The plan to overhaul the Employment Insurance program proves the federal government is out of touch with Canada's regional realities, says Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale.
In an interview Friday with CBC Power & Politics host Rosemary Barton, Dunderdale called the lack of consultation with provinces on the EI revamp "disturbing."
"There seems to be a real disconnect between what the federal government is trying to achieve and the reality of peoples' lives in rural parts of the country — particularly here in Newfoundland and Labrador," she said.
Under planned changes to the EI regime, recipients will be forced to broaden their job search and accept work with lower wages the longer and more frequently they claim EI benefits.
Dunderdale said those changes will have a direct and negative impact on the many seasonal workers in her province — most of them working in fisheries. With a half-million people spread out over a vast, coastal area, she says it just isn't feasible for people to pick up and move to another community to chase work.
"When the industry closes down because the season has closed, then there's not somewhere to travel to," she said.
Dunderdale also took issue with remarks by Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose, who referred to an online dating site when she tweeted the EI changes are "like 'eHarmony' for job seekers and employers: matching [Canadians] looking for work with available jobs, data, support."
"Such a statement offends me — truly it does," Dunderdale said. "All of us want to work towards the goals of having long-term, sustainable employment for our citizens that pays a living wage. But there are challenges, and you have to realize what people are living with every day, in their communities, in their homes, and the challenges that they have to face in terms of making the transition from part-time to full-time employment."
Premier wants meeting with Harper
Dunderdale said food production around the world is usually supported by governments, and that EI has become the de facto support program for Canada's fisheries sector.
While there can be a debate over whether that's the best way to support the industry, she called it "troublesome" that the program would be revamped before another support is introduced.
Many Newfoundlanders were "co-opted" out of high school in the 1970s and 1980s because there was a labour supply required in the fisheries. With the industry now in transition, an early retirement program for fishers in cooperation with the province is the best way to ease the "draw-down" of EI benefits.
Acknowledging the federal government has done "good things" that respond to the aspirations and needs of Newfoundlanders, Dunderdale also accused the federal government of not listening on key issues that are particularly sensitive to the province, such as search-and-rescue resource needs.
She has requested a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to detail her concerns.
"We expect our government to be responsible. They do have responsibilities to all of the people of this country of which we are a part. And whether we vote for you or you don't vote for you, you are the providers of a number of services and providers to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador," she said.