The federal government admitted Monday that it expects civil servants to find nearly half a million dollars per year in fraudulent employment insurance claims, but denies opposition charges it has set quotas for investigators.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley confirmed a Le Devoir report that Service Canada investigators have annual “performance objectives” of $485,000 as they hunt for EI cheats. However, Finley said “there were no quotas for individuals” and employees do not face consequences for failing to reach their targets.

"There are objectives, targets, to be sure,” Finley said. “There's a big difference between the two when it comes to motivating and managing staff.”

The federal government came under fire in the House of Commons Monday over news of the financial targets, with Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair accusing Finley of playing with words.

“So the Conservatives master the art of the half lie,” Mulcair said. “She's playing on words because she finally got caught. It's not true that there were no quotas.  Of course there were quotas.”

Finley denied the existence of quotas when questioned earlier this month in the House. The federal government has faced questions from the opposition about EI reform since new rules for recipients took effect early last month. The reforms included changes to the definition of “suitable employment” and “reasonable job search,” which were meant to encourage the unemployed to take jobs close to home even if they offered low pay.

But further details about the changes have recently emerged, including the financial targets and the fact that Service Canada inspectors are now visiting people’s homes.

During question period Monday, Mulcair accused the government of treating EI recipients like criminals while ignoring concerns about expenses claimed by some Conservative Senate appointees.

Conservatives, Mulcair said, "don't shy away from gratuitously accusing EI claimants of fraud but they don't prevent their own senators from committing fraud."

Finley said the EI system bleeds “hundreds of millions of dollars due to fraud,” even though Service Canada managed to halt $500 million worth of ineligible claims last year.

"The only people to lose if the opposition stops us from rooting out Employment Insurance fraud, are Canadians who follow the rules," Finley told the House.

Later Monday, Mulcair expanded on his concerns about the home visits – even going so far as to refer to the Tonton Macoute, the notorious militia created by Haitian dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier.

“You have inspectors that are sent out randomly, to the houses of people, to go into the home when there’s not the slightest indication that there’s been any problem.  People are already not proud to be on employment insurance, they’d much rather be working.  So you’re sending in -- you know a little bit like the Tonton Macoutes -- these are the Reform Macoutes that we’re sending in to people’s homes to do the bidding of this government,” Mulcair said.

“It makes no sense.  Canada is a democracy, we have rights.”

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae took a less damning tone, but said targets or quotas have the same effect in the end.

"I think the worry all the way through is when you have a quota -- whether it's for a parking ticket enforcement officer or whether it's for somebody working on employment insurance -- is that the target becomes the quota and that you find reasons and ways in which to find people and catch people that might in fact be very, very unfair," said Rae.

With files from The Canadian Press