POLITICS

EI woes could soon end for northern Cape Breton

11/07/2012 02:12 EST | Updated 01/07/2013 05:12 EST
Some people in northern Cape Breton have received letters and calls that the federal government is reviewing their Employment Insurance claims, prompting hope that some claims may soon be reinstated.

About 30 people in the community of Bay St. Lawrence have received notices from the federal government.

"They're saying they're starting over and it's only 2012 they're looking into right now. Basically they just want to get everybody's EI rolling for this year," said Clayton MacKinnon, the chief of the Bay St. Lawrence Volunteer Fire Department.

"Then they're going to go over the previous years where everybody filed appeals from 2008 to 2010. They said that's going to take a lot more time."

MacKinnon said people in the community were told that in about 10 days, they will know if their Employment Insurance claim for this year will be approved.

About 60 people had their Employment Insurance claims rejected this fall after the federal government launched an investigation and deemed some of the claims "suspicious."

Service Canada said a multi-year investigation found claimants were working for family members and not maintaining the required arm's-length relationship between employers and employees.

The agency threatened to recover funds from the claimants if allegations of misconduct are proven.

MacKinnon said without Employment Insurance, people are feeling the financial pinch.

"I had a few people come to me saying they had bill collectors calling and they just have to put them off because they got have money to pay for their bills," he said.

Many people in the community haven't had an income since early August when the crab fishing season ended, said MacKinnon.

"They just want to get everybody that is eligible back on EI for this year so at least they can have some money and some income coming in for their families," he said.

Liberal MP Mark Eyking said he's happy the federal government is looking at restoring some benefits, but is not happy with the way the government handled the file.

"They just assumed that the whole community is doing illegal activity. This should be investigated by the Auditor General and how the CRA has dealt with this community," he said.

Service Canada said would not comment on the case, except to say the investigation is continuing.