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‘99 per cent commitment’ on EI eligibility for workers drawing CERB, says P.E.I. premier

Premier Dennis King speaks to media on Friday. King said he received a “99 per cent commitment” from the Prime Minister that seasonal workers who have been drawing federal relief will be eligible for Employment Insurance benefits, based on hours worked last year.
Premier Dennis King speaks to media on Friday. King said he received a “99 per cent commitment” from the prime minister that seasonal workers who have been drawing federal relief will be eligible for EI benefits, based on hours worked last year. - Stu Neatby



P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said he has received a “99 per cent commitment” from the prime minister that Employment Insurance will be available in the fall for many workers who have been receiving the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

During Question Period on Friday, King was asked by his Progressive Conservative colleague Sidney MacEwen about seasonal workers whose EI benefits may run out by the fall.

Many of these workers have been receiving CERB benefits since March but will be unlikely to have the number of insurable hours ordinarily required to receive EI after these benefits run out.

King said he received the commitment during a First Ministers call on Thursday night.

"On the call last night with the prime minister, Mr. Speaker, I feel I have received what I would say a 99 per cent commitment that if somebody in those industries this year in Prince Edward Island, did not get enough hours, they would be able to revert to their claim from the previous years so they could draw their EI," King said.

King said other premiers, including the premier of Alberta, are now looking at Employment Insurance as a national issue, whereas it previously was often thought of as an Atlantic Canadian issue.

King said the benefits would work in similar fashion to recent changes announced for workers in the fisheries.

King said his understanding is that the eligibility will include both the insurable hours from this year as well as last year.

"If you're eligible to get enough hours this year, you would file a claim based on those hours. If you fall short of those hours, they would revert back to your hours the previous years,” King said.

King also said because the unemployment rate across P.E.I. has grown since the beginning of the pandemic, the difference in insurable hours required for individuals between the two EI zones in P.E.I. may be negligible.

"The two zones would pretty much be on a level playing field," King said.

The difference in EI requirements in the Charlottetown area, compared to the rest of P.E.I., has been a longstanding political issue on P.E.I. But because both regions have experienced a jump in the unemployment rate, the EI eligibility requirements will likely become closer.

Last month’s labour force survey showed that P.E.I.’s unemployment rate has risen from eight per cent in February to 10.8 per cent in April. The province’s Department of Finance places the unemployment rate for April above 15 per cent, but suggests it could be as high as 20 per cent when taking into account those who are not currently looking for work.

A recent economic update has warned that the unemployment rate for May could be as high as 26 per cent.

King said P.E.I.’s four MP’s have been advocating for these EI changes, but singled out Malpeque MP Wayne Easter, who currently chairs the Standing Committee on Finance.

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