Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Kenney Calls Social Security Backlog Unacceptable, Accused of Dragging Heels

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Kenney Calls Social Security Backlog Unacceptable, Accused of Dragging Heels

Article excerpt

Kenney:Social security backlog 'unacceptable'

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OTTAWA - The massive backlog plaguing the government's social security tribunal is unacceptably large, Employment Minister Jason Kenney said Thursday as he fended off accusations he's taken too long to deal with the problem.

The government was unaware when it formed the new panel in April 2013 that it was inheriting a backlog of 7,000 old-age security and Canada Pension Plan disability appeals from the former pension review tribunal, Kenney told a parliamentary committee.

He said he was "dismayed to learn that there was a backlog of several thousand cases" when he took over the portfolio from Diane Finley in July 2013. The backlog has now swelled to more than 11,000.

Kenney said the former tribunal did not share the backlog information with the Conservative government when it formed the new body, which was ostensibly created to provide a more efficient appeal process for those denied employment insurance, CPP and old-age security benefits.

It was also supposed to save Canadian taxpayers $25 million a year by streamlining the appeals process, even as stakeholders warned that the plan to replace nearly 1,000 part-time referees with 74 full-timers could result in a 16-month backlog.

"This was an unexpected legacy backlog, and ever since I was appointed I have been working very intensively with the chairwoman of the tribunal on fixing it," Kenney said.

But Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner pointed out that Murielle Brazeau, the head of the tribunal, recently told the same committee that she knew of the backlog from Day 1 and discussed it with the minister's office "throughout the whole process."

"Six months in, you saw the problem, you identified the problem," Cuzner told Kenney.

"Six months in, you increased it by 10 or 11 staff when there were even part-time positions that could have been filled. And there were disabled Canadians -- some had been waiting for two years at that point to have their appeals heard."

He added: "You inherited the large backlog but it didn't seem you inherited that degree of urgency to address the staffing shortfall. …

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