Nova Scotia

Employment Insurance system 'frustrating,' says Cape Breton MP

Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner says EI is using 40-year-old technology and wait times for claims processing have been growing.

Rodger Cuzner says aging technology and staff cuts have resulted in long processing times

Cape Breton MP Rodger Cuzner says the EI system needs an overhaul. (CBC)

A Cape Breton MP who co-authored a new report on Canada's employment insurance system said hiring, training and technology upgrades are needed.

Rodger Cuzner, the member for Cape Breton-Canso, was one of three Liberal MPs involved in a cross-country consultation process last year — one that painted a picture of "a fairly frustrating system to use," he said Friday.

'Desperate shape'

Ingonish resident Carol MacLean, who works seasonally as a gardener at the Keltic Lodge, has experienced that frustration first-hand.

In recent years, an error with her EI claim meant she had to wait 12 weeks for it to be processed. MacLean said she knows others in the area who have endured even longer wait times. She and her co-workers at the lodge were hoping that wouldn't be the case at the end of the last tourist season.

"When we were finishing out it was, 'Oh, dear Lord, I hope we don't have to wait forever,'" she said. "Because it's hard when you're waiting. No one saves as much money as they'd like to. So if you have to wait the extra time, especially just before Christmas, it's hard."

Some people were in "desperate shape," she recalled.

Wait times vary

MacLean's current claim was processed much faster, within three weeks. But that's not the experience for everyone, according to Cuzner.

"The applications that are lined up pretty good — when the square peg fits in the square hole and the round peg fits in the round hole — those claims are processed within 28 days," he said.

Winnipeg South MP Terry Duguid, Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner and Avignon–La Mitis–Matane–Matapédia MP Rémi Massé release their report into Service Canada's operation of the employment insurance program in front of reporters in Ottawa. (CBC) (Ottawa CBC)

It's in cases where there's an issue — an error on the claimant's record of employment, for example — where wait times can be much longer.

"Delays of six, seven and eight weeks weren't uncommon," said Cuzner.

That's more than twice as long as the average wait time when he was first elected in 2000.

Old technology

Cuzner blames the former Conservative government for cutting 600 call centre and processing jobs.

He said one of the biggest complaints during the consultation process was difficulty getting access to a call centre operator.

There is also a need for more consistent training and investment in newer technology, he said.

"We know that some of the people who work in those centres are younger than the technology that they're using, and it's been sort of taped together over time," said Cuzner. "It's about 40 years old in many cases."