Atlantic Premiers are all riled up about changes to Employment Insurance, again. Seasonal, resource-based jobs cannot survive without EI supporting workers through the off-season. These industries, the Premiers contend, are vital to Canada, and, thus, it is worth it to have the federal government subsidizing them lest they wither and die.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale gets to the heart of the matter:
Ms. Dunderdale noted that fishing is a $1-billion industry in her province. But fishery workers are seasonal – and given the changes, they will have to look for full-time work elsewhere.
“A lot of these people are living on $18,000 to $20,000 a year,” she says.
“But they are critical to the success of our seasonal industries. If these industries are going to succeed, then they will have to bring in temporary foreign workers … so where’s the balance there. Whose interest are we serving?”
These industries do not pay a living wage, and they will lose all their workers (and the province much of its population), if their employees leave the region for greener pastures. There’s no explanation as to why a billion-dollar industry can’t afford to pay a true market wage that will ensure that their business will survive. There’s no demand by politicians that the costs of these industries be born by the industry, itself. Instead, it’s just subsidy after subsidy after subsidy.
And that is the point. The Premiers can dress this up as trying to help the workers. Activists can claim that we are duty-bound to help out struggling citizens. Such may be the case, but that’s not what the old EI system did. It was an aid – a crutch – for industry. It was, by effect, collusion between government and industry. The Tories did the right thing by addressing this matter. If these industries can’t survive without government picking up half the payroll, then these industries shouldn’t survive. There are very few industry in which the government will, willy-nilly, become a co-employer of the entire workforce.
It is ludicrous that it is the federal government that is considered hard-hearted in this debate. The government has a robust EI system. They offer training subsidies and employment counselling. It is the industry members who are unwilling to construct a business model that doesn’t totally impoverish their workforce. It is corporations that are at the root of the hardship, not the feds.
The Premiers, of course, are not necessarily concerned with justice or economics. They have governments to run and elections to win. They must focus not only on keeping votes, but on keeping people in their provinces. An honest and fair EI system would likely disrupt the status quo and lead to even greater migration across Canada.
Many would think it a shame. There is great pride in East Coast communities. There is a great valuing of the people, the culture and the history. Economics and modernity threaten aspects of the community. It is quite sad that the populations in some towns and provinces may decrease, but sentimentality will only get us so far. Though it may be a shame, it is not an argument to make the rest of Canada bankroll your sense of community.