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Efficiency not so efficient

Posted on August 19, 2014 by 40 Mile Commentator

There are times when downsizing with the aim of efficiency turns out to be very inefficient.

The federal government’s creation of the Social Security Tribunal seems to be one of those instances.

According to a story Friday from The Canadian Press, the tribunal is facing a horrendous backlog of appeals, numbering in the thousands, from disabled and unemployed Canadians.

The tribunal, created in 2013, consists of fewer than 70 full-time members who replaced a board of more than 1,000 part-time referees who heard appeals concerning benefits. At the time the government said the new tribunal would produce a saving of $25 million a year.

Ironically, the tribunal was created with the aim of streamlining the appeal process. The tribunal took over more than 7,000 cases, the majority involving Canadians who were denied CPP disability benefits. Documents the Canadian Press obtained through an access-to-information request show as many as 6,000 of those cases still haven’t been heard, and there are usually about 3,000 new appeals each year.

It’s hard to understand how the government figured a group of 70-some people were going to be able to do the work of more than 1,000, even if the others were part-timers. Judging from the rate at which these appeals are being handled, the tribunal will only continue to get further behind as time goes on. That’s not an encouraging scenario for anyone who has filed an appeal.

The situation is similar to the closure earlier this year of nine Veterans Affairs regional offices. When the feds shut down offices in Kelowna, Prince George, Saskatoon, Brandon, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Sydney, Charlottetown and Corner Brook, it prompted fears from veterans that they would have a more difficult time obtaining services.

When the planned cuts were originally announced, NDP MP Peter Stoffer said in 2012 that Canadian veterans were already waiting too long for service from Veterans Affairs, and the cuts would only add to the amount of time it takes to resolve a claim for veterans, many of whom struggle with physical and mental health issues.

Saving taxpayers money is a laudable goal, but at the same time, the federal government is tasked with providing certain services to citizens. Decisions that interfere with the provision of those services are counterproductive to the government’s responsibilities.

When government bean-counters haul out their calculators and devise a plan that will save tax dollars by “streamlining,” they need to consider that there are real people at the other end of the line – people who might be depending on those government services.

NDP employment critic Jinny Sims, in blasting the federal government over the Social Security Tribunal’s backlog, said the lengthy wait times affect the most vulnerable – disabled and unemployed Canadians.

It’s with that in mind that government officials need to be careful when cuts are made for the sake of efficiency.

-LETHBRIDGE HERALD

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