The Commons: Senators need not fear unemployment

Diane Finley explains the difference between a quota and a target

Thomas Mulcair stood first to mock.

“Mr. Speaker, Conservative Senator Mike Duffy has now admitted he mistakenly collected, maybe, about, $100,000 in Senate housing allowances. How does one accidentally claim $100,000 in living expenses? He says the form was too complicated,” the NDP leader reported sarcastically. “We also have Senator Pamela Wallin who has an Ontario health card while claiming to be a resident of Saskatchewan. She told the federal government that she lived in one province but told the provincial government that she lived in another. This would be unacceptable for any other Canadian. Why does the Prime Minister seem to think it is acceptable for his Conservative senators?”

The Prime Minister was away, so it was Peter Van Loan’s responsibility this day to offer the official reassurances. “Mr. Speaker, we have committed to ensure that all expenses are appropriate,” the Government House leader reported, “that the rules governing expenses are appropriate and to report back to the public on these matters.”

But Mr. Van Loan apparently sensed that Mr. Mulcair was not sufficiently serious in his concern for the Senate. “The reality is, if we want to see real change in the Senate, real change toward an accountable Senate,” Mr. Van Loan segued, “we need to embrace the Conservative proposal to actually let Canadians have a say on who represents them in the Senate. The NDP simply will not do that.”

So if you are truly upset with the actions of the senators Mr. Harper has appointed, you simply must agree to pass Mr. Harper’s legislation to reform the Senate. Neat trick, that. Indeed, if this has been the Prime Minister’s play all along, to appoint dozens of senators—and two former members of the press gallery at that—in the hopes that somehow someday they would do something to incite the sort of controversy that would leave everyone begging for change, he is precisely three times the brilliant strategist he is often thought to be.

Of course, if Mr. Van Loan really wanted to move ahead with Senate reform, he might invoke time allocation to bring the legislation to a vote. Unless the Conservatives now believe that such maneuvering, of which they have otherwise been so fond, is somehow undemocratic.

This much though was merely the preamble this day. Indeed, for perhaps the first time since Confederation, the Senate was only the setup and not the punchline.

“Conservative senators are presumed innocent,” Mr. Mulcair soon compared, “while the unemployed are presumed guilty.”

Three weeks ago, Mr. Mulcair recalled, the Human Resources Minister had said there were no fraud-finding quotas for government employees charged with administering employment insurance. A new report suggested otherwise. The NDP leader wondered if the minister might ask for the forgiveness of the hard-working Canadians she was treating like criminals.

Instead, Diane Finley stood to explain that she’d been right all along.

“Service Canada indicates that it does not impose quotas that would result in negative consequences for employees who fail to achieve them,” she said. “Rather, there are performance targets that help protect benefits for unemployed people against fraud.”

“Ohh!” sighed various New Democrats in mock realization.

So it is not that government employees must reach a quota or be punished, it’s just that there is a target they are encouraged to reach.

Mr. Mulcair was unimpressed. He accused Ms. Finley of misleading the House and, for good measure, he wondered if she might call off the inspectors—”Reform Macoutes,” he called them, apparently in reference to this—she’s apparently dispatched to knock on doors and quiz EI recipients.

But now Ms. Finley was apparently quite worried about what might happen if Mr. Mulcair somehow mocked her into not acting. “Mr. Speaker, last year the employment insurance program lost hundreds of millions of dollars due to fraud and ineligible payments, and that despite nearly half a billion dollars of ineligible payments that were detected and stopped by Service Canada,” she explained.  ”The only people who lose if the opposition stops us from rooting out employment insurance fraud are Canadians who follow the rules.”

For the sake of avoiding unflattering references to the Conservative Senator for Prince Edward Island, Ms. Finley’s minders might want to advise her to remove the phrase “ineligible payments” from her explanation.

Mr. Mulcair attempted to finish with a flourish. “The minister is sending investigators into the homes of randomly selected seasonal workers in Atlantic Canada. They cannot send them to inspect senators of course because we do not know where they actually live,” Mr. Mulcair mocked.

The New Democrats laughed.

“We know what the Prime Minister thinks about workers in Atlantic Canada. He calls them losers, and says that they have a ‘culture of defeat,’ ” Mr. Mulcair continued, proving that no good gaffe ever really dies. “Does that explain the reaction and the attitude of the minister? Does she think that they are a bunch of losers as well?”

The New Democrats stood to applaud.

“Mr. Speaker, that is absolutely a load of nonsense,” Ms. Finley sighed. “We are supporting Canadians in their efforts to get back to work. That is why we have expanded the job alerts program and we have expanded the job banks, so Canadians get the information about the jobs that are available for them. EI is there as a temporary income support to help Canadians while they are transitioning to another job. However, if the jobs are not available, then EI will be there for Canadians as it always has been.”

Ms. Finley finished with a reassuring and entirely non-threatening smile.

Fear not then beleaguered senators. Should you find yourself declared ineligible for your assigned seat in the Senate, you will not simply be hustled out of the chamber and deposited on Wellington Street to fend for yourself. The government of Canada will be there for you. With regular emails about jobs in your field. Presuming, one supposes, some province or municipality decides to open its own upper house.

The Commons: Senators need not fear unemployment

  1. “Rather, there are performance targets that help protect benefits for unemployed people against fraud.”

    Even Orwell might have permitted himself a bitter smile at the chutzpah of the woman.

    • When neo-cons and liberals read “1984″ they end up with very different impressions of the book. One is shocked and horrified at the capacity for corruption and brutality inherent in human nature. The other sees it as an instruction manual…

  2. ‘The form was too complicated’….said Duffy. A journalist. A man who makes his living with words. In a Senate loaded with lawyers and the like.

    A Senate supposedly providing us with ‘sober second thought’ on govt bills.

    Riiiiiight.

    • I heard that was bull ( no big surprise ) apparently the very line above the one he claims is too vague, specifically asks for a declaration of residency. Duffy isn’t even a good liar.

      • It’s stunning to me that Duffy can stand there with his bare face hanging between his ears and claim such a thing…..and expect people to believe him.

        Yet I’m sure some people will…and he will keep his senate seat and the good life.

        And where all this leaves Jacque Demers, our identified illiterate senator, I don’t know…..but I’m guessing he’s at least aware of what province he lives in.

        Meanwhile some woman in the maritimes who has spent 35 years of her life gutting fish…..jeesus….is being given a hard time for pogey.

    • He didn’t understand the question!

      And unlike the Dion affair, that questionnaire was in plain English, Duffy’s maternal language as far as I know, and very clear too. He had plenty of time to complete the questionnaire and the opportunity to seek advice on my dime before filling it out. I don’t understand that the pm, aka petit minus, is defending this, and I expect Harper will soon change his tune.

  3. A better “performance target”: Two senators a week ’til there’s nothing left in their chamber but an empty echo.

    • Nope. It was Harper. He said twice, in fact.

      • ???

  4. Was it Harper or some other reformer who made the culture of defeat remark? That might have been a misapplication. But the ” we can’t them to senators houses because we don’t know where they live was quite clever.”

    • Nope. It was Harper. He said it twice, in fact.

      • Thank you for the clarification.

  5. In light of the circumstances under which he got into the Senate, isn’t ironic that Duffy claims that he didn’t understand the question ?

    Note to the petit minus : next time you have to advise the GG on a nomination to the Senate, please avoid those persons who are at the center of an investigation into electoral fraud, those under investigation for not following the code of ethics of their profession, and those who are surrounded by rumours of sexual harassement and financial mismanagement.

  6. If Harper is indeed purposely appointing clowns, fraudsters, and blowhards to the Senate in an attempt to destroy it’s reputation, did Chretien also appoint clowns, frauds, and blowhards for the same reason? Is Harper playing chess while the rest of the room plays checkers? (BTW, that is probably indicative of an anti-social personality, and probably wouldn’t help him win any games of checkers)

    At any rate, this clown could use a pay-grade increase. If Harper appoints me, I promise to lower the level of discourse both in the upper chamber and in any and all committee meetings I can get to. I also promise to duck out through as many kitchens as possible when the press tries to interview me. I promise to act the clown at every opportunity. I would balk at actually stealing from Canadians, though, and I do know where my primary residence is (my only residence, as it happens), so maybe I’m not cut out to be a Harper appointee. I’d also balk at committing domestic violence, for what it’s worth.

    • Can you name me an instance where Chrétien appointed to the Senate a person he knew was being investigated for breach to the code of ethics of his profession ? Or a person he knew was at the center of an investigation into electoral fraud?

      I knew Duffy’s and Finley’s actions were under investigation before their appointment to the Senate because it was all over the news.

      Harper gained the majority in the Senate quickly because there were plenty of empty seats, even after 13 years of Liberal governments. I may be wrong but as I recall Chrétien had explained that Senators came from the word senior, therefore old, and named a lot of people who quickly reached 75, and would not stay long enough in the senate to be eligible for pensions.

  7. Unemployment Benefits? The “new” pilot program allowing an individual to work part time and not have it affect your benefits, it’s an absolute sin. I’m a seasoned executive who no one will hire, even McDonald’s as they know I won’t stay and continue looking – you are “overqualified”. I have landed a part time job 4 – 7 hrs per week and I only get paid if I sell something. UI has cut me off until they “decide” if I’m eligible, it’s been 3 weeks. They are trying to get me to say I am self-employed – I am not and have made this very clear. The company gives me cards, samples……hopefully this will turn into a full time position but it’s keeping in the workforce, allows me the 2-3 interviews per week time required and 4-5 hours per day to look for work. I’m so frustrated and an struggling to feed my family. Bills are mounting up and the earliest a decision will be made is March 17th. How and who helps an honest individual needing the “insurance” I’ve paid into all these years in the event I lose a job due to no fault of my own, economy and downsizing.

Sign in to comment.