The number of Prince Edward Islanders who had their employment insurance benefits taken away increased more than 18 per cent in the first four months of 2013, the biggest increase in the country.

The federal government introduced new rules for qualifying for EI in January, meaning people had to be willing to travel further for a job and accept lower pay.

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Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said the new rules would help connect Canadians to available jobs. (CP)

The percentage increase in Islanders losing their benefits was more than four times the national average. In the first four months of 2013 4,970 Islanders lost their benefits, compared to 4,200 in 2012.

"We need to understand a little bit more in terms of why they have been cut off," said Lori MacKay president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees on P.E.I.

"What we've been saying is the changes had a negative effect on this region in particular, and I think those stats show that."

The increase nationally was 4.33 per cent, but it was spread disproportionately across the country. Two provinces showed a decrease in the number of people disqualified. In Alberta the number was down more than 15 per cent.

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Change in number of people disqualified from EI: Jan. 2012-Apr. 2012 vs. Jan. 2013-Apr. 2013

Can. N.L. P.E.I. N.S. N.B. Que. Ont. Man. Sask. Alb. B.C.
4.33% 7.86% 18.33% 2.60% 15.90% 8.43% 5.04% 11.58% -1.03% -15.24% 1.92%

Source: Statistics Canada