EI, out-migration not connected, Harper says

TC Media newsroom@journalpioneer.com
Published on June 20, 2014
Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea shows Prime Minister Stephen Harper an easier way to get lobster other then in the shell when they visited a popular lobster pound/restaurant in Charlottetown Thursday June 19, 2014. At right is Steven Larkin, owner of the pound/restaurant. Some people find it difficult to get the lobster meat out of the shell so the frozen variety is popular. Harper was visiting the city to help celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference and to also make a funding announcement for 2014 celebrations. 
Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

A record high number of P.E.I. residents are leaving and moving to other provinces, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper says this has nothing to do with changes to employment insurance.

Statistics Canada data shows out-migration in Prince Edward Island reached its highest level in over 30 years in 2013 an increase P.E.I.’s Innovation Minister Allen Roach has directly blamed on the changes to EI eligibility.

During a visit in Charlottetown Thursday, Harper denied any link between the two.

“To the extent there’s out-migration, it has nothing to do with the employment insurance system,” Harper said Thursday in Charlottetown.

“It is just the reality.”

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.

Tourism and business representatives from across the province have expressed concerns about the out-migration of workers, also attributing this to the changes in EI rules.

An increasing number of Islanders, especially from rural areas, are going to western Canada for work.

Some are leaving P.E.I. altogether while other families are seeing husbands and fathers “commuting” to Alberta spending two weeks in the oil patch, one week at home.

A Families of Migrant Workers support group was even formed in western P.E.I. to help local women connect with others whose husbands, fathers, brothers and partners have left for extended periods to work out west.

Others have told The Guardian they are having trouble this year finding enough workers for their lobster boats or their farms due to the increased number of Islanders who have gone west for bigger paycheques.

When asked Thursday whether the EI changes were designed to drive workers from provinces with high unemployment rates, like P.E.I., to the oil sands, Harper said that decision is up to the workers.

“The job searches that we require do not require people to take work outside of their local area,” Harper said.

“It’s not unique to Prince Edward Island that there are greater economic opportunities particularly for young people, more economic opportunities in some parts of the country than others. And that’s just the reality of the situation; it’s not an EI phenomenon.”

But P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz says all four Atlantic premiers agree the EI changes “have not been good for Atlantic Canada.”

They have a draft report from a panel they struck to examine impacts of the EI changes, but have not yet made this report public.

Ghiz said that’s because it is too early yet to be able to accurately measure the long-term effects of the EI reforms on the region.

“We’re continuing to do research on the issue to make evidence-based research available to the federal government to be able to demonstrate that we think it has more of a negative impact in terms of provinces where seasonal industries play a larger role in the economy,” Ghiz said.

He added the report will call for a reversal of some of the reforms, including the cancellation of the five-week pilot that saw a five-week extension of EI benefits for workers in areas of high unemployment.

It also calls for the creation of two EI zones in P.E.I. to be scrapped.

Ghiz said this province is too small in population and in geographical area to be divided in this manner.

The Atlantic premiers’ EI report will be released very soon, Ghiz promised.

In the meantime, Harper says the EI system “will be there for people who have contributed to it and who are unable to find work through no fault of their own.”