Critics of P.E.I.’s dual zones for employment insurance (EI) are gearing up for a fight in the lead up to the federal election.
During a public forum on EI at the Delta Prince Edward Tuesday, there was some harsh criticism towards the federal Liberals for not following a commitment to reverse P.E.I.’s duals zones introduced by the Stephen Harper Conservatives.
Carl Phillis, a casual worker for the City of Charlottetown, said the change has had a devastating economic and mental impact on what he described as an already disenfranchised and vulnerable segment of society.
"The working poor is being pushed deeper and deeper into a dark, dank quagmire of extreme poverty."
- Carl Phillis
“Justice for workers in Zone 2 (Charlottetown area) is desperately needed. The working poor is being pushed deeper and deeper into a dark, dank quagmire of extreme poverty. We have one Canada, one province and now we need one EI zone,” said Phillis, who received applause.
Phillis was also critical of the training program introduced for seasonal workers, saying that it has exacerbated the inability for some to qualify for benefits.
The forum was hosted by CUPE P.E.I., the P.E.I. Federation of Labour and the P.E.I. Coalition for Equal and Fair EI.
The event included EI commissioner Pierre Laliberté and N.B. activist Fernand Thibodeau.
Thibodeau, who represents workers in the Acadian Peninsula, told those at the event to not just accept the pilot project providing an extra five weeks of benefits.
“That is just icing on the cake to make you sleep,” said Thibodeau, who encouraged Islanders to find solidarity with other Maritime provinces and Quebec in fighting for EI changes. “When they see we’re all together, let me tell you something, somebody is going to be shaking in their (boots) especially now that an election is coming.
“It’s the best time to get up and go.”
Laliberté explained some of the process that went into changes and also described P.E.I.’s dual zones as a “big problem” he has received a lot of concerns about.
He noted, that when elected, the federal government committed to a broad review of EI ,which has yet to begin.
He said the review could take place before the election and advised Islanders to be prepared.
“If it does take off, it would be a great opportunity to bring out all of these issues, I would encourage you to prepare yourselves proactively,” he said. “If it happens, it will happen relatively fast and it will be important for all to get their voices in.”
The event saw organizers encourage attendees to write their concerns and issues on a large Valentine’s Day card that will be sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“The only way they’re going to fix things is if they know we’re concerned and we want them fixed,” said P.E.I. Federation of Labour president Carl Pursey. “Because, I’d imagine when the election campaign rolls off federally, the government will be announcing they’re doing a study.
“But first, we want them to do something on the zones.”