Charlottetown mayor says Shea looking out for constituents with EI changes

Ryan Ross
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Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee looks over some paperwork during a monthly meeting of council.

Recent changes to unemployment insurance in P.E.I. are unfair and a way for Fisheries Minister Gail Shea to help her own constituents, says Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee.

In an interview with The Guardian, Lee said if Shea had found a way to give more weeks of EI to people in rural areas without taking away from people in other parts of the province he probably would have been more accepting of the change.

"With the recent bunch of changes that they did before this one, she ran back to Ottawa trying to find a way to make life better for her constituents," he said.

On Thursday, Shea announced changes that will see P.E.I. split into one region around Charlottetown and one region in the rest of the province, which will determine the number of hours needed to collect EI and how long recipients will be able to collect benefits.

Lee said his main concern was that the change makes it more difficult for people who live the Charlottetown are zone to apply for EI.

"Quite frankly I think it's unfair," he said.

What the federal government is doing is taking money from one family's pockets to give it to another and pitted one part of the province against another, Lee said.

"To me that's fundamentally wrong."

In making the announcement Thursday, Shea said the current system treats all of P.E.I. as one region without considering that the unemployment rate is higher in rural areas.

The argument is that rural Islanders are at a disadvantage because the unemployment rate in the Charlottetown area brings the overall all rate for the province down, which impacts claims for rural Islanders.

But Lee said P.E.I. is a small province with only about 140,000 people.

"That argument, quite frankly, doesn't wash. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever," he said.

Although he said he wasn't arguing for changes for people in Summerside like in Charlottetown, Lee wondered why it didn't happen even though the unemployment rate there would be lower than in some rural areas.

"What I'm suggesting is that it's very clear what's happening. Minister Shea is looking after the people in Egmont and is throwing everybody else under the bus and to me that's wrong," he said.

Lee wasn't the only one critical of the changes with the P.E.I. Coalition for Fair EI saying it doesn't do enough to address what the group called harmful changes made to the system in 2012.

In a news release, Lori MacKay, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and part of the coalition, said there is a strong case for having different zones for EI administration, but not in a small place like P.E.I. where people's work patterns travel across the boundaries the government is establishing with the regions.

"People in P.E.I. are looking for the same jobs regardless of what side of a boundary line they live on," she said.

In a statement from Sophie Doucette, who is a spokeswoman for Shea, she said the change means Charlottetown will be treated like every other capital city and people will receive EI benefits determine by the unemployment rate in their region.

"This is bringing fairness to the system," she said.

Doucette said it's disappointing that critics have quickly lost their concern for P.E.I.'s seasonal industries that they thought were important several weeks ago.

"People in rural PEI are currently disadvantaged with higher requirements to access EI benefits compared to those living in other rural areas of the country. Our Government recognizes that employment opportunities are far fewer in rural areas and is taking action to correct this inequity"


Organizations: Canadian Union of Public Employees, P.E.I. Coalition for Fair EI

Geographic location: P.E.I., Charlottetown, Ottawa Summerside Egmont

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Recent comments

  • don
    February 22, 2014 - 23:20

    mayor you would and do the same in the city of ch'town. so button up will you. so you want the people that needs the extra money not to get it ? but you want them to buy in the city i hope they stop buying in your city and see how long before you are on your knees begging for them to buy. as the store owners will be broke. you have no clue do you?

  • rural urban divide
    February 22, 2014 - 19:35

    I don't have a problem with the intent but the way it's implemented is pretty stupid. Everyone knows that Stats Canada's census agglomeration maps leave a lot to be desired. Right now if I live in Pownal, I am in the ''rural PEI zone'' but if I live in Glenfinnan, or Mount Stewart or Hunter River, or Stanhope, I'm in the ''capital zone''. Explain the logic behind that? The simpler way would be to map out based on drive time. If you are within a 1 hour drive from Charlottetown based on the posted speed limit, then you are in the urban zone. If you are further than a 1 hour drive, then you are in the rural zone. I question the motives though. There's a lot of urban poverty, just as much as in rural areas. A lot of suffering going on with this federal government.

    • country commuter
      February 23, 2014 - 07:53

      Most Canadians commute on average 30 minutes to work, this includes people in large cities, considering traffic this would but most of the people within this zone. What ever the boundaries there will always on both sides, what if really good about about this is people in West Prince and Kings county will finally have access to the EI program based on the job reality of their community. I find it interesting where people around the city are talking about a 5 minute drive and comparing this to a the 2 hours from O'Leary to Charlottetown.

  • mr.nobody
    February 22, 2014 - 16:44

    You people are pathetic. Yet another attempt by Harper to fragment the opposition by turning them on each other. First it was east coast/ west coast, then citizens with year round employment vs seasonal workers, now rural vs urban. All the while the government takes control of our EI program...funded by us, and steals our multi billion dollar surpluses. Props to the Ukranian people..they have the courage to make a change happen.

  • islander
    February 22, 2014 - 14:58

    Preelection bluff or what ? it might be. Another Federal election on it's way in 2015. so, could this be away to get armed for that time. Regardless, with the seasonal industry here on PEI the golden rule for EI rules should be the same right across the board, not, if true to give preference to one end of the Island over the rest after all everyone deserves to survive.

  • Don't Believe the Hype
    February 22, 2014 - 11:57

    The idea behind this change is not the problem, but rather how it is being done. If you look at how they shape the map for the "metro" Charlottetown area, you have places that are 20 km outside the city that are "rural" and places 40 km outside the city that are "Urban". Pick a point in Downtown Ch'town, pick a distance, and everything outside that point is "rural" Be fair about it I am surprised no one has asked what the unemployment rate is inside Summerside as compared to "Rural" PEI.

    • makes senses
      February 22, 2014 - 19:46

      The map looks a bit screwed up all right, a half circle 20 kms out from the delta would be a reasonable area. I really don't know about summerside though, only Basil thinks it should be the capital, would Clifford give up being the provincial capital just to get pogey!

  • realWayneDrops
    February 22, 2014 - 11:45

    jrsplace has unfortunately stolen my name today. looks like he is too much of a coward to use his real name...typical jrsplace...go back and support the sex offenders!

  • voter
    February 22, 2014 - 11:24

    why do fishermen get unemployment when they claim to be such entrepreneurial spirits ????????????

  • One way street
    February 22, 2014 - 11:02

    Didn't hear Mayor of the World Clifford whining when Ronnie McKinley took $2 million out of the Rural Renewal fund and gave it to Charlottetown !!!

  • North Lake resident
    February 22, 2014 - 09:33

    Gail Shea is not just looking after her own voter, she is helping us too. This injustice was allowed to go on for years, we have never had the job opportunities the people of Charlottetown have, when the plant closes here, what are we supposed to do, drive 120 kms to Charlottetown? And as far as on the boundaries of the new zone are concerned, you may have to travel about the same distance as from my place to Souris, pardon me but this is hardly excessive.

  • upwest proud
    February 22, 2014 - 09:05

    Lee accuses Gail Shea of looking out for her own constituents, now that is a novel concept, I think that is why she was elected, you bonehead.

    • laughing
      February 23, 2014 - 13:38

      yes Gail was looking after the west and all islanders when she walked out when her vote counted. It's long over due TIME TO GET RID OF THE GARBAGE

  • unbelievable
    February 22, 2014 - 08:40

    How many times have we heard Lee and others say "we are a province, we deserve this" now when rural communities and seasonal workers say we want to bet treated like every province in Canada and when it comes to EI, the Charlottetown elite (including the professional protester) say we are too small, we need to maintain our unfair advantage at the expense of rural islanders. Does their sense of entitlement never end, move one government job outside of Charlottetown and Lee is on the front page crying, move festivals out of the city, more crying, build infrastructure outside of Charlottetown, again more crying. He is so self-centered he has no idea that there is life outside of Charlottetown.

    • not quite
      February 22, 2014 - 09:23

      He is not against every thing from the country, he is willing to come to the Winter River watershed and suck it dry, I guess rural pei is good for something, trouble is after Charlotteown drinks our water they flush it into the harbour and then we can't even fish there. ever wonder why we feel they are arrogant.

  • Seasonal worker
    February 22, 2014 - 06:55

    For more than a year now every time EI was mentioned by it was accompanied by seasonal workers, traditional industries and rural communities. Now that Minister Shea makes a change that address these and brings fairness to the program, everyone forgets about us, what a bunch of hypocrites.

    February 22, 2014 - 05:54

    Without any Doubt this is the Lowest form of Vote Buying P.E.I. has ever seen. Even Shea was embarrassed to announce this one. Time for Dictator Stevie and All his Puppets to be Voted out. By far the Worst Govt. Canada has ever had.

    • the bear
      February 22, 2014 - 08:44

      Are you kidding, MP trying to do some good to us rural people. If you want to bring up this rural/urban devide just look at Robert and the city slickers for causing this devide. Have a good day and think about the above.

  • kyle
    February 22, 2014 - 04:48

    A politician who looks after their constituents in a representative democracy. What a shocking concept! Whilst condemning the idea Mayor Lee is doing the exact same thing.

  • justin
    February 22, 2014 - 03:17

    Problem with these changes is they create more of rural urban rift then anything. Plus since when does a place like Mt. Stewart or Hunter River become part of Charlottetown. Plus coupled with the fact these changes won't do anything until 2015 shows they are strictly for re-election purposes for Shea. Have to wonder though if the fishermen will show up in Charlottetown trying to sell their lobster this year. If Charlottetown people are to be treated as second class citizens in regards to EI maybe Charlottetown people should just not support any of the fishermen either.

  • Waynedrops
    February 21, 2014 - 23:55

    The real story is the rampant abuse of EI in the lobster fishery . With 2 claims per captain and per wife in the same year . And the worst fact of all is that fishermen are still allowed to actually keep fishing while drawing multiple EI claims and just selling the catch for cash or in other peoples names . The entire PEI scallop fishery is done while drawing summer EI claims but the catch is sold for tax free cash direct to the public . DFO has no idea what the total landed scallop catch is .

  • Poor Clifford
    February 21, 2014 - 22:43

    Clifford has used the EI system and the residents money for years to buy favor with many short-term city workers, he will be in a bind this election year if he has to give them more work to qualify for pogey, no wonder he is madder than a wet hen

  • guardianrader
    February 21, 2014 - 20:46

    Mr Lee very negative iresponsabile statement from you vv diappointed thought you were a fair erson guess you are but does not go behind ch'town , what a self centered statment .

    • Belfast Guy
      February 24, 2014 - 09:44

      Clifford, the divide between Charlottetown and rural PEI has been in effect ever since Ghiz became premier of Charlottetown, nice to know that if you became premier, you , as well, would only be the premier of Charlottetown. Hopefully, Olive Crane, the true champion of the people, will show up with several busloads of supporters at the next leadership convention of the Tory party, otherwise we'll be like the Ukraine.