EI, EI, owe

Brian Jones
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From the Let Me Get This Straight Department comes news that intransigent Premier Kathy Dunderdale wants intransigent Prime Minister Stephen Harper to change his mind.

Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) from Wabana to Wabush might hope their stubbornly immovable leader, usually impervious to impassioned protest and reasoned argumentation, might do herself what she is asking of the PM.

Unfortunately, it will be 10 or 20 years before circumstances force Dunderdale to finally admit she was wrong about Muskrat Falls — but thank goodness she’ll have a good government pension to help pay her outrageous monthly power bills. Asking her to concede it now, when the dam damage is relatively slight and could conceivably be stopped, would get a predictable response: no.

Granted, changing course on

a multibillion-dollar expenditure would be a monumental move. It is easier to deal with something in the scale of mere millions. The provincial budget, say.

There are persuasive arguments against making severe spending cuts in health care, education, the courts, environmental management and such, not to mention cutting adrift hundreds of public employees.

Yet the premier cannot be persuaded to change her mind.

But that doesn’t stop Dunderdale from demanding that Harper change his mind about an important policy. The premier told the media that Harper’s new employment insurance (EI) rules “requires some kind of reversal or intervention.” She is right, of course.

But if a reversal can occur in Ottawa, it can occur in St. John’s. If a PM can be wrong, a premier can be wrong. If a PM can be expected to alter course on a major program such as EI, a premier can be expected to change course on a provincial budget.

“I’ve changed my mind about EI,” Harper could say.

“I’ve changed my mind about the budget,” Dunderdale could say.

“Hell hath frozen over,” headlines would say.

Missing money

There is a lot more wrong with the EI system than Dunderdale’s critique of its unfair effect on people seeking work.

Anyone who thinks cheaters are a major problem should put it in perspective by pondering the federal auditor general’s report. Michael Ferguson “identified $295 million in known overpayments in 2011-12, with about $110 million lost to fraud,” The Canadian Press reported.

In addition, the government is owed $662 million in EI clawbacks, two-thirds of which Ottawa will never get, the AG reported.

So, the EI program is out about $1 billion. That’s a substantial stash of cash and partly explains the federal government’s desire to spy on EI recipients to ensure they are honest and decent. (The other part is the federal government’s disregard of people’s rights or anything else that smells leftist.)

A billion dollars is a lot of money. It would pay Sidney Crosby’s salary for almost 100 years. But there are bigger billions missing. According to the AG, the Canada Revenue Agency is owed $29 billion in unpaid taxes.

As some people quickly pointed out, that’s approximately enough money to wipe out a year’s worth of the federal deficit.

It’s also a sum that will prompt many taxpayers to wonder why they were audited in past years: better make sure you pay your few hundred bucks to the taxman, because you don’t want to add to that $29-billion pile.

The federal government is owed $1 billion on one hand, and

$29 billion on another.

Far more attention is paid to the $1 billion owing than to the $29 billion owing. The federal Tories’ ideology must interfere with their math skills.

Perhaps is has something to do with the $1 billion being owed by people from the lower economic strata, and the $29 billion being owed by people from a higher economic strata.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at bjones@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Get This Straight Department, Canadian Press, Canada Revenue Agency The Telegram

Geographic location: Wabana, Wabush, Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • Eli
    May 03, 2013 - 22:15

    Dunderhead is singing a different tune on this one. She wouldn't hear of any kind of review or investigation when young Burton Winters froze to death. She came across like a beaten cow on her plea (?) to Harper.

  • Tony Rockel
    May 03, 2013 - 14:02

    As I've said before, people who bow to those above, trample on those below, and nobody is better at bowing to their puppet-masters than the leadership of this government.

  • Colin Burke
    May 03, 2013 - 11:16

    Not "a...strata"; "strata" is the plural of "stratum."

  • Cyril Rogers
    May 03, 2013 - 08:50

    In Harperstan and Kathystan, these incongruities are normal fare. Do as I say, not as I do...is the mantra of both administrations. Of course, it is easier to pick on the lower segments of society than it is to tell the corporations or wealthy, influential individuals to pay up. Besides, how many of the people on EI have accountants and lawyers to fight their battles for them???? And, yes, Premier Kathy Dunderdale, is more wrong than right....and TOTALLY wrong on Muskrat Falls. It is a fiscal train wreck....if she and her Cabinet had any real guts and integrity, they would stop this madness.

    • Patrick
      May 03, 2013 - 10:09

      Nevertheless, the headlines for this story focussed on EI misspenditures... as did the comments.