To paraphrase a famous quote that has been variously attributed to numerous sources and applied to several professions: “They will give you an umbrella on a sunny day and take it back the minute it starts to rain.”
Nowhere is this more applicable than Canada’s Employment Insurance system. More on why this belongs in Crime Diary later.
For nearly two decades the federal government gouged Canadians and their employers with EI premiums resulting in an astronomical surplus in the EI fund, nearly four times what the government itself estimated would be needed in case of a major recession. It was a good thing too, because in 2008, when the global economy went into tailspin, we were sitting pretty.
Nevertheless, Jim Flaherty, the supposedly tax-hating Conservative finance minister used the recession as an excuse to announce a 25 per cent hike over five years in EI contributions.
But even with significant job losses and a soft economy, by 2010 the surplus in the EI fund stood at nearly $58 billion.
Instead of doing the right thing and giving us all a rebate, the Conservatives stole that money from us and moved it into general revenues. That’s still not why this is in Crime Diary, although I have to question the Supreme Court’s decision that the government did not have to give it back to us.
Last week, Flaherty announced the government was putting a freeze on EI premium increases for the next three years.
How magnanimous. Gouge us until it hurts, steal the money, use that as an excuse to gouge us even more, then pull in the reins as if you’re doing us some kind of favour and spin it as if it’s somehow the result of your supposed steady financial stewardship through tough times.
Shucks, thanks Jim.
I’m not sure which bothers me more, the insult that they think we’re too stupid to figure out what they’re doing; the frustration that even when we do figure it out, there seems to be nothing we can do about it; or the anger that what is supposed to be an earned benefit is turning out to be nothing more than another tax they think they can get away with imposing without consequence.
Here is what qualifies the topic for inclusion in Crime Diary, though. This summer the Conservatives announced individuals “confined in a jail, penitentiary or similar institution” would no longer be able to defer their earned EI benefits until they are released.
Great idea, guys. Let’s punish them for their crime by sending them to jail. Then, once they’ve paid their debt to society, let’s punish them again by taking away something they earned in the first place.
In his weekly op-ed piece for September 2, Garry Breitkreuz, the prime minister’s representative to Yorkton-Melville, said, “Our government holds the position that it’s unfair to Canada’s law-abiding citizens to give preferential treatment to convicted felons who apply for EI benefits. The change means that all Canadians must satisfy the same criteria when applying for EI.”
Despite the Conservative penchant for viewing “criminals” as if they are some other species entirely, they are people, our siblings, our parents, our children, our neighbours.
Here’s an idea: If you want to treat everyone alike, let everyone defer their EI benefits. EI is not a privilege. It’s not a handout. It is our money, placed in trust by us and for us… just in case.
Even if the system was managed properly, which it never has been, most of us will never collect anywhere near what we paid into it. And that’s okay because taking care of our fellow citizens not only makes social sense, it makes economic sense.
What happens to the guy who makes a mistake, goes to prison, gets out, is already disadvantaged in finding a decent job, can’t find one and can’t collect what is rightfully his to get back on his feet?
Like most Conservative policies, this is not a recipe for safer streets and communities as they like to claim, it is a recipe for disillusionment, more crime and greater costs to an already bloated criminal justice system.
You want to talk about unfair to law-abiding Canadians? How about the lightning rod disguised as an umbrella that is our Employment “Insurance” program.