Employment Insurance | “You almost have to prove neediness”

With the unemployment rate at an all-time low, Ottawa certainly won’t be swamped with employment insurance claims. However, the delays in receiving a first payment can be four or even five months.

Posted at 6:30am

Think how easy it was to claim CERB two years ago – even fraudulently. The system, although very new and created in record time, was effective. A few mouse clicks and the check was in the mail.

Getting unemployment insurance is a different story.

In many cases, the waiting time is now counted in months. It’s unusually long.

The Coalition of Quebec Consumer Associations (CACQ), the elected representatives of the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the National Council of the Unemployment (CNC) regret this situation with sometimes catastrophic financial consequences. Some borrow at high interest rates, others use their credit line to the maximum. Debt ratios rise, credit ratings fall.

Most astounding are the desperate suggestions made by Service Canada staff to the unemployed, who insist that their files be completed more quickly.

Some applicants have been “urged” to sell their property, such as furniture or their car, so their case is considered urgent, denounced the CACQ, which questions the ethics of this “advice”.

When I heard that, my ears perked up. I found that pretty frightening. Even an insolvency administrator does not do that. He doesn’t ask people if they sold their fridge.

Élaine Guilbault, Director of the ACEF de la Péninsule in Gaspésie and Vice President of the CACQ

Service Canada agents prioritize individuals experiencing serious financial difficulties using a grid that allows them to prioritize requests. Exactly as it is done in a hospital emergency room, explains CNC spokesman Pierre Céré.

“The person on the other end of the line needs to understand that the situation is really critical and you have priority. We have to show that we are almost at the level of neediness. That’s how they work now and it’s unheard of. That’s a mystery to me,” laments the man who has worked in the industry since 1979.

In Ottawa, we ensure that all requests are processed “according to the date received, regardless of their complexity or location”.

That’s not all. “Service Canada is urging people to call their MP’s office to get things started. So they call our offices and it’s overflowing,” says Jean-Denis Garon, MP for the Bloc Québécois in Mirabel.

Like the consumer protection groups, the offices of MPs have access to a preferential line of employment insurance. In short, since the ERs are overwhelmed, the triage nurse suggests that patients go in through the back door to consult with other triage nurses. Find the mistake.

So far, no fewer than 4,000 people have asked their Bloc Québécois MP for help in releasing their files. Just imagine the scale of the phenomenon from one end of the country to the other.

“If someone loses their job and finds themselves caught between two stools, even if the unemployment rate is low, they urgently need his support,” says Jean-Denis Garon.

According to the NDP, the scam that occurred at Desjardins three years ago accounts for “about 10,000 instances of processing delays”… alone.

In fact, the CACQ, the CNC and the proxies note that many files need to be submitted to the compliance department (aka integrity) to ensure the legitimacy of the application. This step lengthens the process significantly. Deputy Garon also requires payments to be made pending the usual checks.

  • Rep. Jean-Denis Garon is pressuring Ottawa to speed up processing of labor insurance claims.


    Rep. Jean-Denis Garon is pressuring Ottawa to speed up processing of labor insurance claims.

  • Rep. Kristina Michaud calls on Ottawa to improve processing of employment insurance claims.


    Rep. Kristina Michaud calls on Ottawa to improve processing of employment insurance claims.


At the end of April, Jean-Denis Garon denounced the way Service Canada works on Facebook. Some of his colleagues had done the same earlier in the winter. The CNC issued a press release on the subject in January. But nothing seems to move. On the contrary, according to CNC, the deadlines are getting longer and longer.

The Bloc Québécois and NDP are calling on Ottawa to increase labor insurance staff to clear the claims backlog and return to the normal 28-day deadline. This is all the more urgent in an inflationary environment.

“These unacceptable EI delays are even more frustrating for people and exacerbating the affordability crisis. Unfortunately, Liberals pretend to be concerned about the financial burden on people,” laments NDP MP and labor insurance critic Daniel Blaikie (Elmwood-Transcona).

The office of Secretary of Labor, Carla Qualtrough, has not told me if steps have been taken to improve the situation. Instead, I was told that for the past year, Service Canada processed 85.4% of applications in 28 days. And that the others are “outnumbered” in the following two weeks.

“If you’re not sure, things seem to be going well,” comments Pierre Céré. But in reality, he observes, “it’s hell for a lot of people.”

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