For Immediate Release
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Unemployed to Harper and Kent: “EI repairs needed now, not an election”
Prime Minister’s lack of leadership on EI could cost Canadians and economy $300 million
TORONTO—On Wednesday morning, hundreds of laid-off workers demonstrated outside of the constituency office of The Honourable Peter Kent, the only federal cabinet minister from Toronto. It was the fourth rally to fix the Employment Insurance program held since March by the Good Jobs for All Coalition – an alliance of more than 35 community, environmentalist, labour and student groups representing people throughout the Greater Toronto Area.
“We have one message for Prime Minister Stephen Harper: fix EI now,” said Fa Lim, a former employee of Progressive Moulded Products (PMP) who was laid off last June along with 2,400 of his former co-workers and spoke as a representative of the Good Jobs For All Coalition. “It’s the same message that we’ve have been trying to deliver since before the budget in January, and we need you to make sure the Prime Minister finally listens Mr. Kent.”
The Good Jobs For All Coalition and, recently, all three federal opposition parties in the House of Commons have been calling on the Harper government to fix EI by:
- lowering the qualifying threshold to 360 hours worked for everyone across the country;
- restoring benefits to at least 60% of normal earnings using each worker’s best 12 weeks; and
- eliminating the two-week waiting period.
Laid-off workers and concerned community members who participated in the demonstration responded to last week’s comments by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he would prefer to have another election rather than implementing the Good Jobs For All Coalition’s main recommendations for fixing EI.
“Those who lost their jobs near the beginning of this recession are running out of EI benefits, but they still can’t find work,” said John Cartwright, President of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council. “For over 425,000 unemployed Ontarians who are still not getting EI because the rules are too restrictive, fixing EI is about whether they can make their mortgage payments and feed their families, so there’s no time for Mr. Harper’s trademark partisan political games. There is a $57 billion surplus. If Prime Minister Harper expects us to believe he’s serious about providing stimulus to jump start an economic recovery, he must fix EI now—not next week, not next month, not after an election, but today.”
At the end of March, a public opinion poll conducted by Harris-Decima found that the majority of Canadians – throughout all regions of the country and across income brackets – believe that the scope of employment insurance should be expanded.
- The three largest municipalities in York Region have now passed motions calling for Employment Insurance to be repaired: City of Vaughan Council - April 14, 2009, Town of Markham Council - April 28, 2009, Town of Newmarket Committee of the Whole - May 19, 2009 (expected to be ratified by Council on May 25). Vaughan and Markham make up the majority of The Honourable Peter Kent's constituency.
- The EI fund surplus held by the Government of Canada was $57 billion ($56,952,606,000) as at March 31, 2008, the most recent figure available.
Public Accounts of Canada for 2007-2008, Vol. I (page 4.16)
- In a February 2005 report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, then Official Opposition HRSDC critic Peter Van Loan said:
“The Conservative Party believes that the government needs to be held accountable for the cumulative balance in the Employment Insurance account which continues to grow year after year, despite repeated objections by the Auditor General that it violates the Employment Insurance Act.” (page. 71).
“We believe that the slate must not be wiped clean. It is important to all contributors that the government be held accountable. The ‘notional surplus’ (now $46 billion) has been tracked for a reason – that is to recognize what contributors have paid into Employment Insurance. The Conservative Party believes that this surplus is the property of those who have made the contributions to Employment Insurance – the workers and employers of Canada.” (page. 72)
Restoring Financial Governance and Accessibility in the Employment Insurance Program
- The accumulated EI surplus under the Conservative government has increased $6.2 billion. It was $50.8 billion as at March 31, 2006.
- According to the Public Accounts of Canada 2008 report that was prepared by the Receiver General for Canada, “The Employment Insurance Act provides for a compulsory contributory employment insurance program applicable to all employees and employers, with few exceptions.”
- The latest EI coverage data for February 2009 that was released by Statistics Canada on April 28, confirm that only 43% of unemployed people throughout Canada and less than one-third of unemployed Ontarians are receiving EI benefits. These coverage rates remain unchanged from December 2008, despite the fact that 107,000 full-time jobs have been lost during the same period in Ontario alone.
- A general election in Canada costs approximately $300 million. At the current maximum of only $447 per week, the same amount of money would pay for EI benefits for 112,000 unemployed people for six weeks.
For more information, please contact:
Ken Marciniec, Communications Coordinator, Good Jobs For All Coalition, 416-803-6066, [email protected]; or
John Cartwright, President, Toronto and York Region Labour Council, 416-999-5663.