Gail Shea, P.E.I.'s representative in the federal cabinet, is continuing to feel the pressure following changes to the employment insurance system.

Gail Shea - Custom

The end of a pilot project providing extra weeks of employment insurance benefits has had an impact, says Gail Shea, P.E.I.'s representative in the federal cabinet. (CBC)

"For those with the minimum number of weeks, for sure they are feeling this, and I'm hearing this loud and clear," Shea told CBC News Thursday.

Over the last year and a half the federal government has made significant changes to the EI system. An analysis by CBC News of Statistics Canada numbers earlier this month showed a significantly smaller proportion of unemployed Islanders were receiving EI in 2013 compared to 2012.

Shea said from what she is hearing, the end of a pilot project that provided five extra weeks of benefits in areas of high unemployment is having the biggest impact on P.E.I.

A series of EI changes
Aug. 2012 Rules around part-time earnings workers can retain while collecting EI changed.
Sept. 2012 A pilot project that provided five extra weeks of benefits in designated high unemployment regions was allowed to expire.
Jan. 2013 Rules were introduced that require frequent claimants to accept jobs at 70 per cent of their original pay level, within a one-hour radius of home.
April 2013 Changes were made to the number of weeks used to calculate benefits. Some recipients saw a reduction in their biweekly benefit payment.

"This seems to be having a bigger effect on rural P.E.I., the seasonal industries in rural P.E.I., where in the off-season there aren't a lot of other opportunities," said Shea.

An Atlantic premiers' panel on EI changes has been travelling the province, and hearing plenty of criticism. The provinces are trying to build a case against the changes.

"It will give us a really good view of what's taking place in the other provinces," said P.E.I.'s Innovation Minister Allen Roach.

"That way we can look at it collectively."

Liberal Malpeque MP Wayne Easter has also been fielding plenty of complaints.

He believes the fewer benefits are forcing Islanders away from the seasonal industries, and they're taking jobs out west.

"EI, in many cases, is the straw the broke the camel's back. There is, of course, a lot of factors," said Easter.

Shea believes one of those other factors is that as Islanders move out west it creates a social support network that Islanders who have not yet made the move can count on.

Wayne Easter - custom

The federal government needs to do more to make life better on P.E.I., says Malpeque MP Wayne Easter.

"They now have contacts, they now have places to stay, so the transition is not nearly as difficult," she said.

Both Shea and Easter agree that the real solution to the problem is more jobs, which is a particularly difficult problem in Shea's western P.E.I riding.

"We need people to work in order to grow our economy, so we have to have a balance," Shea said.

"We do recognize there are places, and I live in one of those communities, where there is not a lot happening in the middle of January."

Seasonal work is at the core of the rural P.E.I. economy, said Easter. EI has supported that economy in the past, he said, and it should continue to.

"Her job is to ensure that people have a better life on P.E.I.," said Easter.

"Her job should be fighting for the employment insurance system here so that the seasonal industries can create the business opportunities."