Letter to the Editor on Paul Samyn's COVID-19 Email Introduction on Service Canada Employees

Federal Public Service workers have always been committed to showing up for Canadians. In these difficult times, that hasn’t changed. The contributions and value of the public service and public service workers have only become more apparent. 

However, from Paul Samyn’s Monday night COVID-19 email introduction, readers might get the impression that workers at Service Canada were on vacation while Canadians can’t get access to the vital services that they need. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Let me be unequivocally clear: the closure of a physical Service Canada office does not mean Canadians are cut off of federal services. To imply that is grossly misleading and inaccurate. If it did, millions of EI applications would not have been processed, seniors would not have been able to apply for CPP or OAS and EI applicants would not have been transferred to CERB, leaving many Canadians unable to pay their bills.

In fact, not only did thousands of Service Canada workers quickly create makeshift offices in their homes to continue providing critical support for Canadians – and many did so while caring for children full time – hundreds stepped up and volunteered to be moved into other sections to ensure that claims were processed. 

If Canadians can’t get help over the phone or online, they can make an appointment to meet with someone in person. Closing Service Canada offices to the general public protects those visiting the offices for help as much as it does the workers. 

Staff at groceries stores are critic workers who deserve a living wage, full-stop, period. They are essential to Canadians every day and should be paid as such. The pandemic has been hard on them and their families and I am thankful for their hard work as all Canadians should be. 

Service Canada workers have also been working hard to deliver different critical services to Canadians, and thankfully they have been able to do so without putting themselves or their families in harms way, some of whom are at greater risk with pre-existing conditions. 

Providing a safe and healthy workplace is what all workplaces should be striving for, whether that is in the physical workplace or safely working from home. Numerous Canadians know from personal experience that working from home is not a vacation.

With everything the federal government and federal public service has done over the past three months to help Canadians weather the financial challenges that have come along with the global pandemic, criticizing Service Canada and its employees for having their physical offices closed comes off as out of touch. Mr. Samyn would be wise to reflect on that given the facts. 

— Marianne Hladun is the Regional Executive-Vice President for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Prairies Region


In a St. James strip mall, you’ll find a Safeway Canada grocery store and a Service Canada location that are practically neighbours.

One is open and has been open throughout the pandemic. The other is closed and has been closed for most of the pandemic.

One is home to those the prime minister has called heroes deserving of extra pay for keeping shelves stocked and cash registers ringing. The other is home to staff who have been, well, working from home.

I mention the difference between the service Safeway Canada has provided and the service you can no longer get in person from Service Canada because Ottawa is now gearing up to have roughly 250,000 federal public servants eventually return to their workplaces. But the federal preparations — which include a 30-page guidebook — still include a big chunk of remote work, and that likely means Service Canada won’t be in service anytime soon for those who want to access a myriad of federal services from employment insurance to pension benefits to passports.

I get that Ottawa had to quickly pivot when COVID-19 hit. I understand it needed to protect employees on the front-lines, but as much as the federal government can pat itself on the back for its response to this unprecedented threat, it seems odd the federal bureaucracy is still reluctant to interact with Canadians face-to-face at its Service Canada centres. Even if it is behind plastic screens or masks.

Sure, the stats show that federal employees haven’t been immune to the coronavirus as 409 civil servants have tested positive. Of those diagnosed with COVID-19, half were in Quebec and 74 in the National Capital Region.

But that shouldn’t mean that Service Canada locations outside those viral hotspots have to be closed, too.

Today, Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos, who oversees the federal bureaucracy, had high praise for how speedy and nimble the civil service has been through the pandemic. However, he might have wanted to check out the Safeway next to his Crestview Service Canada location before he made that claim. 

— Paul Samyn, Winnipeg Free Press editor


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