New Brunswick

Gallant calls for Alward to act amid EI protests

New Brunswick's Liberal leader says a growing number of protests about federal changes to the Employment Insurance program show the Alward government needs to be more vocal about the controversial reforms.

Liberal leader accuses Alward government of being 'Johnny-come-lately'

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant says a growing number of protests about federal changes to the Employment Insurance program show the Alward government needs to be more vocal about the controversial reforms.

More protests were held over the weekend, including one on the Acadian Peninsula, which attracted about 1,200 people.

Labour Minister Danny Soucy, who was among those who attended, was quoted as saying he understands the issue better now than he did in December when the Progressive Conservatives refused to sign a Liberal-drafted letter to the prime minister opposing the changes.

Soucy was unavailable for comment on Monday about whether his newfound understanding will lead him to put more pressure on the federal government to reverse the reforms.

But Gallant says Soucy and other provincial ministers should have grasped the impact of the changes long ago.

"It's a little disconcerting to say that months and months after the reform has been proposed, a month after the reform has been introduced, months after they had their own report, that they're finally starting to understand this file and the impacts," said Gallant.

"People in New Brunswick have been holding rallies, information sessions, for months explaining what this would do to them, what this would do to their communities, what this would do to their province. So it's a little Johnny-come-lately."

The EI reforms, announced in May, include requiring repeat claimants to accept jobs that could pay 30 per cent less than their normal wages and be located an hour's commute away.

Democracy at work

One man at the weekend rally told CBC News people losing their EI benefits may soon take matters into their own hands.

Gallant says the emotions are understandable.

"I can understand sometimes there's a bit of tension in the room, but at the end of the day this is a part of our democracy," he said.

The Alward government has said the reforms are bad for New Brunswick.

New Brunswick, which has a lot of seasonal industries, is traditionally one of the most heavily dependent provinces on the EI program. In the past year, there was an average of 35,019 EI clients each month, with the number reaching as high as 45,830.

The EI reforms could cut benefits to roughly 465 New Brunswickers during peak periods and reduce the amount of EI benefits flowing into the province by $7 million annually, according to briefing notes prepared for Alward.

The reforms could cause problems for many seasonal employers and spur on a further exodus from rural New Brunswick, according to the June 28 document, which was obtained by CBC News through the Right to Information Act.