Nova Scotia·Q&A

Pressures on Canada's passport system easing, minister says

Passport offices across the country have seen a surge in demand for months now, but the federal minister in charge of passport services says pressure is easing thanks to more than 400 new employees and four new passport pickup locations.

'I wouldn't say we're out of the woods yet, but we're on track,' Karina Gould says

Woman stands before microphone in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill.
Karina Gould, minister of Families, Children and Social Development, says some of the pressures on Canada's passport services seem to be easing. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Passport offices across the country have seen a surge in demand for months now after an excess of applications overwhelmed the system, but the federal minister in charge of passport services says pressure on Canada's passport services is easing. 

Karina Gould is the minister of Families, Children and Social Development, which is in charge of passport services. 

"I wouldn't say we're out of the woods yet, but we're on track," she told the CBC's Brittany Wentzell on Information Morning Cape Breton.

The federal government announced Wednesday that four new passport pickup locations will be opened across the country to manage lengthy wait times and backlogs. 

Those offices will be opened in Trois-Rivières, Que.; Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.; Charlottetown, P.E.I.; and Red Deer, Alta.

People line up at a passport office in Montreal on June 22. Delays in passport processing continue to disrupt Canadians' travel plans, but officials say the burden on the system is easing. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Gould said the Charlottetown office will be a great addition to the Maritimes, and there will be more announcements in the Maritimes in the coming weeks. 

According to the government's latest figures, 49,743 passport applications were received during the week of Aug. 1 — nearly 8,000 fewer than the week prior.

"We're tracking all of this on a daily and weekly basis and trying to find ways to make our system more efficient and more effective so that we can really get through this backlog," she told listeners. 

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

We saw lots of lineups particularly at the beginning of the summer. Where are we now when it comes to the passport situation? 

We are in a much better place than we were at the end of June, beginning of July. 

The way it works in passport offices is much more back to normal. We don't see huge lineups in most places around the country — although there are still a couple of busy offices, particularly in the GTA, Edmonton, Calgary and the Vancouver area — they kind of come throughout the day as opposed to everybody lining up early in the morning. 

We've got the triage system in place at those offices, so things are moving much smoother. So that's a positive. We've hired over 440 additional employees to help, both with processing, but also tackling the backlog for people who sent their applications in through the mail. 

People are pictured in long lineups at the Passport Services offices in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Are those temporary employees, or do you expect that we're going to see this level of busyness continue? 

I think we're going to continue to see that. There are lots of people whose passports have expired through the pandemic. Children who have been born over the past couple of years need a passport for the first time, as well as Canadians who are getting their first passport. That's actually the majority of what we're seeing. But we also know that in 2023, it's the first renewal of the ten-year passport. So we need to continue to do this ramp up because we're going to see increased demand to continue for some time yet. 

What kind of plans does the government have in place to prevent this from happening again, say, in ten years, when all of these passports of folks who were rushing to get them at the beginning of the summer expire? 

Typically, passports are very predictable. The passport machinery is a fairly well-oiled machine. The pandemic was really the anomaly in all of this. We knew that there was going to be increased demand. We just didn't know exactly when it was going to start or how big it was going to be when it did start. 

The wave of demand that came in the spring and into the summer was much higher than it was anticipated. But I expect that as things hopefully get back and stay more normal into the future, that we won't have this again and hiring these additional folks will really help with that. 

Looking at the amount of people who want passports these days, is there a reason why the government wouldn't open more passport offices that can handle urgent requests?

In the Maritimes, we have three offices that can handle urgent requests right now: Halifax, Fredericton and Saint John. In terms of the level of demand in the Maritimes, those three offices can handle that. They're not particularly busy offices in comparison to the rest of the country and are very much able to meet the demand that is there. 

However, we recognize that they're still far away for someone who lives on the other side of the province; it's quite a trek to get there. So that's why we're looking to expand the service. But there's some work that has to be done to do that, namely, making sure that the offices have all of the measures in place to support passport operations and that doesn't happen overnight. So that's what Service Canada is currently working on. 

What would you say to somebody who is looking to get a passport for the first time now compared to back in maybe May? What should they expect? 

My best advice is to, if you can, go to a passport office or a Service Canada centre. I recognize for people who live in more rural areas, the mail channel is most appropriate. But for those folks that are near a Service Canada centre, do go to that office to submit your application. 

Our frontline staff at Service Canada centres and passport offices are trained to review your application before it's submitted to make sure you have all the necessary documents. 

Then you don't also have to send your personal documents away. So you hold onto your birth certificate, you hold on to your citizenship card, and you don't have to send those away in the mail, which I think for some people can cause a little bit of anxiety. 

If your travel is urgent, you need to get yourself to a passport office. If your travel is within 45 days or more, you can go to a Service Canada centre. If for whatever reason you haven't received your passport 20 business days before you're travelling, you can go to any Service Canada centre in the country and request a transfer and they'll make sure that it gets printed and mailed to you ahead of your trip. 

With files from Brittany Wentzell