Our unemployed get less from EI

TheStar.com – Federal Election – Our unemployed get less from EI
September 28, 2008

In his letter to federal party leaders last week, Premier Dalton McGuinty again makes reference to ongoing discrimination against Ontario workers in the federal Employment Insurance (EI) program.

“Under the current EI program, unemployed Ontario workers get an average of $4,630 less in EI support than workers living in other parts of Canada,” writes McGuinty.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dismissed McGuinty’s argument, however. “It’s not true that there are rules in Employment Insurance that discriminate against Ontario,” he said earlier in the federal election campaign. “There are rules that assist more economies that have higher or seasonal unemployment rates. As patterns of employment change, those rules apply as much to Ontario as to any other province.”

That sounds reasonable; provinces with higher unemployment rates than Ontario’s get more benefits per unemployed worker, presumably because it is harder to find work in those jurisdictions.

But the facts do not support Harper’s case. For Ontario has a significantly higher unemployment rate than each western province (6.3 per cent here vs. 3.5 per cent in Alberta, 3.9 per cent in Manitoba, 4.3 per cent in British Columbia and 4.5 per cent in Saskatchewan); yet the average level of benefits per unemployed worker is higher in all those provinces, even in booming Alberta.

How can this be? The EI rules are skewed against self-employed and contractual workers and against new entrants in the labour force, such as immigrants. And Ontario has a disproportionate number of such workers.

As well, while there are many seasonal workers in Ontario – in construction and tourism, among others – they are not accommodated under EI as other seasonal workers are in the Atlantic provinces.

With the potential for a deepening economic slump in Ontario, this debate is more than just a numbers game for politicians. Rather, it is about human hardship for the unemployed in this province, who are being shortchanged by a combined amount of $2.1 billion annually.

“That’s money that would help parents who have lost a job pay the mortgage, buy groceries and get the training they need to get back into the workforce,” McGuinty says.

Faced with this information and McGuinty’s letter, federal party leaders now have two choices: They can acknowledge the problem and promise to fix it if elected, or they can tell Ontario workers they count less than workers in other provinces.

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