HUNTS POINT, NOVA SCOTIA, – Atlantic Canada’s premiers are asking Ottawa to suspend its changes to employment insurance, saying there should be further study of the federal program’s new rules because they adversely affect the region’s seasonal-based economy.
The premiers, who span the political spectrum, concluded a meeting Monday in Hunts Point, N.S., where they said the changes implemented in January were made despite a lack of consultation.
Nova Scotia NDP Premier Darrell Dexter said the changes have deepened regional disparity at a time when the provinces are trying to work together on a range of economic issues.
“Unfortunately, the federal government has taken an off-ramp from co-operation and is creating hardship,” Dexter told a news conference.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale said fears that the changes would penalize workers have come to fruition.
“What we predicted would happen has happened and requires some kind of reversal or intervention,” the Progressive Conservative premier said.
Under some of the new rules, those who frequently claim EI need to prove they’re actively seeking work. Workers must also accept a job within 100 kilometres of their home as long as they are qualified and the pay is at least 70 per cent of their previous salary.
The call to suspend the changes was championed by fellow Tory Premier David Alward of New Brunswick, who asked his Atlantic counterparts for support in the days leading up to their meeting.
Alward said while individual objections by the Atlantic provinces haven’t persuaded the federal government to budge from its position, he is optimistic that it’s not too late for Ottawa to reverse their stance.
“I’m not in anyway naive enough to think it will be easy,” said Alward. “But … it is that important to the future of our region, our employees and our industries, especially our seasonal industries.”
Liberal Premier Robert Ghiz of Prince Edward Island said while he realizes EI changes have to be made, it shouldn’t be done without researching it first.
He said he has made it clear to people in other parts of the country that the changes threaten the Island’s economy, which depends heavily on tourism, agriculture and the fishery.
“Guess what? We need people in those areas to work in seasonal industries and they depend on the employment insurance program.”
Federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley reiterated her past position that the changes will better connect Canadians with available jobs in their area.
“We know that every individual has unique circumstances and we will always take those into account,” Finley said in an email.
“All requirements and changes are reasonable, common sense efforts to help Canadians get back to work faster.”
The federal government estimates the changes will save $12.5 million this year and $33 million next year.
The premiers said their provinces will study the effects of the changes and present their initial findings to the annual meeting of all of Canada’s premiers in July. They say they plan to have the final results of their study complete by mid-fall.
The Atlantic premiers also called on Ottawa to share all relevant Employment Insurance data.
© The Canadian Press, 2013