EI changes don’t target Atlantic Canada’s seasonal workers, Harper says

Under new rules, those who claim EI frequently will need to prove they're actively seeking work.

SUMMERSIDE, PEI – Changes to the federal employment insurance program are fair to Atlantic Canada’s seasonal workers, contrary to assertions by the region’s premiers, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

Harper, who was in Summerside, PEI, for a funding announcement, said it’s false to claim that the new rules the Conservative government have introduced are harming people who can only find work for part of the year.

“Let me be very clear in terms of any misinformation, there is nothing, absolutely nothing in our changes that targets seasonal industries or seasonal workers or requires anybody to leave their region to get a job,” he said. “We are simply making sure that when jobs are available that Islanders can fill them and when there is no work for Islanders in their region and they’ve paid into the fund, they will be eligible to receive.”

The changes have stoked protests in the region. Just two weeks ago, Atlantic Canada’s premiers asked Ottawa to suspend them, accusing the federal government of implementing the new measures without consultation.

The premiers, who span the political spectrum, said there should be further study of the new rules that took effect in January because they’re harming seasonal-based industries that serve as the bedrock for the region’s economy.

A spokesman for PEI’s Department of Innovation said the number of people employed goes up almost 19% between January and June, compared to the national average of 4.8% for the same time period. The increase is mostly due to seasonal work in the forestry, construction, fisheries and tourism sectors, Sandy Stewart said.

The premiers have agreed to study the effects of the changes and present interim findings to the annual meeting of Canada’s premiers in July. They plan to have the final results of their study complete by mid-fall.

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% of their previous salary.

The federal government has estimated that changes to EI will save the public treasury $12.5 million this year and $33 million next year.

Harper said he realizes finding work can be challenging in Atlantic Canada, but added that his government is committed to stimulating job growth.

“We know that unemployment is still high in this region and that’s why we put specific emphasis on making sure we get investments in places like Atlantic Canada,” he said.

The announcement was part of a wider renewal of the Atlantic Innovation Fund, with a total of $39.9 million allotted for 17 projects across Atlantic Canada.

©The Canadian Press