitive privacy issues here. What safeguards are in place on the on-line as you are expanding that out to all parts of the province, which is a good thing, but what is being built into the department, and more specifically on the initial issue I asked you on the insurance companies.
[9:41 a.m. Mr. Russell MacKinnon resumed the Chair.]
MR. POOLE: First off, in the process of selling insurance policies, especially for drivers, one of the key pieces of information that the insurance companies like to look at is the driver insurance abstract, the driver's record. So, my understanding of the process is that if a potential client is visiting their insurance company office to get a price on some insurance, that they are sitting across the desk from the agent who is gathering information from them, et cetera, one of the pieces of information they would ask for is a copy of the driver record from the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Going back in time, that information would be obtained by the driver, perhaps; they would get it by visiting an office or they would get a copy of that and deliver it to the insurance company.
One of the things the insurance companies wanted to know if they could have, would be direct access to this information. The whole thing is predicated on having the driver's permission to check the driver abstract, as an alternative to an individual providing their own abstract, with the driver's permission, usually in writing for the insurance company to gain direct access to the Registry of Motor Vehicles for the driving record, they can obtain it.
With that done, the insurance companies are now able to go through a system they have access to on a subscriber basis, so it is very tightly controlled in terms of access. This is not a system that is available generally speaking through the world wide web, this is a direct access subscriber service. The insurance company, while they are still dealing with their potential client based on the driver's master number and their permission, is able to make an inquiry against the Registry of Motor Vehicle driver record system and obtain the person's driver insurance abstract in close to real time.
DR. JAMES SMITH: How does Access Nova Scotia, in that situation, know that that is an informed consent that has been given by a potential client of the insurance companies? I guess that's where I'm at. Whenever everything starts being on-line, the legitimacy of signed documents and copies and all that sort of thing, how does Access Nova Scotia ensure itself that there is a legitimate informed consent given by the client?
MR. POOLE: One of the first things we do, first of all, insurance companies have a contract with the department for the use of this service, and the terms and conditions of . . .
DR. JAMES SMITH: Do you sell that service, do you get money for that? Is that income, revenues?
MR. POOLE: There is a fee for the driver's insurance abstract.
DR. JAMES SMITH: So you are actually selling information on Nova Scotian residents who have driver's licenses, you are selling that information?
MR. POOLE: There is a cost to produce the driver insurance abstract, so the fee is associated with the cost to produce the abstract.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Now, we will turn the remaining time over to the PC caucus and we will start off with the member for Pictou East, Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, I too want to welcome the members of Service Nova Scotia here today. Earlier, your own words were that we are in a period of fiscal restraint, but I am very pleased to see that Service Nova Scotia is moving forward with respect to service initiatives. I can see, and I think you might agree, that there are ways to improve service delivery plus cost-cutting measures during this period of restraint. I think in my mind the electronic marketplace is one of those areas where the service can and has been improved to all Nova Scotians. Would you agree with that and is it indeed a way of cost-cutting that service provider?
MR. POOLE: Yes, I would. I think also in our opinion it is as much about providing additional choice to citizens and the public as it is about saving money. Certainly the availability of information and transactions, whether it is over the phone or whether it is on-line, which implies accessibility basically seven days a week, 24 hours a day, is very much about convenience and about choice.
There is also no question that in terms of the economics around delivering certain service transactions on-line on almost a self-serve basis are certainly very positive and can, in fact, be much more economical than delivering the same service in person where the costs of a building and labour and other overheads are associated with that. I would like to think it accomplishes two things in that certainly the more services we establish on-line or on an automated basis provide an additional level of convenience and access to customers and also represents a more economical channel, if you will, in terms of providing that same service.
MR. DEWOLFE: I suppose it is too early to tell, do you have some checks and balances built into this system relating the goals of Service Nova Scotia with the results? Perhaps you could put some of your goals into context for us here. What goals do you have for down the road and perhaps down the road you can come back here with some of the result indicators of how well we are doing?
MR. POOLE: Well, certainly in terms of some of our goals, the number one goal we have as a service delivery organization is to achieve a level of customer satisfaction. So ultimately, if we are in the service business, one of the real yardsticks is what do our customers think of us. After they are finished doing business with us, are they pretty well satisfied with the way things went or do they feel otherwise? We set a service level objective of having 85 per cent of our customers satisfied or very satisfied with the overall service experience, not that we don't aspire to 100 per cent, but we feel that 85 per cent is a reasonable objective to set out. In the measurement that we do, and have done historically, we find we are able to meet that objective in terms of the timeliness of the service, the accuracy of the service, did the person get done what they wanted to get done and the friendliness of employees. Friendly, knowledgeable employees are one of the main things that we do.
Some of the other measures that we use, I mentioned them earlier in the context of the phone service, is to ensure that we say things like having the majority or 80 per cent of our telephone calls answered within 20 seconds but again to ensure that people are able to get quick and easy access to the information that they are looking for through the phone. For people who come to one of our walk-in locations, we would endeavour to have people wait no more than 10 minutes to get the service that they are looking for. So again some of the seasonality we have, if things are busier in the summer than in the winter, for instance, we need to be able to meet that objective. Those are some of the things we have set out.
In relation to some of the on-line experience, it is interesting that the on-line vehicle registration process that we just started up as of Monday this week so it is a little early to call it an overwhelming success yet. We are very pleased with the results we have seen on that, even to date. Measurement of what we do is very important to us so even when we launch that program, we ensured that in addition to being able to complete the vehicle transaction, there is also an opportunity for the person to fill out a survey form right on-line. So that is an option that is available to them and a few simple questions are asked. Did you find the service easy to use? Would you suggest any changes?
So even in the first couple of days that we have been up and running, we found that a number of people have gone in and used the service and they have gone on to use the survey and have had just overwhelmingly positive feedback on the availability of that and how well it worked for them. We would like to set an objective and also provide a way to measure our progress against it so we can demonstrate our success but also identify areas where we may need to improve in future.
MR. DEWOLFE: I am one of them, I have to say, and I think that many Nova Scotians are still fearful of the electronic marketplace and it is going to be some time probably before we all feel comfortable with it, concerned about putting our credit card numbers into computers and so on. Technology is somewhat blurring in my mind. Do you have any time frame where you feel that Nova Scotians will become more comfortable in using this type of system?
MR. POOLE: Well, some of the numbers you see published would indicate that Nova Scotians don't take a back seat to anybody in terms of Internet usage and familiarity and comfortableness with technology. One of the things that we have had available for many years now is the ability to renew a vehicle registration using your credit card over the phone, using an automated system. We find that 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the eligible transactions are completed in that fashion. So there is a pretty strong component of the population that are there now that are comfortable with technology to that extent. We are able to compare ourselves to the uptake in other jurisdictions in terms of the use of technology and how receptive people will be in terms of taking advantage of on-line mechanisms and using the credit cards and such. We can expect customer use in the 20 per cent to 25 per cent range I think pretty comfortably.
I know some of the research that we have done through our survey work would ask that question. Today in Nova Scotia 25 per cent of our customers have indicated that they would quickly take advantage of on-line processes available to do their transactions with government. I think we have a great place to start with that. Probably, over time, given the demographics in the province, as more and more people come up through the school system and are more familiar with the technologies out there, they probably will be a whole lot more receptive to using these tools.
MR. DEWOLFE: I want to thank you. The data reporting to this committee is important and it is also important to the public but how we do business here in Nova Scotia is also very important. I am pleased that you are moving forward with new initiatives. I have just written a mission statement or a vision statement for you and I hope that it is one that you can follow. Your vision should be to be best at what customers value. On that I will pass to my colleague, Mr. Barnet.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Barnet.
MR. BARRY BARNET: Mr. Poole, first of all let me start by complimenting your staff on what I believe is a job well done. I have had the opportunity, as well as constituents have had the opportunity, to have issues resolved and I want to point out a particular staff person, a Mr. Porter, who works in Access Nova Scotia in Halifax, who went above and beyond his role to resolve some issues with respect to constituents. He does a fine job. I have not actually met this guy but, quite frankly, I was very impressed by his ability to serve the constituents of Nova Scotia.
We all, particularly in metro, remember the days of Young Street, the two hour and three hour waits for registering your motor vehicle where you actually came in pairs and you shifted off. One person would do the first hour and the next person would do the second hour. Things have changed, in terms of getting your registration of your motor vehicle, drastically over the last 15 years to 20 years.
This is not intended, by any stretch of the imagination, as a complaint but simply I guess a point of interest. I know that I, myself, and others have gone to Access Nova Scotia to have their vehicles registered. We noticed at lunch time, when the majority of people are taking their lunch hour break, that there appear to be wickets that aren't operated. The lineup tends to spike at lunch time because everybody is taking their lunch hour to get their vehicle registered. Is there any movement or ability for us to try to provide service when the client is coming, particularly at lunch time?
MR. POOLE: That is an excellent point. Certainly we are doing a lot of work with our staffing models, if you will, to ensure that we have the right number of people available at the right time to meet the demands of customers. In our offices we use a numbering system that also provides us with information about how many people have come to the office, at what time of the day, how long they have waited and that sort of thing. That gives us a pretty good profile in terms of what we can expect by way of demand, by way of the influx of customers. That is what enables us to know things like our activity starts to pick up in April and continues on through October, generally speaking busier in the summer than in the winter, typically busier at the end of the month than in the middle of the month, and busy at noontime.
What we do is take that information and try and line up our staff work schedules against that. We find that things like the use of full-time staff throughout the day, but also being able to augment that with the use of part-time staff over the noontime hours is a really big help as, it allows us to deal with the customers as they come in at lunch time, and build from there.
MR. BARNET: That is good. I think I have about 30 seconds left, and I have one more point to make with respect to your numbering system. I have had constituents convey to me their concern about the way that it works. They pick a lineup to go in and they happen to have chosen the wrong lineup. Would it be wise maybe during certain periods of time to have a greeter or somebody to help channel the people into the right lineup? We have also had complaints where people have simply picked the shortest lineup, said I will take that one or take in two and whichever one comes up first is where they go, people who have taken a lineup and actually had to go back to the bottom end of the next lineup. Is there something we can do in terms of providing a greeter or some signage to better channel people in the right direction?
MR. POOLE: We are doing that at busy times - and again it is an excellent point - on a busy day as many as 1,500 customers come into an office like Access Halifax with maybe 10 different things that they might need to have done. It is a little bit complicated to get the right mix of numbering choices and lineups available, but certainly the use of a person to help assist is a great suggestion.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That concludes today's questioning - I heard one of your colleagues suggest perhaps a greeter similar to Walmart, with a friendly smile. It is always good to look at the light side of things - I would like to thank Mr. Poole, Ms. Smith, Ms. Frizzell and Ms. McIsaac for appearing and assisting all members of the committee in being better informed on your activities and answering our questions. I would also recognize Mr. Alan Horgan, he is from the Auditor General's office. We always have the Auditor General's office in attendance.
Next week we will be having representatives from the Resource Recovery Fund Board in. As well, I would ask all members of the committee, the various caucuses, to bring a list of potential witnesses. Our list is getting a little thin, although we are all set up for the next couple of weeks. As you know, we have to have a good supply of witnesses to come before the committee. As well, with the permission of the committee, I would like to table with the Clerk our annual report for the year 1999-2000. It is one that we have edited quite extensively and all members have signed off, noted on the last page. All members of the committee will receive a copy before we leave.
With that, the meeting is adjourned, unless there is any other business. So noted.
[The committee adjourned at 10:00 a.m.]