PEI

New EI zones for P.E.I. come into effect Sunday

P.E.I. will see more money in employment insurance payments under new rules coming into effect Sunday, but fewer Islanders will be receiving benefits, federal cabinet documents obtained through the Access to Information Act suggest.

Cash payments to go up, while number of recipients expected to drop in EI change

P.E.I. will see more money in employment insurance payments under new rules coming into effect Sunday, but fewer Islanders will be receiving benefits, federal cabinet documents obtained through the Access to Information Act suggest.

Charlottetown MP Sean Casey obtained the documents and shared them with CBC News.

On Sunday, P.E.I. will be split into two separate EI regions for administrative purposes. One region will encompass the capital area around Charlottetown, and the second will include the rest of the province. Benefit levels and the number of hours required to qualify for employment insurance will be set independently based on the unemployment rate in each region.

P.E.I.'s representative at the federal cabinet table, Egmont MP Gail Shea has maintained the change will make the EI system fairer for Island residents. But critics, including Casey, say the change was politically motivated.

"It's manifestly unfair," he said.

"Islanders don't appreciate one Islander being pitted against another. And here we have a case where in the middle third of the province, people are having the Government of Canada reach into their pocket to pass it out to people in other areas of the province."

According to the documents, if the changes had been in place throughout 2014, 620 people in Charlottetown who did receive benefits would not have. Outside the capital region, 550 unemployed people who did not receive benefits would have qualified.

While that would be a net loss for the province of 70 recipients, the documents say benefits paid out to people in the province would go up, with a $14.9 million increase in the P.E.I. zone and a $14 million decrease in the Charlottetown zone.

Other rural areas in Canada could benefit

The documents also include a list of 70 Canadian cities that are not separated into their own EI regions, noting that rural areas around many of those cities would also benefit if those regions were split the way P.E.I. is being divided.

The documents suggest cabinet consider maintaining P.E.I. as a single EI region, or requests could come in from other regions to receive similar treatment.

Gail Shea wasn't available for comment Friday, but a representative from her office said the change brings Charlottetown in line with every other capital.

The spokesperson said as a capital Charlottetown receives a number of benefits that these other cities do not receive including government jobs and the Veterans Affairs headquarters 

Casey argues if government wants to make Charlottetown equal to other provincial capitals the city should also have a passport office, an immigration office, and the local veteran's service centre which was shut down earlier this year.

In an email to CBC News the media relations office of Employment and Social Development Canada said, "A review of unemployment rates identified differences in labour market realities between capital and non-capital areas in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Prince Edward Island, prompting a redefinition of the current EI economic regions to capture ongoing divergences related to capital and non-capital areas  to account for differences in labour market conditions between the capital and non-capital areas effective October 12, 2014."

It is not clear in the documents released under the Access to Information Act, to Casey, who conducted the analysis.

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