EI reforms are nothing to fear, says Conservative MP

Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe Conservative MP Robert Goguen says he's standing by the Harper government's decision to reform the Employment Insurance system.

Labour leader promises continued protests in Shediac on Wednesday

Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe Conservative MP Robert Goguen is standing by the Harper government's decision to reform the Employment Insurance system despite ongoing protests and criticism of the changes in the province.

Conservative MP Robert Goguen is defending the Employment Insurance reforms introduced by the federal government.

Goguen said if seasonal workers are playing by the rules, they have nothing to fear by the EI changes introduced by the federal government.

Goguen is responding to ongoing concerns about changes and stricter enforcement of EI rules.

The reforms include requiring repeat claimants to accept jobs that could pay less than their normal wages and could be located an hour away, depending on their circumstances.

There have been protests across the province, but Goguen said that's not the right approach.

"We keep talking about all these protests. We keep talking about people being cut off unemployment insurance. Where are the people to date who have been cut off? There was one individual in Prince Edward Island who had been cut off. That decision's been reversed," said Goguen.

"So it's far more productive to be looking to prove that you're looking for a job actively even if there isn't one than there is to be protesting in the streets."

Goguen said millions of dollars are lost to EI fraud each year, but it will be available to people who truly need it.

He said the changes aren't as bad as people think.

"You can never have a communications plan that fits everybody's needs and perhaps it's something we could have worked on a little bit more … carefully. But, you know, we keep saying the same thing over and over again and people's angst continues to be heightened," said Goguen.

Protesters blocked Main Street in Tracadie-Sheila in February to protest EI reforms. (Marie-Claude Frenette/Radio-Canada)

"But listen to what's being asked of you and make inquiries of Service Canada as to what needs to be done and get to it because, as I say, the changes are modest and it's just a matter of adapting to the rules of the game. They're really not that complicated."

Meanwhile, the federal government acknowledged it has cancelled door-to-door visits from EI inspectors in the province of New Brunswick.

Earlier this week, the federal government denied it had given civil servants quotas for catching employment insurance fraud.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley had denied earlier reports that EI investigators have been given monthly dollar quotas.

But, federal government documents obtained by Montreal newspaper Le Devoir show civil servants are expected to find $485,000 each in fraudulent claims each year — a total that corresponds to the previously reported $40,000 monthly quota.

The documents outline performance evaluation expectations that spell out goals that investigators for Service Canada are supposed to meet.

Shediac protest draws 300

Despite Goguen’s comments, about 300 protesters gathered outside the Employment Insurance office in Shediac on Wednesday morning to protest the changes.

There were seasonal workers, including construction workers and fishermen, in the protests. Many of the protesters were chanting, "We won’t give up."

Michel Boudreau, the president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, said it's time to scrap the changes. He said the protests will continue until the reforms are terminated.

Paul and Therese Babineau were among the protesters on Wednesday. The Babineaus say they won't give up their fight to have the EI changes scrapped because their family can't make ends meet without the benefits. 

"I won't be able to pay my car, I won't be able to pay my house," Therese Babineau said.

Therese Babineau works full time but her husband works in the construction industry from April to December and then draws EI during the winter months.

She said the couple depend on that money and feel they've earned it.

"We all pay for it. The money is supposed to be there and it's not there anymore," she said.

Paul Babineau is currently collecting EI benefits until he returns to his construction job this spring.

"I got my job every year so my job is there," he said.

He said he is looking for a job, but his wife is doubtful anyone will hire him for only a few months.