House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was guns.

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A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is no surprise that I once again raise issues around cuts to Service Canada.

When I last raised this issue in the House, the minister's response was that the government was automating service so Canadians could get better service and get it faster. I want to bring to the minister's attention some statistics that point to exactly the opposite.

The government's call centre data shows that in the last five years the number of Canadians able to reach service agents on the phone to discuss their EI claims fell from 58% to 32% and call-back timelines had been increased from two days to five days because staff were so busy, and even those goals are very hard to reach.

Call centre staff were told not to give out the toll-free number for a complaint centre set up to help with overdue claims unless clients specifically asked for it by name. Many people simply do not know about the client satisfaction number.

The so-called modernization is not working for seniors either. In the last week of September alone, half of the people calling about the Canada pension plan or old age security simply got a busy signal.

In last Monday's La Presse, an article talked about the fact that there was 80,000 EI requests that were still facing serious delays. At the end of December, more than 20,000 recent unemployed workers were waiting 40 days to receive their government cheque, while government standards for new employment insurance claims were supposed to be dealt with within 28 days.

The delays are even worse for the unemployed who are requesting adjustments to their employment insurance benefits. In December 22,250 requests had a waiting period of 123 days, while normally this kind of a request took 21 days to be treated.

Another group of unemployed workers who were waiting for an extension on their employment insurance benefits had to wait more than 128 days.

Twelve thousand three hundred and eighteen people who committed an error on their EI request or who were being investigated for other reasons had been waiting 424 days until the end of the investigation.

Another article in La Presse said that 20,000 of the 75,000 new employment insurance claims that were to be processed were not being responded to in the normal time of 28 days. This represented more than a quarter of employment insurance claims.

In case people wonder what the impact of that is, it means that people have a tough time paying their rent, or meeting their mortgage payments, or buying their groceries or paying for their child care. It is not a minor detail that people are waiting excessive periods of time just to collect the money they have actually paid into the fund.

I remind Canadians that employment insurance is a fund that has been paid into by workers and employers. That fund should be available to workers when they lose their employment through no fault of their own in a timely way.

Once again, I have to come back to the government and ask this. What is it going to do about not cutting those services to employment insurance and to Service Canada so workers can access those benefits in a timely manner?

I know many of our offices have been hearing from Canadians from coast to coast to coast about the fact that they simply cannot get through. They cannot access those services. Once again, I call on the government, asking for its plan to help ensure these claims are processed in a timely way.

7:10 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to reply to the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan on the subject of Service Canada's modernization of employment insurance services.

While Canada leads the G8 in job recovery and growth, we still face the reality of a fragile economic time. Despite creating over 610,000 net new jobs, EI claims were higher than expected.

To address this increase in claims, we have added and redeployed over 400 staff resources within Service Canada to assist in processing. We are shifting part-time employees to full-time status to provide additional support. We are also taking steps to reassign staff to assist with claims processing during peak periods.

In time, we are optimistic that we can improve services to Canadians with our 13-year modernization exercise.

We are taking action to ensure those Canadians in need of EI receive the benefits to which they are entitled, and we are doing this through our three year EI modernization initiative.

Automation is speeding up the processing of EI claims. Our goal is to increase the automation level from 44% to 70% over the next three years. We still have work to do, but we are making significant progress.

In the meantime, we have taken measures to assist with current high volumes of EI claims. We are working hard on behalf of Canadians to improve the services we deliver. This is government worker smarter.

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would encourage the minister to look at the year over year claims that come in for employment insurance. I can tell the minister that every year they spike in the wintertime, every year. This is not new information. In addition, this modernization process has been going on for a number of years. The numbers that I just quoted demonstrate that this modernization process clearly is not working. In addition, at least half the claims that are filed need human intervention. The computer system all by itself will not deal with it.

The government's strategy clearly is not working. When is it going to put the resources in place at Service Canada to ensure that claims are processed in a timely manner so that people get their employment insurance cheques and their communities do not suffer?

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member seems to have forgotten all the progress that has been made over the past few years to improve service to Canadians. She has focused on a temporary situation caused by high call volumes. She is also ignoring the fact that the telephone is only one channel to obtain service from Service Canada. Clients have access through many channels: in person, by fax, by mail or courier, and through the Internet at servicecanada.gc.ca, in addition to contacting specialized call centres.

We are currently taking steps to ensure that Canadians receive the EI they deserve. We have reassigned staff from non-core areas of the EI business lines to EI processing in order to address the current peak demands. We have hired additional temporary staff to support EI processing. We are shifting part-time employees to full-time status.

Modernizing our services will mean changes in the way we currently do business, but ultimately we will be doing it better, faster and more cost-effectively for Canadians. With increased automation, Service Canada will be better able to serve Canadians in a timely and cost-effective manner.

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, this is the exact same issue regarding the processing centres for employment insurance and I had a lot of the statistics brought forward by the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. I will not repeat them, but she did a great job in referring to them. Everyone tuned into the debate will realize what kind of a contrast we have here and what kind of a message we are giving.

I want to put a human face on this for a moment. Never in my six or seven years of doing this job have I seen the volume of calls that I have seen come into my offices, particularly the one in Gander, the one in Grand Falls--Windsor, regarding how long it takes people to receive their first cheque after their claim has been filed.

The first employment insurance cheque is actually only half of what it should be because that is the way it is set out in the legislation. In essence, there are two things.

First of all, there is the inability for Service Canada to deliver the cheques promptly. We are talking about over two months in some cases. That is two payments: two bill payments, two mortgage payments. That is a lot to shoulder in a period of time when an unemployed person does not receive any money.

The second element is the processing centres themselves, and this gets to the specifics of my question, which is 120 processing centres being shut down to accommodate for 20. One hundred twenty centres are being reduced to 20. Every time we try to question this, every time we make an inquiry, every time the media addresses this, we are greeted with a statement that the opposition is just fearmongering, that it is not that bad. How bad really is it?

In a place like Gander or Grand Falls--Windsor there is so much uncertainty as to where these jobs are going to be. These are not average jobs that pay minimum wage; they are jobs with great benefits, federal jobs. How are these people supposed to plan the rest of their lives with the uncertainty that surrounds them? Will their jobs move or will they be eliminated? When is this going to take place? There is a great deal of uncertainty.

The member for Labrador indicated to the people of Goose Bay that they will not have to leave. What does that do to the other centres in the case of Gander--Grand Falls--Windsor, or Corner Brook?

The member mentioned some statistics and automation. I would like her to get away from the automation part of it for a moment and to get away from the talking points, because I can go to the website and read what she just said. Could she drift away from the notes for a moment and talk about whether these jobs will remain or not? If she cannot answer that question, could she at least talk about the issue of where the vision lies with Service Canada as to the processing centres, but specifically just those centres?

7:20 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to respond to the question raised by my colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor with respect to modernization and the actual wait times for EI processing.

The speed of service standard for claimants who receive first EI payments and notification of non-payments is within 28 days 80% of the time. However, we are experiencing challenges with seasonal fluctuations as individuals apply through Service Canada for their EI benefits.

Canada has recovered reasonably well from the economic downturn reported by most countries and compared to most countries. However, we continue to be affected by events in the global economy. The short-term outlook is uncertain and our economic recovery remains fragile.

It is important to keep in mind that these are difficult times. Even so, I want to underline that we have taken action to ensure that citizens get the benefits they need as fast as possible.

As of December 1, additional temporary staff have been assigned to processing high volume EI claims. Currently, there are over 400 additional staff helping process claims. We are shifting part-time workers to full-time worker status for additional support. We are also taking steps to reassign staff from non-core functions within Service Canada business lines to assist in claims processing during these big seasons.

I assure my colleague that we are not sitting with our arms folded waiting for things to happen. Canadians have told us that they want responsible government and that means reducing spending, balancing the budget and improving services we deliver. Those services can best be delivered by improvements in automation.

We are particularly proud of the advances we have made in the submission of records of employment. As more employers sign up online, there will be less cumbersome paperwork and this will lead to faster or more cost-efficient processing of EI claims. Increasing the number of employers who submit ROEs electronically will free up additional work staff to focus on the priorities in EI processing. Automation is helping the way we do business.

We remain determined to ensure that EI benefits are delivered efficiently and in the best interests of those Canadians who need temporary assistance while they are making this transition in their lives.

February 13th, 2012 / 7:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I never asked a question about automation. I never asked a question about everything that I can read on a website. I am just asking for some direction as to where Service Canada sees itself as far as the employees are concerned. Do these people need to move? Will these people have a job? Will there be enough people to supply the cheques in a time that is reasonable?

The member's answer about automation does not answer, because if something goes out of whack, if there is one slight mistake, it falls out of the automated system and, therefore, they must wait that much longer.

The minister gave me a response of “28 days 80% of the time”. That is not even close. We are not even getting to that point. The government throws out numbers but the problem is that it keeps throwing out these percentages based on so many cases or on a select few, the few it feels are necessary to get its point across.

Will these jobs remain in the sub-centres? Everyone should watch this because she will read a speech that was written for her by the department There is not much debate in that.

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to reassure my colleague opposite that Canadians who lose their jobs through no fault of their own and who cannot find work will have the support of employment insurance. That means getting EI benefits to them as quickly as possible. Right now we are dealing with higher volumes of claims because of economic uncertainty, which is putting a significant amount of pressure on the system.

To improve services, we have reassigned staff from non-core areas to core areas for processing.

With the increased automation, Service Canada will be able to better respond to Canadians in a more timely and cost-effective manner.

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:26 p.m.)