Budget bill would allow departments, agencies to avoid using Shared Services Canada

The Liberals have introduced an omnibus budget bill that includes a measure that would allow government departments and agencies the option of not using Shared Services Canada for some IT equipment and services.

Departments and agencies will need to get ministerial approval before going outside SSC

Shared Services Canada, the department that provides technical support to the federal government, has been the subject of many complaints from the departments and agencies that use its services. (Shutterstock)

The Liberals have introduced an omnibus budget bill that includes a measure that would allow government departments and agencies the option of not using Shared Services Canada for some IT equipment and services.

Shared Services Canada (SSC) is a federal department created in 2011 to take over the delivery of email, data centres and network services for 43 government departments and agencies. But since its inception, those departments and agencies have complained of shoddy service.

In January, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson wrote to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, saying that critical IT failures have increased by 129 per cent since the beleaguered department took over tech support for all of government.

"Its 'one size fits all' IT shared services model has negatively impacted police operations, public and officer safety and the integrity of the criminal justice system," Paulson said in the memo.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) also warned that national security is at risk because of the ongoing issues with SSC.

And according to a series of internal reports at Statistics Canada, SSC-related IT issues at the statistical agency could delay the release of "mission critical" information required by the Bank of Canada, the Department of Finance and commercial banks.

The changes proposed in the Budget Implementation Act — tabled late Tuesday — appear to be an attempt to address those complaints, and an apparent acknowledgement that SSC has not been able to deliver on its repeated promise of improved service.

For example, with a minister's permission, departments will be able to purchase IT goods and services directly from vendors that have contracts with SSC, rather than having to go through SSC.

Those goods include laptop and desktop computers, tablets, software and printers. Shared Services Canada would not say what services could be procured outside of its department. 

The reason for the changes, said department spokesperson Adam Blondin, is to "improve the timeliness and ease of service delivery to departments and agencies." 

Other measures in the bill

​The 307-page omnibus bill introduced Tuesday proposes changes to a host of existing laws and programs.

It follows through on the government's promises of a new caregiver tax credit and allowing parents to spread their EI benefits for parental leave over a period of up to 18 months.

The bill would also significantly increase the fees that Canadians pay for a variety of federal services, such as campsites, fishing licences and passports.

It would make the parliamentary budget officer report to Parliament as an Officer of Parliament, giving the office more independence and expanded powers, but also new restrictions. 

The bill also opens up the meetings of the Board of Internal Economy, the secretive committee that oversees the inner workings and funding for the House of Commons. Those meetings will now be open to the public, with some exceptions. 

The budget implementation legislation also includes measures to create the Canada Infrastructure Bank, a new Crown corporation that will invest up to $35 billion starting in 2018 for projects "in Canada or partly in Canada." Part of this money will come from private sector institutional and foreign donors, and the new bank will target infrastructure that "will generate revenue and that will be in the public interest."

A search is on for a CEO and board members for the new bank. The former CEO of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, Jim Leech, and Bruce McCuaig, the outgoing CEO of Metrolinx, the the Greater Toronto Area public transit authority, were appointed as advisers to get the new bank up and running.

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With files from Alison Crawford