Island man hopeful EI review will return P.E.I. to 1 zone

An Island man is hopeful a federal review of employment insurance zones on P.E.I. will result in a change from the current two-zone system back to one zone.

Charlottetown MP questions need for review, is frustrated that 2 zones remain on P.E.I.

Carl Phillis, a seasonal worker with the City of Charlottetown, says because of the EI zone he lives in, he's left worrying every year about whether he'll have enough hours to qualify, and whether the benefits he earns will be enough to live on. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

An Island man is hopeful a federal review of employment insurance zones on P.E.I. will result in a change from the current two-zone system back to one zone.

P.E.I. has been split into two zones since 2014. The switch, depending on where you live, means you have to work more hours to qualify for EI benefits than before.

For Carl Phillis, a seasonal worker with the city of Charlottetown, it's meant worrying every year about whether he'll have enough hours to qualify.

'It does affect your mental health'

"It does affect your mental health," said Phillis.  

"It is very very stressful because not only are you worried about 'How am I going to qualify' … [when] you finally get your EI then you've got to worry about — are you going to have enough to keep you going until the next work season starts.

"You're worried all-year-round."

According to Employment and Social Development Canada, the current review of EI zones that started in October 2018 will be fast-tracked — meaning it's slated to take two years instead of five.

Phillis has spent years lobbying politicians and raising awareness about how the two zones are negatively impacting Islanders in the Charlottetown area, and he's hopeful it'll switch back to one zone.

"So if it does sort of change for the better, great. Great for everybody. It would be even good for the government because it would prove to me that democracy does actually work," he said. 

"That the government is actually listening to the people, you know, and listening to their concerns."

Liberal MP Sean Casey says previous federal governments have made changes to EI zones in the midst of a review, and he feels that could be done again. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Charlottetown MP Sean Casey said he continues to hear from Islanders on the promise he made to restore the Island to one zone — and he too, is frustrated he hasn't been able to fulfil that yet.

"The one thing that I consistently get regardless of what's in the headlines is this: This is a commitment that we made during the last election on which we haven't delivered," said Casey.  

'Why do we have to wait for a review?'

He said the zones have been changed in the past in the midst of a review — so he questions the need to wait until the fall of 2020 for the results of another review.

"The last review was from 2013 to 2018, and in the middle of the review Gail Shea and Stephen Harper changed the zones," said Casey.

"So why do we have to wait for a review? Harper and Shea didn't. I'm quite frustrated with this. I hope that the review will include public input because so far there have only been two people who've publicly spoken in favour of the two zones. One was Gail Shea before the last election and the other is Bobby Morrissey after the election."

City of Charlottetown pushes for change 

This week, the city of Charlottetown passed a resolution to follow up with the federal government on the matter, asking for "fair and uniform" access to EI for all Islanders.

A similar resolution was passed in 2014, when changes to EI zoning were first announced.

More P.E.I. news 

About the Author

Jessica Doria-Brown


Jessica Doria-Brown is a videojournalist with CBC in P.E.I. Originally from Toronto, Jessica has worked for CBC in Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario.


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