Islanders spoke about employment insurance Tuesday to a committee touring the region to learn about the impact of EI changes.

The panel set up by the Atlantic premiers was in Tignish, an area hard-hit by unemployment. It’s also the riding of federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea.

Bobby Morrissey, a former Liberal industry minister, gave the panel a detailed analysis of the impact the EI changes have had on the area.

"When you remove that much money from a community, you’re going to have a dramatic impact on that community. It affects people who are fully employed because the spending power of that community is drastically reduced,” he said.

He said the elimination of a pilot program that gave an extra five weeks of EI to claimants cost millions of dollars. Taking half the wages from EI claimants who work part time cost the area more EI money. 

Hard for young people

Lou Anne Gallant and her husband are both on EI. The changes mean they take home $150 less a month.

"It's hard. I think about the young people and what do they do when they just live on the minimum wage and they draw EI and the fathers are going out west, it’s just hard," she said.

"Taking away those five weeks from us was horrible, especially when Mr. Harper said we’ll wait and see how it’s going to affect the people."

Brian Gaudet works in Alberta. He came home for Christmas to be with his family. He told the panel he's not been called back.

"What's it like out there? Well, it's not like being home and you’ve left your family behind,” he said.

“You’re 5,000 miles from home where I was and it's a sad situation when you’re out there and your family is at home. A lot of things go through your mind."

'Destroying' rural communities

Leo Broderick of the Council of Canadians said it hurt communities. "These impacts are destroying rural communities,” he said. “In West Prince and in the Tignish area, we're hearing there are just dozens and dozens of people heading out west.”

The committee will be in P.E.I. for two more days before moving onto the rest of the region. It’s already been in New Brunswick.