Pay to pay victory may provide blueprint for other issues

It can often seem that federal politics is stuck on a handful of issues that don’t ever move and if they do, it is in the direction most people won’t appreciate.  That’s why it is all the more enjoyable to see when an issue gains traction and something that seems to be set in stone is suddenly transformed.  That is the case for pay to pay fees which the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Televisions and Telecommunications Commission) announced they will investigate.

Pay to pay fees have been as popular as hornets at a summer picnic ever since they appeared a few years ago.  Meant to encourage people to receive electronic bills and even pay them online, these fees are basically a penalty applied to an invoice that has been mailed, just because it was mailed.  If that sounds like a rip-off to you then you have plenty of company and enough people are upset that the government may actually do something about the problem.

New Democrats have been fighting the pay to pay cash grab from the outset.  It runs counter to most people’s sense of fair play and throws out a long-standing history of billing practices in Canada where you received invoices only for what you owe in the first place.   With our campaigns against pay to pay the pressure became too much and, while the government did signal intent to act on the problem in the last throne speech, it is still a surprise to see the CRTC on the file.  Canadians will take the win.

Still, at the same time that the government is showing signs of ‘getting it’ with pay to pay, they are cutting Employment Insurance Benefits despite unemployment rates that are increasing.  Somewhere along the line the government needs to understand that Employment Insurance isn’t a one-sided handout.  Employers and employees fund the program and it is not a cash cow for the government.  The Conservatives, and the Liberals before them, have used tight-fisted EI policies to horde cash for other purposes making it something other than a social safety net program exclusively.

What this does is turn more and more of our EI premiums into de-facto taxes on employment.  If the benefits are increasingly difficult to attain while being less and less able to bridge the gap created by the loss of income then why should they ever increase?  We already pay tax on our incomes in Canada.  Why should we allow the government to meddle in the EI program so that it suits their interests ahead of employers and employees who pay the freight? 

Perhaps what needs to happen is for everyday Canadians to make a bit of noise – like we saw with pay to pay fees.  This government is willing to bend if it feels the price at the ballot box will be too high.  News stories this week indicate the Conservatives are already looking around for opportunities to replace the seats they feel they will lose in Atlantic Canada.   A large part of their unpopularity in that region has to do with the meddling in Employment Insurance.  Perhaps it’s time for that sentiment to catch fire and spread across the country.