The Quebec government is demanding the federal government evaluate the impact that recent changes to the Employment Insurance program will have on the province.

Quebec Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Alexandre Cloutier said Ottawa has failed to recognize the extent to which workers in many regions of Quebec rely on seasonal industries.

"It's not good for the economy. It's not good for the workers. It's not good for anyone," said Cloutier.

Workers in forestry, fishing and construction will be the most affected by the federal government's changes, Cloutier said.

The Quebec government claims that two-thirds of all seasonal workers in Canada live in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.

However, in an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said that figure is closer to 40 per cent, according to data from the Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey.

The federal government's reforms will force people who are out of work to expand their job search to accept employment that could be below their skill level, at a wage starting at 70 per cent of their previous wage — providing that is not below the province's minimum wage rate.

Workers could also be forced to accept jobs as far as an hour away from their homes, and they would have to pay their own travel costs.

"I want to be clear that Canadians will not be forced to take jobs outside their local area or jobs for which they are not suited," said Finley in the statement emailed to CBC News. "The personal circumstance of each claimant will always continue to be taken into account."

The EI reforms went into effect on Jan. 6.

Pressure tactics from seasonal workers

Last Sunday, 4,000 people took part in an anti-EI reform protest on the Magdalene Islands. The organizers said they are planning other pressure tactics against the changes.

The provincial government said it expects an increased number of applicants to welfare programs.

In the Abitibi region, soup kitchen organizers fear the federal reforms will result in more people needing their services.

Quebec's Labour Minister Agnès Maltais and Federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley will be meeting in February to discuss the new changes, according to Cloutier.

During last year's election campaign, Premier Pauline Marois said she wanted to open conversations with the federal government and see if the province could have its own EI program.

Quebec is the only province to opt out of the Canada Pension Plan in favour of its own retirement regime, and already is in charge of the parental-leave component of EI.


  • In an earlier version of this story, it was wrongly reported that the federal government's EI reforms could subject unemployed workers to wage cuts of as much as 70 per cent. In fact, under the changes, claimants must expand their job search to be willing to accept wages starting at 70 per cent of their previous wage, but not lower than the minimum wage rate in the province or territory where the job is offered.
    Jan 18, 2013 2:00 AM ET