Changes to EI would likely hit Atlantic Canadians the most

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Atlantic Canada's premiers are weighing-in on the Employment Insurance reform firestorm.

They're worried — and they probably should be.

According to an article in the Globe and Mail, the premiers of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are warning Ottawa that it is wading into very dangerous political waters on EI reform, calling for a public debate on the highly sensitive issue of seasonal work.

"The only thing I am asking is that they realize that in January in Prince Edward Island we are not growing potatoes and we're not catching lobsters, which are two of our largest industries," Premier Robert Ghiz told the Globe.

While most Canadians see the EI system as a temporary financial assistance, there are thousands of seasonal workers — particularly in Atlantic Canada — that use it as an annual income support program.

In a blog post he wrote for the Globe last fall, economic development consultant David Campbell says the discrepancy between EI usage in Atlantic Canada versus the rest of the country is remarkable.

"According to Statistics Canada, in 2009 across the country there were 16 persons reporting EI income for every 100 reporting employment income. In New Brunswick, the ratio was over 26 per 100, on Prince Edward Island 31 per 100 and in Newfoundland and Labrador the ratio was close to 30 per 100," Campbell wrote.

"The routine of working part of the year and collecting EI for the duration has become a dominant labour force characteristic in many communities and this has broader implications for the economy as a whole."

If you're wondering why the Stephen Harper government is motivated to change the EI rules, you don't have to look much further than Atlantic Canada.

Ratio of EI Income Recipients to Employment Income Earners (2009) per 100 Employment Income Earners

Canada 15.9
Newfoundland and Labrador 36.7
Prince Edward Island 31.1
Nova Scotia 21.3
New Brunswick 26.1
Quebec 20.3
Ontario 14.2
Manitoba 12.1
Saskatchewan 10.8
Alberta 11.2
British Columbia 13.6

EI Payments (total) by Province — Per Capita (2009)

Canada $580.4
Newfoundland and Labrador $1,916.9
Prince Edward Island $1,509.2
Nova Scotia $822.4
New Brunswick $1,111.9
Quebec $698.2
Ontario $506.4
Manitoba $374.9
Saskatchewan $388.7
Alberta $445.3
British Columbia $478.1

(Source:  David Campbell's website compiled from Statistics Canada CANSIM Table Table 111-0007.)