Tories have made mess of EI system

The Harper Conservatives have made a mess of our Employment Insurance system.
While tens of thousands of Canadians struggle with losing their incomes, only to have access to their EI benefits delayed, rejected, or expire, the Conservatives appear content to let them suffer by eliminating thousands of Service Canada jobs and wasting millions on the creation of a useless department to oversee the program.
At the beginning of December, my staff began to ring the alarm bell after they noticed some unusual developments. The first was a large wave of new people seeking our assistance in accessing their EI benefits.
This happens from time to time due to a large employer shutting down, but many people were coming in because their claims had not been processed by Service Canada in a timely manner.
Then when it normally would take about 48 hours to hear back from Service Canada, my staff began to notice the response time lag increased and now stands at about two weeks.
There clearly was some kind of breakdown occurring to the EI system.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after that we learned why many people were forced to seek our assistance and why it has taken so long for us to get answers for them.
When the recession hit in 2008, the Harper minority government—held accountable by a majority opposition—created 3,000 temporary jobs at Service Canada for the purpose of processing the raft of new EI claims.
Today, less than a year after his first majority, just 450 processors remain on the job and their positions have been cut from full-time to part-time status. Oh, and these cuts are being enacted as another 50,000 Canadians have lost their jobs in recent months.
In short, fewer employees doing less work at Service Canada results in, well, less service for more Canadians.
The irrational decision to cut Service Canada staff as demands for services like EI increase is bad judgment, but it is not the only recent example we can find on this file. Have you ever heard of the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board?
Few Canadians have, and many others are starting to wish they never did. The EI Financing Board was created by Stephen Harper and has but three distinct functions: to set the contribution rate for EI from workers and businesses, to invest any surplus EI funds that are not being distributed to claimants, and to administer the $2-billion EI contingency fund that Mr. Harper promised to set up in case of an economic downturn.
Just three simple tasks.
Unfortunately, nothing is that simple when it comes to the Harper government. A CBC report this past week found that the EI Financing Board recently spent more than $3.3 million on new offices, computers, and furniture, executives and staff, travel budgets, expense accounts, board meetings, and consultants.
The only problem? The EI Financing Board is completely unable to perform any work. For the past three years, there has not been an EI surplus to administer while the contribution rates that we are required to pay have been capped by the Harper government to prevent massive increases to our payroll deductions as less people work and more people draw from the EI fund.
And Harper simply has never gotten around to setting up that $2-billion rainy day fund as promised.
All of those expensive investment bankers brought in from Bay Street to manage the EI Financing Board are just sitting around with nothing to do as the Harper government lays off front-line Service Canada staff and makes it more difficult for Canadians to collect EI when they lose a job through no fault of their own.
At the start of this new period of economic and fiscal uncertainty, the Harper majority government is failing Canadians. Less service and more waste is a troubling sign.
But I can assure you that New Democrats will be holding this government to account to ensure we receive the level of service that we already have paid for while cutting down on foolish, unnecessary, and wasteful spending.
You deserve no less.

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