© 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.
Gail Shea shakes up P.E.I.’s old EI system by creating two vastly different EI regions
Beginning in October there will be two employment insurance regions in P.E.I., a capital one and non-capital one. The following are six things you need to know about the new EI regions.
1) It is positive news for EI claimants who live in the non-capital or rural region. Since that region will not include Charlottetown, the unemployment rate will be higher and so will the benefits. As well, the number of hours needed to claim EI will be considerably reduced.
2) The change is not positive news for people in the capital region, who will now have to work much longer to qualify for benefits compared to their rural cousins.
In addition, the geographic capital region is not what people imagine when they think of the Charlottetown area. The EI capital region will reach out into rural P.E.I. communities such as Fort Augustus, Tracadie Cross, Mount Albion, Brackley Beach, Canoe Cove, Rennie’s Road and Toronto. The strangely shaped region is a “census agglomeration” established by Statistics Canada.
3) The employment rate in the capital is higher than in the non-capital region so there is logic in having two zones. With one P.E.I. zone, the employment level in the capital has always inflated P.E.I’s overall rate. For example, in June of 2013, P.E.I.’s overall EI rate was 11.5 per cent, but broken down it was actually 8.9 for the capital and 13.4 for the non-capital. What’s illogical is the many rural Queens County communities included in the capital region. Memo to Statistics Canada, Rennie’s Road is nowhere near downtown Charlottetown.
4) In terms of politics, the fact Egmont MP Gail Shea’s riding only sees benefits from the change, and none of the negative aspects, means it was an easy change for her to push for.
5) The fact Ottawa has agreed to the change means it has finally admitted some of its EI changes were wrong, after months of stubborn refusal and stonewalling. Now perhaps they will agree to review some of the EI bill’s controversial changes.
6) Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee is livid with the change. “Minister Shea is looking after the people in Egmont and is throwing everybody else under the bus and to me that’s wrong,” he said in an interview with this newspaper.
Minister Shea and her office have been working on the changes for over a year. A spokesperson for her counters criticism she is helping rural P.E.I. to the detriment of Charlottetown by pointing out many of the major projects and funding that come to Prince Edward Island end up in the capital city. And, that the more employment increases in the capital city, the more it artificially inflates the overall EI rate under the old system.
Minister Shea has certainly shaken things up and set off a number of debates. Many Islanders think there is a rural/urban divide on Prince Edward Island. If so, this certainly won’t help things, especially with the inclusion of so many rural Queens County communities in the capital region.
Speaking of the capital, it is true there is much more economic activity in the Charlottetown area, both as a result of all the federal and provincial jobs and the retail and commercial enterprises that naturally exist in a large urban area.
But not everyone in Charlottetown has a comfy job and plenty of prospects for future employment. Many work in low-income positions and find it difficult to maintain year-round employment, which means they need to access the EI system. It is those hard-pressed individuals who will be left out in the cold as a result of Minister Shea’s pet project.