Notwithstanding today’s announcement that a third party will evaluate how and why the computer system that administers social assistance payments in Ontario broke down, Premier Kathleen Wynne should dismiss Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek for her role in the fiasco, says the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
“The only people who have experienced suffering as a result of the SAMS disaster are the tens of thousands of disadvantaged recipients and their families who have borne the brunt of ministerial incompetence,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “It’s time the Premier fired the minister because this mess unfolded under her watch.”
“It needn’t have been this way,” the OPSEU president added, “Ms Jaczek ignored the sound advice she was offered by frontline staff months ago and chose instead to forge ahead with a new system that was not fit for operation. No amount of third-party examination at this point can reverse the unsound judgment she and her senior managers exercised in the first place.
“I find it odd and misguided that they’re bringing in a private-sector third party to clean up a mess created by outsourcing the job to IBM in the first place. In fact I would go one step further and file a lawsuit against IBM for its gross incompetence in developing the SAMS program.”
Thomas said OPSEU is moving ahead with its lawsuit and injunction application on grounds that the government violated the rights of social assistance recipients under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by implementing a system it knew was deeply flawed. OPSEU, joined by recipients and community groups, will seek a Court order to suspend the SAMS program from use until it can provide reliable, timely and accurate benefits to those in need. Applications for intervener status will be considered by the Court on Feb. 12.
The government’s mishandling of the file has resulted in more income hardship for ODSP and OW recipients that could stretch into March, said Thomas. The SAMS program meltdown has also affected related issues such as HST rebates, child tax credits and other income assistance programs.
The OPSEU president said the breakdown in the SAMS program fits a pattern dating back more than a decade as successive Liberal governments have turned more and more to outside private sector consultants and companies to take on work that had been accomplished inside the public sector for decades.
The most recent evidence of this was presented by the Auditor General in 2014 when she reported more than $8 billion in taxpayer’s money had been squandered through ill-advised deals with private sector firms when the evidence demonstrated that the public sector could perform the work more efficiently and cost-effectively.
“OPSEU members working on the frontlines were the first to sound the alarm over serious problems in the SAMS, but their voices were largely ignored. They continue to do outstanding work under extraordinary circumstances,” said Thomas.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas