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  • Help us build a better Ontario September 14, 2017
    If you live in Ontario, you may have recently been selected to receive our 2017 grassroots poll on vital issues affecting the province. Your answers to these and other essential questions will help us decide what issues to focus on as we head towards the June 2018 election in Ontario. For decades, the CCPA has […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Does the Site C dam make economic sense for BC? August 31, 2017
    Today CCPC-BC senior economist Marc Lee submitted an analysis to the BC Utilities Commission in response to their consultation on the economics of the Site C dam. You can read it here. In short, the submission discussses how the economic case for Site C assumes that industrial demand for electricity—in particular for natural gas extraction […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Ontario's middle and working class families are losing ground August 15, 2017
    Ontario is becoming more polarized as middle and working class families see their share of the income pie shrinking while upper middle and rich families take home even more. New research from CCPA-Ontario Senior Economist Sheila Block reveals a staggering divide between two labour markets in the province: the top half of families continue to pile […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Join us in October for the CCPA-BC fundraising gala, featuring Senator Murray Sinclair August 14, 2017
    We are incredibly honoured to announce that Senator Murray Sinclair will address our 2017 Annual Gala as keynote speaker, on Thursday, October 19 in Vancouver. Tickets are now on sale. Will you join us? Senator Sinclair has served as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), was the first Indigenous judge appointed in Manitoba, […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • How to make NAFTA sustainable, equitable July 19, 2017
    Global Affairs Canada is consulting Canadians on their priorities for, and concerns about, the planned renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In CCPA’s submission to this process, Scott Sinclair, Stuart Trew and Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood point out how NAFTA has failed to live up to its promise with respect to job and productivity […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
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The Progressive Economics Forum

Flaherty’s Funny Math with the EI Surplus

The Parliamentary Budget Office has come out with a report, suggesting that the Conservatives will likely balance the budget ahead of schedule. But, and it’s a big but, if there were no EI surplus, there would be no balanced budget in 2016. And the annual surplus in the EI Operating Account is no small potatoes – it’s forecast to be at least $3.5 Billion in 2014. But this forecast is based on an EI coverage rate of 41%, and recently it’s been more like 38%, meaning the 2014 EI surplus will probably end up being over $4 Billion.

(How anyone with a heartbeat thinks it’s OK to rack up a $4 Billion surplus in the EI account when coverage is only 38% is beyond me. But the media coverage on this suggests premiums are too high, not that EI coverage is too low. A whole other post, for another day.)

Premium rates over the past couple of years have been set with the assumption that coverage would be much higher than they have been. Too many precarious workers aren’t qualifying for benefits, and too many are exhausting benefits before finding work. Fortunately for Mr. Flaherty, that has saved the EI account billions of dollars. Decisions made by the Finance department have also saved the EI Account money, but have pushed these costs onto households and social assistance systems.

For example, stimulus measures to extend the benefit period recognized that spells of unemployment are usually much longer during a recession and recovery. These stimulus measures were cut in Budget 2011, but they are still very much needed. One in five unemployed workers have been out of work for more than six months, compared to a pre-recession rate of 1 in 8.

Migrant workers were cut off from receiving parental and other special benefits, even though they pay into the system, and cannot access regular benefits. This decision certainly was made with only the bottom line in mind, fairness to workers be damned.

EI call centres and claims processing don’t have the resources to meet demand. This means that workers trying to navigate the system often have difficulty contacting a real person to help them. If everything fits in the right blocks in the automated system, you’re golden, but if some piece of information is missing, or incorrect, you’re waiting months before you receive a decision, let alone payment. If you have to appeal your decision, it could be several more months before the case is resolved. More and more workers are needing to turn to other support systems in the interim, such as personal debt or social assistance. More resources are desperately needed in the system to ensure timely service for workers needing EI, but ESDC and Service Canada are facing cutbacks just when their services are needed the most.

But, Flaherty says, no,  the increasing stinginess in the system, and corresponding rapid accumulation of funds, have nothing to do with balancing the federal books. It’s just a coincidence that the EI fund was able to pay back its accumulated deficit from the recession so quickly, and that helpfully, that amount is enough to balance the books a year early.

He’s sounding an awful lot like Paul Martin used to.

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Comments

Comment from Allan
Time: March 24, 2014, 1:54 pm

ei should tell people the math on how they pay you

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