Funds for job retraining on first ministers agenda
TheGlobeandMail.com – national – Funds for job retraining on first ministers agenda: Some provinces will also ask for EI reform at next week’s meeting, as the economic downturn causes unemployment to rise
January 9, 2009. BRIAN LAGHI AND KAREN HOWLETT
OTTAWA AND TORONTO — Ottawa and the provinces are cobbling together an agreement to spend more money to retrain unemployed Canadians as the country braces for sobering news today about the national jobless rate, and some hard-hit provinces are seeking changes to the employment insurance program in next month’s budget.
A group of officials from various departments of Labour and Human Resources will make recommendations for the premiers and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss at next week’s first ministers meeting. It’s not clear whether the first ministers will come up with a dollar amount or simply agree in principle that cash must flow.
One provincial source said it is more likely the first ministers will agree on enhanced training programs rather than changing EI to make it easier for individuals to qualify for benefits or to increase the amount of benefits.
“I think that the federal government agrees that, at least for a couple of years, there’s a need to provide additional funding for active training,” the source said.
General Motors has announced that it is cutting the third shift on the Impala line in Oshawa, Ont. \\
The federal government is leery of making the EI program more generous because it would be politically difficult to tighten criteria or reduce benefits when the economy recovers. The provincial source said the new retraining program would last two years.
Sources also said a number of premiers outside of Central Canada – which has been hardest hit by job losses – want money put into training rather than benefits because their provinces have not suffered severe job losses and are still looking for skilled workers.
“We really don’t have significant layoffs in Western Canada yet,” the source said.
Economists expect new Statistics Canada figures to be released today to show an increase in unemployment in December to 6.5 per cent from 6.3 per cent in November.
An Ontario government source said the appeal of having Ottawa inject money into training programs is that it can be done relatively quickly.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has long complained that people in his province must work longer to qualify for benefits and that they receive, on average, $4,600 less a year than those in other provinces. Benefits are tied to the unemployment rate in a town or city and the EI system has been criticized for penalizing those who lose their jobs in regions with low unemployment and favouring regions with seasonal workers, such as Atlantic Canada.
Mr. McGuinty’s plea is taking on new urgency as Ontario’s manufacturing heartland feels the brunt of the economic slowdown. The province shed 66,000 jobs in November, the single largest monthly loss in at least three decades.
As of October, 149,440 people in Ontario were collecting EI, up 18.4 per cent from October, 2007, the biggest increase in Canada, according to Statscan. But British Columbia – a province hit hard by job losses in forestry – was not far behind, with 43,480 residents on EI, up 18.2 per cent.
B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen said he has had no indication from Ottawa that they will entertain changes, but he has been pressing for extensions on behalf of forestry workers whose benefits run out this month.
“That’s not something the federal government would share with the provinces, necessarily, before an announcement was made, but we are urging the federal government to show some flexibility with regard to EI,” Mr. Hansen said yesterday in Victoria.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said yesterday that he will urge Mr. Harper to invest in infrastructure projects. But he also said he supports the push for changes to EI because this is the first time Canada is going through an economic downturn since changes to the program in 1996 left many no longer eligible for benefits.
With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria
Who is eligible for EI?
Anyone who has been out of a job for at least seven days and has not made a claim for benefits in the last 52 weeks. But the number of hours needed to qualify and how long a person can remain on EI depend on where the individual lives and the unemployment rate in that region.
The threshold for eligibility ranges from 420 hours to 700 hours of work, and benefits can be paid from 14 to 45 weeks. There is a two-week waiting period before benefits are paid.
Contract workers, people who are self-employed, as well as new entrants into the labour force such as immigrants are not eligible.
In Ontario, only 30 per cent of unemployed individuals received EI benefits in 2007, according to Statistics Canada. In Atlantic Canada, by comparison, virtually everyone who lost their jobs in Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick received benefits. Statscan figures show that residents of Ontario received an average of $5,120 in benefits in 2007, the lowest of any province. Newfoundlanders received an average of $18,490, putting them at the top of the list.
In want of a job
Most of the people receiving Employment Insurance in Canada reside in Ontario and Quebec, where manufacturing has been hard hit.
NUMBER OF BENEFICIARIES RECEIVING REGULAR BENEFITS SEASONALLY ADJUSTED % CHANGE OCT. ’07 TO OCT. ’08
Canada 487,040 6.3%
Nfld./Labr. 36,110 1.3%
PEI 7,860 1.2%
Nova Scotia 27,400 0.9%
New Brunswick 29,520 -0.3%
Quebec 155,430 -2.4%
Ontario 149,440 18.4%
Manitoba 10,490 7.9%
Saskatchewan 8,300 -4.8%
Alberta 17,160 8.2%
British Columbia 43,480 18.2%
Yukon 860 17.8%
NWT 640 3.2%
Nunavut 350 2.9%
THE GLOBE AND MAIL; SOURCE: STATISTICS CANADA