Must-see QP: A social security tribunal’s chronic backlog

Your daily dose of political theatre

Adrian Wyld/CP

Adrian Wyld/CP

Maclean’s is your home for the daily political theatre that is question period. If you’ve never watched, check out our primer. Today, QP runs from 2:15 p.m. until just past 3. We livestream and liveblog all the action.

The must-see moment

Tucked into the middle of question period were questions about a social security tribunal so badly backed up with appeals that the government has hired more adjudicators. Many of these claims aren’t simply pocket change for Canadians who want their fair share. The Canadian Press reported yesterday that “terminal cancer patients, organ-transplant recipients and suicidal, debt-addled Canadians are among the 11,000 people waiting to have their appeals heard.”

The CP story suggests the government isn’t entirely sure how to fix the backlog.

Federal government data obtained under the Access to Information Act shows 58 per cent of Canadians who applied for disability benefits last year were denied. The tribunal says that 68 per cent of appeals are successful.

In the tribunal’s first 18 months of operation, the backlog of CPP disability and old-age security cases has increased by almost 50 per cent.

Jason Kenney, the employment and social development minister, has promised to shrink the backlog of cases, saying the new tribunal didn’t expect to inherit more than 6,000 cases left outstanding from the old system.

The tribunal has also hired an outside consulting firm to help it come up with a plan to deal with the pileup, and additional staff has been brought on to wrestle with the ever-growing number of cases.

Today, NDP MP Jinny Sims revealed more vulnerable cases among social-assistance claimants. “The tribunal is telling people who’ve been living without any income for multiple years that they can’t expedite their hearings because it would be unfair to all the other people who are in exactly the same situation and waiting a hearing,” she said.

Kenney’s careful response to Sims offered few excuses. “We are working with the chair of the social security tribunal to accelerate the process,” he said. “We’ve added 22 part-time decision-makers. We’ve moved 12 decision-makers from the EI section to the pension section. We’re looking at additional actions necessary to speed up the process.”

No flashy promises, just an organizational adjustment that could help alleviate a backlog. This tribunal’s struggles won’t disappear anytime soon.

The recap

The context

We were watching a veterans affairs minister say some things in the House of Commons. Yesterday, he went slightly off-script before returning to his best recitation of press releases past. Recall this meandering response to a question from Liberal MP Marc Garneau.

By way of prediction, we have Aaron Wherry’s prognostication of just a day ago:

So, probably tomorrow, the Prime Minister will show up to offer some resounding defence of his government and his minister and the Conservatives benches will leap up to applaud. And then, if the government is truly worried about what Fantino might mean for next year’s vote, maybe there’s a new minister before next spring.

We’ll check that first sentence against reality today. The next part comes, maybe, sometime down the road.

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