by Lorne Gunter
If you lose your job, you shouldn’t have to take work that is beneath you. You shouldn’t have to accept a job that offers you less pay or worse working conditions.
If you find yourself unemployed in your home region, you shouldn’t have to move away to find work.
You should be free to make all of those choices. But the rest of us — we taxpayers and Employment Insurance (EI) premium payers — should be under no obligation to subsidize your decisions through our taxes and payroll deductions.
If you don’t want to take just any old job that comes along, if you don’t want to demean yourself with a position that doesn’t match your training or if you don’t want to move, fine. That’s your choice. Just don’t expect the rest of us to pay to keep you in your preferred lifestyle.
In the budget bill currently before Parliament, the Conservative government is seeking to change EI rules so claimants will be forced to accept work more readily and get off EI sooner.
It’s about time.
Employment Insurance is a lot of things, but an insurance plan to encourage employment it is not.
For one thing, the premiums aren’t based on the risk of making a claim.
Young drivers pay higher auto insurance premiums because they are much more likely to get in an accident. Yet Canadians in high-unemployment industries and high-unemployment regions make no higher EI contributions than those who live where they are never likely to be without work.
Indeed, those most likely to make EI claims will make far lower lifetime contributions than those who are unlikely ever to claim. That makes EI a welfare program underwritten by a tax on employment, rather than an insurance plan.
In the 1990s, I interviewed a Statistics Canada researcher who had made the study of EI his life’s work. He told me that he had discovered one New Brunswick town of 3,000 people where every adult had made at least one EI claim. Most had claimed three or more times.
In some areas, EI is an accepted part of the culture. It’s that entitlement mentality the Tories’ changes are aimed at breaking.
In the CBC’s fawning 1994 biography of Pierre Trudeau, St. Pierre admitted that one of the goals of his government’s ’70s-era reforms to Unemployment Insurance (as it was more accurately known then) was to enable Canadians to stay in their home regions if they wanted to, even if they were never likely to find steady work there.
So the scheme is also an interregional transfer of wealth — from have to have-not provinces.
Of course, every year thousands of Canadians move from have-not regions to more prosperous areas in search of better jobs and higher pay. So it is not as though everyone who could collects EI to stay put.
But the question is why should hard-working Canadians be compelled to subsidize anyone who refuses to move or turns down locally available work?
In 2009, Toronto’s C.D. Howe Institute released a long-term study of EI that showed the generosity of the program had doomed regions such as Quebec and Atlantic Canada to perpetual underperformance, economically.
Because benefits were rich enough to live on (and lasted up to 40 weeks a year!), too many workers were unwilling to put in overtime or work extra weeks, thus reducing industrial productivity in regions with high EI use.
So it is hardly mean of the Tories to try to force more EI claimants to get to work.
It’s only fair to taxpayers. And in the long run, it will be better for have-not regions, too.
Categories: Contributor Columns