Atlantic Canada region too fond of EI: business leader

Teresa Wright
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CFIB president Dan Kelly says some Atlantic Canadians would rather draw employment insurance than work 

CFIB president Dan Kelly says there is an element that exists in every province that will do anything not to work.

Some Atlantic Canadians would rather draw employment insurance than work, which is why the EI system needs more stringent reforms, not the temporary foreign worker program, says the national president of Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Dan Kelly was in Prince Edward Island Wednesday to meet with P.E.I. Finance Minister Wes Sheridan, and one of the items up for discussion was the controversial TFW reforms announced recently in Ottawa.

Kelly, who lives in Toronto, said small and medium-sized businesses are highly critical of the changes to the temporary foreign worker program, which will limit migrant workers in low-wage jobs and ban them in certain sectors in areas of high unemployment.

Businesses in Atlantic Canada will be especially hurt, because the unemployment rate is high and some workers in this region just don’t want to work, Kelly says.

“It’s hard for hard-working people to understand that there is an element in society that exists in every province that will do just about anything not to work,” he said.

A recent survey of CFIB companies in Atlantic Canada found over 20 per cent of employers said have been asked by an employee to lay them off so they can collect EI.

“That’s pretty shocking,” Kelly said.

“We shouldn’t have systems set up so that employers are pressured to lay off staff even though there’s work there, so that the person can collect employment insurance.”

He echoed statements made this week by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, calling the Ottawa’s EI changes mere ‘tinkering’ and calling for more drastic EI reforms to help address labour shortages in Canada.

“With the effective elimination of the TFW program as an option in Atlantic Canada … unless we’re prepared to make more drastic changes to employment insurance, I think the federal government’s move is really, really stupid,” Kelly said.

The temporary foreign worker program will be the focus of a one-hour debate on Friday in Charlottetown when the country’s labour ministers sit down for the first time with Employment Minister Jason Kenney since the TFW changes were announced last month.

A number of provinces are upset over the changes, including Alberta, Nova Scotia and P.E.I.

Island Innovation Minister Allen Roach says he doesn’t like the changes, but remains concerned over the EI reforms as well. He says it’s not as simple as forcing EI claimants to work.

P.E.I.’s labour concerns are complex, as they include mainly seasonal industries competing for workers at the same time of the year. Also the Island is dealing with an aging workforce and a shortage of workers for challenging, labour intensive jobs such as fish processing, which may not be suitable for older workers, Roach said.

“We’d like to see some flexibility,” he said.

“There’s a big difference between rural Canada, rural P.E.I., rural Nova Scotia and Ottawa, the oil fields and big downtown cities.”

He will be supporting a call by P.E.I.’s Seafood Processors Association for an exemption of the Island’s seafood processing sector from the temporary foreign worker program changes, similar to how the agriculture sector has been exempted.

In spite of these concerns being raised by provinces and business groups, the federal government is showing no signs of backing down from its TFW reforms.

A spokeswoman for Kenney’s office, Alexandra Fortier, said the changes will “restore the temporary foreign worker program to its original purpose — as a last and limited resource for employers when there are no qualified Canadians to fill available jobs.”

Specifically in P.E.I., she pointed to data showing in 2013 alone, employers requested nearly 800 temporary foreign workers while maintaining a high unemployment rate of nearly 12 per cent.

Employers must redouble their efforts to recruit and train Canadians for these jobs, turning to new immigrants and people with disabilities to help fill shortages, Fortier said.

“For employers, including fish processing plants, who truly cannot find Canadians, they will continue to have access to the temporary foreign worker program.  They can have up to 30 per cent of their workforce at a worksite comprised of temporary foreign workers and have three years to transition.”

Organizations: Canadian Federation of Independent Business.Dan Kelly, Seafood Processors Association

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Prince Edward Island, Toronto Ottawa Nova Scotia Charlottetown Alberta

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Recent comments

  • freda
    July 10, 2014 - 13:17

    Over 2000 fishers filed for unemployment insurance last week on PEI. EI needs to change, there is not a shortage of workers on PEI, just an abundance of people that need 14 weeks to draw employment Insurance..we don't need foreign workers, this system need to change!!This entire group of workers are well qualified to work in plants which remain open until December. As a year round employed worker, I never see the gains from my EI premiums that I pay. Do the math, if you pay $900.00 per year in Federal EI premiums, but every year take upwards of $19,000 out of the EI coffers, that's quite a significant return on investment..every year!! What investment adviser can promise you that type of return? The provincial government is equally to blame, so many people on Golf courses and the roads..why is the province here the biggest 14 week employer? The private sector stimulates growth, not the public sector...Mr Roach

    • local islander
      July 10, 2014 - 15:09

      $900.00 vs. $19,000.00 this speaks directly to my point below. At the very least, guaranteed recipients of this insurance should pay a higher premium. Lets say 2-5x higher than Freda pays. We may not be able to force someone to work, but we can at least make it expensive for them to make the choice not to. I know I drive more defensively each time I realize that I may get in a car accident. insurance is insurance

    July 10, 2014 - 12:30

    The only solution to see which businesses and which individuals are abusing the systems is to do a study not just on the businesses that say they need the TFW but also the number of individuals who have applied for jobs and been refused. Higher wages would solve both issues as TFWs would not be required and neither would EI for a large number of individuals. As one comment stated, there are 7800 people drawing EI and yet businesses are saying they cannot get workers. Workers are saying they cannot get hired? We have the highest Income taxes, the highest food prices, the highest gas and oil prices, basically the highest rates for everything in Canada yet we have the lowest wages. Common sense should prevail here but will not until the Government stops backing the businesses which they are openly doing at present.

  • local islander
    July 10, 2014 - 12:13

    I just want to ask a very simple question that no one ever wants to hear or answer - Why are repeat EI claimants in seasonal jobs paying the same rate of premium as others who are full time non-seasonal jobs? If I get in a car accident each year, you can be sure that my insurance broker is going to give me a slightly higher rate than my neighbor who drives to work each day for 30+ years with no claims.....dah. I am all for helping those who are in need, and I know there is seasonality in our economy, but.... If I choose to work in the seasonal economy, I should AT LEAST have to pay a higher rate for the income subsidy coverage I am CERTAIN to take advantage of at the end of the season. Enough said...I'm back to work.

  • Employed on PEI
    July 10, 2014 - 10:56

    I know of businesses who have abused the TFW system. They hired foreigners and told their loyal employees they had no work for them. But yet people sit here and easily condemn PEI for the "lazy" attitude. It is a huge blunder to group all EI recipients on PEI as lazy..... some have no other options at this point in their lives. Count yourself lucky that you are employed full time!! I sure do :) If the employers are hiring TFW because there is a shortage of people willing to work for them, then let the employers be 100% responsible for their wages. Treat them the same as they do Island employees. Give them the same options as Island employees. Don't allow businesses to hire TFW's because it is financially easier!!!!!!!! And the government shouldn't enable them to do this either! No special treatment for foreign workers. In the end, no matter what is said is done here someone will find something to complain about. I love PEI but slowly it is being transformed into a tourist

  • Robert M.
    July 10, 2014 - 10:44

    What a lovely individual...Maybe, if we are lucky, we can have him as our next Conservative Prime Minister..../sarcasm

  • Just an idea
    July 10, 2014 - 09:59

    I KNOW that people ask to be laid off. I have heard it from people numerous times - 'cos it's easy to make cash money under the table in Florida and supplement income with EI. And few employers would want to keep someone who doesn't want to be there - they will simply do a lousy job until they get laid off. Howzabout a requirement on the employers being "pressured" to report those employees to EI? Having said that, the TFW program should still be abandoned in PEI, especially through the summer months. Aside from anything else, too many employers use it as a way to avoid paying decent wages and benefits.

  • Told You So
    July 10, 2014 - 09:39

    Told you so , rest of Canada's working taxpayers are getting tired of paying Maritimers to be lazy & rather sit home on EI than work . And YES , asking employers to give you just enough weeks work to get EI is very common here on PEI . We all know it but appear to ashamed to admit it & when someone say's it , we get mad & run them down . Until people change their attitude the TFW are required , presently when they are gone , so is processing on PEI which means price for fishers will be the least of their belly aching . Selling their catch will be . No one to blame but our lazy - system abusers selves . Truth hurts doesn't it .

    • FedUp
      July 10, 2014 - 11:05

      Maybe you could explain then, you obviously know so much more about every resident (including my family), than we do... why when my sons, who are hard working and fully capable of manual labour, trained on forklift and have first aid, dress appropriately, go in with a good attitude, resume in hand - apply at local businesses including local potato and fish plants, are they turned down - "not hiring" they say. Yet the same plants have ads in the job bank so they can check that requirement off the TFW qualification list. Explain that to me, will you? This whole "insult the Islanders so we can get the TFW's back" thing is getting old. We live on oil patch money because there is no year-round work here capable of supporting a family... or so the employers claim. I'm sure there are some people who prefer EI - there are everywhere. However PEI has a much bigger problem. Learn to open your eyes and shut your mouth, will you? Stop judging and insulting people that you've never even met.

    • huh
      July 11, 2014 - 07:14

      @FedUp: you do a pretty good job of judging and insulting people yourself, pal. Take your own advice. This story and its comments are not about YOU. PEI has chronic EI users, and that's a problem. If that doesn't apply to you or any one you know, good for you. But that doesn't change the reality of what's going on here on this Island.

  • Alejandro
    July 10, 2014 - 09:11

    Like it or not, the guy from the center of the universe is right... I live here, and see it as plainly as he does... Not sure why some people work just long enough to have the ability to not work... It's a way of life that has to be reversed... What does that teach our children... It's wrong plain and simple!

  • peiworker in the west
    July 10, 2014 - 08:39

    Pay a fair wage on PEI, the companies here now are using the TFW to keep wages low, Last week we had Dave Dalton from southshore fisheries complaining about no workers up the wages and you will get the workers,Tim Horton , Wendy, Kfc the list goes on and on , there know different the the big companies sending there call centers over seas . if these companies w ant to keep using Tfw we should start boycotting them .....KEEP THE MONEY IN CANADA, As far as Mr Dan K elly talking about EI It means nothing till he lives here in Atlantic Canada and sees the struggle to make a living,I fly back and forth to the oil patch every 21 days because of the wages here on Our gentle Island ... The Conservative did the right thing by making the changes to TFW

  • Angus
    July 10, 2014 - 08:33

    Exactly! Kelly's right. There's a whole group of people, even families, who have made a career of EI for years. And provincial politicians have encouraged it and used it for votes. Not too forget the fact that the Pols have also milked it for years by hiring waves of folks on the roads etc. and then once they have enough to collect, laying them off and bringing on the next batch. That way they collect from the EI fund instead of using the province's welfare money. EI's an old game long played on PEI and everybody knows it. Another one of the Island's dirty little secrets.

  • Chris Stewart
    July 10, 2014 - 08:21

    Novel idea here, these businessess just say 'no' when someone asks them for a lay off. Also, why should we base any policy change on something as nebulous as 'have been asked for a layoff'. How many people ask for a layoff? How often? For what reasons? How do employers respond?

    July 10, 2014 - 08:18

    Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour , problem solved .That will never happen because these guys cry bloody murder if it goes up a nickel ! Easier to blame access to EI than your unwillingness to pay a livable wage .

  • FedUp
    July 10, 2014 - 08:16

    Seriously? Someone from Toronto thinks he's an expert on PEI? Could the Guardian please do a story on all the applicants who are TURNED AWAY from businesses who prefer to hire TFW's? How about BOTH sides of the story?!

  • wog
    July 10, 2014 - 08:12

    What rubbed me the wrong way was characterizing employers as feeling 'pressured' to layoff employees who wish to collect EI. How exactly does an employee pressure an employer to do anything in this day and age? I have no sympathies for employers, they have more then enough power as is and many cry foul if they have to pay someone an extra 20 cents an hour. Offering more money for some of these jobs might draw more people to take on these seasonal jobs (has it been tried?..what has been tried?) as well as offering transportation and flexible work hours are ideas I didn't see mentioned anywhere, but offer the enticement and consideration companies sometime employ when having trouble in recruiting. Who knows, it might work better then alluding that people here are lazy....although that strategy is easy and doesn't cost him anything. Wouldn't that be considered, in itself, a lazy strategy?

  • Fed up
    July 10, 2014 - 08:09

    Bring in a big shot, highly paid guy from Ontario to tell US what is wrong in Atlantic Canada! Right! He has no idea what it's like to try and find work here ....just getting a free trip to play golf and shoot off about something he knows NOTHING about!! At the moment, we have THREE of our hard working university students looking for work. If they DO find something, they are pushed out by some TFW...who speaks very little English...and gets paid for 40 hours a week....whether they work it or not!

    • JustAnotherComeFromAway
      July 10, 2014 - 18:01

      He has a full time job, working year round and you don't. It's the people in the rest of the country supporting these people on the Island who simply don't want to work year round. As one person said, you pay in $900 in EI and draw out $19,000. Why would they want to work? Stop blaming people who "Come From A way", they are the ones who enable you to draw EI after 14 weeks.Because they come from away, they see what the problems are while locals are busy trying to defend the indefenble.The truth hurts,doesn't it.

  • PEI Proud
    July 10, 2014 - 08:02

    I find this article quite disturbing. Yes, people on PEI rely on EI. As they do in other provinces. We have a lot of seasonal businesses here. So it stands to reason that we would have people relying on EI to subsidize their income in times where there are work shortages. Let us not forget that EI is NOT funded by the government but is funded by the us, the working citizens. I am so tired of PEI being portrayed as a "lazy" province with nothing to offer! We have plenty to offer. Not everyone can be painted with the same brush. I am sure there are others out there that really don't want to work. Just like there are others out there that who abuse the TFW. I know of businesses that replaced their Island workers with foreign workers because it was cheaper for them to do so. I suppose those who lost their jobs are lazy too?? IT ISN'T JUST THE EI RECIPIENTS WHO ARE TO BLAME HERE!!!!!!!!! But because they are on the lower end of the spectrum, let's blame them eh? Give me a break - there is no easy solution here. Someone innocent is going to lose out here. Which is very unfortunate. But the businesses who abused the TFW are the ones getting most of the blame in my eyes. Let's see the businesses up the starting wages of their workers. You know it doesn't always have to be government enforced!!!! The cost of living in this beautiful province is climbing faster than the average earnings of the residents of PEI. But I cannot imagine living anywhere else....

  • Disgusted!
    July 10, 2014 - 07:51

    Another person coming from the center of the universe thinking they know if all CFIB is only for themselves & yes, will complain about a quarter. To Mr. or Ms "J" - I'm not sure what universe you are living on but you cannot "make a living" when drawing EI. There may still be "some" of the old 10/40 people left from the old days but very few, in my opinion.

    July 10, 2014 - 07:50

    I agree with this article to some extent as a lot of Islanders count EI as part of their yearly income and have done so for years. The part that worries me the most is that he was here for discussions with Wes.

    • lower48
      July 10, 2014 - 09:07

      I'm not an Islander or even a Canadian but I have spent a lot of time in PEI. I've heard a number of times, from local folks, that there are a lot of people who'd rather collect than work. It's only hearsay but if you hear enough people say it just might be credible.

  • sandy mackay
    July 10, 2014 - 07:47

    Silly people from Ontario telling us about reform after we helped bail out the car industry - I would suggest that he realize that you can not do some of our industries in the cold of winter so if he wants to enjoy our lovely summer place - people who look after him must live here year around and so two choices - pay people enough to live year around or use the EI system to subsidize employers by allowing them to pay lower wages - I hope they ban this temporary foreign worker program - its a shame we would allow employers to exploit people from other countries

    • Dave
      July 10, 2014 - 10:12

      Your attitude shows that a problem exists, you're not doing people from away the favour you think they are. Right now 7800 Islanders are on pogie, and how many employers claim they can't get workers? There is a big problem, pretending there isn't, doesn't solve it.

  • Chester L
    July 10, 2014 - 07:30

    The View from Martinvale...........Chester L 3 early comments this morning...... 1. What " jay " says........if it is so why is this not taken in hand and proved right or wrong..... 2. What " Jrsplace " says...if this is so then I ask the same question. 3. What " Voter " if this is so then I ask the same question.............. All I can think of this " ongoing controversy " is like Gene Hackman saying in a movie.......You want to know the truth,!!!!!! You cannot handle the truth!!! this the impasse where we are at...........Government is supposed to provide the leadership and investigations in all these issues, if fraud is being used then fine and disqualify in all these subject matters........What real investigation has gone into all of the " alleged goings on " no doubt where their is smoke their is fire......" So investigate the systems that are in place and " focus on the issues and not the persons " and take corrective closing I worked for 44 years straight in the Seafood Business and only drew EI benefits twice in that time, I took my family and went where the work was both off Island and on Island.....I still work part-time and available for call to work and report to work and I am 66 years of age.........too much energy lost in chasing shadows, lets get some light on these comments as that is the only way to focus.........can we do this , this is addressed to those who are in charge of these issues........All Government oversight here and lets see it happen.........thanks for this space.! The real tragedy here is the " lack of public knowledge not being disclosed by those Government Agencies who have control over EI, TPW, and Multiple Claims of Sales based Fishing EI..............Bring out the facts of the matters and deal with them , once and for all..............

  • reality
    July 10, 2014 - 07:29

    i think the idea is to work,work, work regardless how little you are paid !!at least you are making money !!! and thats what they do -- they are smart enough to figure it out --collect ei and work under the table ----why pay unfair taxes when you don't have to ????????????

  • It is what the FEDS were telling us all along..there is abuse
    July 10, 2014 - 07:28

    This what the federal Govt,business people and many .many Islanders have said along.IT WAS ABUSED....IT became a lifestyle, it became a political carrot for both prov a Govt temp job, get pogey for the winter..sit around and use the food banks...and some are young men and women...They also work under the table.The govt called them out and about time........There are people who just do not want to work....there are some who have medical and mental health issues ..these are the minority ...the majority have abused the system.There are also abuse's in the fishing industry towards EI that are well documented family members hours or stamps etc....Big bad HARPER....well they called a spade a had to stop.It drags the maritime economy down...There is work....if you don't like it ..take advantage of school and other Govt training programs .and as a taxpayer one gets tired of watching this abuse go on year after year...........How can LIBERAL and NDP party members condemn is there in Black and White.

  • townie22
    July 10, 2014 - 06:51

    isn't this the same group that cries so loud when minimum wage goes up a quarter? i think i see the problem.......

  • J
    July 10, 2014 - 06:21

    Dan Kelly hit it right on about people not wanting to work. Why work when you can make a life of living on EI, and please, fellow com mentors don't pretend this doesn't happen on PEI, EI is a lifestyle here too.

    • How it is...
      July 10, 2014 - 07:52

      You're dead right. People see EI as an income supplement rather than it's intended purpose: Insurance in case you lose your job. Not "take the winter off cause all the roadwork's stopped" payments.

    July 10, 2014 - 06:12

    Dan Kelly why don't you speak out against the multiple claims of sales based fishing EI that is draining the canadian EI system .

  • voter
    July 10, 2014 - 06:10

    another business person sulking about the loss of their TFW's he lives in Toronto so he probably knows everything about Atlantic Canada worker habits and requirements