A passport office is finally coming to Prince George.
Federal Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development, Karina Gould made the announcement official today (Friday) following an exclusive interview with Vista Radio.
The Services Canada office located downtown will have the ability to process passport applications starting in April.
Gould is thrilled to finally offer 10-day passport offices for the 300-thousand people who call the region home.
“What I have learned in the past year as the minister responsible for Service Canada is that there are far too many Canadians, especially those who live in rural and remote areas who don’t have access to passport services.”
“For me, it’s really important that Canadians wherever they live in this country have access to passport services.”
Currently, Kelowna is the nearest city to offer northern residents any sort of passport services, while other locations can be located in Vancouver, Surrey, and Victoria.
For anyone living along the North Coast like Prince Rupert – it’s a 17-hour drive on a good day to make the trek to Vancouver just to get a passport.
It’s scenarios like these Gould wanted to change.
“Hearing the stories of people who have to travel sometimes 15 hours or more and even have to spend a night in Vancouver just to get a passport. For me, I just thought that’s not how we should be doing things.”
Over the summer, Ottawa added 10-day passport services to 13 cities across Canada including Lethbridge, Red Deer, Fort McMurray, and Whitehorse with the remaining sites situated in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.
After travel restrictions were lifted after two-plus years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for passport services went through the roof, leading to long lineups that often were blocks long in major centers like Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Calgary.
However, Gould stated as of October, the country is now meeting its standard for the time it takes for passport applications.
“If you go to a passport office now in person, you can get 10-day service, which we were delivering the whole time, there were just really long lineups. And then for those who are making an application through the mail or that you can already do at the Service location in Prince George, you can submit an application and get it within 20 business days.”
In the interim, PG and Northern residents can still drop off any passport applications in person at the 4th Avenue location to receive their passport within the allotted 20 business day window.
“We actually recommend this. What we find is that 25% of the mail-in applications have errors that either need to be sent back or they need to have additional information sent to them – so when you actually go to the Service Canada center, you have someone there to look it and over and see that everything is correct.”
Gould mentioned that urgent and express service between two and nine business days is also available at larger centers but that is associated with paying a higher, which is often between $50-$110.
Regardless, the April opening is welcomed news for Skeena-Bulkley NDP MP Taylor Bachrach who has been championing a passport office in the region for quite some time.
In a news release, Bachrach stated the following:
“The lack of passport services in our region has forced residents to travel long distances at significant personal cost just to access a basic government service,” said Bachrach.
“I’m glad the minister has heard our voices and agreed to remedy the situation.”
“This is a win for the 300,000 or so folks who live in northern B.C.,” said Bachrach. “It shows that when we work together and make our voices heard, we can make a difference.”
Bachrach first met with Gould about the issue in August before meeting via telephone on November 3rd.
Lastly, the NDP representative stated his staff will continue to assist constituents with passport issues until the new PG office opens in April.