PEI

New EI training program could lead back to single P.E.I. zone, says MP Casey

A new training program in the federal budget designed to fill the "black hole" in employment insurance benefits could provide an eventual solution to arguments over P.E.I.'s two EI zones.

EI 'black hole' filled with new training program

The new plan will provide training, and fill a pay gap, for seasonal workers. (CBC News)

A new training program in the federal budget designed to fill the "black hole" in employment insurance benefits could provide an eventual solution to arguments over P.E.I.'s two EI zones.

The budget includes $230 million over two years for the labour market development agreement to fund the program. The plan is over those two years to develop a long-term solution for what is known as the "black hole" for seasonal workers in industries such as tourism and fish processing.

Charlottetown MP Sean Casey wants to see a return to a single EI zone for P.E.I. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"This is a really, really big issue in the parts of Canada where the economy is seasonal," said Charlottetown MP Sean Casey.

A further $10 million is also being reallocated to provide immediate income support and training to affected workers.

Route back to single EI zone

In 2012 the then Conservative federal government cancelled a pilot project that ended five weeks of extra EI coverage in areas of high unemployment around the country.

That government provided a partial fix for some of P.E.I. when in 2014 it split the Island into two EI zones, which meant residents in rural parts of the Island could get benefits for a longer period of time having worked fewer hours.

In Charlottetown, however, workers would have to put in more hours than they did previously.

It is a change that does not sit well with the provincial government.

Heath MacDonald is hopeful the new plan will lead back to a single EI zone. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly.)

"We do have a seasonal industry on Prince Edward Island and we do want to make sure that everybody's on a fair playing field," said provincial Finance Minister Heath MacDonald.

Both MacDonald and Casey see that the new program could eventually lead to a single EI zone again for P.E.I.

Currently, the four Liberal MPs on the Island are split on returning to the single zone, with Egmont MP Bobby Morrissey supporting the status quo.

Changing P.E.I. back into a single zone for determining eligibility for employment insurance would hurt residents in rural P.E.I., says Egmont MP Bobby Morrissey. (CBC)

"That five-week was something that fixed the black hole. If there's some other way to fix it, then that clears the way for us to go back to one zone," said Casey.

"Until all of the Prince Edward Island members of Parliament are on the same page the government is not particularly interested in moving to one zone."

Casey said he personally would favour a return to the five-week extension for areas of high unemployment.

Corrections

  • This story previously attributed a Sean Casey quote to Bobby Morrissey.
    Feb 28, 2018 10:28 AM AT

With files from Kerry Campbell

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