Atlantic Canada’s Lord Voldemort. EI: The Government Program Who Shall Not Be Named

You have to tip your hat to Premier Higgs. No other premier has ever taken on the Employment Insurance program as he has. Most NB politicians avoid publicly taking on the program because so many voters use it. Just ask Doug Young or Bernard Valcourt what happens when you even try to tinker with the EI program.

He’s right, of course. The federal government is not following its own guidelines on the program. It’s almost as if a person has been collecting EI for several years straight the bureaucrats don’t even ask the question any more.

Covid-19 has just blown up EI usage in New Brunswick. It’s like handing out candy at Halloween. In January 2021 there were 75,400 people using the EI program or more than one in five of all workers. If you back out public sector workers……

Even outside of Covid-19, New Brunswickers’ use of EI hasn’t changed much in the past 20 years. Even as many industries struggle to find workers and we are bringing in thousands of immigrants each year, the number reporting EI income on their tax form in 2018 was 104,000 – only slightly fewer than way back in 2000 (107,000). One out of every four persons with employment income also reported EI income in 2018. Of course that doesn’t tell the whole story as the top number includes a lot of folks ineligible for EI.

On a regional basis 36% of everyone earning employment income in 2018 in rural areas (non-CMA/CA) also reported EI income. In the Campbellton CA it was 34% and in the Miramichi CA it was 32% – or nearly one out of every three workers.

The best story I heard recently was the fish plant that shut down in Charlotte County laying of something like 50 or 100 workers. The fish plant across the street said they would hire them all, and, if the anecdotal story is correct, only 2-3 went to work in the other plant.

Of course you will say why would they? But that is in direct contravention of the rules of the EI program. If there is a job in your field in your community you must take that job. But, again, the decision is up to the folks enforcing the rules. And that is what has Blaine Higgs up in arms.

I don’t know what to do about it. The federal MPs don’t want change – 104,000 voters used EI in 2018 and those 104,000 voters have spouses and other voting family members. In some regions of the province half the households or more collect EI each year.

I wrote a paper on this in 2019 for the Public Policy Forum.

It was kind of like peeing into the wind.