Problems from omnibus budget show up

There was a lot of criticism for the government’s omnibus austerity budget when it was passed in 2012.  Now the criticism is proving well-founded as the devil is revealed in the details that are showing up since the mega-bill was enacted.  Some of those details are related to the new Social Security Tribunal.   It was created in a move that was supposed to save money, but is failing miserably at its primary objective – to hear appeals that are related to seniors, the unemployed and people with disabilities.    The tribunal is turning into a classic case of cutting back to the point that things just don’t have the capacity to work at the speed they need to.

As it stands, theSocial Security Tribunal is struggling to deal with a huge backlog in benefit claims.  The 74 person body listens to appeals from Canadians related to the Canada Pension Plan, disability benefits, Employment Insurance, and Old Age Security.   It was clear that the panel was too small from the outset and New Democrats raised red flags throughout the budget debate – a debate that some will recall was cut off arbitrarily by the government and forced through votes specifically to avoid criticism.

In the end, the criticisms were more on target than anyone could wish for and if nothing is done the current backlog of cases will take 11 years to clear.  That is both unacceptable and beyond reason.   Someone appealing a negative decision related to Employment Insurance or disability benefits should not be asked to wait years for resolution. 

The government is now increasing the number of tribunal appointees and support staff.   At the same time they brought Social Security Tribunal Chairperson Murielle Brazeau before committee and then limited the time New Democrats were allowed to question her in order to control the damage her expert testimony was creating.   Most damning was the fact that Ms Brazeau couldn’t even provide an estimate of when the backlog would be cleared despite the government’s attempt to address the deficiencies.

The current system is characterized as being chaotic and highlights the lack of planning that was brought to the exercise when the tribunal replaced four separate bodies as part of that year’s omnibus budget bill.  It is examples such as this that reinforce the fact that huge budgets bills should be replaced by numerous stand-alone bills.  That way important changes can be debated effectively which will protect Canadians from the negative impacts of ill-conceived and altogether hurried mega-bills.

This is a classic outcome for a government that keeps its own counsel on economic matters and refuses to listen to anyone who doesn’t totally agree with them.  It was clear the backlog was imminent from the moment the tribunal was created, but the Conservatives were too busy flattering themselves for perceived economic management to hear the warnings.  Now they are attempting to fix it and perform damage control at the same time.   Canadians deserve a tribunal that works not a government that is more worried about covering their footprints.