Mr. Minister, your employment insurance reform is neither modest nor reasonable!

It is difficult to make a minister see reason when he refuses to consider the everyday reality of Quebecers. That is the sad conclusion that I have come to after reading Minister Jason Kenney’s open letter to Quebecers on the employment insurance reform.

For months now, tens of thousands of people have gathered to tell the government that the EI reform is going in the wrong direction. For weeks, organizations from across Quebec came to testify before the Employment Insurance Commission with detailed analyses, quantified studies and serious situations. When more and more citizens are giving up their right to benefits because the system has become too complex, we cannot deny the seriousness of the situation and the harmful effects of this reform.       

I was deeply shocked by the casual tone of the minister’s letter. His daring to say to Quebecers and all those who are unfortunately experiencing periods without work that “the changes that our government has made (…) are modest and reasonable,” is offensive and hypocritical. Because the truth is that the Conservatives have reduced access to EI like never before. Even the Liberals, who stole 57 billion dollars from workers and employers from the EI fund, did not reduce access to this essential program.  

There is really nothing modest or reasonable about the decision to redefine what “suitable” employment is and to require the unemployed to accept jobs at 70% of their previous salary.

 There is really nothing modest or reasonable about creating categories of frequent claimants who are penalized by the act. That is like punishing workers for losing their job! Do I have to remind the minister that people who lose their jobs are victims, not fraudsters?  

 There is really nothing modest or reasonable about abolishing the board of referees and the umpire only to replace them with new appeal tribunals, whose operations are debatable to say the least.

The list of “modest and reasonable changes” is long. Too long for Quebecers to be lulled by your reassuring words, Mr. Minister.

 A New Democratic government in 2015 will cancel the Conservatives’ harmful reforms. The NDP will also create an independent employment insurance fund to prevent a future government from stealing money from workers and employers. The NDP is the only party with the intention of working to increase accessibility to EI.

 Until then, the Conservative government should produce a real strategy to diversity and reinforce the economy of our regions, and a real reform that is in everyone’s interest.  

By Robert Aubin,
Official Opposition Employment Insurance critic
New Democrat MP for Trois-Rivières