Jobless numbers a call for action

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial – Jobless numbers a call for action
April 10, 2009

There is a jarring disconnect between the downward spiral of the economy and the Prime Minister’s upbeat pronouncements.

Canada is losing jobs faster than at any time since the painful recession of the early 1980s. Statistics Canada reported yesterday that the national unemployment rate has reached 8 per cent, with the country’s manufacturing heartland bearing the brunt of the bad news. At 8.7 per cent, Ontario’s rate is the highest outside the Atlantic provinces. Toronto’s 8.8 per cent unemployment jumped a half-point in a month, pushing it higher than any major city outside Ontario.

Nationally, some 357,000 people have lost their jobs since the downturn began last October.

In Edmonton yesterday, Harper shrugged off the figures and said his government is already putting an “awful lot of money” into supporting the unemployed and retraining them for different careers.

The numbers suggest otherwise. Remarkably, even as the number of unemployed rises, the percentage of the jobless who are collecting Employment Insurance (EI) is declining. Last December, 33 per cent of unemployed Ontarians received benefits. A month later, that figure had dropped to 31.84 per cent. The bottom line is that two out of three unemployed workers do not qualify for EI in this province. By contrast, 42.8 per cent of unemployed Canadians nationally qualify.

That’s because outdated and discriminatory rules set by Ottawa make it harder to qualify for EI in areas like Toronto and much of southern Ontario, where the economy was once healthier. But with economic activity slowing down dramatically in Ontario, the notion that a laid-off worker can bounce back to another job faster in this province than elsewhere is unsupportable.

The Prime Minister has obstinately refused to relax the requirements for EI. Indeed, his human resources minister, Diane Finley, has declared of the unemployed: “We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it.”

For many of these workers, the only recourse is to seek welfare. And welfare rules require recipients to strip themselves of most of their assets before qualifying – thereby further handicapping them when the economy eventually rebounds.

Harper persists in boasting that Canada is doing its fair share among G20 nations in stimulating the economy. But economic stimulus is about more than building infrastructure or cutting taxes. It’s also about keeping workers afloat when they lose their jobs through no fault of their own, so that they can continue to meet their basic expenses and, at the same time, keep money circulating in the economy.

The longer the Harper government waits to make EI more accessible, the more blame it will bear for letting workers down.

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