P.E.I. facing hiring crisis in face of EI changes, warns business

Nigel Armstrong
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an MacPherson, centre, P.E.I. representative on the Atlantic Premiers Panel on changes to the EI system and Burt MacKinnon, director of Skills P.E.I, listen as Don Cudmore, executive director of the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I, tells of the impact of the EI changes on members of his association during a meeting in Charlottetown Monday night.

Atlantic premiers' panel on EI changes wraps up hearings in Charlottetown

There is a potential business crisis looming in a few months as seasonal industries get ready to hire, a panel investigating Employment Insurance heard.

The Atlantic Premiers' Panel on Impacts of Changes to Employment Insurance held hearings in Montague and Charlottetown Monday to conclude the Island public hearings after meetings in Tignish and Summerside last week.

Ian MacPherson, executive director of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association is the Island representative on the panel and chaired the P.E.I. meetings.

Don Cudmore, executive director of the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. said tourism operators are preparing to hire.

“I’m hoping we wont have a bit of a panic situation,” said Cudmore. “You see how many people have gone west.

“Our tourism sector has been suffering for years and years and years from decisions that are made in Ottawa that impact our workforce,” said Cudmore.

“In order for us to grow, in order for us to continue to pay taxes, in order for us to employ the number of people that we employ, we need cooperation from the federal government rather than the negativity we get on a regular basis.”

Changes to EI are even making it hard for tourism operators to hire part-time staff to cope with off season events like hockey tournaments, he said.

The out-migration of prospective employees to the west was echoed by Kathy Hambly, executive director of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce.

Loss of workers is also happening just as changes affecting the hiring of foreign workers hits the business community, creating a “perfect storm” of problems, she said.

“It’s a double whammy,” said Hambley. “If we can’t get the employees here because they have left, then we are also penalized as employers who are trying to fill those gaps with temporary foreign workers."

Charlotetown MLA Richard Brown confronted misinformation and made his own suggestion to fix the EI system.

In his 30 years in politics, he never found anyone wanting to get laid off, he said.

“We have to make that clear to the Ottawan-ites and the Albertans because they believe that we in Atlantic Canada are just working for EI, which I think it totally incorrect,” said Brown.

“The federal government would have everyone believe that the Employment Insurance fund is in a deficit or is bankrupt,” he said of further misunderstanding.

“This is simply not a fact,” said Brown. “The fund has a $24 billion surplus over the last 13 years.”

He wants the EI fund to be set up the same way as the Canada Pension Plan.

“Premiums that are collected and the benefits paid will not be on the government’s books,” said Brown. “These funds would be managed by an independent board. The premiums would be invested by the same people that are investing the Canada Pension Plan.”

He also wants training programs to be part of the definition of “reasonable job search.”

Jane Ledwell and Michelle Jay from the Status of Women told the panel that the changes are creating economic stress that is forcing women to stay in abusive relationships.

“The changes are significant to women because they diminish the ability of women to apply creativity, adaptability and flexibility to get the incomes they require to raise their families in good health and play a full and active role in the community,” said Ledwell.

“The changes to the EI system need to be examined through a gender lens that also considers diversity factors including age and ability, aboriginal status, geographic location, whether rural or urban and other diversity factors.”

Greg McKee, newly appointed executive director of the P.E.I. Shellfish Association, told the panel that his industry depends on volunteer hours.

The shellfish association has members working long hours to enhance public oyster beds, he said. It also has a number of programs supporting research into invasive species and viruses.

“Administrators that police EI must recognize that a fisher volunteering back to sector associations is a viable alternative to employment search,” said McKee.

Repairing and maintaining gear in the off season already is counted as “not available for work” but EI investigators don’t seem to always know that, he said.

McKee also suggested that perhaps a way could be worked to allow unclaimed EI premiums to be configured as pension benefits for independent fishers.





Organizations: Employment Insurance, Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I., Canada Pension Plan Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce P.E.I. Shellfish Association

Geographic location: Iceland, Montague, Charlottetown Tignish Summerside P.E.I. Fishermen Ottawa Atlantic Canada

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Recent comments

  • Emily
    January 21, 2014 - 18:29

    I think it unfair, that as a student I cannot get EI. I was asked by a representative from the EI "would I drop out of my course if a job became available?" Obviously I said no, because I'm not going to throw the money spent to attend my school down the drain to work for 20 hours a week for $10 an hour. I asked if it would make a difference to them seeing as I have 2 job offers for when I graduate. They told me no. I also said that I would be willing to work with an employer around my school hours since I'm not there all day every day and most places on the island are shift work. It's frustrating, being a student and trying to better myself so I can stay on the Island with my family and get a good paying job so I can survive. For now it looks like I will have to complete my school and head off-island (most likely out West) . Get it together people, I strongly believe that just because I am attending school does not mean I shouldn't be allowed EI to survive, I regularly check the job bank and so far there is nothing I qualify for these days employers want employees with education.

  • grapes
    January 21, 2014 - 17:06

    I wonder if Mr.Cudmore could raise a family on the minimum wages the tourist operators pay out for three months. The majority of people who work in this industry are students .Mr.Cudmore have no fear they will be there in the summer. This is the same industry that oppose increasing the minimum wage.the

  • johnthames
    January 21, 2014 - 11:26

    We are leaving this summer assuming we can sell our house for at least what we payed for it five years ago. Taking our educations and wealth with us. We used to be unique, and a great place, but sadly our decision makers over the past 20 years have turned us into more of the same as anywhere else, just poorer and meaner. Sad to go but no choice. Guess that's a few less tax dollars for Ghiz to waste and Steve to collect when we're gone.

  • JP
    January 21, 2014 - 09:38

    First off, if Richard Brown has honestly never heard of anyone wanting to be laid off to collect EI, he's obviously not looking very far. It isn't the norm but it is not uncommon either. Ultimately the problem here is that EI is supposed to be income support while you are out of work until you find a new job. We've (not just PEI) distorted that aim to turn EI into supplemental income for seasonal or short-term workers and the PEI government has encouraged this because it has meant fewer people on social assistance. Even the fear of losing some of that it tough because people have come to expect it but I'm not convinced anyone on this side of the debate has ever sat back and asked themselves if it makes sense or is fair to the rest of us who never or rarely use EI to be paying for people who have no intention on working year round or at least looking for work year round.

    • worker
      January 21, 2014 - 11:50

      Yes, I agree with your comments. I have seen in a Government department seasonal workers placing a circle on the calendar indicating the last day they had to work. Each day they would put a x thru the date until the circle date . Don't ever ask these people to staya couple extra days as they would say NO. Not all these people are like that but the majority of the ones the MLA's sent were like that .No one else would hire them.

    • Aaron
      January 21, 2014 - 14:05

      What business allows their staff to decide their date to be laid off? What you are describing is quitting. EI benefits do not pay out to those who have quit their job without good reason. If someone said to an employer "I can't come in to work anymore because I have enough hours for EI", they would not be laid off. They would be fired.

    • worker
      January 21, 2014 - 16:52

      The current government and crown corporation.

    January 21, 2014 - 09:16

    Nice for businesses to sit back and blame government for their inefficiencies. I am not a fan of Governments but let's place blame where it is due. For years businesses in PEI have been very content to use people and then expect EI to cover for the rest of the year. they have created a society solely dependent on EI . I have talked to people who have been on EI for many many years and have stated that there is no way they would work year round for 11 or 12 dollars . an hour. Businesses in PEI have over the years created a part time society that has come back to sting them. The younger generation want to work and will move to the areas where the work is available. Your EI work force generation and now reaching senior status and you have nothing to fall back on except the fact that to keep viable you must start creating full time year round jobs even if it means less profit and less having part of the wages paid by the taxpayers.

  • Sinking Like The Sunset.
    January 21, 2014 - 08:33

    I Been Away For 12 Years And Came Back To PEI To Make My Family Happy... I Am in Total Shock How Much This Province Has Collapsed ... Car Lots 6 Months No Payments Un Heard Off in Other Provinces.... Apartment Building 1/2 Empty... Took a Walk Through Charlottetown Mall Yesterday at 11 Am Better Than 90% Of The Stores Were Empty... Just a Matter of Time When the Lease is Up Then the Stores are Closed Down For Good. Also look in the Stores.... All Students...Anybody With a Family Can't Take Those Jobs 24 Hrs a Week....They Bring in Target....Talk To a Adult Guy Yesterday at Target Start at 8am Go Home at 12.30 pm 4 Hrs...Are You Series.... Went To Smitty's Restaurant Saturday Night Past Went There at 630 pm The The Lady Tells Me We Closed at 7 Pm.... Outside of PEI They Closed at 12 pm..... I Was in Total Shock Just 2 Couples in the Restaurant at that Time..... With The UI Changes People Just Leave and Not Come Back .... No Money Spent Here Then Bankruptcy Will Start.... Thxs to the PC Government in Ottawa.... I Know One Thing They Wont Get In Again...

    • To sinking
      January 21, 2014 - 09:10

      All those jobs you listed are full time year round jobs. These are not seasonal. These stores are seeing slower times due to hst. No one wants to spend money on non essential items. because they have to pay more for oil and gas.

  • Doug
    January 21, 2014 - 07:05

    Do road crews really need two flag-persons, with two more in the wings, to oversee two people doing repairs?

    • SlyFox
      January 21, 2014 - 08:39

      Doug maybe if traffic only traveled one way. How much would it save the government if they got rid of all the flaggers compared to the millions wasted.I am thinking it would take eon's to even make a dent in our Islands debt. The problem is on the Island there is only so much to go around and people are finding this out. They realize that they will be in the same boat 40 years down the road as they are now, unless they are connected. So now people know this and see a better life can be had and leave this Island for a better life. Think it is bad now,wait till more see and follow the one who already have gone.Look back two years and see the economy then compared to now.Now think what it will be like in five more years from now ,scary picture our little Island's future might be.

  • don
    January 21, 2014 - 07:04

    islanders if you really think any government cares about jobs then you have a big problem. they have hired and gave money to big money and now they will make like they care. but governments has gave so much money to other countries and gave to the big guys they have forgotten one big thing. the little guy that wants to start a business or make his business bigger and ask for a loan they are told "sorry we do not have any money" i wonder why? again all levels of government and all parties are brain dead they forget that with out the little guy they will close up shop. ask your self this if all small business closed on PEI will the big guys buy enough to keep the wholesalers going? no they will not them the suppliers will close out then what will happen to the big guys? they will close out. who wins NO ONE. For example wes gave OCI 10 million plus where is OCI today on PEI? 4 mill to lotto how much did that help islanders? And ask your selves this they can help the fish plants with money but not the fishermen well ghiz if all fishermen stopped fishing how long will the fish plants stay open? You wes and ghiz think you are all that smart but you are NOT SMART. This country was build on the backs of the little guy not the big guys they got big on the backs of the poor and the money you gave them. But the day will come when the little guy will no longer be able to keep the big guy going and then what? Tell us ghiz and wes you know so much tell us. If all small business closed up shop how long can the big guys stay open? For example the big food supplier on PEI if no small business was buy from them how long do you think they can last on just the big guys?

  • RG
    January 21, 2014 - 05:26

    So yesterday they have an article saying 1300 people are having trouble because of these EI changes, and today they're saying they're going to have trouble hiring people for seasonal jobs. You can't tell me all 1300 of those have gone to Alberta. How about those people apply for these jobs. Bam, problem solved.

  • Kevin Kelly
    January 21, 2014 - 01:37

    Mr. Harper is getting what he wants which is more Islanders willing to go to his home Province of Alberta, making it richer and PEI poorer. Worst Prime Minister ever!

    • worker
      January 21, 2014 - 10:32

      In all do respect, it is not Mr.Harper job to create jobs in PEI nor is it his job to sent everyone a pay cheque that works the required number of weeks in order to get EI. Job creation is the responsibility of entrepreneurs and the Provincial Government. All Islanders should appreciate these workers that go to other parts of Canada to obtain goodpaying jobs.

  • Joe Doe
    January 20, 2014 - 23:53