Information regarding the Canada Pension Plan is displayed of the Service Canada website in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Information regarding the Canada Pension Plan is displayed of the Service Canada website in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Liberals’ two-year-old pledge to revamp EI, CPP appeals body delayed due to COVID-19

The legislative change are expected to be in this year’s budget bill, say the sources

COVID-19 has all but stalled a promised shift in how Canadians appeal rulings on their requests for federal income supports.

The department overseeing the work, Employment and Social Development Canada, says the change won’t happen as originally scheduled next month because of pandemic-related risks.

In 2019, the Liberals promised to partially restore the system that existed before the previous Conservative government created the Social Security Tribunal in 2013.

The Liberals planned to bring back board hearings for the first layer of appeals inside the Social Security Tribunal, and retain a single arbitrator for the second, final, layer.

Three sources with knowledge of the government’s plans tell The Canadian Press the required legislative changes were to be in last year’s budget, which was shelved due to the pandemic.

The legislative change are expected to be in this year’s budget bill, say the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity to detail private conservations, or because they were not authorized to speak publicly about matters not yet public.

The eight-year-old tribunal replaced four separate bodies that heard appeals from Canadians who disagreed with the government’s decisions on their applications for employment insurance, Canada Pension Plan, or old age security benefits.

Key changes included cutting the number of people hearing most cases from three to one, and replacing part-time hearing officials in many places with full-time staff in fewer locations.

Shortly after the revamped tribunal launched, it ran into problems, with months- and even years-long delays for hearings and decisions that were traced back to being understaffed and missing a transition plan.

Processing times have improved since. The latest figures from the tribunal show the first layer of EI appeals took on average 36 days, and 74 for CPP or disability benefits so far this fiscal year. The figures for the second, and final, appeal were 21 days and 89 days respectively.

“What’s more, we’ve had no backlog of appeals during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said tribunal spokeswoman Stephanie black.

She also noted that 94 per cent of appellants who responded to a user survey said they were happy with the speed of appeals, and 93 per cent were satisfied with the appeal process overall.

A spokeswoman for ESDC said changes to the recourse process and the Social Security Tribunal, or SST for short, will run in parallel with the government’s promise to update the employment insurance system.

“The department recognizes that during a pandemic, there are significant additional risks associated with implementing these changes, which could negatively affect the existing process,” Marie-Eve Sigouin-Campeau said in an email.

“The SST can continue deliver very valuable work and service to Canadians in these uncertain times, but stability is important because (case) inventories may increase as a result of COVID-19 and the significant number of EI claims due to the pandemic.”

When the Liberals set aside $253.8 million over five years, beginning in April, to make the system easier to navigate and shorten decision times by bringing back the three-panel hearings that included a representative each from labour and employers, plus a government chairperson.

Department officials were hinting last year that the new structure wouldn’t be as big as the old one.

Instead of hiring about 900 panel members, spread through communities across the country, sources said the department planned to hire one-third the amount because it expected to have one-third of the amount of appeals the previous system handled.

Panel members only get paid for each hearing, meaning costs would be based on the number of appeals, not the number of referees.

Sources also said the government is interested in having the new appeal body overseen by a cabinet appointee who would report to the deputy minister at ESDC, who also acts as chair of the federal EI commission.

That kind of governance structure could lead stakeholders involved in the EI system, for instance, to complain about accountability issues similar to ones lodged originally when the Social Security Tribunal launched.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

EI reviewLiberals

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Members of the community garden hosted their first seed swap and fundraiser at the Greenwood Mall in Sparwood on Monday. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Sparwood Community Garden hosts first seed swap

Work on the garden at Engelmann Spruce Drive will begin soon

Crews and volunteers responded to a four-hectare wildfire on the lower half of the Aqam community lands near Cranbrook on Friday afternoon. Trevor Crawley photo.
Wildfire season gets early start in the East Kootenay

Fire crews, volunteers respond to two local wildfires, while prescribed burns turn weekend skies smoky

A conceptual image of a multi-family housing development envisioned by Abugov Kaspar Architects to go on a lot in Castle Mountain in Fernie. (Image courtesy of City of Fernie)
City defers zoning decision

A zoning change would permit a development with 15 percent rental tenure residences in Castle Mountain

Rob and Jennifer King run Sasquatch Cyclery out of their garage. (Soranne Floarea/ The Free Press)
‘Hop on it now’: Parts crunch hits cycling

New bikes are hard to get and used bikes are selling at a premium this year

Michel-Natal-Sparwood Heritage Society runs a museum that was established to display the heritage of the "no-longer towns" of Michel and Natal, and the Elk Valley Area. Photo Submitted/Monica Beranek, Artifact Curator
Sparwood Museum requests a leg up to stay open full-time

The museum is volunteer-run, but needs a full-time employee to be able to snag much-needed grants

Pub patio in Victoria reopens with widely spaced tables, June 2020. Restaurants and pubs across are restricted to take-out and patio service only until May 25 at the earliest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
B.C. extends COVID-19 indoor dining, group fitness ban until May 25

Don’t travel outside your region, Dr. Bonnie Henry warns

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. to target people ages 40+ in ‘high risk communities’ with AstraZeneca vaccine

A total of 13 neighbourhoods and communities will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Carver Ken Sheen had almost finished work on a large cowboy carving commissioned by the City of Williams Lake to replace the original overlooking the Stampede Grounds when fire broke out Friday, April 18 at his property between Williams Lake and Quesnel. (Pine River Carving Facebook photos)
Cow boss statue destined for Williams Lake Stampede Grounds goes up in flames

Carver Ken Sheen lost the statue, all his tools and his shop in the blaze

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains. (Hansard TV)
B.C. moves to protect employee pay for COVID-19 vaccination

Most won’t need to take time off work, labour minister says

New figures show Canadian housing prices outpacing those in other developed countries. (Black Press Media file photo)
Canadian housing prices fastest rising in the world

Relative to 2000, housing prices have risen by a factor of more than 2.5

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
80-million-year-old turtle find on B.C. river exciting fossil hunters

Remains of two-foot creature of undetermined species will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Most Read