EI changes won't 'force people to go to Alberta'

Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield is defending a lack of consultations on federal budget cuts related to his department in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield says the Harper government's planned reforms to the Employment Insurance program are not intended to force people to leave their communities to find work.

Ashfield was clarifying the federal government's planned changes to the Employment Insurance program and what they will mean for New Brunswickers.

Ashfield said people will no longer be able to turn down job opportunities within an hour's drive if they expect to collect benefits.

“It's not to force people to go to Alberta, it's not to force people to, you know, drive for four hours, or move away from their home community. That's not the intent at all,” Ashfield said.

Ashfield said he believes that's a reasonable requirement that will help fill vacant positions appropriate to a worker's skill level.

The federal government has not completely laid out its plans for reforming the Employment Insurance system.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley would not confirm on Saturday whether planned changes to Employment Insurance will target repeat users.

But Finley said the details will be announced "soon."

In an interview with Evan Solomon on CBC's The House, Finley was asked several times about a report that said upcoming changes to EI will require repeat users to accept lower-paying jobs than people using the program for the first time.

Finley did not say the report was wrong when asked about it, but she did not confirm its content.

The budget implementation bill refers to changes that are going to be made in the criteria for defining what is suitable work for EI recipients and for defining what are reasonable efforts to find work.

EI recipients must show on an ongoing basis that they are looking for work in order to qualify for the benefit.

The rumoured changes are causing uncertainty in areas that have high levels of seasonal employment.

Marie-Paul Martin, the owner of Camp Beausejour, said she depends on seasonal workers to keep the 300-unit campground running smoothly.

Martin said she is worried about possible changes to Employment Insurance that would force people to move to regions for work.

Some of her employees have been with her for eight years and she said she needs them to keep coming back.

"They know the infrastructure of my park. They know how to proceed with the schedules of everything. They know how to help the people,” she said on Friday.

“They know how to solve the problems and all of a sudden these people may be forced to move somewhere and next year well what am I going to do I won't have anyone with experience working here and that's going to be really rough.”