Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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Paul Thompson
View Paul Thompson Profile
Paul Thompson
2011-03-22 11:28
As I was saying, I was asked to address the committee on the procedures for appealing decisions of the Employment Insurance Board of Referees to the umpire.
I am joined today by my colleague Éric Giguère, Director of the EI Appeals Division, who also will be able to speak to various elements of the appeal process.
I would like to begin by providing a brief description of the overall EI appeals system.
The Employment Insurance Act provides two levels of appeal for EI claimants and their employers who disagree with a decision that is made by the EI Commission on matters that relate to the payment of benefits. The first level of appeal is the board of referees.
These part-time boards are independent, impartial three-member panels of laypersons from the community who hear appeals at 83 centres across Canada. The chairpersons are Governor in Council appointments, whereas the employer and the insured person representatives are appointed by their respective commissioners. There are currently more than 900 active members on the board of referees.
When EI clients receive notification of a commission decision they are informed of their right of appeal to the Board of Referees. Their appeal must be submitted to Service Canada in writing within 30 days, although this deadline may be extended by the commission for special reasons.
When Service Canada receives an appeal to the board, the letter and the appeal decision are reviewed to determine if the decision can be reversed. If the original decision is incorrect, it is reversed and benefits are paid, or the overpayment is removed, as applicable. If not the appeal proceeds to the board.
When appeals are going to the board, Service Canada aims to have these appeals ready and scheduled to be heard within 30 days from receipt of the client's letter.
The second level of appeal for claimants and employers—which is also the first level of appeal for the EI Commission—is the umpire. The umpire is an independent administrative tribunal that operates at arm's length from HRSDC. It is headed by the chief umpire, who is a Governor in Council appointee. Umpires are current or retired judges of either a superior, county, district, or provincial court, or of the Federal Court of Canada. Single-panel umpires hear the appeals across Canada.
When clients receive the decision of the board of referees, they are informed that they have a right to appeal that decision to the umpire. Their appeal must be submitted to Service Canada in writing within 60 days, although this deadline, as with the board of referees, may be extended by the umpire for special reasons.
It is important to note that the Office of the Umpire operates at arm's length from Service Canada and reports directly to the Chief Umpire in matters of case management and scheduling. I have been advised that the Office of the Umpire aims to hear appeals within six months in large centres and at latest, within 12 months in remote areas.
I mentioned that the commission also has a right of appeal to the umpire. The commission has a responsibility to ensure that clients are paid the benefits to which they are entitled. At the same time, the commission also has a responsibility to all Canadians to ensure that the EI fund is protected and is sustainable.
The commission respects the role and the authority of the board of referees. When reviewing a board decision that has allowed a client's appeal, the commission must clearly establish that at least one of the legislated grounds for appeal to the umpire exists. To reach this decision, a thorough review of the file is conducted, and there are strict guidelines to ensure that frivolous appeals do not proceed.
In the end, the commission appeals a relatively low number of board decisions to the umpire. In the past five years, the commission has, on average, appealed only 9% of Board of Referees rulings overturning the commission's decisions.
In conclusion, the EI appeals system has a long and enduring history of providing our clients with a quick, effective and efficient redress mechanism. But we are always looking for opportunities to improve. I am pleased to inform you that we have undertaken a number of initiatives to improve the quality and speed of our service.
These include a national appeals processing unit that's dedicated to addressing the increased workload from the economic downturn. We've created centres of expertise across the country. We are in the process of reviewing and simplifying appeals processes and looking at moving work more easily from place to place. We have plans in place to make use of imaging technology to facilitate the distribution as well, and to improve our tracking and filing system for clients.
The EI appeals system plays a tremendous role in providing feedback on the overall health of the EI program and it certainly influences program and policy direction. But what is most important is that it is an extremely important service to Canadians.
I look forward to your questions.
View Michael Savage Profile
Lib. (NS)
Okay.
What about the idea that the boards of referees themselves—I'm looking at a recommendation that was made to our committee—could be better supported through the submission of files, which are quite often incomplete? There are high turnover rates, delays, and things like that. Do you have any comment on that?
Paul Thompson
View Paul Thompson Profile
Paul Thompson
2011-03-22 11:40
We have service standards for supporting the hearings. It is the department's role to prepare the dockets or the files so that the board can arrive at its decision, so it's the department's role to enable the board to actually hold the hearing. That is a role that the department undertakes. I mentioned some of the measures we've pursued to ensure that it happens in a timely fashion.
View Maria Minna Profile
Lib. (ON)
I see.
In your presentation, Mr. Thompson, you said something to the effect that the commission also has the responsibility to all the premium payers to ensure that the EI program is properly administered and protected and sustainable.
I found that strange. Wouldn't that be the responsibility of the commission or the government or someone else? Wouldn't your primary responsibility here be to protect the rights of the individual appealing, as opposed to worrying about whether you're protecting the system overall? It's an appeals process. I find that strange.
Paul Thompson
View Paul Thompson Profile
Paul Thompson
2011-03-22 12:11
The commission has an overall responsibility for the administration of the EI program and the responsibility to premium payers for lawful and appropriate administration of the program. It's a dual responsibility in terms of the rights of the claimant as well as upholding the integrity of the--
Paul Thompson
View Paul Thompson Profile
Paul Thompson
2011-03-22 12:17
Our focus has been on trying to have a timely hearing. Our worry would be that if further steps were put in, it might slow down the ultimate hearing. It's not something we've actively considered.
View Rob Clarke Profile
CPC (SK)
Okay. I noticed you mentioned some of the services. When I was in northern Saskatchewan, specifically at Île-à-la-Crosse, the friendship centre was able to provide service. One of the services was the head start program, which my son was in for two years. I really noticed a big difference just in his reading level. He has continued with progress in his reading. It has helped him excel through further education. He's now in grade five and reading at a higher level than other students in the same grade, which is great. You can see how the friendship centres are vital even towards education in communities.
I have a question about something you mentioned on the services that you provide. Can you just list some of the services? There are a lot of people who don't understand how the friendship centres work and what types of programs they offer to communities. I understand it's not race-based. They serve all people in all communities. It doesn't matter if they're aboriginal or non-aboriginal.
Now, could you just explain some of the services that are provided?
Jeffrey Cyr
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Jeffrey Cyr
2011-03-22 10:30
Sure. I tend to think of the friendship centres as a spectrum of services for aboriginal and non-aboriginal people alike.
Let's start with the head start program. You're talking about childhood development learning programs and parenting programs. A lot of places will provide child care services in the home, and out-of-home child care services as well. There are aboriginal justice programs run out of friendship centres, restorative justice. There are a lot of cultural events, of course, and a lot of community feasts and community events. That sort of thing happens as well. There are elder support groups. Right in Ottawa, we have a bannock bus that goes around every night and gives food to homeless people in Ottawa. We have a drop-in centre here at 510 Rideau, just down the street.
So these are the sorts of services they provide. There are many more. There are education programs. I'm part of the friendship centre healthy eating and active living program, which is about high rates of diabetes—we're trying to watch it now so it doesn't become a burden on the health care system and oneself later on. So there are nutrition programs as well. It's just a really big panoply of services and programs that are offered at friendship centres. Sports....
Conrad Saulis
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Conrad Saulis
2011-03-22 10:31
I'll just add a couple of other things that we're currently working on at the NAFC. We're working on literacy, adult and youth. You mentioned your child's ability to read at a higher level. We're also involved in tobacco cessation, and we're obviously engaged in many health issues, as Jeff said, such as nutrition and diabetes. We're also very actively engaged in wanting to support youth, first of all on a prevention side but also on an intervention side.
I think the spectrum is from the cradle to the eldest people who live in our urban areas. I think friendship centres are very creative, as well, in meeting the needs of various populations. An example is single mothers. A lot of single mothers will leave their home communities for a number of reasons; we know that. They seek support, and friendship centres are the places they turn to.
Friendship centres will also help other organizations become established. Here in Ottawa, the Odawa Friendship Centre was supportive of the establishment of the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health. So they know they're not necessarily the be-all and end-all, because they're not health people. Health people need to create other programs and services that are very medically oriented. Yet on the prevention side, friendship centres have a major role.
View Anita Neville Profile
Lib. (MB)
Programming.
I'm from Winnipeg. I've been to the friendship centre there, which you know is a very large and vibrant facility. I'm interested in the gaps in programming that you see a need for, that friendship centres can address. Obviously I'm focusing on Winnipeg, and I'm focusing on some of the prevention programs that are needed for young people who are engaged in all kinds of unsavoury behaviour. I'd be interested in hearing from you what the glaring gaps are—either pick some communities or go nationally—you see friendship centres could address if the resources were in place.
Jeffrey Cyr
View Jeffrey Cyr Profile
Jeffrey Cyr
2011-03-22 10:35
There are a lot of gaps, so I'll try to pick a couple of the key ones.
Hon. Anita Neville: Prioritize them.
Mr. Jeffrey Cyr: Yes. I'll come back to the spectrum of programs that a friendship centre provides for a person's entire life.
One of the programs has to do with employment and labour training and that sort of aspect. There are some programs being run throughout the federal government on this, of course, but I think friendship centres have been engaged spottily on that. I think what we would like to do is have a discussion about the urban economic development agenda and what that actually could look like. I don't think we've had a deep discussion in the Government of Canada about that. There's a gap there.
Part of that gap is also a gap in child care, I would say, for parents who are either in training or starting employment. I have six kids. Child care is a pretty expensive issue in my household. I can imagine it if you were a single mother or a single parent trying to cover your bases for child care while you're getting.... I've recently had stories from Newfoundland and Labrador about people who can get a job but can't go to that job because they don't have child care.
Those two issues run hand in hand.
Another one is housing in the urban setting. Some provincial governments are engaged with our provincial associations; I think B.C. might be one of them, and Ontario a little bit. But for people coming from rural and remote areas and then being in the urban setting, housing is an ongoing issue. I heard you speaking about it with your previous witnesses in a different setting. Housing is an issue in the urban context. There just isn't enough, and it isn't accessible enough.
I'll just keep those two points brief.
Then, of course, on prevention programs, I think we'd like to do a little bit more on sport and physical activity with communities and see what they need to support physical activity for youth. Again, this is driven by personal experience. I'm trying to engage my kids in being healthy. In the urban settings for friendship centres, there is a paucity of programs that we can access and have the community engaged in. Also, I see that where it's successful, it's really successful. It really engages them and grounds them.
I'll leave it at three points.
Conrad.
Conrad Saulis
View Conrad Saulis Profile
Conrad Saulis
2011-03-22 10:37
I just want to pick up on your topic about the youth. We all know the demographics, the statistics for the aboriginal population, the off-reserve population, and the urban population, and 48% of youth population is under the age of 30. That's a huge population. We're 54% of the almost 1.3 million aboriginal Canadians, and a lot of the youth are seeking support, whether it's in culture, language, or traditional knowledge, but they're also wanting to fit into Canadian society.
They're obviously a huge potential employment sector in the coming years. They need the right kinds of training and skills to be able to compete with other people to find the jobs, get the jobs, and keep the jobs, and to become a part of Canadian society, part of that infrastructure. Friendship centres are trying to do that.
Being shut out of federal programming, the assets programming, is something that we're trying to overcome on the one hand, but that's where I would say the largest gap is. It's in trying to provide positive environments for youth so that they don't turn to gangs and to becoming at risk of sexual exploitation and other very serious issues, such as drugs and alcohol. I think there's so much that's a gap in that area.
Hon. Anita Neville: Thank you.
Mr. Conrad Saulis: You're very welcome.
View Greg Rickford Profile
CPC (ON)
View Greg Rickford Profile
2011-03-22 10:39
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the witnesses for coming today.
I am going to try my best to wrap up in three or four minutes, because I know the chair has a question for you.
I have a couple of friendship centres, obviously, in the great Kenora riding. These friendship centres are small, but important. I'm always struck by the sense of identity that people coming off reserve have with the facilities. To that end, I have two comments, and maybe one is more of a question, which I'll put to you in a moment.
With respect to some of the program funding that you get, as the former parliamentary secretary in Canadian Heritage, I came to understand that there were a number of really good reasons why program funding comes through them. I speak more of the aboriginal urban youth funding cultural connections--some definite connections there.
My colleague Anita has raised a good line of inquiry. I've always felt that part of the problem, whether it's federal, provincial, municipal, or specific program funding, is that it seems to be a bit fractured. There is a concern for folks leaving communities where there are, in fact, some rather stealth programs, particularly around maternal child health, early childhood development, and aboriginal diabetes initiatives--which work there, but aren't working quite as well as we'd like. Obviously, that flows out of Health Canada, and I have certainly thought that a more coordinated effort across the different departments might be a useful way of looking at some of the issues around.... And it's not necessarily, Mr. Cyr, a pure question of resources; it's more identifying priorities. That's the comment.
The second part of my question is a bit more focused. One of the things that works at the friendship centre in Red Lake is that they have a great facility that folks can identify with when we offer certain kinds of training, for example, for folks on reserve. In fact, a number of organizations, including the gold companies in the area, have come to understand that, and to increase the level of engagement they've had forums at the friendship centre.
These represent, in my view, additional sources of revenue. How closely, at the executive and national levels, do you work to foster that? I think we've heard through other lines of questioning that there's concern about government funding, perhaps federal, provincial, and municipal. But in terms of almost a strategic business unit, what kind of work are you doing to optimize, if you will, what I think is a great opportunity? Because when we're looking at levels of engagement from first nations communities, there tends to be more success with those activities that seem to be more private in nature when they're hosted there.
Jeffrey Cyr
View Jeffrey Cyr Profile
Jeffrey Cyr
2011-03-22 10:43
Yes, and we find that a lot. We find that people associate with the friendship centre, they identify with it, it's part of their life. It's been part of mine. And if you look around you find a lot of people involved in the friendship centre movement. This isn't uncommon. It's because it's a culturally respected zone for people to come together and it's safe, and they find friends and family there a lot of the time.
But when it comes back to the strategic planning around that, I think friendship centres are, as Conrad pointed out, incredibly creative about how we structure programs. They're incredibly creative about what we do in order to make things work, and they'll continue to be that way. Friendship centres, like everyone else, want to be incredibly successful.
The engagement of the private business community has been ongoing. I don't have statistics on it at my fingertips, and I don't think my colleagues do either, but it's something we're looking at. It falls down to a regional level, where they see what the opportunities are--if it's mining in the north, whatever that opportunity is. We're there to participate because we see it as a benefit to our local people.
I think a lot of friendship centres would be happy to have many types of funding that come into their centre to run the programs for the people. We're interested in those discussions, and that's what we meant by the urban economic development discussion being one that we want to have, about how we increase it.
I see your red light's on, so I'll keep it short.
View Jean-Pierre Blackburn Profile
CPC (QC)
Mr. Chair, as far as these budget numbers go, it is important to understand that every action and decision made at the Department of Veterans Affairs is geared toward improving services and benefits for Canada's most deserving citizens.
The changing demographic profile of Canada's veterans, their changing needs and requirements, and our involvement in Afghanistan have all resulted in more modern-day veterans than we anticipated applying for and receiving benefits under the New Veterans Charter. We are also seeing situations where new medical conditions arise at a later date or where additional difficulties affect veterans. As a result, veterans who already receive a benefit are coming back to us for additional help.
I also want to point out that our efforts over the past year to improve the process of awarding disability benefits have contributed to this increased spending. As of the end of February 2011, the number of disability claims processed increased by 15% this year over last year. As a result, we've put $72 million more in the hands of Canada's veterans.
We have also seen an increase in the uptake of the rehabilitation and career transition programs. The year after the New Veterans Charter was introduced, there were just over 1,100 veterans taking advantage of these programs. This year, there were over 3,800, and we are forecasting over 4,600 next year. That's a 22% increase. It is important to keep in mind that Canada's veterans and their families are the main beneficiaries of this spending growth.
Mr. Chair, you will also notice that we asked for an additional $9.4 million to support the veterans independence program. This reflects the fact that Canada's veterans are still in good health. Our traditional war service veterans are living longer and healthier lives, so they are able to remain in their homes with the help of grounds keeping and housekeeping services. This means fewer of them are moving to long-term care facilities. Again, this is another indication that our programs are effective and being well-used by veterans.
In relation to the spending on the Agent Orange program, I made an announcement in Fredericton back in December that the program would be extended. Our government committed additional funding, some of which is reflected in the numbers you see for both this year and next year. Essentially, that allowed us to change the program's criteria. First, we removed a restriction on eligibility. That allowed more widows to apply for the ex-gratia payment. Second, we changed the date in terms of getting a diagnosis. Since the announcement, we have contacted nearly 1,300 individuals to obtain consent to review their file, and we actually have received a number of new applications as well. The bottom line is that as of March 11, 2011, we have approved payments for over 300 individuals.
Once again, these increases speak to a desire to improve the quality of life for Canada's veterans and their families. They also underline some of the fundamental changes made to how we conduct business at the department these days. We are making real progress in reducing the complexity of the processes and programs, overhauling service delivery, strengthening partnerships with the Department of National Defence and others, sustaining the New Veterans Charter, and adapting the department to the changing demographics of our veterans.
As I mentioned, productivity at Veterans Affairs is up by about 15%. We have increased our team of adjudicators, improved our business processes and introduced better monitoring. We are doing a better job of communicating with veterans, giving clearer direction as to the type of information we need in order to be able to move forward with an application.
We have also made certain investments in technology. These are minor investments for the moment, and of course we have to quicken our pace. We will do more on this front.
I must mention other important progress: between January 2010 and January 2011, we reduced the number of disability claims waiting to be adjudicated by 36%. We are processing disability applications faster. As of early this month, March 8, 78% of first applications were completed within 16 weeks. The result, of course, impacts our budget for the upcoming year.
For 2011-2012, we project spending $3.5 billion, an increase of $109.1 million in comparison to the previous main estimates, or 3.2% from the previous year. I wish to point out that expenses related to Bill C-55 will not be added to the budget as long as the law has not been enacted, but we have provided for the costs related to the program. Some projects have already been approved and there are several others to come.
And finally, Mr. Chair, I don't want to leave you with the impression that all we do is spend money at Veterans Affairs Canada. We are very cognizant of the tight fiscal environment in which our country finds itself. There are some decreases in next year's anticipated spending amounting to $85 million. This is due to a decrease in the forecasted number of War Service Veterans who will receive benefits from the department. As such, some program spending has been adjusted downward.
As well, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board has been established as a separate entity under the Financial Administration Act, which means that the expenditure will no longer appear in the department's spending. These estimates represent an important commitment by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Government of Canada to invest significantly in the health and well-being of Canada's veterans and their families.
I have enjoyed travelling across the country these last few months and talking with our veterans and telling them about the service improvements taking place in their name. Their feedback and yours have been invaluable, as has been the advice from their advocates. I of course plan to continue that dialogue to ensure all of our programs and services are continuously adapted and adjusted to better fit the evolving needs of both our traditional and modern-day veterans and their families.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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