Rights & Money

Government Call Centres Force Canadians to Wait…and Wait

Government service centres aren’t serving us very well, says the Auditor General


By Jennifer Hughes

 Photo: iStock/Chainarong Pasertthai.


When you have to contact a customer service call centre, you probably expect to be spend time waiting on hold—but you expect to get through to someone eventually. You might be waiting a long time if you’re calling a government call centre.

According to a recent report from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, half of 16 million Canadians who tried to reach an agent when phoning a government call centre in 2017–2018 weren’t able to get through to a live agent.

The report looked at three main call centres—Employment Insurance, Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; and Veterans Affairs. At the first two, 6.8 million callers were redirected to a website or to an automated system or were told to call back at another time; 1.3 million callers finally hung up after waiting long periods. Those who did manage to get through to an agent had to wait 30 minutes or longer. Callers to Veterans Affairs usually got through to an agent, but they, too, had to wait.

“We found that Veterans Affairs Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not always consider the needs of their clients when making decisions about call centre services,” the report said. The latter department, for example, has no wait-time targets, and according to the report, also had the longest wait times.

This is largely due to an aging system. Although the government has been trying to modernize its services over the last five years, only eight of 221 centres have been upgraded. Shared Services Canada hasn’t finalized its plan for the remaining service centres yet, even though the government had hoped to have the system modernized by 2020.

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos and other ministers have acknowledged the problem and stated that the government is taking steps to decrease wait times. Unfortunately, this means that we’ll have to go on being patient for now.