04/04/2013 01:52 EDT | Updated 06/04/2013 05:12 EDT

EI reforms rejected by 62% of New Brunswickers, poll finds

The federal government’s controversial Employment Insurance reforms are opposed by 62 per cent of New Brunswickers, according to a new Corporate Research Associates poll.

The poll found the majority of Atlantic Canadians oppose the federal EI changes, but the fiercest opposition rests in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

In New Brunswick 62 per cent of those polled opposed the changes compared to 32 per cent, who said they supported the reforms, according to CRA.

Prince Edward Island saw 65 per cent opposed the changes and 57 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador were against the changes.

Nova Scotia is divided on the federal reforms, however. The poll showed 48 per cent supported and opposed the changes.

The poll surveyed 1,501 Atlantic Canadians, producing a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

CRA contacted 400 New Brunswickers, producing a provincial sample with a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The EI reforms have been met with a series of protests in New Brunswick and across the region.

However, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Human Resources Minister Diane Finley have remained committed to the changes.

The EI changes force frequent EI claimants to travel as far as 100 kilometres for a job and accept as much as 30 per cent less pay than their previous employment.

The federal government has also faced criticism over the home visits from bureaucrats to people on EI.

After the reforms were announced last year, Premier David Alward asked for a team of senior provincial officials to study the potential impact of the changes.

The report said it could cut benefits to roughly 465 people during peak periods and reduce the amount of EI benefits flowing into the province by $7 million annually.

In that report, the cultural and tourism sector expressed "grave concern for the potential loss of tourism seasonal staff."

Hunger strike ended

Maurice Martin, a fisherman from Aldouane, near Richibucto, ended his four-week hunger strike on Thursday against changes to the Employment Insurance program.

Martin works about 10 weeks a year fishing lobster and the rest of the time he relies on EI benefits.He said the reforms unfairly target seasonal workers, such as him.

Martin said health concerns forced him to end his hunger strike.

“My blood pressure was going up and down and I had a hard time with my stomach. So my wife said, ‘You went far enough.’ So I listened to her and I stopped,” he said.

Martin said he appreciates the support he received during his 28-day protest, but is disappointed government MPs didn't even bother to phone him.

Younger Atlantic Canadians divided on reforms

The CRA poll reported that younger Atlantic Canadians are more likely to support the federal government's changes to the EI system.

Across the region, 48 per cent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 supported the reforms and 48 per cent opposed them. Three per cent said they didn't know.

Opposition to the EI changes grew by age category. Of the respondents between 35 and 54 years of age, 56 per cent opposed the federal government's decision and 40 per cent supported the reforms.

And 59 per cent of people older than 55 were against the changes compared to 36 per cent who supported them, according to the CRA poll.