Employment insurance changes announced Thursday for P.E.I. are unfair and pit rural islanders against those who live in the city, says Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee.

Clifford Lee - custom

The employment insurance region plan takes from people in one part of the province and gives to another, says Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee. (CBC)

The two zones, known as Charlottetown and P.E.I., would reflect the different unemployment levels in the capital region and the rest of the province. Gail Shea, the province's representative in the federal cabinet, announced Thursday the changes would come into effect Oct. 12.

Creating two zones would mean people in the Charlottetown region would have to work more hours than they do now to qualify for EI, while people in the P.E.I. region would need to work fewer.

"They are taking from people who live in one part of the province to give to people in the other part of the province," said Lee.

Hours of work to qualify for EI
Charlottetown region 595
P.E.I. region 420
Old P.E.I. region 490

"In the real world, maybe the federal politicians don't understand that you know, people are having a difficult time as it is, just qualifying for EI under the old rules. This is really a change that is going to impact the most vulnerable in our community. And I am shocked that any government would do such a thing."

Lee has asked his staff do some research on the new changes.

Charlottetown's unemployment rate in 2013 was 8.6 per cent, and Shea estimates unemployment in the P.E.I. region as five percentage points higher. Using those numbers, people in the Charlottetown region would need 595 hours of work to qualify for benefits, while those in the P.E.I. region would need just 420.

Currently P.E.I. is a single region with an unemployment rate of 12 per cent, requiring 490 hours of work to qualify for benefits.

Change not enough, union says

The splitting of P.E.I. into two employment insurance zones does not go far enough to address problems with Ottawa's EI reforms, says Lori MacKay, regional VP for CUPE.

"We're generally happy that the Conservatives have really recognized that the changes that they made have had some major impacts on people and have caused some serious hardships," said MacKay.

"The problem is is that we feel it's unbalanced. It's not far enough by any stretch of the imagination given all the changes that have happened, and it's not fair in the sense that certain people will benefit and others won't."

MacKay said she believes Thursday's change was politically motivated. She noted it makes it easier to qualify for EI for everyone in Gail Shea's Egmont riding. The other three federal ridings on the Island all have parts that are included in the Charlottetown region.

Lee also wondered if there was a political motivation behind the changes. The city of Summerside with its unemployment rate of 10.8 per cent in 2013, which is in Shea's federal riding, is included in the new rural area, while the tiny community of Fort Augustus is in the Charlottetown region.