Premiers' council told EI changes bringing fear, depression to region

Colin MacLean
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MONTAGUE  — Employment Insurance changes are creating depression and fear within the Atlantic Canadian population, the premiers' council was told in Montague earlier today.

Mary MacNeil, left, and Marie Burge advise the Premiers’ Council on EI reform in Montague Monday that changes have created nightmares for many affected and involved in seasonal jobs.

"The response is to head to the airport or get in a car and go west," said Marie Burge of the P.E.I. Coalition for Fair EI. "We want the federal government to go back to the old insurance system."

Participants told stories of people spending months just to hear from EI officials or trying to talk to the now defunct local tribunals. One young mother with a legitimate claim has had to borrow $15,000 to pay her bills.

"The feds have no idea the impact this is having on seasonal workers," said Mary MacNeill of the coalition.

About 40 people attended the session that was told 1,300 people are now off the E.I. claims list while no new jobs have been generated.

In fact, CUPE rep and coalition member Lori MacKay said the changes are making people feel like they are breaking the law for even trying to apply.

“People tell me they are made to feel like criminals and the EI changes are penalizing the province without bringing jobs,’’ she said. “It’s only contributing to an underground economy.”

The council was told people can’t get through to the 1-800 number, work part-time because benefits are cut, and are provided benefits for fewer weeks than before.

Island restaurants have been impacted because they can’t afford to keep a chef on during winter months because of the insurance changes. And farms and fishermen can’t find consistent help during the work season because former employees are being cut from the EI rolls.

Karen Tsistinas told the panel about her daughter, a single mom, who has had so many problems and delays to get her benefits that she had to borrow $15,000 to pay her bills.

“These changes have created a wave of desperation in communities,’’ said Anne Wheatley of the Cooper Institute. “…and created a significant negative impact.”

The Montague claims processing centre closes in April and the panel was told the 22 jobs have been moved to Conservative MP Peter MacKay’s riding in New Glasgow, N.S.

Even provincial case workers said there is a drop in the enrolment for Skills Canada opportunities because there are no benefits provided to take the courses.

“People who want to upgrade their literacy and do better have to drop out,’’ said one counsellor. “Because the choice they have is too take the course, or get out and work to put food on the table.”

The coalition called for the federal government to return to the former EI system which they insist was fair and practical.

Organizations: P.E.I. Coalition for Fair EI, Cooper Institute

Geographic location: New Glasgow

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  • HMMM
    January 21, 2014 - 17:52

    even top ei do the math it doesn't pay the bills...

  • Steve
    January 21, 2014 - 11:21

    If a women had to borrow $15K before she got her EI, the problem is not EI it's her budgeting habilities. Even at the max EI rate, that's 30 weeks before a decision. You won't make me believe it took that long for a decison. EI never founded literacy training, not even prior to the changes. People on EI always had, and they should, be looking for a job. Stop making it a way of life. Provincial government, work harder to bring year round industries in your regions. Stop rellying on other people and get your act together.

  • Alex
    January 21, 2014 - 09:42

    Why is it the the average Joe is having such EI problems and yet those that are on seasonal work with the Federal or Provincial governments are not having any problems. In fact they don't have to look for work during EI, they travel outside the province and country without any problems and take sick weeks at will, to extend their EI. It would appear we have a two teer society when it comes to the federal or provincial government. Shame, Shame, Shame.