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.”


The Bees’ Knees – Prizes for Week Six

Each week the Legislature is in session we’ll give out  prizes for the best and worst moments, as recorded in Hansard.

Killer Bee:

Colchester – Musquodoboit Valley NDP MLA Gary Burrill challenged Conservative MP Scott Armstrong to a debate on EI changes a few weeks ago, but Armstrong said Burrill could debate him in 2015. Burrill wins this week’s Killer Bee prize for beginning the debate in Nova Scotia’s legislature:

Gary Burrill: When I challenged Mr. Armstrong to meet me and debate on this subject, I’m afraid that I was inadequately precise. When I said that I would debate him at any time, I should have specified that what I meant by any time was not 2016 or 2015, or 2014. Rather, what I meant by any time was any time with a remote relation to the present. Now, remote, is, in fact, perhaps an important word here. To respond to people’s loss of their EI cheques and to their being forced to take jobs at 70 per cent of their previous wages, to respond to this by agreeing to discuss the matter in two years, speaks to a certain remoteness, a certain off-somewhere-being-pleased-with-yourself-ness, a certain failure to register or take in the financial difficulty of those who are around you. Therefore, I feel that I am within the bounds of fairness to treat Mr. Armstrong’s agreement to debate me only in two years’ time as, in fact, a “no”.

Bumble Bee

It is tradition in the Legislature to ring the bells for a recorded vote. Due to a public function about violence against women occurring in the building at the time, Frank Corbett asked that a recess be called, or that the bells be silenced. Unfortunately, the Liberals were feeling disagreeable, and the bells rang.

The Liberals receive a collective Bumble Bee prize for this nasty move.

Honey Bee

Fisheries Minister Sterling Belliveau gained praise from Liberals and Tories alike with his introduction of the Mariners’ Day Act, which designates the second Sunday in August as Mariners’ Day.

Sterling Belliveau: As promised in our government’s recent Speech from the Throne, this will be a special day for families and friends and indeed, all Nova Scotians. As Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, I’m bringing forward a bill that will honour all those fish harvesters who left port in early dawn but never came home. As a fisherman and as a fisherman’s son, I am asking you to join me in assuring the families of those lost souls that they will never be forgotten.

I come from Woods Harbour, Shelburne County, Mr. Speaker, the home port of the Miss Ally. We’ve had our share of fishing tragedies but you don’t have to come from my end of the province to share our sorrow. It’s an all-too-familiar story of many coastal communities and villages that dot Nova Scotia’s shoreline. It’s an all-too-familiar event for too many families.

This most recent fishing tragedy touched the folks all over Nova Scotia, indeed throughout Canada. Unfortunately our maritime history bears the names of men and women from all over the province who lost their life to the sea.

Mr. Speaker, the Mariners’ Day Act is dedicated to all those lost souls. Mariners’ Day will also serve to help promote safety practices within the fishing industry.

The Bees Knees – Prizes for Week Three

Each week the Legislature is in session we’ll give out four prizes for the best and worst moments, as recorded in Hansard.

Bumble Bee

Liberal MLA Diana Whalen challenged NDP Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald’s revenue projection assumptions in the balanced 2013-14 budget.

The problem? The major banks think the Finance Department’s projections might be too conservative in their outlook.

Maureen MacDonald: All of the economists in the big financial institutions in the country looked at the assumptions that were put together by the economists in the Department of Finance, and they compared those assumptions with their own forecasts, and they find the assumptions to be reasonable. In fact, they found the assumptions in the Department of Finance to be conservative compared to their forecasts for the coming year.

Whalen wins the Bumble Bee award for trusting her political researchers over the Canada’s leading economists.

Drone of the Week

1 drone noun \drōn\
a stingless bee that does not gather nectar or pollen

2 drone intransitive verb \drōn\
to talk in a persistently dull or monotonous tone

Liberal MLA Keith Colwell complains about government spending on advertising. He says there is too much. And he says there is too little. This week, he was claimed John MacDonell could not get the word out about the Heating Assistance Rebate Program. MacDonell swatted Colwell’s complaint away:

John MacDonell: I think I have answered this question once a year for three years. I would think the member opposite would be aware, because his office should have received the applications that all MLAs received to give out to their constituents. If anybody is coming in there looking for an application, they should be able to get it from him.

For recycling a question for the third year in a row, Keith Colwell wins the Drone of the Week prize.

Killer Bee 

While we do not agree with Jamie Baillie’s stance that we should move away from Nova Scotia’s renewable energy goals, we share his concerns about Stephen McNeil’s electricity plan:

Jamie Baillie: For the Liberal Party to run TV ads promoting a policy that actually jacks our power rates up even more and manages to eliminate any hope of private investment in renewables at the same time – that is an amazing trick. The very policies that they promote have been proven a failure in New Brunswick, in Ontario, in Texas, in California, in all of those places the very policies that they advertise on TV, both drive up our power rates and stop the investment in renewables at the same time. That is why it’s important that they, too, be held accountable for what they say not just today, but for the future.

Baillie wins this week’s Killer Bee prize for taking on McNeil Liberals on multiple fronts, including on electricity.

Honey Bee

This week Colchester – Musquodoboit Valley NDP MLA Gary Burrill issued a challenge to Conservative MP Scott Armstrong to a debate on federal cuts to EI.

Burrill also got his provincial Conservative colleagues on the record on the changes to the EI appeals process. He introduced this resolution in the Legislature:

Whereas the system of appeals for employment insurance has, for many years, been comprised of Boards of Referees, tripartite bodies including local representatives from the business community and the labour movement, ensuring that appeals of decisions affecting EI claims have been heard by independent referees knowledgeable concerning local conditions…

Whereas the constituency offices of many MLAs have commonly provided advocacy, support, and representation services to constituents before Boards of Referees, very often resulting in much-needed reinstatements of EI benefits and much-merited reversals of disentitlements, disqualifications, penalty assessments, and the like; and

Whereas the federal government has abolished the system of EI appeals based on a national network of Boards of Referees, and replaced it with a centralized appeal system lacking entirely in local representation;

Therefore be it resolved that this House of Assembly unreservedly condemn the eradication of the Board of Referees appeal system by the Government of Canada, and hereby register its profound disagreement with the removal of local labour and business leaders from the appeal process available to EI claimants in Nova Scotia.

Burrill’s resolution was met with a chorus of No’s from the Conservative benches, a mistake for a party in second place in much of rural Nova Scotia. Gary Burrill wins this week’s Honey Bee prize for good work.

The Bee’s Knees – Prizes for Week 4

Each week the Legislature is in session we’ll give out four prizes for the best and worst moments, as recorded in Hansard.

Bumble Bee:

When an MLA, in Question Period, throws a pitch at a Minister, it might be a fastball, a curveball or an occasional softball. Last week Kelly Regan played tee-ball. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report showing that from 2003 to 2009 progress on reducing child poverty stalled, and Regan wanted to know if the government cared. The first problem with the question? The NDP was elected in 2009, the year the study’s data ended. The second problem? The NDP had done a lot to address the issue in its first two years. The third problem with the question? The Liberals has voted against all the NDP measures to reduce child poverty. Bedford Liberal MLA Kelly Regan wins this week’s Bumble Bee Prize.

Killer Bee:

Jamie Baillie had a rough week. His one issue, a stand against First Contract Arbitration legislation, wasn’t resonating with the public. And then the Liberals, normally following the Conservatives on workers’ issues, gave up on the Tories stalling tactics causing Baillie’s hoist motion to fail. We’ll give him some credit though, for allowing the Premier to point out who’s creating rural jobs, and who’s voting against them, winning Darrell Dexter the week’s best quote:

Jamie Baillie: Mr. Speaker, over the last few days the Premier has repeatedly denied that there is a crisis in rural Nova Scotia. That is very distressing, but there is some hope because denial can be the first step on the road to recovery.

Premier Dexter: Mr. Speaker, I always tell people admitting you’re a Tory is the first step on the road to recovery. (Laughter) What I will do is, I will table for the honourable member the press release with respect to the $8.8 million investment that we made in Irving Shipbuilding’s ship repair unit in Shelburne, one that was matched by an additional $16 million by Irving themselves, one that is leading to good jobs in rural Nova Scotia. What’s more, Mr. Speaker, I would point out that the Opposition voted against that investment.

Drone of the Week

1 drone noun \drōn\
a stingless bee that does not gather nectar or pollen
2 drone intransitive verb \drōn\
to talk in a persistently dull or monotonous tone

The Conservative’s hoist motion to delay the passage of First Contract Arbitration Legislation meant that each MLA could stand up and speak for an hour, repeating their speeches from the previous days. It’s a delaying tactic, and a standard part of our parliamentary tradition. But it does create terrible theatre. Here’s Allan MacMaster, winner of he Drone of the Week Prize for mangled metaphors.

Then you are showing real leadership, where you are maybe taking the company out of the hands of some – maybe it’s a large, private employer – and you are really having to deal with the same things that they have been having to deal with, and the same pressures. Then all the talk goes out the window, then the rubber hits the road, then the numbers don’t lie and then there’s an opportunity to turn that business around…

If you want to carry the big stick, why not walk the walk, as they say. I would love to see it and I say that in good spirit, because there’s always opportunity. If you really want to make a difference, instead of coming at it from a piece of legislation like this and saying, well, we’re not going to do the work, we’re just going to scrape our little piece out of whoever is doing the work, that’s not leadership.

I think we’ve all received that e-mail at one time or another about the ant and the centipede or something – it doesn’t really matter – but it was talking about how one worked hard all year to collect the provisions for the winter and the other did nothing towards that but wanted a fair share of it when the winter came…

So with those remarks, I’m going to start to wind down. I have to have another drink of water, I’m getting a bit parched, but I say that in good spirit because, you know, we’ll come and go from here. I think the average life of a politician is seven years.

Honey Bee:

During Opposition Days in the Legislature, MLAs debate topics like this:

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House of Assembly remind the Government that they cannot continue to tax Nova Scotians into submission and strongly urge them to end their campaign of higher taxes, increasing power rates, and higher prices for gasoline.

Now, we’d expect anti-tax, anti-government rhetoric to come from the Conservatives. What’s sad about the state of Nova Scotia politics is that this motion came from a Liberal, Geoff MacLellan.

Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley MLA Gary Burrill’s measured response, using refreshingly big words, was excellent, winning him the Honey Bee Prize for good work:

Gary Burrill: Their primary approach to the serious present difficulties would be simply to cut taxation, which means, of course, to cut hence public spending thereby stifling the very demand, the absence of which is the thin edge of the recessionary wedge to start with. That is to say, in the situation in which we find ourselves, what is required is not less taxation. What is required in Nova Scotia is intelligent taxation. When I say intelligent taxation, I’m not speaking about a theoretical matter or about an abstraction, I’m thinking about quite specific things.

For example, I’m thinking about the addition in 2010 of a new income tax bracket for those with incomes in excess of $150,000 by means of which the government was put in a position, financially, where it was able to cease provincial taxation on all seniors receiving the supplement thereby stimulating economic demand. (Applause) When speaking about intelligent taxation, about the unique, made-in-Nova Scotia manner in which relative to the 2 per cent increase in the HST in which the low-income offset for that was designed and implemented, what we call the Affordable Living Tax Credit, by means of which, at that time, there was a net transfer of income to those households with an income under $34,000 thereby again stimulating demand, which is what you need to do in a recessionary situation. None of this comes into view at all through the fog of negativity that we have in this resolution.

Secondly, I wish to state my agreement with the introductory clause of the third “whereas” of this resolution, which reads as follows: “Whereas the NDP promised to make life better. . .” This clause brings into view the question of course, better than what? The answer I propose to this is as follows: better than the type of government that has been suggested this week in the contributions of the Opposition Parties.