Islanders have heard much debate during the past year about the impact of planned changes to the employment insurance program. We'll soon know who was right. The changes are now in effect, and it will be those who have to live by the new rules who will be the best judges.
New changes to the program were first announced in May last year, and ever since then there has been non-stop controversy. Seasonal workers and their employers who depend on the program have warned the changes will unfairly penalize claimants, force workers to go elsewhere for work and deprive seasonal economies of a much-needed workforce. Premiers in the Atlantic region have reinforced this stance, saying Ottawa simply doesn't understand the structure of seasonal economies and the legitimate role of employment insurance.
For her part, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley has just as relentlessly defended Ottawa's changes, saying they'll make employment insurance more efficient and effective, while better connecting Canadians with available jobs in their area. As well, she insists, in spite of suggestions to the contrary, the changes will allow for the weighing of personal circumstances - such as health, physical capability to perform work, family obligations and transportation options.
So will it be harder for claimants to get and keep EI? Will they, as government's detractors warn, end up moving to other areas for work or be forced to accept lower-paying jobs? Or will those processing EI applications have the flexibility to take the above personal circumstances into consideration?
We've spent the last eight months debating these theoretical questions. The year 2013 will be the period to put the system to the test and determine who was right.
Coping with flu season
It may be flu season, but that doesn't mean we have to roll over and play the victim. The province's chief public health officer has suggested ways we can lessen our chances of getting sick; we should heed her advice.
Public health officials across the country have been noting a higher incidence of the flu this year. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there were about 3,500 cases of the flu across Canada by mid-December - quite a few more than the 182 cases at the same time last year. As of last week, P.E.I.'s chief public health officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, said this province had 24 lab-confirmed flu cases, which likely means many more people were hit by the flu bug.
These stats are simply a reminder to be proactive when it comes to minimizing the chances of getting the flu. If Islanders haven't received the flu shot, they should do so. We need not live in a bubble, but we should make a point of washing our hands more frequently and thoroughly, and clean our workstations more often. And if we do get sick, we should steer clear of crowds, and if possible, stay away from work, to reduce the spread of the flu.