New Brunswick

EI report 'spot on,' says Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc

A New Brunswick MP says a recently released report on employment insurance reforms is "spot on."

Atlantic premiers' advisory panel report on reforms reflect concerns of constituents, he says

A New Brunswick MP says a recently released report on employment insurance reforms is "spot on."

Dominic LeBlanc, the Liberal MP for Beauséjour, says the report by the Council of Atlantic Premiers Employment Insurance Advisory Panel reflects the same concerns he has heard from constituents.

The report, released on Monday, said the EI reforms need to better reflect the economic reality of Atlantic Canada, and criticizes the federal government for its lack of consultation on the system overhaul that sparked angry protests last year.

"If you scare workers, if you tell people that they're going to have to commute an hour to jobs that don't exist, if you effectively encourage swaths of the population to move three time zones away to find work in Western Canada, you have had a very, very negative impact on a number of economic sectors in a region like ours," LeBlanc said.

Under the reforms, which took effect in January 2013, repeat claimants must accept jobs that could pay 30 per cent less than their normal wages and be located an hour's commute away.

Federal officials have said the changes would better connect people with available job opportunities.

 "Our government made reasonable changes to the employment insurance system in part because a growing number of employers were experiencing labour shortages, even in regions of high unemployment, and were resorting to bringing in temporary foreign workers from overseas, rather than hiring local unemployed individuals," Alexandra Fortier, spokesperson for Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney, said in an emailed statement to CBC news.

Our changes to employment insurance did not change the rules around applying and qualifying for EI — they simply clarified longstanding requirements.- Alexandra Fortier, spokesperson for Minister of Employment Jason Kenney

"Our changes to employment insurance did not change the rules around applying and qualifying for EI — they simply clarified longstanding requirements," she said.

Data gathered by Statistics Canada and provided to the panel indicate less than 1 per cent of EI disqualifications are related to the EI reforms, said Fortier.

"Employment insurance continues to be there for those who have paid into the system and have lost their job through no fault of their own, including in areas where jobs simply do not exist outside of seasonal or specialized industries," she said.

In addition, the Canada Job Grant agreement will ensure skills training leads to guaranteed jobs and that employers are putting more money into equipping Canadians for available jobs, Fortier said.

Still, LeBlanc contends the EI reforms shou ld do more to better support seasonal industries, such as the fishery, agriculture and tourism.

He is advising workers, and employers, to continue voicing their concerns.

"I think they have to continue to show the government of Canada and the Harper Conservatives that these changes are unfair and will have a disproportionate impact on our region," he said.

"I think employers, they need to work with their employees to find a way to maximize the seasons that they can, to try and bring workers in, in a way that doesn't lead to unintended consequences."

The advisory panel's report made eight recommendations, including increased communication to deal with the "environment of fear" and "distrust."

The Pan-Atlantic Study of the Impact of Recent Changes to Employment Insurance also called for the reinstatement of the Best 14 Weeks pilot project, which based benefits on a claimant's highest 14 weeks of insurable earnings in a given year.