Premier says EI reforms cost P.E.I. $20-million

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Premier Robert Ghiz reads a copy of the 2014 budget.

Premier Robert Ghiz says the Harper government’s controversial employment insurance reforms have removed $20 million from Prince Edward Island’s economy.

That’s one of the details included in a long-awaited panel report on the EI changes commissioned a year ago by Atlantic Canada’s four premiers.

The premiers were briefed on a draft of the report earlier this week, and although they will not yet release the recommendations, Ghiz told The Guardian Tuesday it will include financial impact analyses done by the provinces.

“We know that within the province, our estimation is that $20 million was taken out of our economy,” Ghiz said.

“We believe this has a very negative impact, especially on those people drawing EI (who) are not high income earners in our province, so therefore we look at it as really picking on the vulnerable.”

But he was quick to point out the $20-million figure is an estimation of the financial impact of the changes, and that it is still an exercise of ‘making presumptions.’

That’s because the report will not contain actual data on how the EI changes have affected the Atlantic provinces.

Ghiz says it’s still too early for that kind of data.

“The impact was not analyzed yet because we need to wait for the results,” he said.

“It will be continuous work that will still have to be done after this, because really the effects of the EI changes are going to be seen this year and in the next year, because the changes just took place.”

The changes targeted frequent users and put greater emphasis on claimants looking for and accepting available work, even if it is up to 30 per cent less than their previous salary and upwards of 100 kilometres from their home.

The feds also ended a pilot project that extended EI benefits by five weeks to some seasonal workers that helped them retain an income while waiting for their seasonal job to resume.

Ghiz has long argued P.E.I.’s seasonal economy must be treated differently than other provinces with industries like big oil or manufacturing plants that help supply year-round employment.

Don Cudmore, executive director of the P.E.I. Tourism Industry Association, says the EI changes together with a recent moratorium on temporary foreign workers in the food services sector are having major impacts to local businesses and their employees.

“The industry is starting to think that this particular federal government has no respect for the industry, no respect for the operators themselves,” Cudmore said.

The fact the changes were made without consultation is a major sticking point, he added.

“The problem with what they did with EI and with temporary foreign workers – they’re changing it as they go, and you can’t operate a business that way,” Cudmore said.

“It’s pretty disheartening for those working hard in our industry to make a living.”

Ghiz said to expect a censure of Ottawa’s unilateral EI changes to be a key recommendation of Atlantic panel’s EI report.

“The report recognizes perhaps this was rushed through a little bit too quickly and that more work still needs to be done.”

The Atlantic premiers, and Ghiz in particular, have been pushing back against the EI reforms for the last year, never missing an opportunity to ask for them to be reversed, so far to no avail.

Ghiz said he does not expect the panel report will have any greater effect, except as another tool to use in arguing against the changes.

That’s why he aims to make it an election issue in 2015.

“I will be looking to other political parties, and really to be honest with you it doesn’t matter which political party to me, as long as they recognize that these changes are having a negative impact on my province,” Ghiz said.

“I’ll be looking for them to put that in their platforms.”

Organizations: P.E.I. Tourism Industry Association

Geographic location: P.E.I., Atlantic Canada, Ottawa

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