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Souris Mayor David MacDonald
MacDonald accuses Ottawa of killing town but where are voices of those most affected?
Souris Mayor Dave MacDonald knows how to grab a headline. You throw in words like murder and dying, and suddenly a reader is sure to pay attention. Mr. MacDonald accused the federal government of murdering his town as the result of recent changes in the Employment Insurance program and that as a result of those EI adjustments, his town is dying.
Mayor MacDonald might be guilty of hyperbole in the first degree but he got our attention when he appeared before a panel Monday. The Premiers’ Council on EI is gathering information on the impact of employment insurance changes. Regional premiers argue those changes are having an adverse effect in Atlantic Canada because of the seasonal nature of employment opportunities here based on our heavy dependence on fishing, farming and tourism. If they can provide convincing arguments based on real information, the hope is that Ottawa might make adjustments.
Mr. MacDonald argued that an employee and an employer pay into the EI fund, yet Ottawa handles the cash and decides who can draw on it. The mayor laid out the issue in simple, layman’s terms and that argument does put things into a slightly different perspective. A third party, which didn’t contribute any money, decides how our money and a company’s money are spent.
Maybe Canadians put too much trust in the judgment of politicians and senior bureaucrats to tell us how this social safety net is administered. Good for Mayor MacDonald on his parable that a federal banker doesn’t have the right to tell Canadians when and how they can withdraw their money.
The mayor didn’t stop there. He suggested the severe cuts to EI are causing mental health and justice issues which then become provincial problems. And he was critical of the new EI system which forces a mother to stay home and raise a family while the father is forced to head to Fort McMurray to earn a living.
The panel was warned that a business crisis is looming as seasonal industries start to hire and make plans for the spring and summer seasons. Will an experienced and skilled labour force still be here to fill the spaces for those crucial industries or have they all gone West and will continue to go because of higher wages? Will those employers have to start from scratch and train new employees? It can only result in a loss of productivity or service. And will this cycle keep repeating itself?
We have 1,300 fewer Islanders drawing EI today. Are they part of the record numbers of Islanders involved in out-migration? Employers who lose veteran seasonal employees say they face more roadblocks trying to fill those gaps with temporary foreign workers. The pending upheaval in the tourism sector is chilling as we prepare for the 150th anniversary celebrations when we want to put our best public face forward.
While we heard from social action groups, politicians, businessmen, chambers of commerce and labour, there was very little heard from those most affected — the person who lost his or her EI and the families and members of households whose lives have been turned upside down. Those personal stories need telling and they need to say it. Monday, it was left to a mother to tell the panel about her daughter’s plight. Is that it?
Is it because they are embarrassed, isolated, made to feel guilty about asking for EI, or are they all in Ontario and Western Canada and are just not here to speak? Or are those voices not being heard because EI problems are being exaggerated and the repercussions are not as severe as we think?