MILL RIVER -- Seasonal workers in rural P.E.I. are going to be able to draw more weeks of Employment Insurance benefits, and possibly with greater weekly earnings because of an EI administrative change.
Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea, who is the regional minister for P.E.I. and the MP for Egmont, announced the change Thursday in front of close to 80 constituents at the Rodd Mill River Resort.
The change will split P.E.I. into two regions, one region for Charlottetown and surrounding area and another for the rest of P.E.I.
Shea explained that the capital regions in all provinces except P.E.I. Were already classified as urban economic regions.
The change, she said, will mean the unemployment statistics for the capital region and the rest of P.E.I. will be determined separately.
Using November 2012 Stats Can figures as an example, Shea said the unemployment rate for P.E.I. was determined to be 11.5 per cent. By treating all of P.E.I. as one region, the EI system did not take into consideration that the unemployment rate for rural P.E.I was actually 14.9 per cent.
If it had, a rural islander with 520 insurable hours of employment would have been entitled to 29 weeks of benefits instead of the 23 weeks he was entitled to because of the provincial unemployment rate of 11.5 per cent. The divisor would have been different, too, she said.
“This will result in higher benefits,” she said, summoning a round of applause from the invited guests.
“Today’s announcement brings more fairness to our EI program for rural P.E.I.,” said Shea who indicated her staff has been working on bringing about the change for about a year.
“I took those concerns to Ottawa and we have taken action: Islanders will no longer be treated differently than Canadians in every other province in this country,” she said.
Shea’s announcement won support from Hal Perry. He is the District 27 MLA who crossed from the Progressive Conservative caucus to the Liberals last year because he said he couldn’t effect change on EI issues within a provincial party aligned with the federal Conservative government.
“I think it’s a good announcement; it’s a start,” he said. “It’s good for rural P.E.I. and it’s a definite start and I’m glad the minister listened and took my advice and took these concerns back to Ottawa and made those changes.”
PC party leader Steven Myers also agreed the announcement is good for rural P.E.I.
“For us, we’ve been saying for a long time it’s harder on rural Islanders, the changes, and we chose to stay and work with the federal government and try to bring positive change back to P.E.I. instead of running away from it like others did,” he commented. He suggested the new statistics that will be available from having two economic regions will force the provincial government to take action on job creation.
Anne Arsenault, manager of Tignish Initiatives, suggested the change will provide equality to all Islanders. “This is great news to all people working in seasonal industries, the backbone of our Island economy.”
President of Alberton Fisheries, Doug Fraser, called the change a “beginning.” He said it recognizes the opportunity to gain employment in rural P.EI. is less than in Charlottetown.
Lee Knox, president of the Prince County Fishermen’s Association, said it will bring “big time” help to western P.E.I. where many seasonal workers have been forced to leave the Island because of a benefits shortfall. “They’re not going to be bursting with money, but, at least they will have something to keep them going until the season starts again. Before, they had nothing.”
The change Shea announced Thursday takes affect October 12, 2014.