By Gail Shea (guest opinion)
Editor: After reading the wild speculation on Employment Insurance changes in your editorial, the comments by the Egmont NDP president and MP Lawrence MacAulay, please allow me to provide some facts and comment.
1) Every other province in Canada has had capital and non-capital EI regions since the Liberals created the system in 1996. (This occurred at the same time as benefits to P.E.I. were slashed by $22 million dollars. I’m sure Lawrence MacAulay and Wayne Easter remember that).
2) Most seasonal work is in rural P.E.I. Our seasonal workers have received lower benefits than other seasonal workers in rural areas of Canada for the last 18 years. This occurred because of the policy put in place by the governing Liberals which treated our rural seasonal workers on P.E.I. differently than anywhere else in the country.
3) Even Mayor Lee must agree with the fact that the unemployment rate in the Greater Charlottetown area is 5 to 6 percentage points lower than in rural P.E.I.. By virtue of Charlottetown being the capital city, it holds the seat of government, houses the largest provincial hospital, has the university, and receives the most government investment in job creation and infrastructure spending. All of this creates greater opportunity for its citizens.
4) The goal of all governments is to lower the unemployment rate everywhere by supporting job creation. This is more challenging in rural areas. Rural employers are concerned about the welfare of their workers and need people to fill seasonal jobs.
5) To respond to comments from the Egmont NDP president, the last Liberal government (MacAulay, Easter) spent $46 billion from the EI fund to balance the books. Today, under our Conservative Government, the EI fund is separate and not part of general revenue.
Let me clarify other misinformation — under the current EI rules, claimants are required to seek work and accept suitable work only when they are better off working. (There is a calculation done which takes the cost of working into account).
Does the NDP have something against people working?
Typically, this thinking falls in line with federal NDP policies which paints the oil sands as a “disease” and wastes valuable resources going to Washington to lobby against Canadian jobs in the energy industry.
6) Finally, Lawrence MacAulay should be supporting the thousands of seasonal workers in all the small rural communities in his riding who will finally get the benefits that other seasonal workers in Canada have access to. If he did his research, he would discover this change gives those seasonal workers higher benefits than the five week pilot.
Lawrence’s answer to everything is just “leave it alone” which is unfortunate. Our country must move ahead and address issues such as the reality of seasonal work in rural P.E.I..
This change was made not to be divisive but because it reflects reality, is the right and fair thing to do and treats P.E.I. like every other province in Canada.
Hon. Gail Shea, P.C.,M.P.
Regional Minister for P.E.I.