Nova Scotia

AG should probe EI crackdown, Cape Breton MP says

An employment insurance crackdown in Nova Scotia should be investigated by Canada's auditor general, Liberal MP says.

Ottawa unfairly targeting Bay St. Lawrence, Liberal claims

Some fishermen face massive bills for old EI claims. (CBC)

An employment insurance crackdown in Nova Scotia should be investigated by Canada’s auditor general, according to a Liberal MP.

Mark Eyking, the representative for Sydney-Victoria in Cape Breton, said more than 70 fishermen have been ordered to repay about $2.5 million for claims dating back years.

Eyking says he’s never heard of such a widespread crackdown in any other community. He held a public meeting in Bay St. Lawrence Tuesday. He said fishermen there have been unfairly singled out.

"To go after this community and intimidate them and harass them — it’s almost like they’re driving them out of these fishing communities and I believe it’s an agenda," he said.

Many locals fear more claims for repayment may be coming.

Most were retroactively disqualified because they worked for relatives. But locals say everyone is related in such small communities. They don’t understand what changed.

$175K bill for crew of five

Anthony MacKinnon and his crew of his wife, two sons and a brother-in-law owe $175,000.

"I don’t know why they’re just hitting this community because it’s pretty well done in every community. Everybody keeps their own family members fishing with them. I don’t know why this community was hit so hard," he said.

The community set up its first food bank last winter after dozens of people were denied employment insurance.

Archie MacKinnon said it was difficult.

"I had to get rid of my animals last year. I couldn’t afford to keep them," he said. "I usually raise a hog, a few chicks and put in a little garden. The food bank really helped me last year. It wasn’t too good."  

Hard winter approaching

A year later, people say the situation is just as bleak. Many have appeals pending, but are facing massive bills. They feel no one from Ottawa has explained what they did wrong.

Eyking believes it’s a test for a wider policy.

He wants the auditor general to investigate whether the rules have been applied fairly in Cape Breton. Meanwhile, fishermen prepare to file new claims this winter, not knowing if they’ll be approved.