Jason Kenney: ‘It’s ridiculous to pretend any longer’

Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney wrapped up his 5 day northern tour in Iqaluit, where he defended changes to EI benefits in northern cities.
'In Iqaluit where the unemployment rate is 5 per cent, it's ridiculous to pretend any longer that it's at 25 per cent,' said federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney during a visit to the capital. 'It doesn't reflect reality.' (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Starting this October, residents of the three northern capitals will have to work 700 hours in a year to qualify for EI, up from 420 hours. The federal minister of employment and social development Jason Kenney announced the changes in Whitehorse last week.

The changes will bring the requirements in northern capital cities to the same standard as the south.

The EI break dates back to the 1970s, when unemployment rates in the northern cities were unofficially pegged at 25 per cent.

In Iqaluit, Kenney said the change reflected the new realities.

“In Iqaluit where the unemployment rate is 5 per cent, it's ridiculous to pretend any longer that it's at 25 per cent. It doesn't reflect reality.”

Kenney points to the number of stable government jobs available in Nunavut's capital.

Questioned about the rate of Inuit unemployment in Iqaluit, Kenney said his department doesn’t measure unemployment based on cultural background.

In 2011, the Nunavut Bureau of Statistics said only 46 per cent of Inuit were employed in the territory, compared to 89 per cent of non-Inuit.

In Kenney's presentation, he talked about on-the-job training needed to fill positions and lower the unemployment rate even further.

He called the Nunavut Fisheries Training Consortium and the mine training program in Rankin Inlet “phenomenally positive.”

“It's that it's not just a traditional government program, it's that there's private sector money,” Kenney said.

“And what does that mean? It means that the employer has skin in the game. They've made an investment in the skills development and they are offering people employment coming out of it. That is the magic formula.”

Kenney was not positive about prior government efforts to train people for jobs.

“Let's be blunt, there have been a lot of government training programs and lots of money spent in the past that had mediocre results,” he said. “That ended up being training for jobs that didn't exist or training for the sake of training.”

Jason Kenney’s visit included a meeting with Premier Peter Taptuna, where Kenney hoped to discuss job training and the Canada Job Grant.

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