New Brunswick

Provincial stats on repeat EI users needed, analyst says

The federal government says it can't provide detailed information on people who make repeated employment insurance claims in New Brunswick.

Economic development consultant says EI data on repeat, seasonal workers are needed

The federal government says it can't provide detailed information on people who make repeated employment insurance claims in New Brunswick.

Federal statistics indicate more than 91,000 New Brunswickers filed EI claims in 2011-12 and, of those, almost 38,000 were "seasonal" users of the program, people who use it every year.

The Department of Human Resources and Skills Development rejected a request from CBC News for documents outlining a provincial breakdown of how many people in each industry claim EI benefits annually.

However, there are national figures illustrating how many people claim benefits by industry.

One supporter of the federal government's EI reforms says the lack of information makes it more difficult to come up with new ways to deal with seasonal workers.

David Campbell, an economic development consultant in Moncton, said opponents to the EI changes often cite the need to protect strategic industries, such as tourism and forestry, which need seasonal workers.

Campbell said it's hard to have a smart debate on EI without knowing the numbers.

"The first question that we need to have answered is how many people are working in these so-called strategic industries that are collecting employment insurance each year?" he said.

"Once we know that, then we can start to look at a better set of data in terms of trying to do the analysis."

The EI changes force frequent claimants to travel as far as 100 kilometres for a job and accept as much as 30 per cent less pay than their previous employment.

After the reforms were announced last year, Premier David Alward asked for a team of senior provincial bureaucrats to study the potential impact of the changes on the New Brunswick economy.

The internal report said the changes could reduce benefits to roughly 465 people during peak periods and reduce the amount of EI benefits flowing into the province by $7 million annually.

EI reform ideas

The EI reforms have sparked protests around the province, particularly in areas with high levels of seasonal employment.

Campbell said there may be alternate measures the federal government could explore to help some of these people.

The economic development consultant said one idea is a new program, other than EI for repeat, seasonal workers. But he said it's hard to explore that concept without knowing how many people work in each industry.

The federal government says the data is "not available."

But Campbell said the data must exist given how much information EI claimants have to provide when they apply for benefits.

Liberal MLA Victor Boudreau, who opposes the EI reforms, said he always wants to see the data on EI claimants in order to have a more informed discussion about the changes.

"What do they base these decisions on that they don't have these types of breakdowns? That seems a bit particular to me that they wouldn't have those breakdowns," he said.