Shea announces changes to employment insurance in Prince Edward Island

Eric McCarthy
Published on February 20, 2014
Gail Shea
Submitted photo

MILL RIVER — Starting in October, Prince Edward Island will be divided into two regions for Employment Insurance benefits calculations purposes, a capital region and a rural region which takes in the rest of P.E.I.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea, on behalf of Employment and Social Development Canada, made the announcement Thursday at the Rodd Mill River Resort. Close to 80 Egmont constituents were in attendance for the announcement, most of them at the invitation of the minister.

Shea pointed out the capital region’s unemployment rate between June of 2011 and June of 2013 was five percentage points lower than the rest of P.E.I., and was less dependent upon seasonal employment.

By placing the rest of P.E.I. in a separate EI region, Shea said the EI system will be able to more adequately reflect the realities of the local labour markets and tailor programs accordingly.

Shea said EI changes in 1996 resulted in Canada being divided into 58 EI regions. While the capital cities in the rest of Canada were regions of themselves, all of P.E.I. was left as one region. She said the change gong into place in October fixes that. She said similar changes were recently put in place for the capital regions of the three Canadian territories.

The federal minister responsible for P.E.I. provided an example of how the change will benefit rural Islanders.

Under the current system, based on the November 2012 Statistics Canada reported unemployment rate of 11.5 per cent for P.E.I., she said a seasonal worker with 520 insurable hours would be entitled to 23 weeks of benefits with a divisor for calculation of benefits of 17.

She said the actual unemployment rate for rural P.E.I. at that time was 14.9 per cent. If that rate were applied, the rural worker with 520 hours would be entitled to 29 weeks of benefits and a divisor of 14.

“This will result in higher benefits,” she said to applause.

The change even won a nod of approval from Liberal MLA Hal Perry who crossed the floor from the provincial Conservatives last year over his concerns about EI changes.

“I think it’s a good announcement; it’s a start,” he said. “Of course, we’d like to see it back to what it was before these reform changes were made by the federal government, but it’s good for rural P.E.I. and it’s a definite start.”

Prince County Fishermen’s Association president, Lee Knox said he was thrilled by what he heard. “Seasonal workers had to leave P.E.I., because you can’t live on nothing,” Knox said in describing the EI shortfall.

“This is going to help the economy of western P.E.I. big time,” he said. “The criteria for EI is going to go up and the weeks of benefits are going to go as high as five to six weeks in the difference to what it was last year.”