Louisa came over to the table to see if Hat McInnes and his crowd were ready for another round of drinks. They gather in her back room most afternoons and she keeps them supplied with their favourite beverages.
“What’s the big topic of discussion today, boys,” she asked, as most indicated they were ready for a refill.
“We were actually talking about something a hard-working, independent business person like you wouldn’t know anything about,” said Hat. “We are all intrigued by the story of the woman in Montague and her fight with the government for cutting off her EI.”
“Yeah, you’re right about that,” Louisa said with a laugh, “it’s hard to pay into EI when you’re running a less-than-legal boot-legging joint, but the upside is, I don’t have to pay any deductions. Same drinks all around?”
Swifty Stewart, who always delighted in jerking Mousie MacKay’s chain, asked, “Mousie, when you Tories were looking to save the government some money, couldn’t you have gone after someone with a few more bucks than a single mom’s pogey cheque?”
As expected, Mousie took the bait and he got his dander up. “It’s not about saving money,” he snapped, “it’s about trying to fix a system that’s been subject to a lot of abuse for a long time. A system that’s become a detriment to employers who can’t find workers. A system that keeps wages down because those same employers know they can pay low wages because the workers want the stamps and will take less money if they’re sure they’ll qualify for EI. The system is rotten, and you and everyone else knows it’s rotten. Harper’s trying to fix it, and it’s about time.”
“Well, I’m not sure he’s fixing it, or screwing it up worse than it was,” said Rifle Burhoe. “I know some people who used to work four or five hours a week and still get their EI, but they won’t take any work now because half of everything they make is taken off their EI cheque. They say it’s not worth going to work if you only make $40 and they take away $20. So I don’t know how that helps your business friends, Mousie.”
“But that’s not what happened to the woman in Montague,” said Swifty. “She didn’t lose EI because she was working. I think they cut her off because she wouldn’t look for work or take a job in Charlottetown.”
“I think you’re right,” said Hat. “As I understand it, if you are drawing EI you have to be actively looking for work. If there is no work in your immediate community, then you have to look further afield. When the lady in Montague was told she’d have to look for work in Charlottetown, she refused, and she had a couple of good reasons. She’s looking after her young child and needs to be near him. Another stumbling block is the fact she doesn’t have a car. Doesn’t make much sense to look for work if you can’t get to the job. It’s not as though she couldn’t find work in downtown Toronto and refused to take the subway to look for work in North York. Mousie, it’ll be a couple of centuries before there’s a subway between Charlottetown and Montague.”
“But there has to be some changes in the whole EI system,” said Mousie. “I don’t know what happened with that woman in Montague, maybe she just fell through the cracks. I agree it looks bad, but there’s got to be another side to the story.”
“Yeah, that’s what Gail Shea said on TV the other night, but she didn’t say she’d look into it and tell Islanders what she found. No, she just hinted that maybe there is some other nefarious reason for the woman’s EI being cut,” said Hat.
“Which brings me to another aspect of the way your friends in Ottawa operate, Mousie. Everything is rigid and arbitrary,” said Hat. “Local judges can’t be trusted to dispense harsh enough justice, so they bring in mandatory minimum sentences, the circumstances of the crime be damned. And also, now everything is secret. Nobody, except someone authorized by the Prime Minister’s Office, can comment on anything. It’s like every issue threatens the security of the nation. Gail Shea is a cabinet minister but she won’t or can’t comment on something that affects people in her home province. It’s Orwellian, Mousie, Orwellian, and that is more worrisome than any problems with the EIsystem.”
Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: email@example.com