On EI and economic development

From this morning’s Times & Transcript:

Two New Brunswick MPs are proposing private members’ bills to make the employment insurance program more generous.

Acadie-Bathurst New Democrat Yvon Godin tabled his bill that would set the entrance requirement at 360 hours of insurable earnings, much lower than the current threshold of 840 hours for first-time applicants and 420 hours for those with a history with the program. His bill would also allow beneficiaries to select their best 12 weeks upon which to base their claim.

Madawaska-Restigouche Liberal Jean-Claude D’Amours’ bill would eliminate the two-week waiting period before beneficiaries can begin receiving cheques. He is also planning a second bill that would allow parents who quit their jobs to accompany their ill children to hospital. The current rule denies benefits to anyone who voluntarily quits.

I have never advocated the scrapping of EI like some many of my peers have. However, I think it is a disturbing trend when our economic development strategies become more and more about increasing dependency. Consider this:

NB MPs want more lucrative EI (above)

Shawn Graham wants to bring back NB Works program (which helps people qualify for EI)

Bernard Lord has spent more time trying to wring more Equalization and Transfers out of Ottawa than trying to generate increased tax base from economic development.

Folks, the trending on this is not good – despite all the sweetness and apple pie talk coming out of Fredericton. Chew on these numbers:

In 2003 (the latest data available on this stuff), New Brunswickers received $669 million in Employment Insurance income. There were over 110,000 people that collected EI in 2003.

This is now.

In 1999, New Brunswickers received $532 million in Employment Insurance income. There were over 109,000 people that collected EI in 1999.

That was then.

So, even with population decline, there are more people collecting EI and the total EI paid is up 26% or over $130 million.


Total investment income for all New Brunswickers in 1999 was $405 million. In 2003, it was $367 million – a decline of 10%. Please note that by 2003, the stock market revival was in full swing.

Employment income is up 17% – EI income is up 26%.
Self-employment income is up 2% – EI income is up 26%.
RRSP income is up 6% – EI income is up 26%

And total income from all sources is up 17% – EI income is up 26%.

Now if you were a politician and you saw that investment income is down and EI income is way up would you be pushing for more EI or better wealth creation strategies?

I guess it depends on your riding but in the long term, friends, more EI won’t help Edmundston or Bathurst. It will add more grease to the pole that slides those communities towards a bad ending.

Will someone, just one, (outside of your friendly neighbourhood stark raving lunatic), suggest that we spend just a fraction of that $669 million on actual economic development rather than productivity crushing income support?