POLITICS

Opposition calls for release of EI analysis

07/31/2012 06:35 EDT | Updated 09/30/2012 05:12 EDT
The Opposition Liberals have demanded that the Alward government release its full analysis of the impact of Employment Insurance changes.

Premier David Alward has said repeatedly he's concerned by the changes, but hasn't gone publicly any further than that. "There's a lot of information that's not out there yet," he said in the spring.

Earlier this year, Alward appointed a committee of senior public servants to review planned EI changes. The committee met with various groups and individuals in the spring and early summer.

According to a spokesperson for the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, the EI committee completed its work several weeks ago, but nothing was made public.

The government said Tuesday that the committee that studied the impacts did not produce a report, leaving nothing to show the public.

Instead, the province released a four-week old letter from Labour Minister Martine Coulombe to her federal counterpart, Diane Finley, a letter based on the committee's findings.

It said that seasonal employers are worried their workers will leave for other jobs — forcing them to recruit and train replacements.

“Increased costs could be incurred for recruiting, training and retaining new workers and loss of productivity is expected as new staff is integrated into the businesses,” Coulombe wrote.

The letter then asked Ottawa to release its statistical model for calculating the impact on New Brunswick.

“…To ensure proposed changes to EI do not disadvantage seasonal industries or impede efforts to promote regional growth, we would ask that HRSDC share the model used to calculate the national and provincial impacts of the proposed reform," she wrote.

Coulombe also requested information sessions to better inform New Brunswickers of the changes. “I…urge your department to hold information sessions across New Brunswick for long-tenured workers, frequent claimants, occasional claimants, employers and the public in general.”

Liberal MLA Donald Arsenault said Coulombe's two-page letter is insufficient. "Clearly she must have more information than that [to] share with New Brunswickers,” he said.

Some workers have said they're getting letters from Ottawa about benefits changing later this summer, even though Alward's ministers have said the reforms won't take effect until next year.

Seasonal workers and NDP protest

On Sunday, close to 300 seasonal workers rallied in Saint-Quentin to demonstrate against the changes, which could see them go further afield to find jobs that pay 70 per cent of their previous wages.

The demonstrators said downsizing and layoffs in the foresty industry mean seasonal work is often the only option for them.

Provincial NDP Leader Dominic Cardy said he's just as frustrated as those who took to the streets in Saint-Quentin. "We hear from Stephen Harper the politics of division; we hear from David Alward absolutely nothing at all,” he said.

Other premiers in Atlantic Canada have been critical of some of the changes, accusing the federal government of ignoring seasonal workers.

The changes to the EI program will require EI claimants to take jobs farther from home and will scale back benefits for frequent users.