'A big blind spot': Seasonal workers left out of federal emergency benefit program

Liberal MP and federal finance committee chair Wayne Easter says he's pushing to get seasonal workers included in a federal program intended to help Canadians losing income because of COVID-19. 

MP Wayne Easter says many Islanders are running out of EI, with seasonal jobs in jeopardy

Malpeque MP Wayne Easter says he's hearing from many seasonal workers worried there won't be federal supports in place for them if their jobs don't go ahead. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Wayne Easter says he is pushing to get seasonal workers included in a federal program intended to help Canadians losing income because of COVID-19.

Easter is the Liberal member of parliament for Malpeque, P.E.I., and chairs the federal finance committee.

The criteria to qualify for $500 a week through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, or CERB, was posted online earlier this week by the federal government. 

"The benefit is only available to individuals who stopped work as a result of reasons related to COVID-19," says the program's website. 

"If you are looking for a job but haven't stopped working because of COVID-19, you are not eligible for the benefit.

Easter said the wording has prompted endless calls to his office from Islanders who were counting on seasonal jobs starting soon but are now in jeopardy because of the pandemic. 

'There's a lot of confusion'

Easter said people are worried they'll have no financial support from the federal government. 

Liberal MP Wayne Easter says up until a few days ago, he thought seasonal workers would be included in the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

"Many of them have actually run out of employment insurance and are operating with practically no income at the moment," said Easter. "So we have to address that concern."

He said up until a few days ago, he was certain seasonal workers would qualify for the $500 weekly payment, which can be accessed for up to 16 weeks. 

"All I can say at this point in time is there's a lot of confusion around that one," he said. "The intent of us all was to see those people are looked after, because they [may] lose their opportunity to work as a result of COVID-19."

'A little bit of panic' 

Egan Boire says he's among many students hoping the program's qualifying criteria are widened. 

Eagan Boire, a third-year engineering student at UPEI, says he and many other students have seasonal jobs lined up that are in jeopardy because of COVID-19. (Eagan Boire/Zoom)

Boire is a third-year engineering student at UPEI about to finish his semester. He was planning to start a job at Veterans Affairs Canada in a few weeks, but that is now up in the air. 

"A little bit of panic obviously. We've all got bills at this point," said Boire.

"I've talked to at least half a dozen people that had positions they were previously offered that have been rescinded. It's hitting a lot of people."

However Boire and others may be able to access new funding announced Thursday by the P.E.I. government. 

Under the COVID-19 special situations fund, Islanders who don't qualify for other supports may be eligible for up to $1,000 after April 16th. 

Boire said while he's "happy to see the province recognize the groups that were falling through the cracks,"  the federal emergency benefit would provide more steady support. 

"Hopefully they see there's a big blind spot in this [federal] program," he said. 

Apply anyway, says Easter 

Easter said the federal finance committee he chairs is "trying to straighten that out."

In the meantime, he's advising students and other seasonal workers to go online and start an application for the emergency response benefit, in hopes they will eventually qualify. 

The federal government will start accepting applications on Monday. 

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.

  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.


Steve Bruce

Video journalist

Steve Bruce is a video journalist with CBC P.E.I. He landed on the Island in 2009, after stints with CBC in Fredericton, St. John's, Toronto and Vancouver. He grew up in Corner Brook, N.L.


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