Ontario Public Service

Hansard for all discussions in the Ontario Legislative Assembly to date regarding SAMS

December 1

Mr. Jim Wilson: My question is for the Premier. Your government spent over $250 million of taxpayers’ money on the Social Assistance Management System, or SAMS. The system was supposed to improve the delivery of social assistance for recipients of Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program.

The Minister of Community and Social Services in fact said during a November 4, 2014, meeting of the estimates committee that she felt “fairly confident that the new system will have a pretty seamless rollout….”

Premier, we don’t need another eHealth. Will your government recall the estimates committee so we can hear directly from witnesses and front-line workers to get to the bottom and help you get out of another Liberal scandal?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I appreciate the question from the member opposite. I just want to step back and say that the reason this new system is being implemented is that there was an outdated computer system in place. This new system is designed ultimately to allow for better service to clients, to make sure that front-line workers will be able to spend more time with clients, that clients will have 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week access to online information and more information about their cases.

The reality is that there was a glitch. I understand that. There are 500,000 cheques that go out every month. There was a problem with a portion of those. My understanding is that less than 1% now, a little over 100 cheques, still need to be dealt with, but that 99% of the error has been corrected.

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Before we get going, I’m going to ask for a stop to the injections into this conversation.

Supplementary?

Mr. Jim Wilson: Again to the Premier: Your government continues to demonstrate an inability to manage Ontarians’ best interests. Your minister signed off on this expensive new system, a $250-million system that was flawed from the beginning, and you were forewarned. A letter written by OPSEU President Warren “Smokey” Thomas in July to your minister responsible stated, “Unless improvements are made to SAMS, the launch in late fall will be rife with problems, delays and poor service.”

Premier, Ontario’s most vulnerable rely on these payments. I don’t believe you, and I don’t think anyone believes, that 99% of the problem is fixed at this point. What is your government going to do to make sure these people aren’t left behind, that they have their money for Christmas?
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I would welcome Smokey Thomas to the Legislature today. He’s here, and I’m sure that he shares with me a desire to make sure that clients of the system get the very best service possible.

The system that was in place was outdated. There was an overpayment error. It was caught immediately. Within 24 hours, about 99% of the payments were stopped or they were retracted immediately. There’s about 1%, a little over 100 situations, that still need to be dealt with.
I’m sure the Leader of the Opposition is not saying there should never be change. I’m sure he’s not saying that we should never update a system and make sure that caseworkers would have more time with clients—because that is what we are doing. We are in the business of improving service to the people of Ontario, making sure that people get better service. Along the way, when there is a situation like this, we act quickly to rectify. That is what has happened in this situation.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Final supplementary.

Mr. Jim Wilson: Premier, you only acted after the fact. Mr. Thomas, the president of OPSEU, warned you back in July. He told you that his members were telling him there would be major problems with the rollout. He was exactly right. Why didn’t you heed his warnings? Why did you buy an expensive program that doesn’t appear to work from the get-go, and why are you moving forward defending this when it’s just going to turn out to be another Liberal scandal? How much is this Liberal scandal going to cost us?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Minister of Community and Social Services.

Hon. Helena Jaczek: I’m pleased to have the opportunity to set the record straight on the error that occurred last week. I think it’s worth knowing that SAMS is a technology that uses the Cúram case management software—the same platform that it used in many jurisdictions globally—now owned by IBM. We have a contract with them to assist us through the transition of going live with SAMS.

As the Premier has stated, clearly this is a new system that is replacing a totally outdated computer system. It will bring our services into the 21st century. We have spent the last many months training the users on SAMS, some 11,000 users both in municipal OW offices as well as ODSP offices—extremely extensive training.

We thank the workers for all their hard work, but clearly the opposition is trying to make a mountain out of a very small molehill.

December 1

Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is for the Premier. Nearly a million people rely on social assistance to put food on the table and a roof over their heads, but the Liberals’ new software program is causing chaos for clients and staff. How could the Premier sign off on a quarter-billion dollar lemon, frankly, having been warned in advance that it could turn into a nightmare for our province’s most vulnerable?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I will answer this question again. The fact is, there was an outdated system in place that needed to be upgraded. We needed to improve the service to the people of the province who rely on social assistance. We needed to have in place a system that was going to allow front-line workers, caseworkers, to have more time with their clients. That’s what this system is about.

Five hundred thousand cheques go out every month. There was an error earlier in the month, earlier this week. It was immediately caught. Within 24 hours, 99% of the payments were stopped or retracted. Ministry officials are working to make sure the final 1% of cases get dealt with.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Folks on social assistance trust the government to get things right, but the Liberals rolled out a program full of bugs, causing a $20-million glitch. Payments are being lost, cheques are being delayed, people are suffering and staff are at their wits’ end. Can the Premier tell me how many Ontarians faced empty cupboards this past weekend and what the government did to help them?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: The first question I asked of my staff this morning was whether people who were relying on these cheques did get their money. My understanding is that they did, and that there are still about a hundred or so cheques that need to be rectified; not that people didn’t get cheques, but that the amounts need to be clarified.

To the best of my ability, I asked this question, and to my understanding, people did get their money and there were about 1% of situations where there still needs to be some change. But the fact is that the ministry acted immediately and 99% of the cases were dealt with. All of that speaks to how important it is, obviously, that we be vigilant, but it does not suggest there should never be change. It does not suggest that we shouldn’t update systems. It does not suggest that we shouldn’t put in place a system that allows caseworkers to spend more time with their clients.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Final supplementary.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: The Liberals’ quarter-billion dollar app is full of bugs, and it’s causing havoc for people on social assistance. The most vulnerable people deserve better than trial and error. They deserve a social assistance program that actually works for them. How can the Premier allow the most vulnerable Ontarians to pay for the Liberals’ mistakes?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Those are broad, sweeping generalizations that bear little or no resemblance to what is actually going on.

The ministry trained 11,000 users to make sure that they knew what was required with the new system. In addition to that, because there was this error, there are now staff being deployed to go to offices to make sure those final problems get worked out.

The fact is, we made a change. Yes, I am very, very clear that it was necessary to make a change, to put a better system in place. When there was an error, there was an immediate reaction, and there continues to be a reaction that gives support to those front-line workers to make sure people have the money that they need. That was my concern this morning: to make sure that people who were counting on those cheques got them, and that has happened.

December 1

Mr. Bill Walker: Earlier today my leader, the member for Simcoe–Grey, shared with this House that a quarter of a billion dollars and four years was spent with a new system that’s supposed to support those most needy in our society.

We also learned that this system is wrought with bugs and exploitable weaknesses.

We also learned that the minister knew about the computer problems all along but ignored—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Sorry. I did not get who the question was to.

Mr. Bill Walker: To the Minister of Community and Social Services, Speaker. Thank you.
We also learned that the minister knew about the computer problems all along but ignored staff’s warning, who summed up the computer situation in one simple word: chaos.

In fact, not only were they ignored, but in estimates on November 4, the minister said, “I feel fairly confident that the new system will have a pretty seamless rollout next week.” “Fairly confident” and “pretty seamless” don’t seem to equate to the reality of today, Mr. Speaker.

Minister, it’s your word against the front line. Who is telling the truth?

Hon. Helena Jaczek: Thank you to the member for Bruce–Grey–Owen Sound for allowing me the opportunity to reiterate what the Premier said so very clearly earlier in question period. This new computer system is state-of-the-art. It is a very large and involved system, clearly. It has taken many, many months of training of many staff to get into good working order.

I want to assure the member opposite that the concerns that were raised earlier in the summer by the presidents of CUPE and OPSEU were taken extremely seriously by officials in my ministry, and that’s why we accelerated some of the training that was provided. Again, some 11,000 users were trained in some 257 offices. There is no chaos whatsoever.

Individuals received their cheques last week, and the final number will be getting them today.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Bill Walker: Again, to the Minister of Community and Social Services: Well, Minister, state-of-the-art—I think SAMS should sadly be another money scandal coming at us. The minister responsible for eHealth too was working out glitches until the billion-dollar scandal surfaced.
The fact is, your government has a track record of asleep-at-the-switch oversight. In the case of this specific oversight, mistaken payments were sent to 6,000 social service recipients to a tune of at least $300,000.

Minister, we want to restrike the Standing Committee on Estimates so we can call witnesses and get to the bottom of this. We hope you’ll actually adhere to this this time so we can ensure that this does not turn into another eHealth boondoggle.

Will you support the striking of the Standing Committee on Estimates so we can get to the truth?

Hon. Helena Jaczek: Again, to set the record straight, the new system processed both the Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program monthly payments to some 570,000 individuals totally successfully. As the Premier stated earlier, there were a small number of overpayments. Those on direct deposit—some 85% of individuals receive their payments through direct deposit—were changed, and the correct amount deposited within 24 hours. The few remaining, who do receive paper cheques, are being issued new cheques today. We are down to contacting some 119 people as of 10:30 this morning.

We have coped with this very small glitch in an extremely effective way. In fact, I would like to thank all the front-line workers who were so diligent.

December 2

Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is for the Premier. People who rely on social assistance count on every penny, but when a family sees a cheque for nearly $200 reduced to $1.70, or a family of five gets a support cheque for $5, that means they’re stuck.

The Premier and her minister yesterday insisted that this was only an issue with overpayments and that people weren’t hurt. Now we know that that’s not true. Will the Premier correct her record?
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I actually said that my understanding was that there was about 1% of the 500,000 cheques that go out every month where there was a problem, and I didn’t actually know, in that 1% of cheques, what the issue was, whether it was underpayment or overpayment. But what I asked first thing yesterday morning was that we check into that and we make sure that people were getting money and that those situations were rectified.

I am absolutely in agreement with the member opposite that people who are dependent on the social assistance system need our support and we need to make sure they get the money that they rely on, because it is imperative that they have that every month. So the minister is working on that. You know, I wish that this technological issue hadn’t happened, but the system will be better for those clients in the long run.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Some of the most vulnerable Ontarians are being hurt by a computer problem that the government was warned about last February. The Premier was saying that problems with the Social Assistance Management System are just minor glitches, but this is what people were facing: One parent was owed $170.35 for the Transition Child Benefit, but instead she got $1.79; a family with five children got an assistance cheque for $5. That minor glitch might be the difference between making rent or not for that family.

Will the Premier make sure that she does absolutely everything she can to make sure all of the issues that are outstanding are addressed immediately?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Absolutely. I absolutely will do that. The minister and I have spoken this morning, and she is in communication with municipalities. She’s going to be talking to some of the offices to get a handle on exactly what is happening at the local level. She has already spoken to some of the municipalities’ leadership.

I am not minimizing in any way the impact on individual families. I understand that this is a very serious problem for an individual family. But we are introducing a new system that will help those individual families and all the families like them to get better service because caseworkers will be able to spend more time with them once this system is updated.

It is not acceptable that certain families would have had to undergo this problem, and we are working as hard as we can to make sure that those situations are rectified, but I want the system to work better for them in the medium and long term.

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The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Final supplementary.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: Those very same problems that the Premier has insisted are just minor glitches have meant that people’s support cheques were going to their exes, to non-existent bank accounts, or to former trustees for those people.

The Premier was warned about these problems nearly a year ago. Why did she ignore the concerns that were being raised and rush into a computer system that wasn’t ready, causing havoc for hundreds and hundreds of Ontarians?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: There was no rushing into this process. It was a very well-thought-through process, and it has not been perfect. Every month, $570 million worth of cheques is sent out in Ontario Works and ODSP payments—$570 million in cheques. The outstanding overpayments, the issue that we’re dealing with right now, is in the order of $123,000.

Mostly the system worked, but there were some situations that I have already said are unacceptable, and for those families that was not a minor glitch. For those families, it was a very serious thing. We are working to rectify it. As I said, in the long term, in the medium term, the system will be better for all of those families because their workers will be able to spend more time with them.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: The next question is also for the Premier. The Premier and her minister have insisted that they acted as soon as they learned about problems with their new computer system, but the government got a letter from front-line workers back in February 2014. That’s nearly a year ago. In fact, I’ll send it over to the Premier as a reminder.

Will the Premier come clean and admit that she was warned nearly a year ago in that letter, and that she did nothing until the whole issue blew up just a couple of days ago?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: The fact is that this implementation has been ongoing, and as there have been concerns, those concerns have been addressed. It did not mean that there was no problem with the implementation; we’ve already acknowledged that there were problems. But I have no way of knowing whether this letter sent from OPSEU was identifying issues that actually were addressed in the implementation. My suspicion is that they were. I certainly will double-check that with the minister.

The reality is that this is a system that needed to be updated. The new system will allow caseworkers to spend more time with their clients, and that is the objective. The objective is to have better time spent with the clients.

I am absolutely clear that it’s unacceptable that some families have had an issue with this implementation. We are working on making sure that it’s corrected for everyone.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: It wasn’t just Ontario’s front-line workers who were warning the Liberals. They were consulting with Minnesota and Maryland, two states in the US who use the same software. Last December, the governor of Minnesota wrote to the makers of SAMS and said, “Your product has made it impossible to provide Minnesotans with reasonable customer service.” That sounds familiar.

Why didn’t the Premier listen when red flags were being raised by other jurisdictions using the same software that failed Ontarians just so recently?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Let’s just look at this situation. This system is actually used. It’s state-of-the-art software that’s used by Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany and New York city. This system will deliver social assistance programs more efficiently. It will give clients 24/7 access to a portal that will allow them to get their case information. I think that is a very good thing, that people are able to get their case information; they can get it online at any time of day.

Kira Heineck, who is head of the Ontario Municipal Social Services Association, said this. She said it’s “going to be a better system than the one we had before.” It seems to me that that has to be the measure of the changes that government makes: Are the systems that we put in place better than what we had before? Are the implementations as smooth as they can be? Yes. Do we have to correct when there are problems? Absolutely, and that is what we’re doing.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Final supplementary.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: The fact is, when the alarm was sounding about a computer problem that would mean major problems for the most vulnerable Ontarians, the Liberal government stuck its fingers in its ears.

People on social assistance have a difficult time making ends meet already, and with the holidays around the corner, it’s even more difficult. The problem that was created by the Premier meant that some people got only 1% of the money that they were counting on.

The Premier is out of touch. This isn’t a glitch. It’s an issue that’s affecting people’s lives in a very, very serious way. Will the Premier immediately call her minister into her office and haul her on the carpet about why this went so wrong?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Mr. Speaker, that may be the way the leader of the third party deals with people, but on this side of the House, we work together, we find solutions, and we make sure that when there’s a problem, we solve the problem. So the minister and I have had a number of conversations. I know that she is working very hard to make sure that this situation gets addressed.

Here’s what I’m focused on today. I’m focused on making sure that next month, this doesn’t happen; making sure that whatever the issues were, they don’t happen next month; and making sure that this month—because I agree with the member opposite that this is a time when families are gathering, and we want people to have their resources—people get what they are entitled to in this next round.

Mr. Bill Walker: My question is to the Minister of Community and Social Services. Minister, in response to the scandal brewing with your quarter-billion-dollar social assistance management system, SAMS—or scams—that resulted in $20 million in overpayments to 17,000 individuals last week, you stated yesterday it was nothing, a small glitch that you fixed in an effective way.

The front-line staff disagree with you. They made over 6,000 calls to report problems with the new system. Again, it’s your word against theirs. Clearly, they don’t want you to sweep this under the rug. Minister, will you be transparent and accountable and commit to re-striking the estimates committee so we can get to the bottom of this and prevent any more nightmares for these people?

Hon. Helena Jaczek: Thank you to the member opposite for this question. I certainly want to thank our front-line workers and our municipal partners for their very hard work on this issue. I know that they’re working overtime. I want to acknowledge that adapting to the new system has been stressful, and we do thank them all for their patience.

We will continue to support local offices as they get comfortable with the new system, and they have our support. We have sent out additional staff to local offices. As we’ve said so many times in this House both yesterday and today, when an error was identified by those front-line workers, we immediately took action to reverse the impact of that particular error so that within 24 hours approximately 99% of payments were stopped or retracted immediately.

We know that cheques went out yesterday. I would simply like to say, in terms of those vulnerable people, if they notice an error, contact their caseworker.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Bill Walker: Again, my question is to the Minister of Community and Social Services. Your own confidential ministry documents show that problems were identified last October, a year ago. You had to delay implementation in March and then again in July. You knew there were problems. It’s obvious they weren’t fixed, but you went ahead anyway. The front-line workers who knew about these problems should be able to be in estimates and identify these and testify.

Minister, if you really want to thank the front-line staff and respect them, you’ll commit to re-striking the estimates committee and allowing them to testify. Minister, will you do the right thing? Will you re-strike the committee and allow those front-line workers to come and tell the truth?

Hon. Helena Jaczek: While we acknowledge that adapting to the new system can be stressful, we have been working with caseworkers and our service delivery partners to help them learn the new system and support them in this transition. When I received the letter from OPSEU and from CUPE, I actually visited a couple of offices to see the training first-hand. I attended at the Hamilton office, the municipal office. I went out to the Newmarket ODSP office. I could see that there was a need for more training, and I immediately took action and instructed my officials to ensure that everyone would feel comfortable when we went live in mid-November.

Even before implementation, the ministry made significant investments in training to help front-line staff prepare for the transition. Over the past three years, we have been working with our service delivery partners, including front-line staff on the requirements, design and testing of the new system. We have trained some 11,000 users in approximately 257 offices, and we know that at the end of the day, we will have a very—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you.

December 3

Mr. Bill Walker: My question is for the Minister of Community and Social Services. Minister, in estimates committee, your office testified that the new SAMS system—software built by a company called Cúram and now owned by IBM—is “a modern, commercial, off-the-shelf application.” When questioned about Cúram’s serious software flaws experienced by legislators in Minnesota and Maryland, your assistant deputy minister, Martin Thumm, testified that it failed in those states because “they didn’t do the testing they needed to do before they implemented....”

Minister, for you, there was no rush to implement. In fact, you had four years to test the system and get it right. You extended the rollout deadline twice because of glitches and you still didn’t stop until you rolled it out. You just steamrolled through, Minister. You now wear this failure. You had all the time in the world. You wear it. What’s your excuse, Minister?

Hon. Helena Jaczek: Thank you to the member for Bruce–Grey–Owen Sound for the question. I think we need to go back to understand why, in fact, we implemented SAMS in the first place. You will perhaps recall that we had a very outdated system. It was one that was brought in under the former PC government in 2002.

In 2009, the Auditor General put together a report on ODSP and Ontario Works and raised a number of issues with respect to the old system—SDMT. There were security and access control issues. There was a lack of user satisfaction on the part of the front-line workers, and there were long-standing system errors.

Our government recognized the system was outdated and no longer tenable. That is why we decided on this investment in a new system that will better support staff that deliver social assistance and, ultimately, will better serve the people who rely on our programs.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Bill Walker: Back to the Minister of Community and Social Services. The old system at least made sure that those cheques arrived on time and our most needy didn’t suffer, Minister.

Your government is averse to doing proper research. You failed to do it on MaRS, you failed to do it on Ornge, and you certainly failed to do it on eHealth. It’s evident you also failed to do your research on this new computer system. You had four years and multiple warnings from Minnesota, Maryland, OPSEU, your front-line staff and our PC members in estimates committee. Yet here you are left with a $20-million mess that is a combination of overpayments, missed and delayed payments. People are going without, Minister.

Mr. Speaker, though the party opposite may feel it’s acceptable to allow the needs of Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens to go unaddressed, we in the PC Party do not. The Premier said sorry. If she’s really sorry, Minister, what you will do—and we’re asking you the same question I asked yesterday: Will you bring those people from the front line back to estimates so we can get to the bottom of this and those people who are the most needy don’t suffer because of your carelessness again?

Hon. Helena Jaczek: Let’s just get one thing straight. Our government has as its number one concern help and assistance for those most vulnerable members in society, at the core of the values that our party stands for, and it’s truly ironic to hear the member opposite who—under their government, there was a cut of some 22% of social assistance rates.

We remain committed to working closely with our front-line staff. We will implement SAMS and we will continue to provide support to our clients. Our focus in the near future relies on us all working together. This is caseworkers on the front-line and the support staff that is there to assist them, whether they be in municipal settings or in ODSP offices. We have confidence that SAMS will be a better solution for both the caseworkers and the people we serve.

Ms. Cindy Forster: My question is to the Premier. On Monday, the minister told this House that the government has a contract with IBM to “assist us” with “the transition of going live with SAMS.” Will the Premier release that contract today?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Minister of Community and Social Services.

Hon. Helena Jaczek: Yes, indeed, the government, through proper channels, obviously, engaged a vendor of record to implement this particular system. It is something that we’ve been working on and with the vendor Cúram, now owned by IBM, for the last three and half years. Clearly, technical support is provided and is continuing to be provided through this particular transition. We’re working closely with our partners in the field to ensure that they get the kind of support they need, pursuant to our agreement with them and through the provision of these services.

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The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Cindy Forster: According to the reports, the government has found 65 defects in the SAMS program, which have led to the massive problems with social assistance money reaching the most vulnerable Ontarians. Apparently we have a contract to deal with these problems.

When the state of Minnesota had problems, IBM sent at least 80 technical workers to fix the problems. Have any IBM workers been dispatched to solve these problems, and how much are we paying them to actually fix the defects in their own software?

Hon. Helena Jaczek: We continue to work with a very active technical support team available to municipalities. In my conversations with the mayors of such cities as Hamilton, Sudbury, Ottawa and Windsor, I’ve made it very clear that this kind of support is available to them. We’ve actually set up some dedicated hotlines wherever a payment issue is identified so that these issues are prioritized.

I would like to mention, though, at this point that we still are finding it very difficult to validate some of the anecdotes that we’re hearing and have been printed in the media. The issue that we found with the contract related to the overpayment issue, as we’ve stated, has been corrected by the technical team.

December 4

Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is for the Acting Premier. The Liberals don’t seem to believe that people aren’t getting their money. The minister says she’s finding it difficult to validate these anecdotes. Here’s a validation for her: Leanne Chard’s son has a disability and he relies on ODSP to pay his bills. When his cheque didn’t arrive, Leanne looked into the issue. She was told her son was removed from the system and Leanne, as her son’s trustee, was also removed from the system. Leanne called the Liberal constituency office of her MPP and was given the cold shoulder.

Will the Liberals admit that these problems are real and actually start fixing them?

Hon. Deborah Matthews: As I think everyone in this House knows, we are doing the very important work of replacing an old, outdated system that did not serve clients well, nor was it the best system for the workers. As we’re in this transition period, I want to say thank you to those front-line workers who are working very, very hard to fix any problems as they arise. I also want people who are recipients of social assistance to know that we are absolutely committed to making sure they get the cheques that they are, in fact, entitled to.

I do want to comment: Additional staff have been sent to local offices; people are working around the clock to fix any problems, and we’ve had great success. In fact, within 24 hours, 99% of the overpayments were stopped or retracted. This is a system that has worked in Australia, the UK, New Zealand, Germany and New York City. I know the minister will want to address any supplementary questions.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Leanne’s son’s next cheque is actually due on December 22, and she’s worried that if there’s another round of problems there will be nobody for her to call over the holidays.

Can the Liberals guarantee that this problem is solved and that there won’t be any late cheques in December?

Hon. Deborah Matthews: To the Minister of Community and Social Services.

Hon. Helena Jaczek: I want to reassure all members of this House that we take our jobs in the Ministry of Community and Social Services extremely seriously. The welfare of vulnerable people is our number one concern. I have been asking searching questions of my officials, I’ve been calling mayors; I want to hear about those vulnerable people who have, unfortunately, not received the appropriate payment to which they are entitled. It is this type of hands-on approach that I’m personally taking to this issue, and I want to hear everything that I need to hear in order to ensure that the December round of cheques is, in fact, successful.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: The minister should tell her MPPs that she wants to hear the stories, because Leanne went to her MPP, a Liberal MPP, and was given the cold shoulder when her story was shared. The minister needs to actually tell her MPPs to do their job. Leanne is worried that her problem won’t be solved and, frankly, I am worried too.

Since this program launched, we’re told that nearly 10,000 separate incident reports have been created, and hundreds more are being created by the day—incident reports because there have been problems with the cheques. Now, that says to me that the problem still has not been fixed. Can the Liberals give any guarantees whatsoever to the thousands of vulnerable Ontarians who rely on ODSP and social assistance that their next cheques are actually going to be in the mail and delivered on time?

Hon. Helena Jaczek: I do want to reassure the leader of the third party that we have put in a very strong support strategy for our front-line workers to troubleshoot issues that may be arising from the new system.

Since the SAMS launch, my ministry has also put in place dedicated phone lines and email addresses for areas that are particularly challenging for staff, so they have direct access to support staff. There are some 42 additional staff in the field. Any area office that is having specific differences, we will send committed individuals to that office. So anybody, in terms of our municipal partners, ODSP officers requesting that kind of additional support, they’re going to be getting that. We are, of course, in daily contact with all our partners. I’m getting reports on an ongoing basis in terms of the issues locally.

Again, we urge any person who has an issue with their payment to contact their caseworker, and we will make every effort to rectify the problem.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: My next question is for the Acting Premier. Yesterday, we asked for the contract that the Liberals signed with IBM for the deeply flawed SAMS program, but we didn’t get it. So I’m going to try again. Will the Liberals release the contract with IBM that left people across Ontario without the social assistance and ODSP they rely on?

Hon. Deborah Matthews: To the Minister of Community and Social Services.

Hon. Helena Jaczek: Again, clearly hearing the comments made yesterday, I think we’re all aware that there is a process in terms of document release. I have looked into this, and of course we wish to be open and transparent. So we are going to be following the type of process that is required in this type of contractual relationship between a private company and the government. There may be some proprietary commercially sensitive information in the contract. The process will be followed. If there is a formal document request, I certainly won’t interfere with that process.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Thank you. Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: The government confirmed that Ontario is getting private sector IT support for the massive problems with this SAMS program. When there’s a problem with the software, Ontarians deserve to know who is actually paying to fix it. Either IBM has to fix the problem or we’re paying out of pocket to fix their faulty product. Will the Liberals release the contract so we can see which one of these it is?

Hon. Helena Jaczek: I have been informed that the issue of transition was addressed in the contract and that our private sector partners are covering all the costs of the transition support that is required for the front line through the requirements of the contract.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Thank you. Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: The Liberals were warned that this computer system was not ready and would likely have massive problems. In fact, the people who warned them are right here in this House with us today. They ignored the advice, and now vulnerable Ontarians are the ones who are having to pay the price.

Ontarians have the right to know who is paying for that decision. Will the Deputy Premier, the minister responsible for transparency, live up to that mandate and actually release the contract?

Hon. Helena Jaczek: Well, Mr. Speaker, I can simply repeat what I’ve said before. There’s a process in terms of release of this type of information. I will not interfere in any way with that process. I will encourage that process to take place. Clearly, this type of information may contain some commercially sensitive information, and I think everyone needs to respect that.

1050

I want to just make it very clear that job one in our ministry is to ensure that all vulnerable people are appropriately taken care of—

Interjections.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Stop the clock. I’m trying my best to listen to the answer, but with the interruptions on my left, it’s a little difficult.

Mr. John Yakabuski: You’re not going to learn much from the answer.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): The member for Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke, I don’t need your comments.

Minister?

Hon. Helena Jaczek: I simply would like to reassure everyone yet again that our job is to ensure that cheques are delivered smoothly. Every effort is being taken to ensure that the next cheque run will go well. People are working constantly in this regard. We have the support of our private sector partners—IBM—in this endeavour, and we want to assure everyone that we are following due process.

December 4

Mr. Randy Hillier: Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Community and Social Services and outdated excuses. Minister, my office has been inundated—

Interjections.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Order.
I would say to the member that in this Legislature, we have always respected each other and respected their titles. I’d ask you to withdraw.

Mr. Randy Hillier: I withdraw.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Thank you. Carry on.

Mr. Randy Hillier: Minister, my office has been inundated with calls this week after the problems with your new SAMS program were made public. These individuals have told us that the issues with the new software at Ontario Works and ODSP are far greater than your government is letting on.

We have obtained information that many front-line staff are taking stress leave, and, contrary to the earlier statements in the House, they’re not seeing additional staff. They are taking time off due to their inability to help their clients and they are frustrated at not being able to do their job properly.

Minister, how many workers at ODSP and Ontario Works have taken stress leave due to your little glitch?

Hon. Helena Jaczek: Certainly I’m delighted to hear that the member opposite is suddenly so concerned about front-line workers. I’m sure that those front-line workers were under considerable distress when your government cut social assistance rates by some 22%.

The member will know that we are supporting in every way those front-line workers. We have put in place hotlines; we have supportive staff to help—
Interjections.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Order. The party that asks the question is the loudest. So obviously you don’t want the answer.

Minister?

Hon. Helena Jaczek: I think we need to understand this is a new system. At the end of the day, it will make the system overall much, much better. Caseworkers will be able to spend more time with their clients. We know that they are concerned for their clients. We’re trying to support them in every way that we possibly can through the introduction of this new system.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Supplementary?

Mr. Randy Hillier: Minister, at least the Premier has shown the decency to apologize to those who have been affected by these problems and not resorted to deflection in her responses, such as you have just done. It would be nice to see if you would show the same respect and courtesy to those employees.

Not only is the new software proving to be very problematic in the delivery of these services—it’s so stressful that workers are taking time off—but when workers are taking time off due to a broken system, who knows how many other people will be affected by the shortage of front-line caseworkers as a result?

Minister, will you demonstrate transparency, accountability and openness, and a genuine respect for the people of Ontario, and bring yourself and your staff back to the estimates committee? Really, let’s examine this little glitch in far greater detail, instead of just having deflection from this minister.

Hon. Helena Jaczek: Of course, as I’ve said before, I truly apologize to those individuals who have suffered hardship through this new computer system. I am working constantly, in terms of hearing from the front lines what those issues are. My ministry is in constant communication with all 257 offices that have had to introduce this very large system.

Certainly, as we work towards the next pay run, and being mindful in fact that the vast majority—some 500,000 people—did receive their payments on time this last pay run, we want to make that 100% this next pay run.

There’s no question about it. We are doing everything we can to ensure that that happens. We are offering support to front-line workers. We will be covering overtime costs for those workers, as I’ve assured many of my municipal colleagues. We want to get this right.

 

Publication Date: 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014 - 3:00pm