EI crackdown nothing new: officials

OTTAWA — The federal government has been setting annual targets — with dollar totals — for investigators looking into improper Employment Insurance payments since 1993, say officials with the Human Resources Department.

OTTAWA — The federal government has been setting annual targets — with dollar totals — for investigators looking into improper Employment Insurance payments since 1993, say officials with the Human Resources Department.

And door-knocking by Service Canada officials, currently taking place at the homes of 1,200 EI recipients across the country, has been done regularly.

Opposition claims that the Conservative government is on a “witch hunt” against the unemployed have dominated the House of Commons this week.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley has responded by claiming that, “sadly, the New Democrats are only worried about people who are trying to cheat the system, people they call victims.”

The truth is that all sides are playing politics, to some extent.

Finley’s office arranged a background briefing Wednesday with officials from her Human Resources and Skills Development Department in an effort to defuse the roiling controversy.

And while the record proves that annual dollar targets — the opposition NDP calls them “quotas” — for rooting out improper EI claims are old hat, the record also calls into question claims of hundreds of millions of dollars in Employment Insurance fraud each year.

Last year, Service Canada’s “integrity” program saved or recovered $381 million in ineligible EI payments.

“The savings are not just fraud,” explained a senior departmental official, speaking on background. “We’re talking about error, abuse, but also future incorrect payment.”

“The most common type of error that we see and address through the integrity intervention, for example, are when clients make honest mistakes,” said the official.

The department subsequently claimed that out of the $381 million total saved in 2011-12, some $128.7 million involved “fraudulent claims.”

But the department did not make clear where mistakes end and the legal definition of fraud begins.

“We don’t track the number of individuals who have been charged with fraud,” said the official. “We track the number of dollars that were not eligible to be paid to clients because of their misrepresentation for benefits.”

All parties contend they want to see EI fraudsters caught.

The government, which has made significant changes to the employment insurance eligibility rules, is casting complaints about enforcement as tantamount to the protection of cheaters.

“They’re vastly overstating the extent to which there is a systemic issue in the system,” countered Bob Rae, the interim Liberal leader.

“I do not see fraudsters and cheats,” NDP critic Chris Charlton told the Commons, after calling EI enforcement a “witch hunt.”

“I see honest, hard-working seasonal workers who want the minister to explain why she is coming after them.”

The government response could best be summarized as follows: “Checks are run to ensure the integrity of the system, since the best guarantee for the future of a system is its integrity.”

That’s not Finley speaking. It’s a quote in the House of Commons by former Liberal minister Pierre Pettigrew in February 1999.

The Liberal government of the day was under attack after Human Resources documents surfaced that showed a $612 million “national savings objective” that year for the EI program.

Opposition MPs of the day, including Progressive Conservative Jean Dube, called the target a “quota” — a characterization the Liberals hotly denied.

However,

Just Posted

BlackBerry to buy cybersecurity company Cylance for US$1.4 billion

WATERLOO, Ont. — BlackBerry Ltd. has signed a deal to acquire U.S.… Continue reading

Dead Saskatoon tattoo artist’s skin removed, preserved to honour his work

SASKATOON — When Chris Wenzel knew he was going to die, he… Continue reading

Occupational safety officers investigate deaths of three people near Edmonton

LEDUC, Alta. — RCMP say three men have died in a workplace… Continue reading

Firearms licence screening backlogs pose safety risks: RCMP audit

OTTAWA — Investigations into whether gun licences should be revoked due to… Continue reading

Fashion Fridays: 5 coats you need this winter!

Kim XO, lets you know the best online shopping tips during Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Kapanen’s 2 goals lead Maple Leafs past Sharks 5-3

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Kasperi Kapanen scored his second goal of the… Continue reading

Price shines as Canadiens score twice in third period to rally past Flames

CALGARY — In a duel of struggling goaltenders, one returned to vintage… Continue reading

Quebec literary prize on hold after Amazon sponsorship controversy

MONTREAL — A prestigious Quebec literary prize has been suspended amid public… Continue reading

‘No limits:’ Ill-Abilities breakdance crew teams up with Les Grands Ballets

MONTREAL — Luca ‘Lazylegz’ Patuelli’s crutches become an extension of his arms… Continue reading

One month after legalization, illicit cannabis shops doing brisk business

TORONTO — The three surveillance cameras and the steady flow of people… Continue reading

Lowry has strong words for Raptors’ lack of communication after loss

TORONTO — Raptors coach Nick Nurse might not have had a good… Continue reading

S. Korea’s ‘Garlic Girls’ accuse coaches of derailing team

SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — The Garlic Girls, South Korea’s hugely popular… Continue reading

Trump administration defends its case against CNN’s Acosta

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s administration is trying to fend off a… Continue reading

Most Read