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Liberals pledge $253 million to undo Tory-era changes to benefits tribunal

Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, arrives to a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on February 19, 2019. The federal Liberals are promising to spend more than $250 million to revamp the body Canadians turn to with disputes over access to federal benefits and partially bring back the system that existed before the Conservatives created the Social Security Tribunal. The tribunal hears appeals of government decisions on things like eligibility for Employment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan that before 2013 were overseen by replaced four separate bodies. CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are promising to spend more than $250 million to revamp the body Canadians turn to with disputes over access to federal benefits, partially restoring the system that existed before the Conservatives created the Social Security Tribunal.

The tribunal hears appeals of government decisions on things like eligibility for employment insurance and the Canada Pension Plan that, before 2013, were overseen by four separate bodies.

Key changes included cutting the number of people hearing most cases from three to one, and replacing part-time hearing officials in many places with full-time staff in fewer locations.

In an interview this week, Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says the government will bring back the three-person hearings for the first layer of appeals inside the tribunal, and retain the single arbitrator for the second, and final, layer.

He says the changes respond to rare agreement from labour and employer groups that some sort of return to the three-panel hearing system was needed.

Tuesday’s federal budget proposes spending $253.8 million over five years, beginning in the 2019-2020 fiscal year starting in April, to make the system easier to navigate and shorten decision times.

The Canadian Press