P.E.I.'s voice at the federal cabinet table is disputing the assertion that changes to employment insurance are the cause of an increasing number of people leaving the Island for other parts of Canada.
Statistics Canada reports P.E.I. had a net loss of almost 1,100 citizens to other provinces last year. The migration was a significant factor in ending five years of population growth in P.E.I., and was the biggest net loss to interprovincial migration in 30 years.
The P.E.I. government is blaming changes to employment insurance. Gail Shea, P.E.I.'s representative in the federal cabinet, said it is about Island young people and families choosing to make better lives for themselves.
"Have we interviewed the thousand people who left this year as to why they left, or are we just speculating that the issue is EI?" she said.
"I say the issue was opportunity for them to make a better life for their family and that's exactly what they're doing. People want to work and make money and I don't see anything wrong with it."
Shea said more Islanders are choosing to travel back and forth from the Alberta oil patch to make better money and bring the earnings back to families on P.E.I.
NDP blames provincial government
Provincial NDP Leader Mike Redmond says it is evident from the number of people leaving the province that the Liberal government's economic policy has failed.
“The EI reforms are harming people’s incomes and threatening our seasonal industries for sure," said Redmond in a news release.
"But it is provincial Liberal policies that are forcing people to make the financial decision to leave the Island.”
Redmond said there are not enough jobs, and the cost of living on the Island is too high. He expects the problem will get worse.
P.E.I. Innovation Minister Allen Roach has expressed concern that the province is losing skilled workers it needs for its seasonal industries.
The P.E.I. government introduced a motion in the legislature Tuesday calling on Ottawa to reverse changes to employment insurance.
Speaking to the motion, Premier Robert Ghiz said P.E.I. is being penalized under the changes. He acknowledged the employment insurance system could be improved, but called the recent reforms draconian.
Ghiz said Ottawa should have consulted with the provinces on EI before changing the rules.
The motion, which has not yet come to a vote, is symbolic only and not binding on any government.