‘You just survive’, Prince Edward Island woman says of EI changes

Teresa Wright
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Couple had to get by with no income after federal pilot program ended

Protesters demonstrate against EI changes in this Guardian file photo

LouAnne Gallant had to work a lot harder to make ends meet last year after her employment insurance ran out sooner than it had in previous years.

She and her husband had to survive from April to June with no income after the federal government ended a pilot program that extended employment insurance benefits by five weeks for some workers.

This was one of the controversial EI reforms introduced in 2013 by the Harper government.

Gallant lives in the tiny community of Miminegash, located close to the western-most tip of the Prince Edward Island.

In the summer, she and her husband work hard. She in a shop, he on fishing boats. But in the winter, when the tourists leave and the water freezes, there are not many options for earning a living in the rural fishing village.

That’s why they have had to draw EI in the winter.

Gallant has also supplemented her EI income with a part-time job. But more EI changes brought in last year saw half her part-time earnings clawed back by the federal government.

So, when her EI benefits ran out in April, the couple just had to make do with nothing.

“There’s no jobs in April. My work didn’t start until June, so you just survive,” she said.

“Five extra weeks of money helps you out a lot … and there’s some people I know whose unemployment is going to be running out in February and March. But there’s no jobs.”

This stark reality is being cited as a main culprit in a jump in out-migration from P.E.I.

In 2012-13, the province experienced a net loss of close to 1,100 residents 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.

Rural communities across the Island are seeing an increasing number of people going to western Canada for work. Some are leaving P.E.I. altogether while others 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 recently formed in West Prince to help local women connect with others whose husbands, fathers, brothers and partners have to leave for extended periods to work out west.

On Tuesday, federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney issued a statement to The Guardian, taking issue with claims that more Islanders are leaving P.E.I. this year as a result of the EI changes.

He said this is “completely false.”

But Gallant says she knows people in her community and in neighbouring areas who have indeed left or who are commuting to Alberta, in part because of the changes.

“(The federal government) is making it harder each year. And some people just say, ‘What the heck,’ and just give up,” Gallant said.

The Guardian has been trying to find people to corroborate this — Islanders who will say they left the Island because of the EI reforms, so far unsuccessfully.

Malpeque MP Wayne Easter says they are too scared.

“The fear of people who utilize the EI system, you can cut it with a knife,” he said.

“They may not be doing anything wrong but their claim may be questioned, so it’s fear.”

Easter was highly critical of Kenney’s statement Tuesday, in which he said no one would have to work off-Island to be eligible for EI.

“It’s not about eligibility for EI, it’s that they’ve undermined the EI system in terms of its value for especially seasonal workers,” Easter said.

“Their motivation is to try to justify the unjustifiable.”

Innovation Minister Allen Roach said Wednesday he stands by his belief that the federal EI reforms have been a key contributor to the spike in Islanders who left the province, regardless of what Kenney asserts.

“We’re on the ground here in Prince Edward Island,” Roach said.

“The only change that took place that we know of that had any effect was the changes in EI. The total number of people working in P.E.I. is way up over last year, so if we have more people working in P.E.I., why do they have to go out West? The only thing that changed was the EI changes.”

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

Organizations: RCMP

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Prince Edward Island.In, Queens Milton

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Think
    February 05, 2014 - 11:31

    Reguarding some of the coments made > I have to laugh when people say there's jobs because companies here have to hire immigrant workers. I work for a company that hires immigrant workers and our company wants to hire them over Islanders because their wages are subsidized by the government. I'll be darned if I ever get chased out of my province by Chinese, Mexican & Phillipean workers. Fish plants are hiring over 100 people, when 70 people can do the job, and theyre getting 25-30 hours of work most weeks from May-Dec. So how are they justifying so many immigrant workers when they cant provide enough work. We're not lazy people! We like money as much as the next person and EI is not some pot of gold at the end of the rainbow by any means. I rely on EI for three months of the year, while there's immigrant workers still working and I've worked for the company longer. Maybe the seasonal companies we work for should be providing work for locals first or paying us for our off time instead of paying into (EI) a system thats obviously not working. Sure Id go work for less money but does anybody know where I can get a job for three months during the Islands off season, because I sure as heck would be going back to my higher paying job after that. If everybody here could find full time jobs, then what's the solution for the seasonal companies? Nobody backlashes the companies we work for, but it'd be a good place to start

  • Bee
    January 26, 2014 - 12:07

    theres so many people that work jobs just to get enough hours to claim EI that make it a joke and ruin it for everyone that needs it. You need to do what everyone else does in the world and move to a place you can actually find year round work. maybe then the government will take it more seriously and bring in more jobs or programs like they have in ontario like Youth Employment Fund or Second Career ect ect. Also I think a lot of people think they are too good for jobs like Tim Hortons or McDonalds ect. When you need to eat and have a roof over your head you will work anywhere. I live in a big city in Ontario and 80% of the jobs are min wage through Temp Agencies but people do what they need to do to survive. Sick of hearing about people bitch about EI... do what you need to do to survive... Too many people just get enough hours to make EI and then dont even look for another job til it runs out. Thats not what it is meant for

  • AD
    January 23, 2014 - 21:10

    While I am fortunate that I've never had to rely on EI, I take issue with Government forcing all these limitations on recipients. Further, insensitive comments by Minister Shea today were seriously inappropriate. To suggest that it's easier for Islanders going out west now because they have 'connections' making it easier to find a place to stay... This highly insensitive - it doesn't matter that it's easy to find accommodations - having to work out west for most families rips at the fabric of the family dynamic. Children are growing up with part-time fathers/mothers. I cannot imagine the stress of having to raise my children without having their father around for support; rarely having respite from the busy pace of raising children. Government does not pay for this program; employers and employees do. Government opted earlier in their mandate to change regulations that allowed them to claw out the cushion that existed. I can understand if the EI program was at a significant deficit; it wasn't. Government took the money inappropriately and are causing this problem. I agree that there needs to be prevention of abuse but these regulations have become abusive toward those who pay for this benefit.

  • Fitz
    January 23, 2014 - 18:53

    It's not a tax that makes ei payments ,it's a premium off of everyone's pay check! Ei is important to have for everyone who may need it when a layoff occurs ! What the problem is that to many people abuse ei because they do not want to work it's easier to stay at home and collect then go to work! The argument that the wage is to low and not worth going is a joke people that want to get ahead will take the $10/hr job until they find a $12/hr and so on! Love the island but people here have to step up and do better for themselves not just complain!

  • jacinta
    January 23, 2014 - 17:40

    Sam did you ever consider where your income comes from and the trickle down effect of any money put into our economy. I am thankful everyday for the hard earned dollars no matter where they come from to pay my wage. Seasonal industries are what drive the economy in PEI like it or not and keep a lot of PEI business's running, and the some of the ones that do not get their wages from government which is paid by taxes as well. Be careful what you wish for.

    • Sam
      January 24, 2014 - 07:14

      I would much rather you work for your money than me work for you to have a "trickle" down effect on the economy. It's my ei premiums that i pay in year round that pays for you to sit around half of the year. Your premiums only pay 1/10th of what you take out. I and others like me, who take pride in my work, pay for the other 9/10ths. Business's are hiring foreign workers because islanders won't take jobs that would pay more than EI does.

  • expatislander
    January 23, 2014 - 15:54

    It's time to consider an income supplement program in this country. EI has functioned as one for years. It's not only seasonal workers who would benefit. Many people tho have jobs still make too little to pay for the necessities.

  • Billy
    January 23, 2014 - 15:24

    As I have said earlier, the truth really does hurt. Our forefathers had to leave PEI for work in the US and other parts of Canada. The province still can't get it together to keep jobs on PEI. That is their responsibility. If they can't do it then don't blame the federal government. We all know the Feds already give at least fifty cents of every dollar to support the province. Really how much do you think they can give.

    • greg munroe
      January 24, 2014 - 12:56

      So i am suppose to be ok with either leaving my family behind or finding them a way to join me in alberta while I am IN CAMP !. P.E.I has nothing from nov until may. Most people on E.I have worked as much as they can until everything shuts down. Please leave things as they are ,its destroying families.

  • DOESN'T JIVE
    January 23, 2014 - 15:05

    I was in town yesterday and overheard a conversation outside the liquor store. Two men were talking about how their EI was going to run out and at the same time both were smoking cigarettes that are twelve a pack and both held a case of beer (23 dollars) and were discussing which route they would take on their snowmobiles. I worked full time for 47 years and I cannot afford a snowmobile yet they can't understand why others do not feel sorry for them because they are seasonal workers. PEI has become a society of people who feel they are entitled to whatever everyone else has regardless if they worked for it or not. I have had people tell me on more then one occasion and I quote, I am not going to work year round for 10 dollars a hour, If there is no work here why are they businesses trying frantically to get approval for foreign workers. The only true reason is they see people with good paying jobs and feel they deserve the same even though they did nothing to prepare for those jobs and blame others for their shortfalls. Things will not change here until people start taking responsibility for themselves and stop blaming others for things they cannot or will not do.

    • Very Well Said
      January 23, 2014 - 16:49

      Very well said & so true . Couldn't have said it better myself .

  • Charles Foster
    Charles Foster
    January 23, 2014 - 14:11

    I am disappointed by some of the negative comments of those who do not seem to appreciate the difficulties faced by a province where the largest sectors of the economy are seasonal.

  • JP
    January 23, 2014 - 13:11

    I'm sure EI does have something to do with more people heading out west but frankly our economy is in the tank, our provincial government is taxing us to death and even in the best of times our businesses aren't in a position to offer the types of wages and jobs that Alberta can. It's just easier for our provincial government to blame the feds then it is for them to actually do something to improve the lives of Islanders.

  • Dave
    January 23, 2014 - 12:43

    The general rule in Canada is, the further away from employment your home is, the less it is worth. It isn't realistic to expect to enjoy the cost savings of living there, and year in and year out, expect two cheques from the government. How many years do you get to do this claim you really want to work?

  • Hardknocklife
    January 23, 2014 - 10:33

    “(The federal government) is making it harder each year. And some people just say, ‘What the heck,’ and just give up,” Gallant said. - lol!!! Here is the problem with the whole EI mentality. She describes those who go out and better their lot in life by moving and finding well paying permanent work.... ..giving up. hahahahaha.. I think you have it backwards my dear!!

  • dave anger
    January 23, 2014 - 10:29

    the main reason for the out migration is the HST and high income tax rates

  • Alberta Bound
    January 23, 2014 - 09:48

    She should be glad for the weeks she gets. If she doesn't like it I hear there's work in Alberta. The government doesn't owe her a living! People should be ashamed of wanting more from others. Look after yourself. Like most of us do!

    • Alberta Bound, Get Off Welfare
      January 23, 2014 - 10:43

      Alberta Bound, or like you she could go and collect welfare. You are nothing but a troll on welfare who has nothing better to do than mock people. If you were not on welfare how else would you have time to be on the net posting comments. The only time you work is filling out the forms for your case worker. This woman and her husband want to work. You don't. I pay for your welfare and in my opinion you should pack up and go west. I hear they have great welfare programs out there.

    • To Alberta Bound, Get Off Welfare
      January 23, 2014 - 13:13

      So in your mind its ok for people to live off the federal taxpayers dollars (EI) but not the provincial tax payers dollars(welfare)? Why is welfare so dirty and why is using EI as a form of welfare not dirty? And don't say because EI recipient worked for it or paid into it, because they get 10 dollars out for every dollar they put in. The other 9 is made up by the rest of the taxpayers who work year round.

    • jacinta
      January 23, 2014 - 13:14

      We may as well be living in a communist regime when people are scared to come forward to speak out. I know this to be true because I have been there and it is scary. It is hard to believe that in Canada we are scared of our government but it is true. The thing is people should not be scared, because when you are at the bottom there is no where else to go. The sad part is Gail Shea should be ashamed of herself.

    • jacinta
      January 23, 2014 - 13:26

      Are people still being duped by government rhetoric, the government does not pay for EI, they haven't since the 1990's. Anyone who truly believes people are better off without EI better hope they never need it. It has been my experience in life that nothing is a sure thing and you should never take anything for granted. You know the old saying walk a mile in my shoes. As far as taxes go know one is exempt. Life is a bit-- and we die, we can't always depend on ourselves life is not like that ask anyone who all of a sudden is diagnosed with any illness and the community in all their kindness comes to their aid. If you want to make a comment have the balls to put your name behind it so we will know who doesn't need anyone.

    • To Jacinta, My Name Is Sam
      January 23, 2014 - 14:06

      EI is not a supplemental income. Its insurance in case you loose your job. If what you make every year isn't enough then welfare is supplemental income to make up for short falls. If you draw EI year after year after year you only put in about 1/10th of what you put in. Those who work year round are essentially paying for you to sit on your rear for most of the year. There is no constitutional right for everyone to get EI. Its insurance. Do you think if you had a house fire every year that an insurance company won't raise your premiums or flat out refuse to pay out anymore?

    • natsy
      January 23, 2014 - 15:09

      WE pay the government taxes from our own hard earned money, should see the benefit of that down the road when we are in need. Remember we pay the government for what canadian liberties we have, ei, healthcare, ect.

  • townie
    January 23, 2014 - 09:46

    Awwww, did someone have to pick up another job instead of be on EI for 5 extra weeks. She found a job, I do not feel sad for her at all. Good for her for getting back to work instead of living off of everyone else's taxes. If she found a job apparently the work is there.

  • Chris
    January 23, 2014 - 09:40

    I'm sorry people may disagree but oh well, as they saying goes - you go where the work is. It sucks to have to uproot your family from the small town you grew up in but I did it and many of our friends have had to do it. I live in Halifax now, because there is WORK. Why should the government have to pay people that decide to pursue part time work??? If you dont want to move off island, then commute to summerside or charlottetown in the winter and get a job there, even if it is not your "dream job" it's reality. Jobs are scarce. That's life. Suck it up.

  • Home From Away
    January 23, 2014 - 09:24

    What does Kenney know...he does not live on PEI...it is interesting that Gail Shea is not protecting the interests of the Islanders...you only see her when it is good news like photo ops...Kenneyshould show more compassion if he wants to succeed Harper as PM...Harper and his fellow Conservatives have ruined Canada

  • jane
    January 23, 2014 - 09:23

    I agree with Minister Allen Roach,regardless what Kenney says. If work is up in PEI its because the people can't afford a ticket to Alberta. There are families going hungry, no money to buy food and also no money put oil in their tank. Wake up Ottawa, you can't expect Maritimers to find work all year round when a good majority of the work here is seasonal. For those young people who just got out of college and with a trade go west, great living. For those seniors who are faced with HST, sell all your belongings and head out west. Great medicare, don't have to wait two years to get into see a specialist, lots of resources and no provincial sales tax. Your turning PEI into a glorified resort.