Appendix 1 – SC Access Centre at Alma in Saguenay-Lac St-Jean
In Quebec, seven Service Canada centres were created in association with Human Resources Development Canada: Gaspé, St-Hyacinthe, Repentigny, Mont-Laurier, Alma, Drummondville and Café Jeunesse. While these centres all offer a set of common services, the list nonetheless varies with the size of the centre and region concerned. Examples of specific initiatives undertaken at these centres include:
The assignment of personnel to the road to meet with organizations, employers and various groups (a Mont-Laurier initiative);
A postcard sent to all homes to promote the centre in Drummondville;
The involvement of 13 departments in setting up Café Jeunesse;
Group facilitation and training sessions carried out in association with the Human Resources Information Centre;
Production of a promotional video and information capsules for community television by the Alma bureau.
With all the projects carried out in Quebec, officials emphasized that the harsh political climate of federal-provincial relations had some impact on acceptance of the SCI project. The two governments regularly wrangle over jurisdiction and, in some parts of Quebec and with some groups of people, the federal government is not always welcome! The in-person access centres also encountered problems experienced in other regions across Canada. For example, the problems with Public Works and Government Services database access and security arose because some community groups provided part of the services and needed access to information traditionally available only to federal civil servants. The limited computer literacy of many people, more so in rural than urban areas, also meant providing more support; navigating the Canada website was not also considered easy. Lastly, the atmosphere of questioning HRDC program management and insecurity surrounding SCI short-term renewals apparently made many employees fearful of losing their jobs.
The Canada Human Resources Centre (CHRC) at Alma in the Saguenay-Lac St-Jean region is under the jurisdiction of the Jonquière regional office. The director of the office was the one who took charge of the SC project. The project was very well received because it meshed with the turnaround underway at the Department, which was abandoning some employment-related activities and redefining its mission in terms of informing, supporting and assisting citizens in their efforts to improve community development. The approach favoured by HRDC is one of relational rather than transactional type service, as administrative tasks can now be done more quickly with computers. Service Canada provided an opportunity to add another information tool to the existing one. The CHRC in Alma already had a number of projects underway with the HRICs (Human Resources Information Centres to help job-seekers), CACs (Community Access Centers) and Ambassadeur (a regional development project; see separate case study), and all of these projects were complementary.
After consultation with employees, a team was formed from among the volunteers and a coordinator took the helm. SC was set up in a local semi-rural community, Alma. The six assistance officers there received training in SC and two were assigned directly to the new service. All expressed tremendous interest in this new orientation to their work — becoming information brokers and providing guidance for citizens who needed it.
A person who approaches the CHRC about an employment-related problem is given a brief information session on federal programs and services. The officials also meet with various groups upon request, or after proposing meetings they consider worthwhile. Lastly, they provide additional services such as CV preparation, training in job-hunting or how to use a computer or fax machine. The employees interviewed appreciated the job enrichment that came with the introduction of SC. "We’re doing marketing," said one of them very proudly. The contacts and relations they develop with community groups will enable them to expand the clienteles they reach. The coordinator even prepared a guide of proper addresses organized by needs that has proven very useful for everyone, both officials and citizens.
In terms of cooperation, project participants underscored the large number of partners: the TBS, HRDC with its national arm and regional branches, Economic Development Canada, Industry Canada and a few other departments, not to mention community groups. This did not make the job any easier. Project evaluation was also a problem because, after not receiving any clear instructions from SCI, they first tried to develop their own evaluation tools only to find themselves later required to use a national questionnaire. Regional consultation was still minimal. SCI publicity also sparked some disagreement because they would very much have liked to see the service receive more.
As a result of all the delays, the service had only been in operation a few months when this research was done. Despite this short timespan, HRDC personnel involved with the project are unanimous in considering the experience an outright success that meets local needs. How do they see the future of SC? First, they would like to be able to propagate the Alma experience at the five other CHRCs in the region. And even though it was a "strict agreement with local flavouring", they all appreciated the opportunity provided by SC to develop customized service for their fellow citizens.