The last few months have been trying for Martin Courtemanche. After suffering from depression last summer, he left his job on Dec. 6, 2021. What followed, he says, was an "infernal spiral."
"I'm at the end of my rope," he said.
More than six months have passed since he submitted his employment insurance application, and he has yet to receive a payment.
"I have to ask myself how I'm going to pay my rent, my groceries," he said. "I'm lucky to have some savings. I maxed my credit cards. This is how we manage to survive."
At a time when Service Canada is mired in passport processing setbacks, delays in obtaining employment insurance are also increasing. Many unemployed people say they haven't received a penny, several months after filing a request.
The Service Canada representatives who spoke to Courtemanche first explained to him that the pandemic caused the delays, before letting him know that a document was missing from his file: a termination of employment letter.
"I ended the call and just wanted to cry," he said. "It wasn't progressing, and I didn't know how to get out of there."
Delays for thousands of Canadians
Courtemanche finally turned to the Mouvement Action-Chômage de Montréal. The organization tried to help him and confirmed he isn't the only person in this situation.
"It's chaos," said Pierre Céré, spokesperson for the Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses, who has been working in the field for nearly 40 years.
"Delays have always been part [of the equation]," he added. "Bureaucracy is complicated, we don't always understand why, but here it takes on extravagant proportions."
The Ministry of Employment and Social Development says as of June 18, 128,739 applications for employment insurance benefits were pending. From April 1 to May 31, the majority of them – 71.8 per cent – were settled in less than 28 days.
But for more than 20,000 Canadians, the delay for receiving a first payment exceeds three months, according to data obtained by the Bloc Québécois through an access to information request.
"Is there a lack of resources? Possibly. What is clear is that the files are not processed in time," Céré said.
Karina Gould, the minister of children, families and social development and is responsible for Service Canada, argues that more complex cases require verification and that many cases of identity theft have slowed down the process.
"The situation in Quebec in particular is the result of fraud in the private sector," she told Radio-Canada.
The challenges of teleworking
Judith Côté, national vice-president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, an organization that represents thousands of officials, says staffing shortage isn't an issue.
"We have never had as many employees as we currently have at Service Canada, and yet, I think we have rarely been so inefficient," she said.
Some employees are also being called on to support colleagues in other public service departments.
"We all received an email asking if we had passport experience to lend a hand," Côté said, referring to the long queues of travellers anxiously waiting for their passports.
"The employees work really hard," she said. "We have never done so much overtime."
Service Canada told Courtemanche in the past few days that his employment insurance application had been processed and accepted. He recently got a job, but he's still waiting for the thousands of dollars owed to him.
"I have no intention of dropping [the job] to go back to see my friends from employment insurance," he said laughing.