Dr. Dawg

The Pantsafire Chronicles: Diane Finley again

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The hapless, incompetent and increasingly mendacious Minister of Human Resources has earned elevation in the Pantsafire Pantheon.

Readers will recall that Diane Finley originally merited inclusion for blaming the staff of EI centres across Canada for increasing delays—sometimes months—between the date of unemployment and a cheque to buy the necessities of life. She falsely claimed that the Canada Employment and Immigration Union was engaging in a secret work-to-rule, an accusation that must have brought rueful smiles to the faces of union activists who find it hard enough to organize public and visible ones.

The fact that she had drastically cut employees and placed a ban on overtime, we were asked to believe, had absolutely nothing to do with the angry line-ups and unanswered phone calls of the desperate during the oncoming holiday season. Her puckishly-named “Office of Client Satisfaction,” meanwhile, was situated in a bunker somewhere: staff were ordered not to disclose its location or coordinates to anyone. Hence that office has no doubt recorded a banner year without complaints.

But that salvo of hers, another talking-point for the spring offensive against union rights, went nowhere, and meanwhile things got steadily worse. Gloria Galloway of the Globe and Mail has a pitbull’s grip on the file, and her article today admirably records the apparently indestructible nature of Finley’s blazing ministerial trousers.

Queues don’t “balloon,” pace the Globe’s head-writer, but they do get long enough to disappear over the horizon. The number of unemployed waiting for settlement of their claims has doubled since 2007. In fact, given the time of year, the number has likely increased since October, the date of the figures obtained under Access to Information.

Staff, meanwhile, have been cut back 13% from 2007 to now.

The result is calculated chaos:

Unemployed people are unable to get through by telephone to find out what is delaying their benefits. The newly released documents reveal wild fluctuations in temporary staff at Service Canada’s call centres where the phone lines as [sic] so jammed that just one in three calls is answered.

Finley’s response? Tell more porkies.

First she asserts that automating the system will reduce the lengthening wait times. But the system was actually automated four years ago. Her proposed system of kiosks, replacing all but 19 of the current 120 EI centres across Canada, will be of no help in the many cases requiring human intervention.

Worse, she makes the preposterous claim that additional resources have been deployed to handle the backlog:

“We understand that at this time of year it is even harder for them to deal with day to day expenses,” she told the Commons Thursday - the final say [sic] of the fall sitting. “That is why we are putting extra resources to processing these claims. We do that every year and we are doing it this year.”

That is, not to put too fine a point upon it, a lie.

The Human Resources department has refused repeated requests for details about the “extra resources” referenced by the minister.

The union says the department has reassigned some of the clerical staff from its integrity branch - the section that ensures that the amounts being paid are correct - to fill the jobs left vacant by the terminated claims processors. But that means their own jobs, which are already backlogged, are not being done.

So Finley’s approach to the problem is to chivvy overworked staff from one office to another, reducing a system-wide backlog in one place by increasing it somewhere else.

Nothing “extra” about this bizarre reassignment of employees. And, obviously, no solution at all. Just more front-line workers to be assaulted by freaked-out “clients” and accused of go-slows by the Minister.

I used the word “calculated” above to refer to this crisis. None of the wide-ranging “reforms” that clog a vital system of social benefits merely happen. Not on Stephen Harper’s watch.

Harper has already strategically seeded the public service and sundry parliamentary offices with fools and do-nothings. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, a favourite whipping boy of the conservative base, has been immobilized by the appointment of the bullying incompetent Shirish Chotalia. Another one like her, Christiane Ouimet, headed up the laughingly-titled Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner until her utter lack of activity became a national scandal. She was sent off with a whack of your money and mine—and replaced by another complaisant lapdog, Mario Dion.

And who can fail to remember the antics of the Clown Car Brigade running the once-respectable Rights and Democracy, the inert parliamentary Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, and the equally pointless Lobbying Commissioner Karen Sheppard, who refuses to disclose the rules she was appointed to enforce?

There is indeed method in this madness. Independent public servants get in the way of the Harper agenda, and cannot be tolerated: Linda Keen, Paul Kennedy, Peter Tinsley, Munir Sheikh, Pat Stogran and the rusticated Kevin Page would doubtless agree. Mere tools of the PMO, on the other hand, offered sinecures in return for ensuring the non-functionality of their fiefdoms, will do—or not do—what they’re told.

In some cases, handing sensitive portfolios to vacuous and cack-handed ministers of the Crown appears to suffice. Take, for example, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, another Pantsafire laureate, ineptly trying to smarm his way out of the Attawapiskat scandal. He was backed to the hilt by his boss, who has been furiously pumping hot air into the prevailing stereotype of Native financial incompetence.

And then there’s EI.

For conservatives, who believe that unemployment is a sin against nature committed by the victims of it, the very existence of employment insurance (an Orwellian term coined by the Liberals) is an abomination. Paying people not to work! Encouraging laziness and dependence on the nanny-state! On our nickel, too! Etc., etc.

What better solution could there be in the short term than to make the system almost completely unworkable? There is, as noted, ample precedent for it. And it seems that, in the person of Diane Finley, we’ve got just the minister for the job.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on December 28, 2011 10:33 AM.

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