Mr. Speaker, on September 19 I raised a question in the House with regard to processing EI claims. On that occasion, and subsequent occasions, the minister had indicated that the changes in the number of people processing EI claims was in part because there was a temporary spike in EI claims.
I want to refer to an article from October 20 in the Vancouver Sun that said the number of Canadians receiving EI surged in August according to Stats Canada. Across the country, the number of beneficiaries increased by 35,200 in August, up from 533,330 the month before. That is a 6.6% increase month over month.
The article went on to say that the number of initial and renewal claims rose by 4.4% across Canada, up 10,700 claims, for a total of 255,600 in August. That is the second consecutive monthly increase.
From Stats Canada's own numbers, it appears that it was not just a temporary spike that the EI claims processing folks were dealing with. In fact, what we are seeing is increasing numbers of claims.
In addition, I want to refer to how the department is spending some of its resources. Not only do we have these claims increasing but the department is spending resources on cases that have already been decided.
I specifically want to refer to the case of Jennifer McCrea, who was diagnosed with breast cancer while on maternity leave and was denied sickness benefits earlier this year. The Calgary mother applied for six weeks of benefits to recover from her double mastectomy, but she was turned down because she was not available for work. There was already a precedent setting case that had been decided by Justice J.R. Marin, who had ruled that legislative changes made nearly a decade ago were intended to give women access to sickness benefits regardless of whether it is before, during, or after the maternity leave. He said that a more liberal interpretation of the available for work regulation was required of the government, or the government had to update the legislation.
The article went on to say that the human resources minister had done neither. That means that each woman who is denied either walks away from the benefits she is entitled to or has to find a lawyer and re-fight a battle that has already been won.
It went on in the article, and this is the resource issue, to say that this ruling affects so few people, it is estimated between 3,000 and 4,000 a year, that it would probably cost the government more to fight the cases than if would to pay up. In his ruling, Judge Marin said that fixing the mess would not open the floodgates but would offer minimum comfort and solace to a small, hard hit sector of society.
The Vancouver Sun article said that the minister should immediately direct employment insurance officers to follow Marin's ruling and fix the legislation to ensure the changes stick.
What we have here is a case of increasing claims, the department spending resources fighting a case that has already been decided by the umpire, and one wonders whether that should be a priority. Therefore, I want to come back to my original question. Will the minister explain to out-of-work Canadians why the Conservatives are making it harder to access a program that Canadians have paid into?