POLITICS

NDP asks parliamentary committee to look into appointees' Tory ties

05/22/2013 05:28 EDT | Updated 07/22/2013 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - The federal New Democrats are asking a parliamentary committee to look into political appointments to the new Social Security Tribunal.

New Democrat MP Chris Charlton put forward a motion Wednesday asking the human-resources committee to examine the qualifications of several appointees with Conservative ties.

The request comes a day after a Canadian Press investigation found as many as one of every five chairpersons on the Employment Insurance Boards of Referees ran afoul of federal guidelines by giving money to political parties, riding associations and election candidates while they served on the tribunal.

Elections Canada records show all but one of the dozens of donations went to Conservatives, with the lone non-Tory donation going to a Liberal riding association in the Toronto area.

Federal guidelines stipulate that appointees to administrative tribunals, such as the EI referees boards, which hear complaints about EI decisions on issues such as denied benefits and fraud, are not supposed to engage in any political activities.

The committee must make a decision on the motion and report back to the House of Commons by next Tuesday.

For a second day in a row, the Conservatives were grilled in question period about the donations.

"Under the Conservatives, insiders are allowed to play by different rules than the rest of us. The Conservative appointees to EI boards clearly violated government guidelines when they donated money to the Conservative Party," Charlton said.

"Now, we learn that the Conservatives are repeating their mistakes. They have recently appointed 10 more failed Conservative candidates and party operatives to the new Social Security Tribunal."

Conservative MP Peter Van Loan, the government House leader, said appointments to the new Social Security Tribunal, which replaces the EI referees boards, will be made on "merit."

"The members of the Social Security Tribunal are, of course, appointed through a rigorous process, a rigorous selection process that ensures that they have to meet specific experience and competence."

The EI referees boards are among the dozens of federal organizations whose ranks are filled in whole or in part by people appointed by the Governor General, on the advice of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet.

The boards sit part-time in groups of three, consisting of a government-appointed chair and representatives of workers and employers.

In last year's omnibus budget legislation, the governing Conservatives announced a new Social Security Tribunal would replace the EI referees boards. Canada Pension Plan and old age security claimants will also be able to appeal to the tribunal.

However, the EI referees boards will continue to hear appeals filed before April 1. The boards will decide on those cases until Oct. 31, at which point their unheard appeals will be transferred to the new tribunal.

The NDP has identified what it says are appointees to the Social Security Tribunal with Conservative ties, including failed federal and provincial Conservative candidates, members of Tory riding associations and a former provincial Tory cabinet minister.