Recent revelations that federal employees are making house calls to employment insurance recipients should disturb all Canadians. It suggests that the already diminished numbers of federal employees actually have the time to knock on doors. But more importantly, it insults the many Canadians on EI who have already been through the application and approval process for benefits and are therefore entitled to them.
Why subject them to what can only be described as tactics of harassment, humiliation and intimidation?
According to a recent Canadian Press story, Ottawa has begun visiting EI recipients at home as part of an "examination" being conducted in the current overhaul of the program. An estimated 1,200 recipients are getting invitations at the door from a federal government worker asking that they fill out a form and meet for an interview. In confirming that the house calls were taking place, Human Resources Development Canada responded in an email to the news agency that "an examination to ensure the integrity of the Employment Insurance program is currently underway."
According to the story, an estimated 50 federal workers have been assigned the job of visiting the homes of the 1,200 recipients selected for the project, one of whom was a woman who spoke of her own experience on condition of anonymity. In her words, she was "stunned."
That's not surprising. Many of us have varying degrees of concern or preoccupation about Big Brother invading our lives, but few imagine him showing up at the door. That's what this sounds like.
What's galling is that this is being done in the name of taxpayer interest and saving tax dollars. As union leaders keep reminding government, the EI program is funded by employers and employees. The federal government merely administers it through the public service. The house calls are not only offensive and demeaning to EI recipients who already have been approved for benefits, they place even greater demands on federal employees. It's a waste of their time and a poor use of the skills and resources of the already shrinking ranks of the public service.
The union representing federal employees has also raised an additional concern: the safety of its members. Given the level of public anger over the EI changes, it contends, employees making the house calls could find themselves in dangerous situations. The union is demanding a stop to the visitations.
In response to these concerns, Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems unflinching. In fact, according to a Canadian Press story, he asserted this while addressing a Saskatoon audience this week: "Every year, unfortunately, in our employment insurance system, hundreds of millions of dollars are identified or lost through false or fraudulent or inappropriate claims."
If that's the case, government needs to curb this abuse. But to subject EI claimants whom the federal government has already approved for benefits to random house calls is unfair, degrading and unjustified. It also perpetuates negative stereotypes surrounding employment insurance, and does a disservice to regions whose economies depend on EI and the seasonal workforce. This is a shameful and blatant attack on the unemployed in this country.
We call upon Egmont MP Gail Shea to put pressure on her government to put a stop to these house calls, which in the minds of many critics amount to the latest salvo against Canadians who find themselves depending on the employment insurance system.