01/09/2013 12:13 EST | Updated 03/11/2013 05:12 EDT

Conservative MP Goguen ducks EI reform questions

Robert Goguen cut short a media interview on Tuesday after journalists asked the Conservative MP about the federal government’s contentious changes to the Employment Insurance program.

The Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe MP visited Moncton’s YMCA on Tuesday to announce new funding for the facility.

But when reporters asked him about the controversial EI reforms, Goguen said seasonal workers should have patience with the EI system and the system is there for those who need it.

He then walked away from reporters without answering more questions.

Linda Melanson, a long-time lobster plant worker in southeastern New Brunswick, protested outside of Goguen’s Moncton office last week.

She said Goguen’s brief public comment on the issue doesn't give her much confidence the federal government will change its plans.

“What I saw and what he had to say was not much. He is not very concerned for us,” Melanson said.

Melanson said she is in the process of looking for a job.

Under the new EI changes, Melanson will have six weeks to find a new job and that job search may take her an hour away from her community and she may have to take a job that pays her less money.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said Service Canada is offering people help with job searches and that some exceptions could be made if transportation or jobs are not available.

Melanson said she’s already trying to find work in other parts of southeastern New Brunswick.

“There's no work, I even went where they sell computers … I said, ‘I'd go, I'd work.’ No we don't need anybody. You know. Give me a good job, I'm ready to go.”

If Melanson doesn't find a new job after six weeks she can qualify for EI benefits but the amount she will receive will decrease steadily.

EI reforms will have 'nasty impact'

Beauséjour Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc said Tory MPs, such as Goguen, owe it to their constituents to discuss how the changes will impact seasonal workers.

LeBlanc, who lost his first federal campaign in 1997 in part because of controversial EI reforms brought in by the former Jean Chrétien government, said the EI rules will have a “nasty impact on thousands of people in Atlantic Canada.”

“It's unfortunate that Conservative members of Parliament, who all voted for changes in the House of Commons, don't have the guts to face up to the people that they are hurting in such a negative way,” LeBlanc said.

The Liberal MP said the EI reforms are designed by bureaucrats and politicians to fit the economic reality in western Canada.

“If you're a seasonal worker who lives in Richibucto or Port Elgin and you suddenly have to accept a minimum wage job in Dieppe or Moncton on a night shift and you can't find child care and you don't have any access to public transit,” he said.

Premier David Alward was warned by a team of senior civil servants about the potential impact of the EI reforms last fall.

New Brunswick is one of the most heavily dependent provinces on Employment Insurance benefits.

In the last 24 months, there was an average of 35,019 EI clients each month, with the number reaching as high as 45,830.

There were 43,410 regular EI recipients in New Brunswick in March 2012, which represented 6.3 per cent of all EI beneficiaries in Canada. New Brunswick’s share of the population is 2.2 per cent.

Almost $1 billion worth of EI payments were sent to New Brunswick in 2010, which is significantly higher than the roughly $780 million in the three previous years.