Letter to the Editor

Posted: January 22, 2013

Government raises the EI bar

We have known about it for months and now the Employment Insurance (EI) program changes are here following frequent warnings from labour, municipal and provincial governments, the media, and business in Prince Edward Island. Islanders are understandably upset and angry about the changes to EI made by the Harper government. And despite Senator Duffy’s recent attempt to attribute or blame the changes on Service Canada employees, there is little question that the changes come from the top, are ideologically driven, and are based largely on stereotypes about the Atlantic region.

Our economy isn’t based on one of the largest oil reserves in the world. It’s based mainly on our seasonal industries – fishing, farming, and tourism. Harper’s attack on the unemployed is misguided because it compromises our workers and the seasonal nature of our economy. The EI program in Canada plays an important role in stabilizing seasonal economies. However, an EI program that forces workers to leave their communities in search of work elsewhere will have a detrimental effect on business – especially where industry requires an experienced and trained seasonal workforce as is the case in Prince Edward Island.

Furthermore, and aside from overarching arguments about the health of the economy, the EI program is in place primarily to provide financial assistance to unemployed Canadians. When we change the nature of EI to such an extent that it results in a single mom from Montague having her benefits cut because she lives in a rural community, and has limited means of travelling to a larger urban centre over sixty kilometers away - you know government has gone too far. Government has purposely raised the bar too high for citizens to access their own employment insurance program.

Canadians are being forced to accept work at less pay than they received in their previous occupation, and in quite different or even unsuitable occupations. Government is denying EI benefits to Canadians – the very people who fund the program themselves by paying employee and employer premiums. The Harper government’s EI model simply does not account for regional and economic diversity in this country. It is part of an overall plan for Canadians that includes attacking labour, reducing federal health transfers, cutting public services, cutting pensions, raising the retirement age, increasing income inequality, and rewarding large corporations with one of the lowest corporate tax regimes in the world today. Is this the type of Canada we want?

Deborah Bovyer,

President, PEI UPSE