Atlantic Canada’s four premiers will be asking the federal government to provide more clarity and information about proposed changes to employment insurance and how the changes will impact the region.
All four premiers said they are concerned the federal government does not understand the importance of seasonal industries to the economies of the Atlantic provinces.
“The federal government has to realize that they can hurt these (seasonal) industries by changing around the EI system, which could drag workers away from those industries,” P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz said at a news conference this afternoon following the Atlantic Council of Premiers meeting.
“What we’re saying is that we don’t have enough information. We’ve been trying to do some research ourselves to see how this is actually going to impact our specific regions, and until we get more information, it’s really hard to figure out.”
Impending changes to employment insurance include the creation of three categories of unemployed workers based on how often they have collected EI benefits. Frequent users, such as seasonal workers, will have six weeks to find a job in their field. After that, they will have to take any job for which they are qualified, even if it is not in their field and even if it pays 30 per cent less than their previous wage.
These changes were a key topic of discussion among the four Atlantic premiers during the Council of Atlantic Premiers annual meeting today in P.E.I.
Newfoundland Premier Kathy Dunderdale said she believes the federal government doesn’t understand that seasonal workers, such as fishers, often do not have the skills to take on alternate employment.
“I think there’s a real disconnect between Ottawa and the reality of people’s lives here in Atlantic Canada,” Dunderdale said.
“There’s not a lot of skilled labour that is certified that works within (a seasonal) industry, so they’re not transferrable skills.”
Nova Scotia’s Premier Darrell Dexter said the premiers think the federal government is imposing changes to the EI system based on a notion that frequent EI claimants are drawing employment insurance instead of taking available work.
“We reject that completely and we believe, therefore, that to a degree, the efforts that are being made by the federal government are in fact in response to a stereotype that doesn’t exist in our provinces,” Dexter said.
All four premiers expressed frustration at the lack of advance warning of the EI changes and the fact there was no consultation with the provinces before the changes were announced.
That’s why they are writing a collective letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking for more information about how he sees the changes impacting a region that relies heavily on seasonal industries.
“Certainly there continues to be a significant lack of information about what these impacts will be and how they will be initiated, what ultimately it will mean to the affected employee or business,” New Brunswick Premier David Alward said.
“We are calling on the federal government to fill those gaps in, to provide the necessary information so that we do know and understant what those impacts are.”
Ghiz added that Atlantic Canada’s seasonal industries not only have a significant place in this region’s economy, but also to the economy of the country as a whole.
“Central Canadians, all Canadians, like to enjoy our lobster, our french fries, our mussels, our oysters, but they have to realize these are seasonal in nature. So we need to the federal government to be able to realize that one size does not fit all across our country.”