As the Employment Insurance program (EI) nears its 70th anniversary, for many workers in Canada—now facing an indefinite recession marked by massive job loss—there is very little to celebrate. Since its inception in 1940, the EI program (formerly known as Unemployment Insurance) has undergone numerous and significant changes. Although expanded greatly during the 1950s and again in 1971, changes introduced since the late 1970s have made workers’ access to regular benefits increasingly difficult.
To say that many of the EI program reforms since the late 1970s has been a contentious policy issue would be an understatement. Workers have found themselves caught in the middle of an ideological debate as to what the federal government’s role and responsibility on unemployment should be, and who bears ultimate responsibility. Yet, with the EI program a shadow of its former self, it is evident that one side of this debate is winning.