We must Keep the EI debate on point

In my column in the TJ today I take another crack at this.

I have to reiterate my view that the real reason to try and reform EI is not to “get those lazy slackers” or the other statements made in the wake of the Mowat report but to strengthen the environment for business investment and job creation and to foster a stronger labour market.

I say in the piece that I don’t want to comment on the culture of work angle.   It could be true that a cohort of folks have gotten used to working part year and collecting EI part year (someone in the provincial government told me this is now in some cases second and third generation) but if folks that are more well off are piling on these folks it just starts to look a little to strident for me.

After all, the average EI take is around $7,500/year (total EI payout over total reporting EI income).  It’s impossible to calculate the average employment income of these folks because there are a wide variety of variables but just looking at a straight up calculation – to collect $7,500 worth of EI  an average person would only earn between $17k and maybe $25k per year.

Do you want to be the one trying to demand that $7,500 back because it is ‘unfair’?   And if you push many of those people into welfare where they can get at least as much, will you take that back too?

Look, you know my views – I’m not a left wing guy.  I have “The Road to Serfdom” on my bookshelf here in my office.

But I can see the consequences of decisions and I don’t like what would happen if we adopted whole cloth the Mowat recommendations.

I think we need to do a few things:

1. Test the hypothesis.  As fantastical as it may seem, I had some pretty well placed folks tell me this week they had no idea about this issue of employers not being able to find workers in many NB communities despite 20% unemployment rates.  We need to do a thorough study of this phenomenon to determine its extent.  We need to determine conclusively if EI has become a barrier to investment and job creation.

2. We need to come up with plausible solutions.  I would start by talking with the actual folks that are on the EI system – how novel an idea is that?   We have talked about job training, home-based work, help those that need to sell their homes to move to another NB community for work, offer joint fringe benefits to encourage people to work for one, two or even three different companies during the course of the year, etc.

3.   Implement any changes over time.  Maybe grandfather certain folks in where needed.

4. STOP giving government money to companies that create seasonal jobs and that includes tourism.  I know this will get me removed from Christmas card lists but it is true.  The government has done less of this in recent years but it still goes on.