Islanders confused, afraid, ashamed over EI changes, MPs say

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Protesters demonstrate against EI changes in this Guardian file photo

Commentary

Editor: On Tuesday, January 21, The Guardian’s Teresa Wright wrote an article outlining federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney’s concerns with criticism of his government’s Employment Insurance reforms.

Minister Kenney’s apparent perception is that EI-related misinformation is rampant on P.E.I.. The bulk of the minister’s comments implied that Islanders are merely concerned with disqualification. Any person attending one of the Atlantic Premiers’ Panels EI consultations would quickly discover that disqualifications are the least of many concerns. Here are some of the major concerns:

People are confused: While it is true that any new system requires an adjustment period, the application process for EI benefits has become more confusing than ever. People calling a Service Canada agent for assistance are finding it virtually impossible to get through as more and more EI Claims Processing Centres, including the Island’s award-winning centre in Montague, are being shut down. Beyond the level of the individual, businesses and government officials alike are confused at the lack of consideration given to regional differences in our nation’s economy.

People are afraid: Countless Islanders are wondering how to make ends meet while they wait for their claims. Just last week, we heard from an individual who was in the eighth week of waiting for benefits to begin. It isn’t hard to imagine the hardships individuals and families might experience while waiting two months or more for benefits in the dead of winter, when expenses are higher and jobs are few and far between. Many people are also privately expressing fear of speaking out so we know that we aren’t getting the total picture of just how many people are facing delays and difficulties with their claims.

People feel shamed: Shamed for living in a place called beautiful by the thousands of visitors in the summer months; the same months that provide the conditions in which our culture, traditions and industries thrive. People feel shamed by a system that would require a single parent to spend two hours a day commuting to a job site for 80 per cent less salary (70 per cent if they have been branded a ‘frequent user’) without consideration for factors such as gas, mileage or child/elder care. If this same single parent appeals requirements, as the government promises them the right to do, they risk entering a system which could have those waiting months for an answer.

Minister Kenney seems frustrated that Islanders would challenge his government’s approach to EI reform; an approach rejected overwhelmingly by Atlantic Canadians. We need not be reminded that it wasn’t long ago Stephen Harper said that Atlantic Canadians suffer from ‘a culture of defeat:’ a statement that has never been qualified, denied or corrected.

The current system is indeed creating circumstances that are forcing Atlantic Canadians to move out west.  Job creation, respecting seasonal industries and businesses as well as the many families which rely on them, is not this government’s goal, but rather a policy of deliberate outmigration which seems to be their agenda for our province and our region.

Whether it’s the divisive changes to EI, the massive cuts to civil service jobs in P.E.I. that are double the national average, the gutting of postal services, the removal of citizenship offices, the cuts to veterans services, the closure of the veterans district office, the fact that Revenue Canada removed counter service, or that we are the only province without a Passport Office, it is clear that to the Harper government, P.E.I. doesn’t matter.

 

Lawrence MacAulay P.C. M.P., Cardigan,

Wayne Easter P.C. M.P., Malpeque,

Sean Casey M.P., Charlottetown.

 

 

Organizations: Employment Insurance, Service Canada, Revenue Canada Passport Office

Geographic location: P.E.I., Montague, Charlottetown

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