Prince Edward Island’s employment minister says changes announced Thursday to the way employment insurance is administered in P.E.I. will divide Islanders and create significant inequities.
P.E.I. Innovation Minister Allen Roach says the new changes may be positive for rural Islanders, but residents of a new urban EI region in P.E.I. will have to work longer to qualify for EI benefits and will be receive less money.
“The people in the Charlottetown metropolitan area are going to be hurt by this, they know that,” Roach said in an interview with The Guardian.
Beginning in October, Prince Edward Island will be go from being one EI region to having two EI zones — a capital region and a non-capital region.
In a news conference in P.E.I. Thursday, federal Fisheries Minister and Egmont MP Gail Shea said there are higher unemployment rates in non-capital areas of the province, and this separation of rural from urban will make the EI system “more fair and equitable for Islanders living in rural areas.”
The change will allow for higher benefits for rural claimants.
But Roach says residents of the new Charlottetown capital region will, in turn, receive less.
He pointed to the fact the federal department is using the Statistics Canada census agglomeration map of Charlottetown to identify this new metropolitan EI region.
This map encompasses not only Charlottetown proper, but also the better part of Queens County, which includes a number of rural areas and communities.
Everyone in this new urban EI zone will require in excess of 100 hours more to qualify for EI and will receive five fewer weeks of benefits than they were previously entitled to, Roach said.
Alternately, Islanders living in the rural EI zone will now require approximately 30 hours less to qualify and will receive about three additional weeks of benefits.
This is due to a change in the way benefits are calculated. Under the change announced Thursday, the percentage of Islanders on unemployment will be lower in the new Charlottetown EI region and the unemployment rate will be higher in the outer lying areas. This changes the formula for EI eligibility and thus changes the weeks that one is eligible for and, thus, the amounts that can be claimed.
“The people in the urban area – they’re going to get less money and they’re going to have to work more hours,” Roach said.
He was also quick to point out the only federal riding not negatively affected by these changes is Shea’s.
“All of Gail Shea’s riding gets an advantage out of this. Part of (Malpeque MP) Wayne Easter’s riding is at a disadvantage, all of (Charlottetown MP) Sean Casey’s riding is at a disadvantage and part of (Cardigan MP) Lawrence MacAulay’s riding is disadvantaged,” Roach said.
Casey said he believes this is a political move.
“It’s no small coincidence that the entire riding of Egmont is on the favourable side of the line.”
While the creation of this new rural EI zone does provide greater help and money to those in rural P.E.I. who have been struggling, it comes at the expense of seasonal workers who happen to live in the Charlottetown area, Casey said.
“It’s not a matter of saying to one group of Islanders, ‘We’re going to leave you alone,’ and to another, ‘We’re going to make it better.’ It’s saying to one group, ‘We’re taking from you and we’re giving to the others.’ And the ones we’re taking from includes everybody that lives in my riding.”
Easter said the reinstatement of a cancelled pilot program that gave five additional weeks of benefits to P.E.I. would have been a better fix to the province’s EI concerns.
“Instead they cut P.E.I. into little pieces and they put two neighbours a community apart, both working at the same job in a seasonal industry, and treated exceptionally different.”
Roach said the changes do nothing to address the concerns the provincial government has been raising about the EI changes for the last year.
“It’s going to slightly advantage some of our Islanders, but it’s also going to dramatically disadvantage other Islanders, and that’s certainly not what we asked for.”
A spokesperson for Shea’s office, Sophie Doucet, responded by saying she doesn’t see how Roach could oppose the new changes.
“Today's announcement will give access to improved benefits to many seasonal workers in rural areas. Minister Roach should ask his constituents what they think about this announcement before rushing to judgment,” Doucet said.