Alward should fight EI changes, say Liberals

New Brunswick's opposition leader is accusing Premier David Alward of failing to stand up for the province's seasonal workers.

Victor Boudreau says premier should stand up for seasonal workers

Premier David Alward is being pushed to take a harder stance against the federal Employment Insurance reforms 2:24

New Brunswick's opposition leader is accusing Premier David Alward of failing to stand up for the province's seasonal workers.

Interim Liberal Leader Victor Boudreau said Alward should be speaking out against the changes to Canada's Employment Insurance program announced last week by the Harper government.

The planned changes would require recipients to broaden their job search and accept work with lower wages the longer and more frequently they claim EI benefits.

Boudreau said the Employment Insurance program is there to assist those people to get through the months when jobs are simply not there.

"There's always a certain degree of abuse that takes place, and to address that is one thing, but to turn the system upside down like Prime Minister Harper is proposing to do is going to cause very serious concern and I would say damage to local economies all across the province and all across the Maritimes," he said.

Boudreau said the changes are unrealistic for parts of New Brunswick, where many people work in seasonal industries, such as fisheries and forestry.

"There are always going to be a few odd jobs here and there during the winter that, you know, people are going to try to pick up to get that extra income. But there are simply not enough of those odd jobs to take in everybody who works in seasonal industries in the province of New Brunswick."

Follow lead of Newfoundland and Labrador premier

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale voiced her concerns on CBC’s Power and Politics last Friday.

"There seems to be a real disconnect with what the federal government is trying to achieve and the reality of people’s lives in rural parts of the country," she said, calling the lack of consultation with provinces "disturbing."

Boudreau is calling on Alward to take a page from Progressive Conservative Dunderdale’s book and speak out, even if it means a fight between Tories.

"It's one thing to see a Liberal premier in P.E.I. or an NDP premier in Nova Scotia, but we're also seeing a PC premier in Newfoundland and Labrador raise concerns," he said.

Boudreau said there is a growing list of federal decisions that are affecting New Brunswick and EI reform is just the latest example of Alward bending to the federal government.

"Talk about [the Saint John] Harbour Bridge, let's talk about Canadian Blood Services, Point Lepreau, health transfers, federal job cuts in New Brunswick, equalization, the proposed changes to the fishermen — owner-operator system for fishermen, now EI reform.

"You know, every time Stephen Harper says ‘Jump’, David Alward asks ‘How high?’" he said.

Alward contends he is worried about how the EI reforms might affect seasonal workers, but he's waiting for more information from Ottawa.

Meanwhile, he's mostly looking on the bright side.

"One of the positive things is that there's a time of transition over the next number of months so we can better understand what it will mean to New Brunswickers," he said.

Alward says the federal government is right that the status quo isn't working.

"What I do know is that the world is changing very quickly around us," he said. "One of the things [former] premier [Bernard] Lord used to say is 'You can't provide 12 months of services based on a six-month economy.'"