How to make EI fairer

Posted on May 3, 2009 in Debates, Equality Debates, Social Security Debates – Opinion – How to make EI fairer
May 03, 2009

Unsurprisingly, the latest figures from Statistics Canada show a sharp increase in the number of Canadians receiving employment insurance benefits to 610,150, up 34 per cent from a year ago.

But with 1.4 million unemployed in Canada, that means only 43 per cent of them are receiving benefits.

There are reasons for this, as Grant Bishop and Derek Burleton of TD Economics note in a special report. Many of the jobless have not paid employment insurance premiums, because they were long-term unemployed or self-employed. Others do not qualify for benefits because they quit voluntarily.

But that still leaves 20 per cent of them – or one in five – not receiving benefits even though they have paid premiums and been laid off.

Much of this under-coverage is due to regional discrepancies in the required number of hours worked in the past year in order to qualify for benefits. That number is low in Atlantic Canada and high from Ontario westward. “Flattening” the system to reduce or remove these discrepancies would make it fairer and expand coverage, say the TD economists. “The truth of the matter is that during an economic downturn, it is no easier to find a job in a region with lower prevailing unemployment than in one with a higher unemployment rate.”

The logic of this is inescapable, except for the federal government. Defending the status quo, Diane Finley, federal minister of human resources, says: “Unfortunately, that is the way the system is, and everyone has agreed that this is not the time to overhaul it.”


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