Federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos is seen at a youth homelessness organization in Toronto on Monday, June 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel

Liberals told to build new benefits for ill, unemployed workers, docs show

Liberals given an ambitious plan to close gaps in the social safety net for ill and unemployed Canadians among other ideas that have since made their way into federal policy.

The Trudeau government has been given an ambitious plan for closing several gaps in the social-safety net for ill and unemployed Canadians that includes creating a new program to help those whose employment insurance or sickness benefits are about to run out.

The plan is contained in a government-commissioned report and would represent a major step for a government that has previously tweaked parental and caregiver benefits, among other so-called special EI benefits, but has yet to touch the core of employment insurance — which experts say is in desperate need of reform.

Specifically, the report recommended the government close gaps in the social safety net by creating a new program to catch those who exhaust sickness benefits but don’t qualify for a public disability pension.

The program would also help jobseekers who exhaust regular EI benefits and could be headed for provincial welfare systems.

The ideas stood out to federal officials reviewing the report, which provided a road map to modernize and close gaps in the employment insurance system and was obtained by The Canadian Press through the access to information law.

Yet while the Liberals appeared to have listen to some of the report’s other recommendations, including changing the scope and value of a benefit for the working poor and pegging the value of the child benefit to inflation, those two big ideas have remained just that — ideas.

The November 2017 report to Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos provided an analysis of gaps in income-support programs, which spans 61 programs in eight departments.

Those program provide money directly to individuals, excluding wage subsidies to employers, and non-refundable tax credits.

Untangling that web of complexity is no easy task because many programs are based on a 1970s’ view of the workforce, said Kate Bezanson, a social policy expert from Brock University.

Without any changes, she added, EI may soon become too inflexible “to respond to changing family circumstance, changing labour market circumstances, changing regional circumstances.”

Related: Unemployment rate dipped in September on part-time job gains: StatsCan

Related: Surge in part-time work offsets full-time losses, helps drops unemployment rate

One option outlined in the report was to build a program to help unemployed workers who don’t qualify for EI, particularly the growing cohort of “gig economy” workers, or those working-age adults likely to be unemployed for longer periods.

The author recommended a new income-tested benefit or a “jobseeker’s loan” accompanied by “intensive employment services.”

Another area of need was a program for those who exhaust the 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits, but who don’t qualify for Canada Pension Plan disability payments.

The report recommended a medium-term sickness benefit, or a change to CPP rules to recognize “partial disability” and a “move away from the ‘all-or-nothing’ nature” of the disability pension.

The author of the report, Sherri Torjman, former vice-president of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, declined an interview request.

Building new federal income support programs would be an ambitious undertaking and require detailed discussions with provinces, said Donna Wood, an expert on the social safety net from the University of Victoria.

“These are not minor tweaks. These are big issues,” Wood said.

“To make any other big choices — these are called trade-offs and that’s why I really do think it’s time to have a broader conversation on what should this program look like and what are the options that we could consider.”

Duclos has been meeting stakeholders about the future of EI, which is part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s direction to conduct a review of the system.

In an interview late last month, Duclos said stakeholders want any review to be broad and not rushed.

But there is little time to get one done with a federal election in one year, and Duclos suggested any further EI changes will have to be ones that could be done quickly.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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

Just Posted

‘Manny’s Motel’ badly damaged by fire Jan. 15

Police say 40 Ave. closed due to fire, use alternate route

From courthouse to council’s house

Old courthouse had long history before becoming City Hall

Revenue Canada, RCMP don’t accept Bitcoin: police

RCMP issue Bitcoin warning posters

Writer says Alberta highway system falling apart

Highways in ‘deplorable’ condition: writer

County council denies request for parking lot

Buck Lake groups are welcome to raise funds and return to council

Kids across Canada more at risk of hospitalization from flu this season: doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam said influenza B does not usually peak until February or later

Metis nations ask Ottawa to negotiate directly with them, not national body

Three provincial Metis nations will work through the national council until after the federal government releases its 2020 budget

Canada to give $25,000 to families of each Canadian who died in Iran plane crash

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also made it clear that Canada still expects Iran to compensate victims

Oil and gas industry applauds top court’s dismissal of B.C.’s Trans Mountain case

The high court’s ruling Thursday removes one of the remaining obstacles for the project

Sylvan Lake RCMP seek assistance in locating missing male

Mark Crier, 17, was last seen in Sylvan Lake on Jan. 13

UPDATE: Supreme Court dismisses B.C.’s appeal in Trans Mountain pipeline case

Judges decide whether B.C.’s power to protect environment can include impeding a federal project

Alberta says universities over-budget; need to freeze travel, hiring, hosting

Demetrios Nicolaides says spending is not meeting expectations

Over 16,000 people nabbed by RCMP between border crossings in 2019

In 2019, 63,830 claims were filed, up from 55,040 in 2018

Iran must compensate crash victims’ families, Canada-led group agrees

‘We are judging Iran every day, demand by demand,’ says Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne

Most Read