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Ottawa, 19 October 2023—A report from Auditor General Karen Hogan tabled today in the House of Commons found that the government’s Benefits Delivery Modernization Programme has experienced repeated delays, cost increases, and staffing challenges since its launch in 2017. The government delivers Old Age Security, Canada Pension Plan, and Employment Insurance benefits to more than 10 million people. Canadians rely on these payments to meet their daily needs, such as buying food or paying the rent. However, the information technology systems supporting the delivery of these benefits are decades old and at risk of failing.
More than halfway through the modernization programme’s original timeline with a planned completion date of 2030, all 3 benefits are still operating on outdated systems. Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) originally estimated that the full migration of Old Age Security to a modern platform could happen as early as 2023, but it has now shifted its estimate to December 2024. The audit report notes that there is a significant risk that this date could be pushed even further, to December 2025. Delays increase the risk of a major outage that could interrupt benefit payments for Canadians who rely on them to meet their daily needs. Employment Insurance is slated to migrate to the new platform between 2025 and 2028.
The audit found that ESDC used a flexible approach to respond to the ongoing challenges and delays that have impeded the modernization of the information technology IT systems. ESDC, who leads the programme on behalf of the government, responded by deciding to focus first on migrating the aging systems to a modern cloud‑based platform. This was meant to reduce the risk of a system failure. The department also decided to migrate Old Age Security—the oldest of the 3 systems and the one at higher risk of failure—ahead of Employment Insurance. However, these decisions also meant delaying the programme’s transformation component, which is intended to improve the efficiency, service quality, timeliness, and accuracy of benefits delivery for Canadians eligible to access them.
“While Employment and Social Development Canada’s decision to focus first on migrating the systems rightly prioritizes the continuity of benefits, I am concerned that if challenges and delays continue, decisions could be made to remove aspects of transformation or take shortcuts to maintain the timelines or budget, as happened with the Phoenix pay system,” said Ms. Hogan. “This would put the Benefits Delivery Modernization Programme at risk of resulting in a final product that fails to meet the needs of diverse and vulnerable client groups, including seniors, people in remote locations, Indigenous people, and refugees.”
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The 2023 Reports of the Auditor General of Canada, Report 8—The Benefits Delivery Modernization Programme, is available on the Office of the Auditor General of Canada website.
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