© Image special to The Guardian from Employment and Social Development Canada
Beginning October 2014, Prince Edward Island will be divided into two EI regions — a capital region and a non-capital region.
Egmont MP Gail Shea says the creation of two employment insurance regions in P.E.I. is not a political move, despite the fact her riding’s constituents stand to benefit most from the changes.
Shea said residents of rural areas of the province have been disadvantaged by the way EI rates are currently calculated.
“The unemployment rate on P.E.I. was measured at around 11 per cent when in fact in rural P.E.I. it was more like 13, 14, 15 per cent and in the greater Charlottetown area it was eight or nine per cent. That was a big variance,” Shea told reporters Friday.
“People in Rural P.E.I. were not getting the benefits that they should have been getting.”
Under the new rules, which will take effect in October, Prince Edward Island will go from being one EI region to having two EI zones - a capital and a non-capital region. The change will split P.E.I.’s unemployment rate in two.
Since the unemployment rate is used to calculate how many weeks of benefits a claimant is eligible for, this change means rural claimants will have to work fewer hours and will receive higher EI benefits.
Those living in the new Charlottetown region will, alternately, have to work longer to qualify for EI and could be eligible for less money.
The federal department is using a census agglomeration map of Charlottetown to identify this new metropolitan EI region.
The use of this map is drawing much criticism, as it encompasses not only Charlottetown proper, but also the better part of Queens County, including a number of rural areas and communities.
The Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce is raising concern over the new regional divide.
“Divide seems an appropriate term, for in the Chamber’s view, that is what this change may do,” stated a press release issued by the chamber this week.
“It is not that P.E.I. is either urban or rural. It is both, tied together in one future.”
The chamber says these changes do nothing to address concerns of employers and workers across the province relating to the changes in EI introduced in January of 2013.
“The announcement does not address the pressing needs for job creation across the province. Without additional employment opportunities, seasonal workers within the Charlottetown (region) will be disadvantaged relative to those outside the region.”
In the House of Commons Friday, Charlottetown MP Sean Casey accused Shea of blatantly trying to help her own constituents for personal political gain.
“Why has the government pitted islanders against islanders in a desperate move to salvage the minister's seat?” Casey asked during question period in Ottawa.
Shea told reporters in Charlottetown Friday her constituents have a higher unemployment rate than the capital area, and that is the reason this change will be made.
“It’s not political for me,” she said.
“Right across the country the capital areas are not part of the unemployment rate fir the entire provinces, so the three territories and P.E.I. have been changed to reflect the realities of the unemployment rate in the local area.”