Concerns about new employment insurance regions in P.E.I. made their way to both the House of Commons and the Senate Tuesday, with the NDP and Liberals alike calling for all EI reforms to be scrapped.
During question period in the Commons, Nova Scotia NDP MP Robert Chisholm zeroed in on federal Fisheries Minister and Egmont MP Gail Shea, who last week announced changes to the way EI will be administered in Prince Edward Island.
He accused Shea of looking out only for the residents of her own riding.
“The minister of fisheries has recognized that there are serious problems with the (EI) changes the government has made and she has made changes within her constituency,” he said.
“Why don’t they recognize that the unemployed across the region, Atlantic Canada and Quebec, are hurting as a result of these changes? Scrap the changes and come to this House with some real reform.”
Employment Minister Jason Kenney defended Shea, saying she has shown leadership on this file and that P.E.I. will be better off as a result of new rules announced last week.
“P.E.I. was the only province that did not recognize the difference between the urban and the rural economies. Now we have fairness for Prince Edward Islanders,” Kenney said.
But critics say these new EI rules are the opposite of fair, as they will create inequities between those living in Charlottetown and those in rest of the province.
Under the new rules, set to take effect in October, Prince Edward Island will go from being one EI region to having two EI zones — a capital and a non-capital region. The change will allow for higher EI benefits for rural claimants, but will in turn mean those living in the new Charlottetown region will have to work longer to qualify for EI and could be eligible for less money.
Representatives from the Canadian Union of Public Employees from all four Atlantic provinces slammed the changes in a letter published in The Guardian’s opinion page Tuesday.
The union reps said it was ‘patently unfair’ to make changes that benefit only select areas of the province. They also called the changes a “cynical ploy to buy votes by the fisheries minister.”
The controversial new EI rules were also raised Tuesday in the Senate.
Liberal Senator for P.E.I. Libbe Hubley similarly took aim at Shea, calling the latest changes ‘nothing but a political ploy.’
“As many have observed, those who will most benefit are residents in the minister’s own riding of Egmont, while residents of Malpeque, Cardigan and, most of all, Charlottetown will be negatively affected,” Hubley said during question period in the Senate.
“Why is the minister, who represents the entire province of Prince Edward Island, looking out for only the seasonal workers in her riding when she is responsible for the well-being of all Islanders?”
Malpeque MP Wayne Easter said he has been inundated with calls about the new rules, especially about how the Charlottetown region is being identified.
The federal department is using a census agglomeration map of Charlottetown to identify this new metropolitan EI region. This map encompasses not only Charlottetown proper, but also the better part of Queens County, including a number of rural areas and communities.
Easter says people are getting conflicting information about how to determine which EI region they live in.
“This announcement of Gail (Shea)’s on employment insurance of splitting the Island into two zones is an absolute mess and unnecessarily so,” Easter said.
“I want to inform my constituents about the details and no one from her office, deputy minister in Ottawa or Service Canada can outline the details for me in a comprehensive way.”
But Shea’s spokeswoman, Sophie Doucet, says P.E.I.’s Liberals MPs are trying to confuse the issue on purpose.
“Now that Wayne Easter has said he will campaign to change these rules in the 2015 election campaign, he needs to hope that the people in his riding who will benefit from these changes never learn the details.”