The PEI Coalition for Fair EI Rejects the Atlantic Premiers Panel Report
CHARLOTTETOWN – Upon reviewing the over 100-page report, the Coalition for Fair EI has agreed that the Atlantic Premiers Panel Report on the impact of the Employment Insurance Reform on the Atlantic Region was far from what they’d hoped for, but close to what they expected given the methods and context of the report. The authors of the Report, which was released on June 30th 2014, said that much of the fear comes from the way the changes were brought in and added that without detailed statistics, it was difficult to provide a detailed examination of the effects.
“This report is useless. After 11 months of work, the authors have not been able to tell us the impact of the EI Reform in PEI, which is enormous. By putting this Panel in place, the Premiers gave us the appearance of doing something. The Panel was created as a diversion. We are offended not only for the people we represent, but for all the residents of PEI who made presentations to the Panel”, said Lori MacKay, CUPE PEI President and Member of the Coalition.
From January to March 2013, the Coalition members organized 5 town hall meetings and met more than 600 people across PEI. In the fall of 2013, three additional town hall meetings were held in preparation for the Atlantic Premiers Panel. Through direct communication with those affected, it was eminently clear to the Coalition members that the negative impact was significant and that whole communities were being pushed to the brink of extinction. Additionally, the Panel received many briefs directly from PEI residents on the impact of the EI Reform. In its final Report, the Panel chose to ignore most of the contents of those presentations. Mayor David MacDonald was very clear with the Panel when he said “My town is dying, and I blame the federal government for murdering my community.”
Robert Morrissey, Former MLA from Sea Cow Pond who has been working with community members dealing with EI says that “the Advisory Panel Final Report on the Impact of Recent Changes to Employment Insurance on Atlantic Canada missed the point by focusing on the impact of the changes on the overall economy. The focus should have been on the impact the changes are having on the incomes of seasonal workers who depend on a fair employment insurance program to make ends meet. Unfortunately for them, their voices were left out and ignored.”
“What the PEI Coalition for Fair EI heard and subsequently the Atlantic Premiers Panel heard, was way more valid than what was in the Report. We did not hear statistics. We heard real life stories, which we feel were completely ignored by the Panel’s experts”, added MacKay.
The Coalition calls on Premier Ghiz to put more pressure on the other Atlantic Premiers and the Prime Minister to scrap the changes to an unfair Reform which is taking away millions of dollars from the PEI economy and hurting Island communities deeply. The Coalition will also launch a campaign in August to educate PEI residents and tourists about the real and serious impacts of the EI Reform.
We are including comments from various members of the EI Coalition.
“On behalf of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, we take seriously our commitment to represent the many individuals and communities who rely on Employment Insurance to supplement their seasonal and often already-low earnings. In response to the Atlantic Premiers’ Panel hearings, hundreds of Island employees and employers came out and spoke of their questions and concerns with the changes to EI. We were disappointed that the final report seemed to take very little account of what was shared with the Panel, in that people’s experiences were not respected and included as evidence. The lived impact of EI changes is evidence. And in this region, it is often evidence of suffering.” Jane Ledwell and Michelle Jay.
“Leo Broderick with the Council of Canadians says, “The ongoing changes to EI are a deliberate move by the federal government to force seasonal workers on PEI and elsewhere in the Atlantic region, to leave their communities and families for weeks and months at a time, to serve the development of the tar sands. The Atlantic premiers must be much more vocal regarding our migration from the region, and the negative impact this trend is having on communities and families. The report failed to address this issue. We must ask the question – Do our premiers see this as an easy form of economic development for their provinces as many of these migrant workers continue to pay income tax in their home provinces?”
“The PEI Working Group for a Livable Income (WGLI) has had daily contact with low income and seasonal working people who are victims of the Employment Insurance changes. WGLI presented to the Premiers’ Panel the voice and messages of hundreds of Islanders whose personal and community life is devastated by the unreasonable changes. It is beyond belief that the Panel’s Report would in effect ignore those voices in favour of the so-called “dataˮ. It is obvious that priority is given to number crunching. The WGLI submission to the Panel made it clear that the experiences of people also constitute “data”. Where the numbers did not seem to matter in the Report is found in the disproportion between the Report content and high level of engagement of Island residents in the Panel process. The scant coverage of PEI contribution to the Panel was puny compared to the engagement of the community in this issue.” Ann Wheatley and Marie Burge.
“This report did not address the problems that effected both workers and employers as it was presented in different areas of the province. Now is the time for the Atlantic Provinces to actually do something to reverse the changes that the Conservative government has made to the EI program” Carl Pursey, PEI Federation of Labour.
“One of the most disturbing aspects of the report is the Panel’s claim that most of the seasonal workers’ fear came from the way the EI changes were brought about. Yes, the changes were made in a very insensitive way. The main point, however, is that they should have never been made in the first place. The changes are unfair and unjust. The fear came from the punitive nature of the cuts. Suddenly, EI recipients were faced with income cuts of over $2,000 in many instances. It didn’t seem to matter that many low-income seasonal workers already couldn’t make ends meet. As a result of the changes, some of these workers have no income for up to 10 weeks from the end of their EI claim to the beginning of their job. The changes also took away Local EI Appeal Boards that made decisions on EI appeals in approximately 2 weeks, and replaced them with one tribunal which now takes up to 6 months or more to make a decision. Seasonal workers saw through this contradiction and of course they feared the consequences. The general nature of the panel’s criteria meant that it failed to focus on the negative financial impact the changes had on the individual. The panel let the people at the bottom of the economic ladder down badly by failing to document the significant negative economic impact the recent changes are having on the people most in need of Employment Insurance. Mary Boyd, MacKillop Centre for Social Justice and the PEI Coalition for a Poverty Eradication Strategy.