The federal government denies it has given civil servants quotas for catching employment insurance fraud — but now says there are performance objectives in place.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley had flatly denied previous reports that EI investigators have been given monthly dollar quotas.
However, government documents obtained by Montreal newspaper Le Devoir show civil servants are expected to find $485,000 each in fraudulent claims each year — a total that corresponds to the previously reported $40,000 monthly quota.
The documents outline performance evaluation expectations that spell out goals that investigators for Service Canada are supposed to meet.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says the Conservatives are treating the unemployed like criminals and contrasts their pursuit of EI claimants with the expense scandal swirling around Conservative appointees in the Senate.
Finley told Mulcair that EI investigators do have performance objectives but said there's a big difference between targets and quotas.
Opposition MPs have also objected to a plan the government has instigated to have Service Canada employees go door to door to arrange for randomly selected EI recipients to be interviewed about their efforts to find work.
Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner noted that an Oscar was awarded Sunday night to an actor who portrayed a "ruthless bounty hunter," and if Hollywood didn't pan out, perhaps that person could be hired by the government to "bust down doors, hunt down the people the minister thinks are shiftless, lazy, dishonest seasonal workers whose culture of defeat has become such scourge in this country."
Cuzner was referring to a comment made years ago by Stephen Harper, before he became prime minister, when he said people in Atlantic Canada have a "culture of defeat."
"The department was able to stop half a billion dollars in ineligible payments last year," Finley replied, "but the employment insurance system still lost hundreds of millions of dollars due to fraud. If the Opposition stops us rooting out EI fraudsters, the only people who lose are Canadians who follow the rules."
The union representing the Service Canada employees who conduct the door-to-door inquiries has asked the government to suspend the work in areas of the country where recent EI changes have become an explosive issue.
"The department has indicated that the security of staff is a priority and they have received training on how to appropriately deal with difficult situations," a spokesperson for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada told CBC News in an email. "If an interview is held outside of Service Canada offices and if an employee has any concerns about their safety, he/she will end the interview and leave the premises."
On Monday evening, the department told Radio-Canada that the only place where visits had been suspended for security reasons was Tracadie, New Brunswick. In that region, several hundred seasonal workers angry about the changes to the EI system occupied a Service Canada office in Tracadie-Sheila in December and also organized a series of protests there earlier this month, including blocking traffic and access to local businesses and burning tires.
In early February Finley told opposition MPs that there were no individual quotas for EI inspectors. After question period Monday, NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen, citing the Le Devoir story, rose on a point of privilege to complain that Finley, by denying quotas existed, had misled the House.