Atlantic Canadian Politicians Speak Out Against Federal EI Changes

NDP Premier Darrell Dexter is on the right track in his call to Stephen Harper to suspend the EI changes until a comprehensive study of their impact on the region has been completed.

All four Atlantic Canadian Premiers are asking the Harper government to hand over any relevant employment insurance data so that they can conduct a comprehensive audit.

No research was done by the federal government in advance of major changes it made last May to the employment insurance system that require claimants to accept a job for which they are qualified within 100 kilometres of their home.

As we have written before, seasonal workers provide a reliable workforce. Without knowing you can count on them, farmers, for instance, will lose both predictability and confidence. And limits to foreign workers until every local person has a job will mean Nova Scotia farmers who doubled their blueberry and strawberry fields these past years will be in a precarious position.

Younger seasonal workers will move west for work because they have to. And 60 year old snow crab fishermen will bend for blueberries or lose their benefits.

MPs like Scott Armstrong say the EI changes give people “a better connection with available jobs”. He’s wrong. Consider the Conservatives’ new 70 percent maxim: Lose your job and take another at a 30 per cent wage cut. Lose that job and take another 30 percent cut. If Conservatives really feel that Carribean crop-harvesters are stealing local jobs, the solution is not to import Carribean economies.

Gary Burrill, Nova Scotia NDP MLA:

“This is the kind of smooth and oily abuse of words that causes many people to have come to a point where they spit out the word politician. “A better connection with available jobs?” I think not. How can that be when a new EI system for seasonal workers requires people to accept a job or lose their benefits at 70 per cent of their current wages? That’s not a better connection with available jobs.”

Robert Chisholm, Nova Scotia NDP MP, Fisheries Critic:

“Instead of focusing on regional development, Conservatives are turning their back on Atlantic Canada, and they are telling seasonal workers to hit the road and head west.”

Darrell Dexter, Nova Scotia Premier:

“The dismantling of the EI system meant that so many of the people who could at one point in time, have a sustainable livelihood in their communities, no longer can. They have had to leave.”

Robert Ghiz, PEI Premier:

“If you want to come to P.E.I., and go to our beaches, watch Anne of Green Gables, and eat our oysters, and eat our potatoes, and go fishing — well guess what? We need people in those areas to work in seasonal industries and they depend on the employment insurance program.”

Kathy Dunderdale, Newfoundland Premier:

“There seems to be a real disconnect between what the federal government is trying to achieve and the reality of peoples’ lives in rural parts of the country.”

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The Senators and Sterling Belliveau (on Fleet Separation and EI)

Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau

Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau

Nova Scotia’s Conservative Senator Stephen Greene wrote to Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield calling for an end to fleet separation: “In my view, fleet separation is one of the worst industrial policies in Canadian history.”

Nova Scotia’s NDP Fisheries Minister Sterling Belliveau is fighting to protect east coast fishermen and their way of life. But Conservatives may be intent on eliminating the fleet separation and owner/operator policies.

Current rules ensure that licences stay in the hands of the local fishermen who do the work. Companies can not buy up licences and hire others to do the fishing for minimum wage.

This has resulted in a profitable fishery all over the Nova Scotian coast, with thousands of fishing entrepreneurs making a good living off lobster and crab.

If the federal government destroys this system, it will lead to foreign control of our inshore fisheries, and the further collapse of small fishing villages across Nova Scotia.

Senator Greene’s opinions on fleet separation are also wrapped up in an attack on EI. He wrote that fleet separation caused “the fostering of generations of dependency on EI benefits” and “the acceptance of massive EI fraud as part and parcel of a way of life.”

Under intense pressure from Sterling Belliveau and the fishing families he represents, the federal government has backed off on eliminating the fleet separation and owner-operator policies. But for how long?

In his last visit to Ottawa, Belliveau also urged a Senate committee, which is conducting a study of the lobster industry in Atlantic Canada, not to impose quotas on the inshore lobster fishery – another wise lobbying effort by the provincial NDP.

Belliveau and Nova Scotia’s newest Conservative senator, Tom McInnis, had a heated debate during the meeting when Belliveau attacked federal changes to employment insurance.

Belliveau said EI changes that require seasonal workers to take jobs outside of their field will cause a worker shortage in the fishing industry. But McInnis said fishermen can return to their jobs during fishing season. Of course, the fishermen won’t return. They will stay out west. Sterling Belliveau and the NDP are right on this issue. The fight must continue.