Current EI reforms should be just the beginning

The system Canada has right now is discriminatory, illogical and counterproductive

by From the editors

It’s not easy. That’s why they call it work.

Todd Korol/Reuters

Assume for a moment you’ve been given the job of creating from scratch a federal program to help out-of-work Canadians find suitable employment as quickly and efficiently as possible. Would you begin with a system that provides greater benefits to workers who find themselves unemployed more often? Or provides incentives to stay in uncertain occupations forever? Would your ideal system offer identical Canadians vastly different benefits based solely on where they lived? And would you lard the program with inconsistent rules, such as offering benefits to self-employed fishermen, but not self-employed farmers?

Of course not. But this is exactly the sort of discriminatory, illogical and counterproductive system Canada has right now.

Last week Human Resources Minister Diane Finley unveiled a series of reforms to Canada’s much-criticized Employment Insurance program. While the changes don’t go nearly far enough to fix the entirety of EI’s problems, at least they mark renewed emphasis on the core task: getting people back to work.

The new rules require a wider and more aggressive job search. Currently, EI claimants receive, at most, three job listings every two weeks. Now a much more comprehensive list of relevant openings (including jobs in other parts of the country) will be delivered to all claimants. The longer a person remains unemployed, the more jobs must be considered.

Frequent users of EI will be required to accept work paying at least 80 per cent of their previous salary in the first six weeks of their job search. After seven weeks, the minimum falls to 70 per cent. Workers who rarely claim EI face somewhat similar requirements. All this reflects a proper adjustment of expectations. EI recipients can no longer refuse appropriate work. Ottawa points to worker shortages across the country, even in areas of high unemployment, as motivation for these changes. The growing use of temporary foreign workers proves many job openings are going unfilled. In New Brunswick for example, in January of this year, 2,444 unemployed fish plant workers applied for EI while 210 fish plant jobs were filled by foreign workers. That same month, Ontario had 648 nannies claim EI and 668 temporary foreign workers approved to do the same job. And in Alberta, 347 food counter attendants and kitchen helpers applied for EI at the same time restaurant owners received permission to fly in 1,261 foreign workers to do those exact jobs. A functional EI system would eliminate such disparities.

EI recipients will also be expected to take jobs that put their skills to use in different occupations. Asked what the rules might mean for a seasonally unemployed lobster fisherman, Finley replied: “If you’re used to lifting heavy loads, then maybe there’s a warehouse that needs some heavy loads lifted.” That seems entirely reasonable. The new rules include a variety of caveats regarding commuting distances and personal circumstances. No one will be required to move to take a new job.

Of course the mere suggestion that a lobster fisherman might be expected to do something other than haul lobster pots from the ocean a few weeks a year has been met with outrage and condemnation. But the driving force behind any proper unemployment scheme must be the recognition that working is preferable to sitting at home. There’s honour in work of any kind. Unfortunately, decades of political manipulation and regional lobbying have perverted EI into something quite different—it’s become a system that rewards seasonal unemployment and encourages a culture of grievance peddling. All this imposes a tremendous price on the Canadian economy as a whole. Premiums higher than they ought to be raise the cost of hiring new staff and push down employment rates everywhere. Workers and industries that rarely suffer unemployment are punished in the process.

It would make more sense to blow up EI and start over, perhaps under the previous and more-coherent title of Unemployment Insurance. A proper system would treat identical Canadians equally regardless of where they lived. It would be experience-rated, so that frequent users would pay higher premiums or receive lower benefits. And it would eliminate incentives for staying at home when there are suitable jobs to be filled—wherever those jobs happen to be located.

As a nation of immigrants, Canada was founded by intrepid folk prepared to pack up and move to a better job and a better life. Why should such a thing be considered beyond the pale today? Finley’s tentative EI reforms merely inform unemployed Canadians of job opportunities elsewhere in the country. A truly serious effort would take a much closer look at encouraging real job mobility. Unemployment is a national problem that requires a national solution.




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Current EI reforms should be just the beginning

  1. The first sentence of this article shows that you have a very different idea about the purpose of EI than most Canadians. Employment Insurance is about providing Canadians with insurance in case they lose their employment. The program has very little to do with “[helping] out-of-work Canadians find suitable employment as quickly and efficiently as possible”. This goal of “[helping] out-of-work Canadians find suitable employment as quickly and efficiently as possible” is not the goal of EI; which is why EI has not been effective at achieving it.

    • Presumably seasonal workers should then be un-insurable, or EI premiums should be based on the risk of becoming unemployed.

  2. The original program was setup as a buffer between jobs not a lifestyle choice

  3. So we should assume for a moment we’ve been given the task of doing something which EI wasn’t intended as, and then criticize EI for not being that?

    I find it interesting how often these rather obvious “opinion push” articles, the ones which, if they don’t contain outright lies, are usually full of mis-statements, loaded language, and obvious distortion or avoidance of facts, come from the anonymous “the editors”

    It’s as if the people running Maclean’s know they’re putting out blatant propaganda, and don’t have the courage to have it associated with any of them by name. Cowards.

    HINT: EI was never about getting people back to work. It was designed to tide them over while they found work — programs to help them get back to work are other things

    • Yes well, regardless of that dsecription the “tiding over” as you so quaintly put it has gotten out of hand. Most reasonable people I expect would agree. If it were possible I suggest you put the same premise as this article proposes to the orignal framers of the act and see if they think it’s a reasonable one. Go ahead call it an “opinion push” piece. What you really mean is that it doesn’t mesh with your view that E.I. should be a way of supporting people who choose to remain in untenable short term jobs regardless of the other options available to them. In it’s current form E.I. is a disincentive to find work, it is no longer (and hasn’t been for some time) a stopgap measure for many who take advantage of it, and yes this is a largely regional symton, sorry to say.

      • Stop telling me what my views are, as you don’t have a clue.
        Only morons think everything is a duality.

      • Do you have verifiable proof that “people who choose to remain in untenable short term jobs regardless of the other options available” in fact have other options available to them? If so, please list these other options & provide the proof?

      • Look beyond population percentages and focus more on raw numbers of EI applicants vs jobs available.
        Ontario was once the boom land of growth. Alberta is today’s. I hope they are taking notes on what happens when the “in” industry dries up.

  4. Contrary to popular believe. Employment Insurance was exactly that over fifity years ago. There were two systems of offices. One for the white collar workers, and one for the blue collar workers.

    The difference in the offices was between night and day. The Blue Collar workers had simple job boards. A position was posted on the board, if you were interested in it, you removed it from the board and stood in a line in front of a employment worker.

    Who would ask you to sit down and go over your qualifications for the job. That is when you found out how much the job paid hourly, the type of employment, full time, part time, seasonal, etc. If you met the criteria, the worker made a call, and set up an appointment. Then you were given the employers, name, address, and contact person. They would also tell you what to wear. I.E. Construction Boots. Hard hats, gloves etc.

    You went to the appointment, had an interview. If they hired you. You had to go back, tell the worker the position was filled, provide your start date. If you required work boots and didnt have the money, you were provided with a voucher and told where to get the items you needed.

    The white collar office was set up differently. They provided coffee and donuts, when you walked in. You sat down and discussed your career potential with a worker, and they would show you a book filled with the positions you were interested in. The same thing would happen then, if you saw something you liked. However, back then you received ninety percent of your earnings. It was a temporary, measure, and they tried to set you up for appointments. Tried to help find a job, and get you off as soon as possible.

    It would work better if every employer had to report to the employment office what positions they needed to be filled. And everyone had to be refered to the position from the employment office. It would reduce the ranks of the unemployed. But take away, from people actually bettering themselves by finding better work. Either way, it doesnt seem fair. But it allows people to get a descent chance at finding suitable work.

    • 50 years ago we had a different flag for Christ’s sake. 50 years ago Canada didn’t have universal health care coverage. Are you suggesting we go back to those things as well? Hell, if you want to play that game, 500 years ago, EI was finding flint for your arrows. Think that’s what we should do?

      Most people, however, have an understanding of EI that is a little more recent than two entire generations ago, so feel free to rejoin the conversation once you’ve at least caught up to Brian Mulrooney.

      • I clicked the little ‘like’ button, but somehow it wasn’t enough. I enjoy you, Thwim.

      • Yes, unfortunately, MOST people have ONLY that understanding………..
        HISTORY, my friend, History, those who forget it are doomed to repeat it.

        Nothing about Healthcare (THAT is outta left field)

        Learn something, of what EI used to be, before the money was sucked into General Revenue and consumed, before our Governments let the jobs leave catering to Employers (Big Corp) by permitting imported (Temporary) labour to undermine the pay scale of resident Canadians.

        By learning something of how we got to where we are today, you just MIGHT be able to conceive of something that works better, at leat be able to see when the wool is being pulled over your eyes.

        This entire “project”, for such is what it is, is nothing more than a race to the bottom… Orchestrated by big business with the help of Governments (Free Trade) to ensure lower pay for workers and higher profits for them..

        • Wait.. so you say people who forget history are doomed to repeat it.. while at the same time urging us to go back and repeat it?

          Hint: There’s a reason the saying is typically “Learn from” and not “Remember”. After all, we can only learn from history where things have failed. If they haven’t failed, they continue on and aren’t history, they’re our present.

          And here you’re saying “Lets go back and do what didn’t work before..”

          It sounds like you’re the one who has forgotten history. Perhaps you need to go back and look at why it changed in the first place.

          Again.. once you’ve caught up to Brian Mulroney, maybe you’ll have something to add to the conversation.

  5. It is good that they are looking at revamping this with an incentive to find work. Yes, you can call it “insurance” to “tide people over,” but any insurance system is based on the individual taking some of the cost: if you crash your car or burn down your house, you still have to pay the deductable, and you might not get anything if you were grossly negligent in causing the problem in the first place. Likewise with EI, the policy is intended to help people as long as they’re helping themselves, including finding work that may not have paid quite as well as the last job. In my job, for example, I’m paid above my industry average: if I lose that job, I SHOULD be working at 70% of my current pay. Nobody owes me anything because my employer made a mistake and I got a free ride. And remember the students who would take “UI-ski” (a play on UIC, EI’s old acronym)? They would work for four months and pay for university while on unenforced UI. It’s not as bad now, but almost everyone I know on EI has been gaming the system in some way that should be illegal, even if it’s not.

    The system is broken in other ways, too. I know someone – an immigrant – at a local fast-food restaurant earning BC’s new minimum wage of $10; her Canadian colleagues have mostly been replaced with foreign workers, who can earn $8.15. In other words, even if she and her employer AGREED to give her a pay cut below minimum wage, she’s not allowed to, and her job is being effectively outsourced. That causes Canadian unemployment, and yes, she could end up on EI as a result. Maybe she should give up her Canadian passport, repatriate back home, and fly back as a foreign worker so her Canadian job would be safe. Ludicrous.

    • EI does have a “deductible”. You don’t get paid for the first two weeks you are unemployed (or the first two weeks after your severance has run out, in case you have received severance).
      The foreign worker issue you bring up is part of the problem, I think. Why would an employer hire someone who’s on EI when they can hire a foreign worker for less? Temporary foreign workers should be paid the industry average, or maybe even a premium of 10%. That way employers would be encouraged to hire locally first.
      From what I understand, right now, it’s very easy for employer to say “I didn’t find anyone who fit the job, can I hire someone from abroad?”

      • Plus foreign workers are unfamiliar with labour law & it’s easier to violate labour law. Homegrown workers tend to understand their rights – foreign workers not so much.

  6. I am sick of hearing that EI is a “lifesytle choice”. Ever try to pay a mortgage, pay for gas, hydro and telephone, and insurance and feed four people on $1600 a month? For 20 years my husband didn’t collect EI/UI, becaue he had a good job. Then the government allowed the company he worked for to be sold to a US company that raped the assets and laid off 4,000. Since then we lost our RRSPs in the 2008 downturn and the only work he can get is part-time seasonal labouring in his industry (he’s 61). He travels 2.5 hours a day by truck to get to and from his work. Gas is $1.50 a litre. No goverment handout would retrain him. EI is the difference for some seasonal workers betwen losing their homes and not. I never thought I’d live to see the day I would vote for the NDP federally, but Thomas Mulcair is the only man who seems to give a damn about the people of this country. Diane Finley and your unionized reporter think the unemployed are lazy. Nothing could be further from the truth

    • Unfortunately this wasn’t the product of a unionized reporter, but rather the uniformed bilge of an editorial board that could write all it knows about the working man on the back of a very small postcard. Good luck to you ; you’re gonna need it with this govt.

      • Little kcm needs the govmint to take care of him.
        What a loser—get a life.

        • Devastating rebuttal. What can you do for an encore?

    • I too am sick of seeing that EI is a “lifestyle choice” – it’s proof positive that the person spouting this nonsense has NEVER been forced to rely on EI for any length of time. Even as a single person the $1600./month is difficult to live on. At the end of my last period of prolonged unemployment I was paying my mortgage out of my RSP’s and was in arrears on my property taxes.
      It’s easy to pontificate about something when one has nothing on the line.
      Good luck to you and I hope your situation turns around soon.

    • Im 25, former canadian forces, i dont why i got out. im now a security guard where $1600/month doesnt sound that bad. Why am i working 80-90hrs/2weeks. i should get EI and a hobby.

  7. If people are applying for EI while employers are hiring foreign workers, it means employers are giving layoff notices. This is illegal when there is work available. The system needs to prosecute the crooked employers he lay people off so they can collect EI. If the worker is not suitable the employer should fire the person not lay them off. This is one of the biggest abuses of the system. However this government caters to their right wing, underhanded, tax evading employers so I am sure this will be overlooked.

    • In my example above (I assume that’s what you’re referring to), the work is somewhat transient and the change from domestic to foreign workers has taken a couple of years without layoff notices. It’s an unmistakable strategy, though: from 0 to 75% sponsored foreign workers in that time. The work is just fast food, so there’s always work available. I’m sure they’re following the rules; my criticism is that the rules are set up stupidly.

      Why would you explicitly allow a foreign worker to do work and explicitly ban a Canadian from doing the same work? The answer seems to be that the Feds set minimum wage for the foreign worker and the province sets it for the locals, but surely the Feds could simply set the rule to say “minimum wage for foreign workers is X OR that province’s wage, whichever is higher.” Typical carelessness of the bureaucracy.

  8. “Of course the mere suggestion that a lobster fisherman might be expected to do something other than haul lobster pots from the ocean a few weeks a year has been met with outrage and condemnation. ”

    Have to agree with thwim about opinion pushers. What is it about editorial boards? In theory 4 or 5 heads are better than one; in fact whether it be GM, NP or sadly Macleans mostly what you get is one brain diivided by 5.
    Just look at this quote. A thing of beauty isn’t it? More accurately an outright distortion- it has Whyte’s fingerprints all over it.
    EI has changed enormously in the last 20years. How many of the legendary abuse are current?
    Before we believe even half of the claims of this so called opinion, written by men whose closest brush with seasonal labour is when they shop at the local supermarket produce section, can we see some real empirical evidence of widespread abuse and job avoidance?
    I’m not content to swallow wholesale such an obviously slanted ,lazy bit of editorializing as this appears to be. Get off your asses gentlemen an get us a real story, rather DHing for the govt.

    • The upside is I think I’m noticing a real trend whereby at least some of us don’t just swallow it whole. And I think the some of us is growing.

    • Well considering that about 60% of claimants to EI are frequent and seasonal, the abuse continues

      • Why do you assume that frequent EI claimants are abusing the system? If 60% of EI claimants are frequent/seasonal that tells me that there is a lack of permanent full-time jobs in some parts of the country.

        • Good point also if you quit you are disqualified so you are not leaving by your own choice.

        • Could we not look at this the other way and suggest that maybe EI is preventing permanent, full-time jobs from existing in some parts of the country? That is to say that, as long as workers in these parts can expect to receive income during an off-season of not working, then accepting year-round, non-subsidised work becomes less appealing.

          • I don’t understand how changing the terms of EI will magically make full-time, non-seasonal jobs magically appear in rural areas. Companies that still manufacture things in Canada respond to very few variables, chief among which are government subsidies (which often pit province against province), infrastructure availability, and proximity/availability of their market. Creating a generation of impoverished seasonal workers will hardly impact any of those variables.

      • i heard that number to be 20%, rather than 60!

  9. “2,444 unemployed fish plant workers applied for EI while 210 fish plant jobs were filled by foreign workers”

    How come the law of supply and demand is so vitally important when determining CEO salaries, not so much for fish plant workers? Perhaps the 210 fish plant jobs don’t pay enough? ??

    But let foreign workers come in and pay them less than the going rate here, and then tell everyone “the market” determines everything and government shouldn’t interfere. What hypocrites!

    • I would love to know more about these 210 positions filled with foreign help. Was the wage the same what was offered to locals? If so was it competitive with comparative work? Did the plant cover the full costs of the wages? Did these workers receive any assistance in housing, food, work essentials and travel? Did these workers contribute in any way to the local economy ( Buying elective goods and services not provided through work?). What efforts did the plant make to reach potential workers?

      Any business that bullies their way into subsidized labor needs to be cut off if they have a willing workforce but won’t pay them competitively. Alberta has been a for this practice in it’s service and hospitality sector. . ( As most provinces are likely guilty of, I just can’t make them to smell like roses either.)

    • If the law of supply and demand is to be consulted then it would tell us not that the fish plant jobs don’t pay enough, but that they pay too much. In other words, the “going rate” for a fish plant worker is too high to have all of the fish plant workers bought-up. Of course we know that the law of supply and demand is nullified by an unemployment benefit because it pays suppliers (fish plant workers, in our case) not to sell.

      • Utter Theoretical rubbish. How on earth do you expect the middle class to survive in this country if we don’t support them with good, stable, well paying employment?
        We’ve created this consumer driven society, how is it to continue if we let the bottom fall out of labour markets everywhere but AB, or in resource industries, which are highly volatile.
        The real problem is that pure economic theory is at war with the liberal concept of an egalitarian society. You lean too far one side or the other you risk pulling the temple down.

        • I expect the members of the middle class to survive the same way that I expect everyone to survive, by exchanging their labour and property on the market for the means of their survival.

          I’ll need you to be a little more specific as to why what I authored above is “utter Theoretical rubbish”. Who exactly are the “we” that must support the middle class with good, stable, and well paying employment? Are “we” not also striving for good, stable, and well paying employment?

          Economic theory (pure or otherwise) attempts – and even sometimes succeeds – in determining what the results will be of certain actions made in the marketplace. Economics is a science, which is to say that it endeavours to describe reality.

          If you are telling me that the “liberal” concept of an egalitarian society is at war with the laws of economics – and thus at war with reality – then I am emphatically in agreement with you.

          • Now you want to play semantics. Fine, I exaggerated to make a point. Your response makes my point. Economics is not a science, and some of its greatest minds said so frequently eg, Keynes, JKG…I doubt if even Friedman or Hayek were arrogant or conceited enough to believe so either.
            Go ahead, believe that economics is some kind of modern priesthood ; I chose to believe its a tool to make life more bearable, respect it but worship it at your peril.

          • I too think it is a tool, the assistance it provides us is in helping us to determine what the consequences will be of certain actions taken in the marketplace. There need be nothing mystical or dogmatic about it.

            I do not want to play semantics, I want to debate. You said my original comment was utter theoretical rubbish and I was hoping you would tell me what made it so.

          • Little kcm is the local loser lib troll here.
            He has little substance to his remarks.
            Ignore him.

  10. This article is over before it begins with the assumption that EI’s primary purpose is to get people back to work. No, it’s primary purpose is to support people while they are out of work. It is an insurance policy that workers and employers pay into, not welfare. Yes, the wacky rules for certain occupations should be reformed or eliminated. But targetting higher benefits at harder-hit areas makes sense because presumably it is harder to find work in those areas. The government should not be in the business of finding work for people, or insisting that people take work rather than collect the benefits they paid for.

  11. I started work when I was 10 years old working after school and weekends because I came from a fatherless family of 4. When I was 16 I could drive and got better jobs, when I was 18 I went to work in a Chemical Plant. Right out of high school, pregnant girlfriend. Since then I’ve never been unemployed and I’m 63 years old now. I’ve never had to draw on unemployment but paid it for 42 years. There were times when my company’s business was slow and they cut back on our salaries to keep everyone employed. I was ready to work at MacDonalds if I had to. I’ve pumped septic tanks, sanded school desks, delivered books, bought a business that drained all my money when I was 38 and started all over again with $0 in the bank: no savings, no RRSP, nothing.
    So I get a little perturbed where I live now and here people say they don’t want to work at MacDonalds because they can work part time some where else and go on pogey for the next 6 months. They try and get seasonal work so they can take half the year off. I even hired some of these people to do general repairs at my home: they wanted payment in cash so that the government didn’t know they had a job. Didn’t want to stop their UI checks.
    Not everyone is like this and I feel sorry for those like the letter below who got a bum rap but continue to try to make a living. We gotta do something about the abusers.

    • I am having major surgery and will have re-enter the job market at age 57. Having been on Workmans Comp for a year I feel useless as I am not working. It shocks me that a healthy thirty year old can purposely sit his butt on EU for six months,what happened to personal pride

    • If you want to do something about the abusers, it’s simple – don’t facilitate the abuse by paying people in cash. If you know of a clear cut case of fraud, report it. People can only game the system if others are willing to aid & abet them.

    • I agree that not everyone is like the problem.

      That is what is good about the changes it only goes after those that are using/abusing it on a ongoing basis.

      There should be a safety net for people, simply not a guaranteed stay at home paid vacation for those too lazy too get out and work.

  12. In all these conversations about how people on EI don’t/won’t apply for all these vacant jobs out there, I’d like to see some proof that this is happening. It’s just as likely that people who apply for these jobs aren’t hired because the employer assumes that the person will go back to their previous job/industry as soon as possible. What employer is going to spend time, effort and money training someone who isn’t in it for the long haul.

  13. How about forcing employers in temporary jobs to pay wages that would suffice for a yearly expanses, or directing (some/any) industry to open new outlets in areas where seasonal work is the norm? In short, why put the onus entirely on employees and ignore directing employers to contribute to the problem of unemployment?
    In other words, if the problem is unemployment, why not try to come with a plane to encourage employment rather than blame employees and force them to either move or take a pay cut?

    And lastly, if the EI is so heavily abused, why hasn’t the government publish any numbers that support that claim? Was there any research into the matter, or is it just based on general knowledge and the Conservative dislike of the idea of a workable safety network that works and pays for itself?

    • Those plans, unless used very carefully and sparingly, could result in too much government intervention in the market with negative effects, sadly.

    • Regarding your first point about “forcing employers in temporary jobs to pay wages that would suffice for a yearly expanses”: This is the source of one of the criticisms of E.I. – that it effectively subsidises employers in seasonal industries. If workers did not have the guarantee of income when their season ran out, it could very well be that their employers would be forced (by the market) to pay higher wages as a premium for the on-again-off-again nature of the employment.

  14. I have been on EI once and I have been working for 25 years. It allowed me to keep paying my mortgage while I looked for work after my employer layed off thousands of employees, because of the incompetence of senior and middle management. After a year of looking for work and hundreds of resumes I still had nothing and went back to school. One graduate degree later I’m now employed earning about 40% less than when I worked before. EI is not a HANDOUT it’s a LIFELINE when you lose your job because of greedy CEOs. I wish the writers of this editorial could know what it feels like to lose your job when you have bills to pay. And don’t tell somebody that there’s no such thing as a bad job. A job that doesn’t utilize your skills, strengths and aptitudes IS a rotten job.

    • Yes, properly used EI is like having a credit card to fall back on when your roof caves in. Sure we should punish abusers severely. But all this libertarian, I did it all on my own,0 is mostly bilge in a world that relies on the consumer to keep the ball in the air. If they want us to go back to more self reliant ways then stop out sourcing all the good long term employment; the business class in this country are so hypocritical and their camp followers among the conservatives – and liberals these days -are pathetically compliant.

  15. The people that figure they are somehow entitled to live off the rest of us sure have their panties in a knot at the thought they might have to move around to keep a job.
    Funny how some of us can go to remote camps to keep working most of the year and some can only work a few weeks and feel it is their right to get a handout.

    • Funny how some of us have that choice and many of us don’t . Or are you suggesting everyone should move to work in a camp. Those that can most likely already do. I’d even put my neck out and claim if there were lots of camp jobs available in their own part of the country many maritime fishermen would take them.

  16. What employer will hire a seasonal worker for four months knowing he will return to his previous job. The time andmoney to train someone for a short time is not sensible.
    Seasonal construction workers put in more hours in a summer thansome people work all year, certainly not lazy.

  17. Saw the title, guessed the authorship.

  18. I have a big laugh about all the criticism about EI reform. I am a retired teacher but during my last 3 years of work I had a colleague from Nova Scotia. The school board tried for 3 years to sign him to full time contract. Trouble was he only wanted to work part time because he was a lobster fisherman. Every lobster season he would fly home and go fishing and then go on EI before returning to Alberta to begin his part time job of teacher.

    • Er maybe it was because there wasn’t a decent job available to him at home once the fishing season was done. At least he did eventually leave to take a job in AB.Obviously he didn’t want to give up fishing for full time teaching in AB- I wouldn’t either. Funny I thought this wasn’t about forcing people to do a job they didn’t want to, and live where they wanted.
      In any case raising his premium and or clawing back his EI- which they almost certainly did, oddly you didn’t choose to mention that Fact – are enough. The rest is his choice IMO .

  19. Is EI an insurance or
    welfare? I read many of the comments
    and it shows that their view is that it is welfare. Citing the size of their family, their mortgage and other needs.

    For comparison lets
    look at rules of car insurance. First the premium that you pay depends on the
    value of the car more expensive you pay more. Then if you live in area where
    more accident occur the premium goes up, then on your experience young
    inexperienced driver pay more. Then on your claim history more claims premium
    goes higher and higher. If you had no claims your premium goes down. Try to get
    insurance if you crashed your car 3 times.

    If EI would be
    insurance the more you earn you would have to pay more with no cap, if you have
    a seasonal job your premium has to go up, if you claim often you would not be
    eligible for insurance at all

  20. Sorry for the appearance of my comment below. I typed it in word then copied it. It just came out as it looks and I could not delete it or change its appearance

  21. Everybody settle down, all they are saying is when your job gets outsourced to foreign workers who work for less and share a two bedroom house with fifteen family members we are to do the same. imagine if you could pay a mortage on a mcdonalds salary? Who would even go to school? When people screw e.i. it sucks. . . but when employers go out of their way to find cheaper labour to save costs (Which maximizes profits, which happens to be the only goal of business) Everyone loses. It’s a system that destroys it’s self, they won’t employ us but they will still expect us to buy their goods. And to molest e.i. and expect the average canadian who owns a house and has student loans and kids to get a job at macdonalds if thats all they can find there will be big problems. you need to reeducate people who get laid off. Not rush them back into the workforce doing anything . Even conservative voters get laid off and go on e.i. haha its not a liberal or ndp problem.

    • I do not see how you can deride the idea of a family of fifteen sharing a two-bedroom house and then suggest that cost saving is a result by which everyone loses. It is precisely the achievement of cost-saving – of deriving a higher level of output per unit of input – that has permitted us to have any standard of living that we would consider a standard of living.

      • What you call cost-saving, I call a race to the bottom.

        • Please elaborate further.

          • Okay enough is enough here. Well I am all for cost savings somethings in this world cannot be measured by shear dollars and cents and if it was what a joyous world that would be and I take comfort in the fact that it will hopefully be long after I am gone from this world. Th shear fact that we are thinking about reforming a system that truely helps people concerns me deeply instead of looking and addressing root issues/causes. Sometimes the dollars and sense approaach doesnt work. We are people and not facts and figures and the less governments and corporations try to treat us as such the better.

          • Is it possible for a system that truly helps people to be exploited by some who do not need the help (however that need is defined)? If so, would it not be ideal to reform that system so that it could be exploited less?

  22. Sorry MACLEANS. I usually think your material is well researched, well thought out and I enjoy reading it, but on this one I believe you missed the boat. Most disappointing.

    An Interesting example of seasonal workers we might miss regardless of what province you live in are all the WildFire crews we look to when homes in Timmins or Slave Lake or Kelowna are threatened or burning and thousands of peoples lives are at risk. Where are you proposing to find the knowledge and skill base when your families lives are at risk and your home is about to become ashes. Who is the noble upstanding employer of these hard working, oh sorry, lazy, men and women willing to put their lives on the line for You year after year? Why it’s Provincial Governments just like yours who are unwilling to treat people properly but lay them off year after year or refuse to fund the responsible Ministry or Department properly. Don’t be surprised if the next time You dial for HELP nobody comes, because they will all be busy at McDonalds asking you if you want fries with that order as you evacuate your community .

    • If they have such a skill base, they should be paid accordingly in their salaries and bonuses. The subsidy just distorts the job market.

  23. You’re nuts, I pay into EI for 12 years then a market slump and I go on ei at 400 / week.
    Not even enough for butter!. 3 months later I get called back. Lucky, this take a penny-anti job on the other side of the country isn’t in place yet.

  24. A couple of errors of omission. Employers who routinely hire and layoff temporary employees or simply churn through staff come to rely on EI. It’s a subsidy to employers who do seasonal work or are just shithead employers. They pay no extra premiums, just like those who frequently collect it. So maybe it’s time to examine that side of the story.

    Secondly – these stories of employers having to import foreign workers while paying out EI. I don’t know what it costs and how much work it is to bring in foreign workers, but apparently it’s worth it because you can pay them so much less after all it’s all said and done. And what better way to show those uppity locals who’s boss.

    Com’n Maclean’s. I expect better.

  25. Yes EI is a lifeline (have I used it once when I was laid off and it allowed me to catch my breath and refocus), but it has also become a way of life for some workers and some employers – the examples provided in the article around importing foreign workers should be the wake up call AND it should return back to being an insurance program rather than a nicer form of welfare.

    And I will bring up another issue – I want maternity/parental leave OUT of the EI fund – parents are NOT unemployed, they are taking care of their children. If as a society we value people having children (and we should), then the system to support that should be paid for by ALL Canadians not just contributors to EI. Readjust the tax system so that parents (including parents who decide that one should stay at home to take care of their children) provides real benefits to do so rather than turning it into a some type of benefits only if you are working – that diminishes Canadians who think its important for one parent (and not just the mother, I know many families that have made the choice for the father to stay at home because the mom earns more) to raise their children. I know, how terribly old fashioned of me, but gee can anyone claim that shuffling kids off to day care at 6 a.m (no matter how good the day care is) makes for well-adjusted kids!!!

    • There are three sets of people: 1) people who earn nothing and pay no taxes, 2) people who work and pay EI premia but don’t earn enough to pay much in taxes, and 3) people who work, pay EI premia, and pay lots of taxes.

      You are talking about moving the burden from 2) and 3) to “everyone” – ie 1) as well. Why would you do such a regressive, poor-bashing thing? EI is a perfectly workable place to put maternity – all of us who work put into the pot, and those of us who suspend careers for kids draw a bit because of the societal benefit of having kids. Why tax (say) the elderly and the unemployed poor, who pay no EI, for that?

      • I’m talking ONLY about removing maternity/parental leave from EI and returning that to support from ALL taxpayers – again, I repeat – if as a society we value people having children (and we should value that), then families where one parent stays home should be supported. The easiest way to do so is through the tax system. It makes no sense to funnel huge amounts of money to support day care when a family would prefer to have one spouse stay at home but because of the tax system it is better that they go off to work and look for or demand subsidized day care.

  26. Like any other insurance, car ,home, health, the the average honest person becomes the loser as a result of a minority of people that abuse it.

  27. There’s more purpose to EI or UI than getting people back to work, and if we focus on that single purpose we neglect the others.

    1. Support business by maintaining demand. When people are laid off, the supporting businesses suffer. Retail, restaurants etc, and service providers like internet and cable. Even property values can take a hit. EI helps to maintain the demand for those products and services so that businesses are protected from the impacts of other business’s decisions. The storekeeper may grumble about ‘freeloaders’, but he will happily take their money.

    2. Maintain social order. People’s lives are better ordered when they live in a community of family and friends. Take them away from that and they become unpredictable. They join groups of similarly displaced people and without the constraints they felt in their home community, they can become disorderly.

    By focussing on the needs of the employee, we neglect the needs of communities and their businesses.

  28. I find it amusing that those opposed to any changes to EI are so quick to generalize and label the author, the magazine and any other commenter as liars and want to distort facts for some unnamed right-wing conspiracy. Ah, the tyranny of the left!.

    • I find it amusing that morons think those who would call out the magazine for it’s lying and attempting to distort facts automatically think that means they’re against any changes to EI as well.

      It’s really quite simple — ends don’t justify means. Both need to be justified for the action to be just.

      • ‘Morons’? I rest my case.

        • If you had one, that’d even make sense.

  29. If the I in EI stands for “insurance”, it insures you against unforeseen changes (such as factory closures). Winter is not unforeseen (it comes round every December), so seasonal workers should not be eligible for insurance. They might deserve some other accommodation (higher prices for fish?), but have no right to make themselves a burden on taxpayers. EI is for unforeseen changes, not a predicable cycle. If you are subject to a predictable cycle, you should have your own “insurance”plan (one that does not involve payroll dedcuctions for everyone else)

    • We DID have such a thing, it was called UI even though it was funded through Payroll Deductions.

      But it was converted to EI when the Government patriated and consumed the built up funding

    • My work is not seasonal, I am an ironworker I work when its -30 and +30c when ever and where ever. I help build the bridges you cross, the factorys you may work in, the malls you shop in. When the job is done they dont pay me to stand around and look at it. The next job may be now , in a few weeks or months, depending on the need. In the off time I use E.I. Without it there have been times when the wolves at the door would have got in. In good yrs. I need to pay back 2-3 grand at tax time. Who would work the trades if you are kicked to the curb between jobs, it takes 5yrs to become a qualified in most trades. How long did it take you to become a con.

  30. People are correct in that EI has no “employment finding” capabilities built in – It Should Have…

    The old systen, UI, separate from Government, did have such, there was a national Job Bank with Job boards in every centre and they worked to heko you find employment and/or get training.

    THEN the government, of the day, saw this HUGE pool of money sitting in the UI investment bank, earning interest and dividends to grow the UI fund, and pulled it into General Revenue because then the Government could then spend it..

    THEN the UI system became a drain on the Governments General Revenue stream. That was when they dreamed up the idea of EI, to cut costs and save money. One of the cost cutting measures by reducing (and finally removing altogether) the “employment finding” aparatus that had been set up by the Insurance YOU were funding to help YOU find work.

    THEN, the Government, in all its wisdom, started funding private business to help people find work. The first real outsourcing of services by Government.

    Costing???? Results ????

    So we have a system, today, that is very susceptible to the whims of politicians, provides no “REAL” help to the unemployed vis a vis finding work, and the politicians, who have participated in permitting companies to replace the “For the Good of Society” clause of their incorporation with “Shareholder Profit Only” being the imperative, now treat those who are required, through no fault of their own, to be on EI of being essentially welfare cheats.

    Bah… Humbug to the lot of ya.

  31. lot of industries, forestry, fishing, oil sands construction rely on seasonal workers. Having a available pool of workers is important for their viability. With the new guest worker program allowing employers to by pay 15 percent less and EI recipients being forced to
    take less pay is this a systematic approach to eventually lowering labour costs everywhere.

  32. Give me strength!! Will somebody please explain something to me. I am a Maritimer, Seasonal worker, been for years. Around here mother nature rules our days of work. We plant when it fit to plant, we harvest and process when mother nature says it’s time, we fish when the gales are somewhat mellow and the fishing season is open. Following all the Government health and saftey rules(more paper work). We are the people that are putting the LOCALLY grown food on your table and in your bellies. No 35-40 hours a week for us, we work more hours in six months than you pencil pushers do all year. Sure we could go and apply for a job at one of the three McDonalds or the one Walmart but they are not hiring!!! Or better still, we can go back to school and become an better educated seasonal worker. Or we could move(most have)but who is going to do the work around here( the people from away). You said that we hired people from away in the fish plants while some of us are unemployed with the same job title. Obviously the unemployed had to work to be unemployed, were your figures taken for the away workers when the plant was in season and the unemployed locals off season or lets just combine that year together(that doesn’t work).

    Go after the people that are popping babies out for more welfare!! Leave us alone!!


  33. In New Brunswick for example, in January of this year, 2,444 unemployed fish plant workers applied for EI while 210 fish plant jobs were filled by foreign workers. ”

    The employers are under the gun from the workers, the EI workers to do this.

    Mess with the EI system in the East Coast and you could find your house, car or boat in flames.

    The EI mentality is ingrained here with folks figuring it is their god given right to sponge off the rest of us.

  34. This kind of empty-headed drivel posing as an editorial is exactly why I occasionally browse Maclean’s online and don’t pay for a subscription.

  35. When a group is more concerned about spreading blame then getting a root problem solved, you end up with embitterment and still have the root problem to solve.
    If we decide in Canada that food production is something that we no longer wish to have control over, then let’s let the food producers collapse if they can’t survive without support.

    Or if we decide that it matters enough we’ll revamp how it’s done because by golly there’s a lot of people with apparent guaranteed futures in boardrooms that must know how to plant in snow. Fish in Winter? Sure, if regulations didn’t disallow it due to plummeting fish stocks.

    There’s a lot more riding on this and a lot of full time jobs riding on finding out how to fix this. Canada today has 10 provinces and 3 territories. We’ll see a day where those numbers won’t be viable.

  36. The basic problem is that EI ceased to be an “insurance” program years ago. An insurance policy assumes premiums that increase as risk increases. Under the current scheme benefits go up as contributions go down — those at highest risk to become unemployed (including those guaranteed to be out of work for part of the year) pay less into the plan than those who are never out of work.

  37. I do not agree with this very one sided report. Having been on the Baord of Referees for EI, I know there are many restrictions on claims now, including rejections for quitting and firing, and the length of time one has to work to qualify for benifits. These changes to EI blame the victim for being unemployed without expecting anything from the employer. How about companies that receive incentives from us the tax payers are not allowed to take our money and run. Or now that we have one of the lowest Tax rates for companies they should only be entitled to the rate if they actually create jobs. EI claimants have to prove eligibility why not employers as well??? How about limiting part time work and eliminating temporary workers where the job lasts longer than 3months. There are many people working in industry where they only hire temporary workers and those jobs can last years. Great for the Co. Not so much for the workers. Please keep in mind that the benifit rate is only 55% and there is a on cap on how much a claimant is paid and claw backs. So a worker making $10 per hour would never be able to sustain themselves for very long if at all, on the benefits paid.

  38. The new system will get the lazy people of their duff, only one problem the Ontario Liberals . McGuinity and his partner Duncan puts people out of work in Ontario, unless of coarse you live in Toronto .In Windsor area Duncan just closed Windsor Raceway which covered approximately 65,000 workers. Now does this seem fair with the Feds changing the EI rules?

  39. the biggest ABUSE of the system, has been, in 2007, when a surplus of some $ 54 billion dollars belonging to the E.I., suddenly vanished, our hard-earned safety nest, money paid by the contribution of the taxpayers, has just vanished. And, where has it gone? Does anyone have the answer to that? How can one find out?

    • The gov. just took it and put it into general revenue as did the libs. a few years before ( they stole about the same amount ) Now the fund is about 8 billion in the red and it is the fault of the workers. The simple solution is to make it more difficult to access thus it will quickly build and become available for future theft.

  40. I also worked all my life and did not have to resort to EI. I consider myself very lucky.
    The vast majority of people I know hate receiving EI.

    I paid EI all my life and did not get anything back. But then, I also paid life insurance all my life and I unfortunately I didn’t die. Paid insurance on my house and again, it never burned.

    Reform EI, modernize it; of course. But do it to improve the system FOR workers. It should not be an economic development tool.

  41. I FIND THIS ARGUMENT SURPRISING IN THE LIGHT OF THE RECENT NATIONAL DISCUSSION ON OLD AGE SECURITY. THERE WAS NO MENTION OF SENIORS WHO CAN MAKE UP TO &100,000 A YEAR AND STILL RECEIVE A $500 MONTHLY WELFARE CHECK CALLED OAS. COULD IT BE THAT THOSE RECIPIENTS AND THEIR CHILDREN DON’T WANT THEIR PARENTS EATING AWAY AT THEIR POTENTIAL INHERITANCE?

  42. The system Canada has right now is not only, discriminatory, illogical and counterproductive. It should be against the law.
    Too many people, a half million per day,every day (thanks Maclean’s) take too much advantage of a very easy system to manipulate.
    Imagine all the money that would be available for much more worthy Canadian causes if so many didn’t take so much advantage.
    I am very happy to see the EI (UI) belt tighten. It’s a great new system. If you need it, it’s there. Just don’t take advantage of it. Be warned.

  43. Idealized crap, what are you? A communist. Only communists or religious people whine about how unfair the world is, sniff sniff. Yes, life is not fair, get over it. You know nothing about the real world, son. You can’t remove people from seasonal jobs & replace them easily. A experienced workers is far more efficiency than a greenhorn. If businesses have to continuously keep replacing their experienced workers with stunners they won’t be in business for long. I’m sorry but as long as this country uses capitalism as its economic model, you’re always going to have unemployed people, like it or not. Your never going to get your perfect world because perfection doesn’t exist. Oh, by the way, why don’t I hear anybody slamming welfare recipients, they take just as much as the average EI recipient, and don’t contribute to the economy at all. know what your going to say,” That’s a provincial matter”. Well, no it ain’t. The Feds contribute to welfare through the Canada Social Transfer payment and child benefit programs which discourage these people from getting a job. Well, I’d like to chat some more but I got work to do. Ta.

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