As we move towards the end of another session of Parliament I always like to reflect on the events of the past year. Locally my office has continued to assist constituents who run into difficulties with the federal government bureaucracy. We have been able to help people in obtaining justice from Revenue Canada and Citizenship and Immigration. I have noticed that it is often difficult for people to sponsor visitors from India, Russia and a number of other countries.
My staff and I have provided support to many people in the process and have been pleased when the results have been positive. It means so much when people can bring family members and friends here to Canada so they can take part in weddings, funerals, welcoming a grandchild into the world and other important life events.
One major concern that we have noticed lately is the increasing frustration of people who are dealing with Service Canada. As a result of government cut backs and consolidation of services, the help people have been used to receiving is simply not there. Where Service Canada employees were once available to assist clients in person with their questions, they can now only do so very generally. Assistance with specific personal problems can only be obtained by going online or by calling an 800 number where the line is often busy.
Accessing the website is very difficult for some seniors, for people with disabilities and for anyone without computer skills. Frequently there is a great deal of delay when people try to go through the system. There are cases where a simple two week waiting period has been dragged on for four or five weeks. This happened to a seasonal worker in Nelson who, as a result, experienced financial hardship while the claim was being processed. When he complained to the Service Canada clerk he was told to write his MP!
In the past, a seasonal worker would receive EI during the off season and start his/her job again in the next season. There was no threat of having to leave their community or any requirement to take a job with lower pay. This was good policy for our small rural communities and ensured a certain degree of stability for families while keeping money circulating in the local economy. Now, many workers will be forced into jobs that come with big pay cuts and unreasonable commutes.
All workers and employers pay into the EI fund and the benefits should be there when the need arises. However, according to Statistics Canada, only 37.9% of unemployed Canadians actually qualify for EI benefits at a time when there are five unemployed persons for every single job vacancy.
In the words of Ken Georgetti, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, “The government should stop stigmatizing people who are out of work through no fault of their own and start adopting policies that will lead to the creation of good, family supporting jobs.”
The EI fund once had a surplus of over $50 billion. Successive governments, both Liberal and Conservative transferred this money into General Revenue and as a result have made it progressively more difficult to collect benefits for those who find themselves out of work. In my opinion this is akin to theft and is not only reprehensible but morally and ethically wrong. In a fair and just society, workers who lose their jobs should have maximum access to the EI programs they have paid into and made possible for the benefit of all.
It is the unfortunate reality that under the current federal government we are progressively losing our ability to give a leg up to those in need. A change in government cannot come soon enough.