Attacking the most desperate

Lana Payne
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Vilifying the unemployed has become commonplace and pervasive in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Canada.

In Harperland, anyone and everyone who has lost their job and is able to qualify for employment insurance is a fraudster, a cheat.

That is the message the current federal government wants to permeate and take root in our consciousness.

If you say it enough and if the media repeat it often enough, as many do, it becomes “truth.”

But it’s not truth. It is spin at its nastiest.

And so far, the prime minister and his minister responsible for the beefed-up pogey police, Diane Finley, are getting away with their revolting and offensive diversion tactics.

No doubt they will find people who break the rules, but that is true of every sector of society.

Often what is called fraud is merely an honest error both by the unemployed worker and the Service Canada employee, a result of a very complex EI system where the rules keep changing.

Business owners break the rules, too.

They evade taxes and cheat their clients, like the contractor that skipped out on home-building commitments in Labrador West and was in debt to the taxman for over $200,000.

But are all business owners now to be smeared with the sins of one or two or three or even a dozen? Do we start out with the false premise that every business owner is a cheat?

Why, then, is this the basis on which the unemployed are being tainted?

This government doesn’t want us to view the unemployed as vulnerable and worthy of some sympathy because then we might then start questioning the government’s failed economic policies.

So targeting the unemployed and treating them with derision and scorn means less media attention is given to the government’s doomed economic and labour market policies.

Demonizing the unemployed helps divert attention away from the Harper government’s labour market policies which, when given proper scrutiny, expose a government seeking to suppress the wages and living standards of its citizens.

And what of Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin and their expenses?

Not a word of ridicule from the prime minister about their antics.

Did they create a Senate police squad to harass senators at home? For some senators, finding their home could turn out to be quite a bit of investigative work.

The message: breaking the rules is OK as long as you are not poor and out of work.

The EI police squad has been given, according to news reports, a 23-page audit manual outlining investigative procedures to be used on 1,200 randomly selected citizens receiving unemployment benefits, including new moms and people on compassionate leave caring for a dying relative.

Yes, even new moms must be spied on, harassed and intimidated.

EI inspectors must conduct home visits on brand-new, hormonal moms.

The last thing they need is a government worker requesting proof the baby is theirs.

For claimants receiving maternity benefits, the EI inspector is told to verify the child’s identity and parentage; the maternal relationship to the claimant; and proof of the child’s birth.

What has Canada come to that it is acceptable for the government to spy and harass the unemployed, new moms or sick workers? To delve, as the CBC report said, into the far corners of the lives of EI claimants?

These are very odd and hypocritical rules from a government that says it wants to get government out of the lives of citizens; from a government that holds nothing but contempt for the so-called “nanny state.”

Recently, referring to the anti-union Bill C377, Hugh Segal, a Progressive Conservative senator, noted this “is not who we are as Canadians.”

I would suggest that this spying and harassing of the unemployed, new moms and the sick is also not who we are as Canadians.

This is merely a diversion, perhaps even media manipulation: a ruthless, nasty, hypocritical diversion.

The real goal of the Harper government (beating up on the unemployed is merely the icing on top of the cake) is to erode the country’s social safety net, where EI plays such a critical role.

The real goal is to force desperate people into lower-paid jobs (no matter their skill level).

The end result is the unemployed are used as a tool to suppress the wages of all Canadian workers.

This government has shown over and over again that its success depends on wedge politics, on pitting one Canadian against another, on the insecurity of citizens.

Harperland is a nasty place and getting nastier by the day.


Lana Payne is president of the

Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at

Her column returns March 23.

Organizations: Service Canada, CBC, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Canada, Labrador West

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Recent comments

  • G
    March 11, 2013 - 19:32

    The CRA has been sending out false bills to businesses for years. This has businesses spending time and money defending honest remmitances. Paying accountants to respond to the CRA. This began was under one of the most repressive LPC governments when they gutted healthcare transfer payments. I don't support any tactics of this kind regardless of whom they are targeted at.

  • Deb
    March 11, 2013 - 15:50

    Fred, I hope you are never unemployed and looking for work. I agree there is a lot of scamming going on. Most of it seems to be the financial sector. There are C.E.O.s who make millions while they run their companies into the ground. Wall Street and Bay Street are one big gambling casino. Investors are being fleeced while investment brokers make billions. The financiers buy into businesses and bleed them dry and close them, putting more and more people out of jobs and threatening to ruin the whole economy. There is a lot of crookedness out there. This is never mentioned. Instead, the poor are continually bashed to cover this up. The ranks of the unemployed are growing because of the crooked business going on, so blame the unemployed to cover up for the crooks.

    • a business man
      March 13, 2013 - 09:06

      There is nothing illegal about being a financier that buys into a business and bleeding it dry. It is a perfectly legitimate strategy. For example, a few years ago, I bought a very profitable call center in Toronto. I took over, I cut the wages of the front line uneducated workers from 40K to minimum wage. I cancelled the employee parking so I could charge the public to use the spots. Then I bled the company dry. I took all the money and put it in my personal account. I took any of the assets that I wanted home (computers, paintings, etc). I sold the assets at dirt cheap costs just to get quick money. I sold the company's technology and other hard assets, and also outsourced the work to various call centers in the USA and other countries. I extracted as much as I could from the company. I bled it dry. Then I tore the building down, and built a multi-level parking structure. Now I collect profits from the outsourced work and my parking structure is fully automated and has 1 part time employee. In short, I fully intended to bleed this company dry when I bought it. I eliminated the jobs of 200 people to create for myself an income stream that does not require any labour on my part, and minimal paid labour. BUT I did nothing illegal, I did nothing wrong. I was asked to agree to keep the wage the same, and asked to agree not to terminate any of the employees. The seller tried to make those terms part of the deal. I refused because closing the call center and opening a parking structure was my plan from the beginning. In short, I absolutely bled a company dry and put people out of work, but nothing I did was illegal or a form of scamming. I bought property, and I did what I want to do, as per the law. Just my two sense in defence of financiers and for those who make profit legally while putting others out of work.

  • Danny
    March 11, 2013 - 01:53

    A true debtors jail would help.You spend no more then you make or jail!

  • mom
    March 10, 2013 - 19:53

    Everyone needs a little help at some point in their lives. I was on EI one year when I was unemployed. Fortunately, that was the only time I needed to be on EI. I have been working full time ever since. The program was very helpful to me. I know someone who lost their job due to cutbacks and did not want to turn to EI because of the attached stigma. That person did receive EI for a couple of months and was very upset that they had to do so. We need more compassion in our society.

    • a business man
      March 11, 2013 - 09:50

      We do need more compassion in our society, but that does not mean that those of who who work year-round every year should pay for other people to work far less. Seasonal EI workers are abusing EI by taking out more than they put in on an annual basis, and the rest of us, both employers and employees, are forced to pay HIGHER premiums. It is disgusting, and part of the reason why I opened a 200-seat call center in Texas. I didn't create the jobs here for 3 reasons: 1) I get to pay 7.25/hour in Texas...YAY for my wallet. 2) I got generous job creation grants and favourable tax rates. YAY again. 3) I did not want to create jobs in Newfoundland because I did not want to create jobs that workers could use to get the hours needed to qualify for EI. Even if I could pay less than the Texas minimum wage, I probably still would have created the jobs there because I don't want to enable the EI abusers to get the hours they need.

  • saelcove
    March 09, 2013 - 18:37

    Work 10 or 20 weeks and sit back has become a way of life for some.the majority always get stuck paying for the minority

  • Aubrey
    March 09, 2013 - 16:36

    About as well out as you can get! Harper only wants to help his business buddies that donate to his party at the expense of the poor and the middle class. Given a few more years of Harperism and the middle class, which carries the weight of the country will be no more!

  • Allan Moulton
    March 09, 2013 - 09:33

    Excelent Article Again.... This lady Tells It like it is, And a Real Pleasure To Read Her articles Week After Week, Oviously Well Researched , Factual And To The Point... Only Wish We had More People With Those Qualities In Both Levels Of Government.

  • Pierre Neary
    March 09, 2013 - 09:12

    Finley can call it what she wants. This has turned into a war against the unemployed.

  • Fred from Brigus
    March 09, 2013 - 07:19

    Lana Payne you should go bury your head in the sand instead of spewing your thrash opinions around. UI as welfare has become such a way of life that there are so many scamers out there ripping off the system and crying foul when brought to task. I,m most certain many dues paying members are cheesed off with having to pay dues so people like can live high on the hog. Taxpayers pick up the tab for the cheats and the high rollers like yourself so suck it up we the taxpayers can no longer afford to ripped off by cheaters. Abolish EI..........Abolish welfare............ABOLISH UNIONS.

  • Petertwo
    March 09, 2013 - 07:07

    Some very good points in your article. I often think these are the people who make the "criminals"- people who refuse to be poor or held in poverty merely because of prejudiced judgements of some of the other people in society- who decide that they are not going to live on the poverty line while others are rolling in loot often made on the backs of the poor. Life is short and they make do the best they can to survive the best way they can. Not the best way to live, but at least they are living, and given the chance they can, and do, become upstanding citizens. No one really wants to live that way, not really.

      March 10, 2013 - 11:28

      STEVE has made to many trips to CHINA . Now he has returned with copies of their "REPRESSIVE LAWS" and other " FORMS " they use to "SURPRESS " their people. I'm sure somewhere in some Goverment Members filing cabinet you will find the Origionals of these forms written in Chinees and awaiting Translation . No doubt there are some also to do with Meat / Produce Inspection.