Shea asked to 'have a heart'

Steve Sharratt
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About 150 people turn out for Souris meeting protesting new EI rules

Seasonal workers opposed to EI changes show some love by signing a Valentine card for National Revenue Minister Gail Shea asking her to scrap new rules they say discriminate against seasonal workers.

SOURIS — Big red Valentine cards for federal politicians and standing ovations for a single mom fighting the system dominated the first public meeting hosted by the P.E.I. Coalition for Fair EI here Tuesday night.

The Valentine cards being signed by almost 150 people crammed into the St. Mary’s Hall are aimed straight for the heart of Conservative federal politicians accused of “bleeding out” coastal and rural communities with harsh new regulations against seasonal workers.

“These changes to EI are saying don’t invest in P.E.I. or in any business in Atlantic Canada,’’ said businessman Alan MacPhee, who operates the local mall. “The federal government says it is pro-business, but this EI policy discourages and penalizes business investment and is putting people on the street . . . and this is inconsistent with Canadian values.”

Valentine cards calling for change were distributed through the crowd for signing and will be sent to Human Resources Minister Diane Finley and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. National Revenue Minister and Egmont MP Gail Shea will get the largest token of love asking her “To Have a Heart.”

Those attending the first of two public meetings — the next is in Alberton — say the importance of seasonal workers to the Atlantic economy is being  thrown out the window by the federal government.

In a radio interview last week, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente suggested seasonal industries should fall by the wayside if they can’t survive.

“You can’t throw anyone in a lobster boat and say go to work or tell someone to climb into a tractor and get a potato crop,’’ said Innovation Minister Allen Roach, suggesting most Canadians are out of touch with the realities of farming and fishing these days when computers, software and GPS systems dominate the tractor and bridge dashboards.

Veteran farmer Alvin Keenan of Rollo Bay said the skills of his seasonal workers are second to none and his major potato operation couldn’t function without them.

“When the same worker comes back year after year,’’ he stumbled with emotion. “It’s the confidence in the people who work with you that helps me as a farm manager.”

A single mom who works contract positions as a youth worker is facing even tougher times with the changes.

“I am working harder, away from home longer, and making less money . . . and now I have a vehicle that won’t last,’’ she told the meeting.

Olive Crane, stepping down as Opposition provincial leader, condemned the changes and said she is a Progressive Conservative and not a Reformist Conservative.

She said there are 109,000 people working on the Island and 70,000 make less than $35,000 a year. Half of those make less than $20,000.

“All senators, MPs and MLAs should be working to support our people,’’ she said. “Our communities and families are bleeding.”

Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay, by letter, took issue with a statement from Finley’s parliamentary secretary, Dr. Kellie Leitch, who told The Guardian seasonal workers in her Ontario riding are “delighted” with the EI changes. MacAulay wrote the average wage in the Simcoe/Grey riding is $98,000.

The standing ovation was reserved for single mom Marlene Giersdorf, who has become the national face of EI changes and has been protesting against losing her benefits in front of the Services Canada building in Montague.

“I did not ask for this happen . . . I’m angry and frustrated and tired of banging my head against a brick wall,’’ she said. “I am entitled to the same respect and treatment of any other Canadian citizen.”

Organizations: P.E.I. Coalition for Fair EI, Globe and Mail, Services Canada

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Alberton, Rollo Bay Ontario Montague

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Recent comments

  • SG
    January 31, 2013 - 13:39

    single mother: (sick of turning on the tv & radio to hear about this story continously! Just because she is a single mother) Change the Chanel if your sick of hearing about this story! If I don't like the News or a Movie that's what I do! T.V. and Radio have the right to cover what ever stories or News they choose!

  • amazed
    January 31, 2013 - 09:02

    The biggest abuser of the EI Fund is the Federal Government taking all the money and putting it in general revenue where they can use it to buy Action Plan Ads and what not.This money belongs to all Canadians who paid into it not smarmy politicians.It has always run a surplus and paid for itself, there is something sinister about all this.

  • USE YOUR HEAD
    January 30, 2013 - 19:09

    You people who dont like having ei are all idiots i work year round and have the brains to know that ei is a part of pei if you have know one on ei who would cover all the work that is needed for the tourist that would cover all cavendish and many other places on pei who cater to tourist you would have no lobster processing no patato harvesting who would fix the roads when you are crying that their is a pot hole plus this would all equal no tourist on pei what would that mean hunderds of millions of dollers lost you would be made to pay taxas to the hilt to try to recover the millions lost . idiots idiots idots

    • Ann Maire E Bernard
      February 05, 2013 - 22:53

      Thanks that seems very hard to get through peoples heads. We are a seasonal province and the Province of PEI relies on seasonal workers!!!

  • SourisGuy
    January 30, 2013 - 13:14

    Plain and simple , this time of year in rural PEI. There are no jobs. It's pretty hard to apply to the grocery store or coffee shop when they lay off regular workers due to it slowing down in the winter.

    • Townie
      January 31, 2013 - 07:53

      Actually its not hard to apply for jobs, you drop off your resume. Its hard to get a job this time of year.

  • ONCE AGAIN
    January 30, 2013 - 11:43

    Once again here we are with people putting three times the effort into collecting Ei then they spend finding employment. And once agian using a girl WHO QUIT HER JOB as a model of why people do not have to work. If Ontario makes more money pehaps you can trying thinking for a minute that it is more expensive to live there and people do drive sometimes over 2 hours just to get to work and the people that are using this poor me, poor me, attitude will not travel 50 feet to find a job. The days of sitting home for the winter are over folks. Welcome to the real world.

    • darlene hustler
      January 31, 2013 - 09:58

      and just exactly where are the jobs ...hmmm answer me that....post them if you know people are just sitting at home for the fun of it...we are some of the hardest working people around...and we keep getting called lazy because we need ...N E E D ...E.I. to survive...

  • Justine Thyme
    January 30, 2013 - 10:47

    Can you change this womans story any more? Every time the Guardian writes an article her story becomes more outragous.There are more twists to it them a John Grism novel. She was not a contract worker, she quit her job.That was HER statement. Yesterday you called her a seasonal employee, no she wasn't.She said herself, she was working 60 hours full time and offered reduced hours. She was a woman who quit a job. A job where the employer was willing to work with her, to keep her employed (by all accounts). She is not the hero who is going to make changes better in EI. She is the reason changes had to come.

  • Townie
    January 30, 2013 - 10:07

    EI is insurance when you loose your job, not as supplemental income because you know you won't have a job for the winter. Much like disability insurance covers you if you become disabled. If you still want to sit on your rear all winter just ensure you do a reasonable job search. There's lots of work out there otherwise labor jobs wouldn't be bringing in immigrants.

  • Single Mother
    January 30, 2013 - 08:44

    sick of turning on the tv & radio to hear about this story continously! Just because she is a single mother , why is that always the headlines,this is more of a reason she should be looking for work.I was a single mother who had a 5 year old child,i thought of going back to school to better my life.I was living on welfare working part time.(WHEN WORK ENDED)......when i collected unemployment benefits,i continued to collect welfare to make up the difference to pay my bills! so i enrolled in school and unemployment benefits were cut off and welfare was cut off......because i took a seat that was available in sept20002 instead of the seat unemployment had saved for me in january2003......so i went to school and got a student loan.It was a rough 9 months for me no money ,counting pennies for 9 months to get by,alot of Kraft Dinner!..........and the day after i graduated i got a call from Provincipal Govt.......i have been working full time since......so it was rough at first and now i look back and think it was rough but worth it in the end!. Marlene should do the same thing.....many single mothers attend school and arenot playing the POOR ME GAME.........ON TO DIFFERENT NEWS PLEASE!

  • Justine Thyme
    January 30, 2013 - 08:42

    Can you change this womans story any more? Every time the Guardian writes an article her story becomes more outragous.There are more twists to it them a John Grism novel. She was not a contract worker, she quit her job.That was HER statement. Yesterday you called her a seasonal employee, no she wasn't.She said herself, she was working 60 hours full time and offered reduced hours. She was a woman who quit a job. A job where the employer was willing to work with her, to keep her employed (by all accounts). She is not the hero who is going to make changes better in EI. She is the reason changes had to come.

  • Ms. Giersdorf "needed a break"
    January 30, 2013 - 08:39

    Ms. Giersdorf stated to The National Post, that she had been on E.I. a few times when she needed a break. From The Globe and Mail, Jan. 22, by Margaret Wente.