Session told EI changes bringing fear, depression to region

Steve Sharratt
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Atlantic Premier's Council holds meeting in Montague to hear from those affected by Employment Insurance changes

Mary MacNeil, left, and Marie Burge advise the Premiers’ Council on EI reform in Montague Monday that changes have created nightmares for many affected and involved in seasonal jobs.

MONTAGUE  — Employment Insurance changes are creating depression and fear within the Atlantic Canadian population, the premiers' council was told in Montague earlier today.

"The response is to head to the airport or get in a car and go west," said Marie Burge of the P.E.I. Coalition for Fair EI. "We want the federal government to go back to the old insurance system."

Participants told stories of people spending months just to hear from EI officials or trying to talk to the now defunct local tribunals. One young mother with a legitimate claim has had to borrow $15,000 to pay her bills.

"The feds have no idea the impact this is having on seasonal workers," said Mary MacNeill of the coalition.

About 40 people attended the session that was told 1,300 people are now off the E.I. claims list while no new jobs have been generated.

In fact, CUPE rep and coalition member Lori MacKay said the changes are making people feel like they are breaking the law for even trying to apply.

“People tell me they are made to feel like criminals and the EI changes are penalizing the province without bringing jobs,’’ she said. “It’s only contributing to an underground economy.”

The council was told people can’t get through to the 1-800 number, work part-time because benefits are cut, and are provided benefits for fewer weeks than before.

Island restaurants have been impacted because they can’t afford to keep a chef on during winter months because of the insurance changes. And farms and fishermen can’t find consistent help during the work season because former employees are being cut from the EI rolls.

Karen Tsistinas told the panel about her daughter, a single mom, who has had so many problems and delays to get her benefits that she had to borrow $15,000 to pay her bills.

“These changes have created a wave of desperation in communities,’’ said Anne Wheatley of the Cooper Institute. “…and created a significant negative impact.”

The Montague claims processing centre closes in April and the panel was told the 22 jobs have been moved to Conservative MP Peter MacKay’s riding in New Glasgow, N.S.

Even provincial case workers said there is a drop in the enrolment for Skills Canada opportunities because there are no benefits provided to take the courses.

“People who want to upgrade their literacy and do better have to drop out,’’ said one counsellor. “Because the choice they have is too take the course, or get out and work to put food on the table.”

The coalition called for the federal government to return to the former EI system which they insist was fair and practical.

Organizations: Employment Insurance, P.E.I. Coalition for Fair EI

Geographic location: New Glasgow

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  • Dave
    January 21, 2014 - 16:54

    "About 40 people attended the session that was told 1,300 people are now off the E.I. claims list while no new jobs have been generated." I read elsewhere that the 80% of the people disqualified were out of the country and still claimed EI. Hard to defend that.........

  • Old MacDonald
    January 21, 2014 - 00:00

    Islanders who draw EI obviously worked for it at some point during the year or else they would not be entitled to it! Any Canadian that works still pays the same EI premiums despite the alleged savings Harper has managed to find denying claims and ruining lives. So why aren't my EI deductions going down on my cheque? Where is this money going to now, big trips to Isreal?

  • Harbour Joe
    January 20, 2014 - 23:40

    These changes were all brought about because of lobster fishing EI manipulation . Who new that fishermen get two EI claims in the same year . Nothing has affected them only average year round employees . Are fishermen elite EI users or what exactly is the reason .

  • AMAZED
    January 20, 2014 - 22:23

    Can anyone explain to me why a program that had a surplus of $12 Billion a year and spread countless billions to less have provinces needed to be changed ? People paying into it are now paying even more while the system is gutted including buildings and personnel .All the while people who depend on this crutch watch their dollars more closely and hold back on buying big ticket items like new cars or upgrades to their home . In the mean time this money is being funneled off to general revenues which includes those sickening Canada Action Ad Tory self promotion advertising .YOU PEOPLE SERIOUSLY NEED TO LOOK AT YOUR VALIDATION...SOME OF THESE MAKE ME WONDER IS THIS WHAT I COULD EXPECT IF I DROPPED ACID

  • BIG PROBLEM
    January 20, 2014 - 21:01

    We have a big problem. if we live in a province that apparently cannot survive without EI then we have nothing. Time to give up Provincial status as we have created a complacent place where no one wants improvement, just to continue doing what has been done here for centuries. Other place have year round tourism, businesses, time to get out of the Island rut of a part time province.

    • Broke & Debted Graduate
      January 21, 2014 - 15:37

      This isn't just an Island issue. I am a recent UPEI student who racked up thousands of dollars to get an education and had to leave my home and move to a larger city to find a job. And you know what? I'm making a measely $12/hr working part time in an industry that has nothing to do with my education. There was no work back home, there's little elsewhere too. There's no work for most in other provinces, at least not enough work to afford to live off of. Right now I can't afford even the interest on my loans, I have to collect EI to supplement the rest of my income until I can find a better paying job just so that I can pay rent, bills and groceries. EI is an absolute joke. For a 28 year old who has always worked at least 2 jobs (11 years I've been paying into it), gone to school full time and worked her ass off to live below the poverty line, I was forced to move away because even part time jobs are scarce on the Island. Its sad that people abuse the system, because some of us really don't have another option for the time being. Its not a forever fix it but it helps until you can get onto your feet. The government has made us rely and take advantage of it. Imagine you're forced to take any minimum wage position (as we have been threatened). You'd rather look for a full time job but they'll cut off your EI if you turn down even a few hours somewhere. A part time job plus EI will yield the individual a significantly less income than the pennies they would receive just from collecting EI. Do the math. Work part time for crap money or collect EI and live a tiny bit more comfortable. I am not saying this is by any means an acceptable thing to do but instead just pointing out a major flaw in the system. I am not proud to collect EI because I feel ashamed for being a young, capable and educated woman who has always worked hard for the things she has but without EI I literally cannot afford to live. My parents help the best they can but they have debts, bills, mortgages too. So before you go blowing up at me remember that I am talking about averaging $19,000/year. And I still consider myself lucky that I have no dependents. Its disgusting that people are forced to live off of less while other peoples comfortable income ranges from $35,000-40,000/year and more. To conclude, I'd like each of those people out there pointing the fingers at any less fortunate individuals and telling them what a drain they are on the system to take a good, long, hard look at their own income, their jobs/careers, their lives and tell me you don't feel the slightest bit ashamed for making people who are already having a hard time feel worse about their situation. Oh and did I mention my lack of benefits? No dental, full priced meds, no eye care. Most people with benefits pay only 20-50%? I pay 100% AND I still make less money than you. So cry me a freaking river. Jesus Christ. Have some compassion, we can't all be so lucky all of the time. Give some of us a chance to do better for ourselves and receive help when we really need it.

  • Al
    January 20, 2014 - 19:37

    Go where the work is.what is wrong with working year round?there is work there for anyone who want it.there is more places to live then pei.rest of canada don't have to keep you on ei. Get going.

    • John
      January 20, 2014 - 19:45

      Go where the work is . That is what Justin dad said. Go where the work is.

  • We are being penalized
    January 20, 2014 - 19:18

    Our provincial government has been an embarrassment provincially, nationally and internationally. Payback says Mr Western Canada Prime Minister. PNP scandal that was international. Also killed the program in the other provinces in Canada because of PEI lies, greed and corruption. Our Premier traveling trough Quebec campaigning for Trudeau. I can go on and on and on. Former Liberal.

  • Al
    January 20, 2014 - 19:02

    Why do us who work year around have to support people who work part time. Go where the work is .there work for anyone who wants to work.stop whining and go

  • There are worse things than going west
    January 20, 2014 - 18:41

    Fear and depression caused by EI changes? What a bunch of BS! What ever happened to pride and self-reliance? People would rather sit around and collect EI than work? That makes no sense! A frequent EI recipient would get back the premiums they paid with their first few cheques. The rest of us that work year round have to make up the shortfall! I'm all for supporting my neighbour in a crisis but sometimes they have to help themselves. I have drawn EI in the past . I've also gone out west to work and support my young family as are many of my friends. It wasn't the most enjoyable thing I've ever done but it was what I needed to do at that time to make a better life for my family. Men have been leaving PEI for generations for that very reason. Most islanders have family that went to what was called the Boston states back then. They went there to make a living and provide for their families. That's what proud self-reliant people do. They go where the jobs are. Living on PEI while others support you is not a right, contrary to popular belief. After all there was a time not so long ago that social programs did not exist and people survived. They had resilience and self-determination. Why would we bring in Mexicans to harvest our crops or Russians to work in our fish plants while Canadians sit at home drawing EI? Everyone should realize that that is neither healthy or sustainable. People have choices to make even if they are not the easiest. They can get a good education that will allow them to make a decent wage and stay on PEI, they can take a less than ideal job like working at Tim's or in a fish plant, they can become entrepreneurs or they can go to where the jobs are. What they can't do is sit around and expect others that have to get up and go to work everyday to support them forever.

  • Just The Facts
    January 20, 2014 - 18:23

    Let us not forget that if the current provincial government was more successful in creating economic opportunity and jobs here at home, there would be far less reliance on E.I. How about we convene a Premier's panel to answer the question why has the Ghiz Regime been such an abysmal failure in this regard?

  • Regggie Smith
    January 20, 2014 - 18:15

    Harper don't mind paying for business buddies to fly free to Isreal on Garth and EIEIOs tax dollars and mine. All kinds of corporate welfare to leaky big oil offshore rigs and polluted groundwater business. Yet a person who works for the business buddies pays into the EI program themselves not the business. Then when the business lays you off you get to collect the "insurance" which you paid for. Instead Harper and thugs treat you like a criminal and drive you off to god forsaken Alberta home of heathens and Harperites.

  • whatis goingonhere
    January 20, 2014 - 17:37

    I have been fortunate enough to have been gainfully employed my entire adult life. This Winter I had a dramatic reduction in hours and was laid off. I filed a claim at the beginning of December and have yet to hear back or be paid anything! I feel resentful because I have been paying into this system for years and years, and don't feel like I am looking for a handout, this is money that is owed to me! If the government has no intention of providing the social services that have been set up for it's people, it has no right to collect so many taxes!

  • mister x
    January 20, 2014 - 16:39

    Hmm...Always seem to get these people , the ones who seem to think that they are footing the bill for drug users and lazy people to be on E.I. ...Show me Mr. eieio...where you paid a fee for ANYONE else to be on E.I..And show me also how someone on E.I. is being "supported " by you...Some people forget...E.I. is not welfare...you don't just go in and ask and receive . People forget on big thing...ALL people who receive E.I payed their dues for themselves, they were not payed for by you. You sound so self centred...I myself worked all my life , and I would never impune people who aren't as fortunate, nor would I denounce my fellow Canadian....Only the lowest of lowlifes would ever wish people to remain "beneath them" as you would insist they do...Allow others to suffer , so you can enjoy being rich and gloatful...We as a society have become very shamefull and I am starting to think it's attitude's like yours that's the problem...

    • Mister X
      January 20, 2014 - 17:29

      Actually, the issue is when people, year after year take back several dollars for every dollar they have put in. The other issue is that it has been easier for people to get EI in PEI than in other areas of Canada, so yes, someone is paying the extra for those who take out more than they put in.

    • Lynn
      January 21, 2014 - 05:09

      That's the point though.. EI is not welfare. Too many people treat EI as welfare. EI has become a financial staple instead of a something to tide one over in the event of loosing one's job until one can find new employment. Too many people abuse EI and choose to sit on the laurels until spring when the seasonal job come around again. And this issue is generational! This same scenario also applies to welfare. What is wrong with working at McDonalds? Or Tim Hortens? Or providing home child care so that others can go work? or any other job? Work is work. EI is to hold you over until you can find employment. That implies actually looking for employment and not sitting around until you receive your next cheque or planning your next trip or counting down how many weeks you have until you have left of your EI until you have to go back to work because your EI will run out and you repeat the same circle.

  • Garth Staples
    January 20, 2014 - 15:59

    Libs and NDPers never like change. Dinosaurs.

    • intobed
      January 20, 2014 - 16:52

      But you change frequently, Garth? Ha ha ha!

  • EI JOE
    January 20, 2014 - 15:56

    What an embarrasment to a great country. Get rid of the guy in the blue suit who is suposed to be our PM.

  • eieio
    January 20, 2014 - 15:33

    It had to be changed because so many people were cheating the system and i for one who work year round were getting tired of paying for it.

    • Out of curiousity...
      January 20, 2014 - 15:56

      Do you feel better now? You still have to pay in either way but now there's desperate people living hand to mouth in your community. Does them not getting any assistance during the time there's no work make this better for your feelings? It's certainly not going to make your EI premiums cheaper, less frequent or less mandatory.

    • phantom
      January 21, 2014 - 12:32

      man what a hero. starve the woman and children and the less fortunate that will teach them. employment in this country have some or all tax payers help if you look hard enough.