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April 28th, 2022 - Bill S-236, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Employment Insurance Regulations - Second Reading

Honourable senators, I rise today at second reading of Bill S-236, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Employment Insurance Regulations, sponsored by Senator Diane Griffin.

Colleagues, please allow me a few moments to pay tribute to our former colleague Senator Griffin before I speak more to Bill S-236. Although Senator Griffin served with us for a little over five years, she has left a lasting impression in the Senate. She fought for what she believed was right and defended the interests of her dear Island and province of Prince Edward Island at every opportunity. It is therefore a pleasure for me to be critic — but a supportive critic — of Bill S-236.

Bill S-236’s objective is to bring a crucial and fundamental change to the EI economic region of P.E.I. The goal is simple: to ensure that Prince Edward Island is designated as one region for the purpose of EI economic regions. Currently, the province is divided into two EI economic regions: Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island to encompass all the regions outside Charlottetown. A small province where mobility is easy — as is living in one region and working in another — can present challenges for EI.

For example, for the current period from April 10 to May 7, if someone resided in Charlottetown but worked in Summerside, their EI benefits can be a minimum of 16 weeks to a maximum of 42 weeks. But if someone lives in Summerside and works in Charlottetown, their benefits can be a minimum of 18 weeks to a maximum of 44 weeks. If we look at the period covering October 10, 2021, to November 6, 2021, the difference is even greater. The minimum number of weeks for Charlottetown was 14 weeks while the rest of P.E.I. was set at 24.

Those 10 weeks, honourable senators, make a big difference. For some families, it could represent a real challenge to put food on the table on a consistent basis. As a senator from a region with a high unemployment rate in a seasonal economy, I fully and heartily understand the importance of EI fairness. If my region of Kent County had to be included in the EI economic region of Moncton, it would be just as unfair.

Moreover, I understand the frustration when decisions are made thousands of kilometres away and don’t correspond to the reality of the region. Too often, these decisions are rushed and done with little to no consultation. When you are a region that doesn’t have as much population and therefore not as much political weight, your issues and priorities can sometimes be treated differently. For example, the latest Department of Fisheries and Oceans decision to close the mackerel and herring fisheries has upset fishermen in Atlantic Canada. It’s not necessarily about closing the fisheries but more about how the government arrived at that decision. There was no consultation with the people on the water, and the decision dropped so close to the beginning of the fishing season that it caused a lot of frustration and anxiety.

Moving forward, I hope government departments and agencies as a whole will improve how they assess the impact of their decisions for regions they are not as familiar with. Too often, the unintended consequences could be avoided through consultation with the people on the ground.

To bring some fairness to Employment Insurance in Prince Edward Island, I support Bill S-236. As Senator Griffin said in her speech, it has been seven years since the federal government has promised a return to one EI economic zone. A House of Commons report has also made the recommendation for one EI economic zone. Let’s exercise our role as a voice for the province to first send this bill to committee and to eventually give the House of Commons the opportunity to bring EI fairness to the people of Prince Edward Island. Thank you.

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