New Brunswick

Premiers talk unemployment as Saint John meeting wraps

Atlantic Canada's four premiers discussed unemployment and economic development as they wrapped up their two-day meeting in Saint John, N.B. on Monday.

The premiers signed a MOU on apprenticeship harmonization to help retain skilled workers

The four premiers discussed unemployment and economic development as part of two-day meeting 1:49

Atlantic Canada's four premiers discussed unemployment and economic development as they wrapped up their two-day meeting in Saint John, N.B. on Monday.

The premiers were asked why an urgent study they commissioned on EI last year is now seven months late.

Two years ago this month, the federal government announced sweeping changes to EI that all four Atlantic provinces strongly oppose.

More than a year ago, the Atlantic premiers commissioned a panel to study the impact of Employment Insurance changes on the region to convince Ottawa to change course. Last spring, they agreed to fast track a six-month study on the effect of those EI changes.

Thirteen months later, the report is still not done.

This week the premiers got to look at a draft report. But they say it will be a few more weeks before the panel releases the final document and they won't release details in the meantime.

"It's better to have a good report than a bad report and we don't want to rush things through,” said P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz.

EI contention

Ghiz said he wants changes to the Employment Insurance program reversed, regardless of what a report says about the impact those changes have had on Atlantic Canada.

Under some of the new rules, those who frequently claim EI need to prove they're actively seeking work. Workers must also accept a job within 100 kilometres of their home as long as they are qualified and the pay is at least 70 per cent of their previous salary.

"My demand in regards to EI has not changed, regardless of what this report is going to say," said Ghiz following the meeting Monday.

"If [the federal government] wants to change how the EI system in our country works, they should do it in consultation with the provinces," he said.

The premiers all say they still hope to convince Ottawa to change its course on EI when their report eventually comes out.

The office of federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney said he would like to know what info the panel is examining.

"We are curious to know on which data the panel is basing its report on as the Statistics Canada data and findings could not be more clear: far less than one per cent of EI disqualifications have to do with the federal government's changes to EI," Alexandra Fortier, a spokeswoman for Kenney, said in a statement.

They also called on the federal government to ensure the Temporary Foreign Worker Program respects the needs of all regions and economic sectors in Canada, including seasonal industries. 

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said the report was "a snapshot in time," adding that more work will be needed in the future to continue to measure the impacts of the EI changes.

McNeil and New Brunswick Premier David Alward said the report is a recognition that before changes are made to federal programs, Ottawa needs to speak to the provinces.

The changes to the EI program have prompted numerous protests across the region.

The federal government has said the changes would better connect people with available job opportunities and they were required as a result of unprecedented labour and skills shortages.

The changes to the program were expected to save the public treasury $33 million this year.

At the meeting the premiers also discussed improving transmission of energy resources such as oil and natural gas, hydro and wind and signed a Memorandum of Understanding on apprenticeship harmonization to help retain skilled workers.

Monday's meeting took place at Saint John’s Irving Oil refinery where the premiers toured the facility at the invitation of Arthur Irving himself. 

All of Canada's premiers meet in Charlottetown in August.

With files from the CBC