The Employment Insurance crutch

NationalPost.com – Opinion/Full Comment
August 16, 2010.   Jessica Hume

If there’s one thing I learned living abroad for more than two years, it’s that non-Canadians love Canada. They think we’re socialist; so much nicer than our neighbours to the south.

The grounds on which these feelings are based may be faulty, but our health care system and relatively low university tuition fees are just two examples that have led to our reputation as a country that truly takes care of its own.

And we do, don’t we. In fact, it seems the government takes such good care of us that taking care of ourselves has become optional. And if the number of 20-somethings in Toronto on employment insurance is any indication, a shameful number of us are opting out.

“If it wasn’t for EI, I would have to go out and find a job,” says DB, a 29-year-old man from Toronto who has an undergraduate degree in engineering from Waterloo University. He has been receiving EI for four months after losing a job at an airplane parts manufacturer. He receives $401 each week and works part time at an ice cream shop — the most hours he can work without having to give up EI.

If the spirit of social assistance is that it prevents the most disadvantaged among us from having to live below a minimum standard, then somewhere along the line, something has gone terribly wrong.

DB is not married; he has no dependents. He is educated and without physical or mental handicap. Though he is in his prime working years, the Canadian social assistance system allows him to ask not what he can do for himself or his country, but what his country can do for him. And when he lost his job, rather than picking himself up, working harder than before at finding — and keeping — another job, he decided to kick back and take it easy this summer, because hey, we’ve got him covered in the meantime.

“EI makes it so I don’t have to touch my savings,” he says.

Savings are not something with which I am personally familiar, but my understanding is that finding oneself suddenly unemployed is the exact predicament in which savings would come in handy, no?

Earlier this year the Conference Board of Canada released a study ranking developed countries’ economic and social performances. In the Innovation category, Canada was awarded a D, a grade qualified by the comparatively low number of patents filed and an inability to nurture and retain homegrown talent.

Can anyone be surprised? In the absence of any national ethos of hard work or competitiveness, young Canadians appear to harbour an alarming sense of entitlement, one the government encourages through an EI system that helps those unwilling to help themselves.

It is in the national interest to provide social assistance to those in need — citizens with mental or physical disabilities, newly unemployed people with children. But it is not in the national interest to coddle the demographic that should be working hardest — young, educated Canadians who are able-bodied and -minded.

These are difficult times, no doubt. The cost of living is up and employment opportunities are down. But we cannot retreat. Self-preservation and determination should drive young Canadians to work harder, innovate and create for ourselves the lives to which we feel so entitled. The effects would reach beyond individuals to society at large.

Until then, Canada will continue to be viewed as a Nice Guy country. And we all know where nice guys finish.

National Post

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