MONTAGUE — The federal government needs to “come to its senses” and reverse the changes to Employment Insurance that are hurting people like a P.E.I. single mother recently cut off from her benefits, Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay said Monday.
“Marlene Giersdorf is a single mother from my riding who recently got kicked off EI by this Conservative government,” said MacAulay, who hammered the federal government during question period in Ottawa Monday.
“She was told that since she could not drive over 60 kilometres (to Charlottetown) to look for possible work, she would have to go on welfare. The minister said she couldn’t contact Marlene, when in fact she has been protesting right outside the Service Canada office in Montague.”
The 30-year-old woman has risen to national attention after new EI rules ended her claim and pushed her towards provincial welfare. She couldn’t take a job in Charlottetown because she doesn’t own a car and there is no public transit. Many other EI claimants, who have not gone public, are also being cut off benefits.
While Giersdorf was protesting outside the Service Canada building here last week, the parliamentary secretary for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley was 20 minutes away in Belfast participating in a community financing announcement with National Revenue Minister Gail Shea. There was no meeting between the politicians and the protester.
“It’s time to take away all the mythology . . . I can’t speak to this directly, but I encourage (Giersdorf) to take advantage of the excellent personnel at Service Canada and go through the details of her case,’’ said Dr. Kellie Leitch. “If there is no job in her local area for her set (of) skills, then employment insurance will continue to be available.”
Giersdorf has been advised her appeal to regain her claim is being reviewed and a verdict will be coming around Valentine’s Day. She was in personal appointments Monday.
“Our service officers have reached out to her on more than one occasion,’’ said Leitch. “Only she can choose to come in the office and take advantage of our services. If she doesn’t want to take our offer of help to find a job or the tools to be employed, that is her choice.”
Leitch said the single mother of a nine-year-old attending a local school is expected to do a reasonable job search and network to find employment. Giersdorf, who doesn’t have a phone and works on a seasonal basis, has been both praised and reviled in the media comments attached to any Internet story.
“We are not skating around the issue,” the Simcoe/Grey MP said in an interview with The Guardian. “We will make benefits available as long as she meets the criteria.”
Leitch said her Ontario riding is filled with seasonal workers and “they are delighted” with EI changes, she said, because it allows them to get jobs if they wish and they don’t have to drive three hours to Toronto.
MacAulay says vulnerable Canadians, like Giersdorf, are being asked to pay the price for Conservative incompetence and front-line cuts.
“These changes to EI are absolutely shameful. There are so many people who work in rural areas and simply cannot afford to buy a car or move their families to a larger town or city. These people, and these areas of the country, are being unfairly targeted and hurt by this government and I truly hope the Conservatives come to their senses and reverse these changes before more families are devastated.”