Thousands rally against EI reform in Montreal
Seasonal workers concerned tougher rules could harm small fishing communities
Thousands of Montrealers snaked through the city's downtown core on Saturday afternoon to protest against the Conservative government's changes to employment insurance.
The changes to EI, which came into effect in January, have spurred several protests this year across Eastern Canada — home to many seasonal workers affected by the new rules.
The reforms require workers to travel up to 100 kilometres and to accept jobs that pay as little as 70 per cent of their previous hourly wage — providing that is not below the province's minimum wage rate.
Saturday's protesters left early in the afternoon from three different points in the city and met at Montreal's Quartier des Spectacles, where they wrapped up their demonstration with several speeches.
Those participating included farmers, seasonal workers, human rights activists, labour unions, representatives from the Bloc Québécois youth wing, and members of organizations for people who are unemployed.
Many said the changes make it more difficult to collect benefits.
Some demonstrators were concerned about the effects on eastern Canada's small fishing villages. They said the communities could be destroyed by the reforms, which would force residents to leave in order to find work.
Montreal police advised the public to use the metro system in order to avoid delays, as the protest choked up several blocks of Sainte-Catherine Street.
Riot police followed the crowd as it marched through downtown, but no arrests were reported.
The demonstration was organized by Quebec's coalition against employment insurance reform, which was created to attempt to counter Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
In April, the Quebec government unveiled a $1.5-million EI reform committee.
The panel, co-chaired by former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe, will tour the province and study the effects of federal EI reforms on Quebec employees and employers.