The EI dance in the dark

Victor Boudreau is one of my favorite politicians but his comments in the paper reflect the challenge we face when trying to have a substantive debate on EI.   He says:

“No amount of training will change the fact we have seasonal industries,” Boudreau said. “No matter how well-trained our workforce could be, you can’t fish lobster, grow potatoes or draw tourists to our beaches in January. So there’s always going to be a need for a federal EI program that will assist our seasonal industries.”

That might actually be true but even it if is how many of the 100,000 NBers who collect EI each year are employed in these industries?  They haven’t told us.

We do know from Statistics Canada, in an average month there are 4,100 persons working in agriculture across the province and we know there are only 11,900 working in forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas combined.   There are another 30,000 working in manufacturing but how many of those are seasonal?

In addition how many of these seasonal industries are important enough to offer large subsidies to keep them running?  They haven’t told us.  How many of these industries could be served by other segments of the labour market – yes – including the dreaded temporary foreign worker program?  They haven’t told us.

So we dance on while very few folks have any real data on which to draw their conclusions.

Take the guy this morning who wrote how shocked he was that businesses were allowed to use the temporary foreign worker program in areas with high EI usage (this guy was very left of centre – it wasn’t a right wing diatribe).  If he actually talked to one or two businesses he would realize that the high EI usage is precisely why they are using the TFW program.  Many of them can’t get workers to work year round.

Dancing in the light is hard enough (trust me my wife and I have been taking dance lessons for two years).  In the dark it’s almost impossible.

The most compelling argument, of course, is that we shouldn’t abandon these folks.   We get back to that de facto policy of slowly emptying out rural and small communities and ensuring there are government funding programs to ease the pain of decline.  One bureaucrat told me this a couple of years ago.  Let the young people leave and have these programs that will fade away over time as people age.

The trouble with that vision is the bulk of EI users (55%) in New Brunswick are under the age of 44.  Again, we don’t know the age demographic of the annual users of EI because they haven’t made that data public.

I reiterate my view that we should go back to the drawing board on this.  Start with the stated goal of dramatically reducing EI usage – that’s fine.  Maybe we have as a goal moving seasonal industry support right out of the EI program completely.  Whatever.  We start with a goal.  We have as a guiding principle not to make things worse and then we get down to business – with very good data to support the discussions.


3 thoughts on “The EI dance in the dark

  1. What I find interesting is the idea that “they haven’t told us”. There are TONS of things, in fact most things in the canadian budget that the government ‘doesn’t tell us’. We didn’t know how much those jets cost, or about the drone program, or even how most health care spending is done. Yet for some reason THIS government program is suddenly supposed to be heavily discussed because supposedly, unlike healthcare CEO’s and private suppliers, unlike road construction crews which are tied to organized crime, unlike, say, the canadian federal program which is offering taxpayer subsidized welding programs in other countries, THIS money is ‘not properly accounted for’ or ‘not serving its intended purpose’.

    For some reason THIS is a very important topic that deserves considerable government and public attention, unlike all those other things mentioned above. So, no, they don’t ‘tell us’, in fact they probably don’t know. And even if they did, why would it matter? While the temporary workers program is likely to be an election issue, EI in NB probably won’t be.

    I’ve done a fair bit of research on this, and it seems everybody ‘knows somebody’ who is a problem-that there are men in their thirties still working five months all so they can collect pogey and go hunting. There is very little evidence of this, its all anecdotal. However, IF its true its easily rectified. ALL people on EI HAVE to look for work. So if its true what Valcourt says and that in Richibucto they have to truck in romanians because people on EI there WON”T work, then its an administrative problem, not a systemic one. Obviously those who work at EI are not checking whether these people are actually looking for work.

    I suspect its more complicated than that, as the current TWP ‘scandal’ shows. I still can’t find it, but I remember that when the omnibus bill came out in the fall there was a CBC show that talked about how, buried in the bill, was a program change which would make it easier for employers to bring in temporary foreign workers rather than go through all the hassle of advertising for local ones.

  2. Perhaps it is time to re-visit the idea, put forward by such bastions of socialism as Milton Friedman, David Frum and Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, of a negative income tax or, as some call it, a Guaranteed Annual Income. If nothing else, it will reduce the bureaucracies involved in the Poverty Industry from three to one.

    Our present system does not fight poverty. It institutionalizes it.

  3. Regarding the EI situation, I was surprised that the provincial government would admit to manipulating EI (i.e.. the example in the T-J of hiring a receptionist for the civil service, laying her off after 6 months to permit her to collect EI, then hire someone else for 6 months and repeat. How cynical!)
    Switching to the theme presented by Mr. Percy, the Munk Debates will be arguing the case for and against taxing the rich to reduce inequality this week in Toronto. Most of these arguments seem to revolve around reducing the income of the productive without actually redistributing to the impoverished. Perhaps the greatest plague we face in public policy is the persistence of tax expenditure programs targeted for specific groups (where influence in their voting preference is the objective). A specific example is the RRSP which technically is available to all Canadians but practically available only to those with disposable income and is more generous the higher your income. “Solutions” proposed by think tanks such as the CCPA include using increased tax revenue to fund “programs” (i.e. tax expenditures) to fund universal daycare or childrens’ dental care which are just as likely to benefit middle and upper income families as they are lower income singles and retirees.
    May I suggest a thorough examination of the implications of eliminating ALL tax expenditures (yes- all) and the personal tax credits. They would be replaced by a guaranteed annual income (GAI) to ALL citizens (not just those in poverty) which they can use to fund their own tax expenditures (i.e.. saving for retirement, paying tuition, buying a house, paying for children’s sports programs, putting more nutritious food on the table) based on their needs and not those strategically selected by political parties to purchase votes. This GAI will directly increase the income of impoverished Canadians, increase mean incomes, reduce the gap between median and mean incomes and reduce income inequality. This GAI will also provide seed money to ambitious low income Canadians and hasten their climb through the income ranks (the frequently referred to social mobility).
    The first thing that many critics will suggest is that this will reduce the motivation to work and that productivity will decrease. Perhaps this guaranteed annual income could be rebranded as the “Canadian National Dividend” and the amount given annually could be tied to some measure of productivity such as GNP per capita. This should increase motivation to work for the majority. Let’s face it that there will always be some small number of people who will prefer to avoid work and they should not be allowed to hijack what can work for the vast majority.

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