Federal minister takes issue with P.E.I. criticism of EI

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Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney is taking issue with criticisms aimed at employment insurance reforms by the Prince Edward Island government and others in P.E.I.

Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney. File photo

Kenney says rising rates of out-migration from Prince Edward Island are not the result of the changes made in 2013 to EI rules.

“Recent claims by the provincial government that these changes are responsible for people leaving Prince Edward Island are completely false,” Kenney said in a statement Tuesday.

In 2012-13, P.E.I. experienced a net loss of close to 1,100 Islanders to inter-provincial migration, according to data from Statistics Canada.

This is the largest loss of P.E.I. residents to other provinces in more than 30 years.

In November, P.E.I.’s Innovation Minister Allen Roach blamed this increase on the changes to EI eligibility. He believes they have led to an increasing number of Islanders heading to Alberta for work.

On Monday, a number of P.E.I. business and community leaders shared their concerns over the EI changes with a panel struck by the four Atlantic premiers. This panel is examining the effects of the Harper government’s EI reforms in Atlantic Canada.

Tourism and business representatives shared their worries about out-migration of workers, also attributing this to the changes in EI rules.

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Kenney’s office contacted The Guardian in response to two stories it published quoting those who spoke at Monday’s public meeting.

She said she wanted to correct misinformation being spread about the EI changes, especially regarding an increase in the number of Islanders disqualified for EI benefits in 2013.

“Since we introduced our changes, there was an increase in disqualifications but that same data proves it can be linked to claimants applying for EI while being outside of the country,” said Kenney’s spokeswoman Alexandra Fortier.

In P.E.I. close to 80 per cent of those kicked off EI in 2013 were collecting benefits while in another country. This may have included Islanders who took a trip or vacation down south.

This has been a longstanding rule and was not one of the new measures introduced by the Harper government, she added.

“Obviously you need to be in Canada, looking for work while you are on EI.”

Kenney is on a tour of the Middle East this week, but Fortier emailed a statement from the minister to The Guardian Tuesday.

In it, he says federal data shows more than 99 per cent of EI claimants were not refused benefits based on the recent changes.

Fortier said Kenney wanted to clarify this for Islanders, especially after so many negative statements have been made about the EI changes, both by the provincial government and others.

One particularly inflammatory statement made during the public meetings in P.E.I. Monday came from the mayor of Souris, who blamed the feds for the ‘murder’ of his small rural town.

Premier Robert Ghiz has also been vocal in his criticism of the EI reforms, often turning to national news outlets to raise alarm over the effects they will have on seasonal economies.

“If the seasonal workers pick up and leave and all move out West, who’s going to be around to work on our farms, to work in our fish plants, to work in our tourism industry? It will be detrimental to our economy and therefore the Canadian economy,” Ghiz told The Guardian in November.

“Not one single person in P.E.I. has been, or will be, required to search for work off-Island to be eligible for EI,” Kenney countered Tuesday.

“Employment Insurance continues to be there for Canadians who have lost their job through no fault of their own. Those who have worked the requisite weeks but cannot find suitable work in their local area will continue to qualify for employment insurance.”

Organizations: The Guardian, Statistics Canada

Geographic location: P.E.I., Prince Edward Island, Atlantic Canada Alberta Middle East

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