Teresa Wright - TC Media
The four Atlantic premiers pose for an official photo during meetings in Nova Scotia Monday. Attending are, from left, New Brunswick Premier David Alward, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale, Nova Scotia NDP Premier Darrell Dexter, and P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz.
The four Atlantic premiers have formulated a new plan to try to send the message to Ottawa its employment insurance reforms are not welcome.
The premiers met Monday in Nova Scotia and showed a united front opposing the Harper government’s EI changes.
They have now decided to study the effects of the changes as well as gather input from workers and businesses to offer suggestions for reforms that would better suit the seasonal economies that dominate this region.
“We’re actually going to go out, the four ministers responsible for this area and their departments… and talk to the workers, talk to the businesses to find out what’s working and what’s not working,” P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz said in a telephone interview with The Guardian.
“(They can) make suggestions to the federal government on how we can enhance the EI program to make sure that it doesn’t hurt our respective regions.”
All four premiers called on the federal government to suspend changes that have been made to the employment insurance program this year.
The changes specifically target frequent users and put a greater emphasis on claimants looking for and accepting available work, even if it is up to 30 per cent less than their previous salary and upwards of 100 kilometers from their home.
The premiers were critical of the lack of consultation prior to the changes, which began rolling out in January.
New Brunswick Premier David Alward said while individual objections by the Atlantic provinces haven’t persuaded the federal government to budge from its position, he is optimistic that it’s not too late for Ottawa to reverse their stance.
“I’m not in anyway naive enough to think it will be easy,” said Alward.
“But ... it is that important to the future of our region, our employees and our industries, especially our seasonal industries.”
Nova Scotia NDP Premier Darrell Dexter said the changes have deepened regional disparity at a time when the provinces are trying to work together on a range of economic issues.
“Unfortunately, the federal government has taken an off-ramp from co-operation and is creating hardship,” Dexter told a news conference.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale said fears that the changes would penalize workers have come to fruition.
“What we predicted would happen has happened and requires some kind of reversal or intervention,” the Progressive Conservative premier said.
Ghiz said they all agreed the changes are damaging to Atlantic provinces’ seasonal economies.
They hope the research they conduct with those being directly impacted by the changes will be carefully reviewed by the federal government and provide more insight into the concerns being raised repeatedly by leaders and citizens from across the region.
“We want to get the research together to try to influence the federal government to not design programs that impede our economic growth,” Ghiz said.
Federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley responded Monday by reiterating her past position that the changes will better connect Canadians with available jobs in their area.
“We know that every individual has unique circumstances and we will always take those into account,” Finley said in an email.
“All requirements and changes are reasonable, common sense efforts to help Canadians get back to work faster.”
The federal government estimates the changes will save $12.5 million this year and $33 million next year.
With files from the Canadian Press