Critics pounce on Harper government for failing to expand program to cope with rapidly rising unemployment figures.
Ottawa (25 March 2009) - The Harper government announced Tuesday it will put an extra $60 million into the federal Employment Insurance (EI) system but the move did little to appease a rising chorus of criticism about the way the program is operating.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said the money will be used to hire staff, process claims and extend coverage by five weeks. The national unemployment rate now stands at 7.7% - the highest in five years - and is expected to continue rising as the recession deepens. More than 300,000 jobs have disappeared in Canada over the past four months, including more than 82,000 in February alone.
In Parliament Tuesday, the opposition parties said the government is not doing nearly enough to cope with delays and get benefit cheques out on time. Nor is EI reaching nearly the number of people it should be at a time of economic crisis, critics argued.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff accused the government of "trying to patch EI with duct tape while evading the real issue, which is eligibility."
NDP finance critic Thomas Mulcair said MPs have faced a deluge of calls from constituents who complain about delays in receiving benefits.
"Ask any one of the 307 other members of Parliament and you will be told the same thing," Mulcair said. "It's a catastrophe right now administratively (and) what she is proposing right now is a Band-Aid solution."
Liberal MP Michael Savage noted that only 23,700 more Canadians applied for benefits in January, a month that saw 129,000 jobs disappear. "Where (are) the rest of them, why don't they qualify for employment insurance benefits?" he asked.
Some analysts believe the unemployment rate will rise above 10% and 600,000 jobs will have been lost before the recession ends.
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