Editor: Employment insurance is a crucial component of Canada’s social safety net. Workers and employers pay into the program, and like any good insurance plan, should provide temporary financial assistance to Canadians who find themselves without work.
Everybody knows our primary industries are farming, fishing and tourism. This means our economy is largely dependent on seasonal work. Yet seasonal workers have been under attack by successive Liberal and Conservative governments in Ottawa for the past 20 years. It was only last year that Stephen Harper introduced the clawback of earnings and the requirement to travel up to an hour for reduced pay — policies which continue to unfairly punish rural workers and communities.
The Harper government recently boasted it had frozen EI contributions until 2016. At first glance a promising gesture, but the reality is worker and employer contributions are being frozen at artificially high rates, making it costlier for small businesses to hire new employees while taking money directly out of workers’ pockets. It has been reported that the annual EI surplus is now forecast to be at least $3.5 billion in 2014, with the Harper government planning to accrue a total of $14 billion in surplus funds by 2017 at currently frozen rates.
Yearly moderate surpluses are understandable as sufficient backstop for the EI program in case of economic downturn, but intentionally creating unnaturally high EI surpluses to be used as slush funds with little or no accountability or knowledge of Canadians by the Harper government is both harmful and wrong.
Meanwhile, Mr. Harper neglects the EI system to the point that only 38 per cent of jobless Canadians even qualify for benefits. Not only is this a problem for workers and their families who are struggling to get by every day, it also excludes them from any job and training opportunities that may have been available under the program were they able to qualify for EI in the first place.
Dr. Herb Dickieson,