Sunday, December 14, 2008

Supreme Court: Ottawa Pilfering of EI Surplus "Legit"

Government had right to spend EI surplus on programs, deficit: top court

CBC News
The federal government acted constitutionally when it spent an employment insurance surplus on related social programs and balancing the books, Canada's top court ruled on Thursday.

The Supreme Court of Canada found it does fall within the federal government's purview to use the EI funds as it wishes, whether to pay down the debt or for use on social programs relating to jobless workers.

But the Quebec-based union organizations that brought the case to the Ottawa court did score a minor victory. The top court found the government acted unlawfully in the way it collected EI premiums over three years.

In 2002, 2003 and 2005, new rate-setting criteria were used for setting EI premiums that the court found to be unlawful, CBC's Rosemary Barton reported from Ottawa.

During those years, Parliament authorized the cabinet to be responsible for setting the premium rate.

The Supreme Court did not make any recommendations on how to address the problem, and gave the federal government a year to respond to the decision.

The Confédération des syndicats nationaux brought the case to the highest court in hopes of having the money returned to the EI program for future use or to employees and employers who contributed to the fund.

The fund began ballooning after the Liberals brought in new rules in 1996 tightening eligibility rules for benefits.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser repeatedly criticized the government for the way it has handled EI since 1999, with a surplus triple the amount that's necessary and a move away from the intent of the program.

In the 2008 budget, Stephen Harper's Conservative government vowed to set up an independent Crown corporation to manage the EI surplus and ensure it was spent on unemployed workers.

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