State sponsored child rearing

Image of unemployment line Bill C-38, the "Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act", is Canada's budget implementation bill which was introduced by the Conservative government back on April 26th of this year. In a single piece of omnibus legislation, the government enacted legislation which introduced, amended or repealed some 70 laws which affect policy on, among other things, the environment, rights of women, workers and First Nation peoples, and social programmes including Old Age Security and the Employment Insurance program.

With respect to Canada's Employment Insurance program, the new legislation gives cabinet the authority to change EI qualifications through regulation rather than through legislation. Half my stuffed armadillo collection and two bottles of Wild Turkey says that cabinet relaxes eligibility requirements just before the next election. In the meantime, those unfortunate enough to join the rank and file of the unemployed will have no alternative but to submit to the new, more stringent, eligibilty requirements introduced by the Harper government.

What has changed? Well, for one thing, the new rules will require most unemployed EI claimants to accept job offers at hourly wages significantly lower than their previous employment. In an effort presumably to introduced fairness into the EI program, the changes will more adversely affect "frequent" claimants than "long-tenured workers", the latter being modestly affected by the changes. But if you're a seasonal worker earning an hourly wage of $18 you'd better learn to say "Would you like fries with that?" because if you turn down a minimum wage job at McDonald's you'll be cut off EI benefits after just 7 weeks.

It's not surprising that the new regulations are exceedingly complex and difficult to navigate. That is, of course, what governments do best. Making policies which are exceedingly complex and cumbersome is a bureaucracy's raison d'etre, n'est ce pas? What is remarkable, however, is the willful blindness that seems to exist and perpetuate the inherent inequities in the EI program itself. Consider these scenarios:

You've been employed at a local manufacturing plant for the past five years. A sharp global economic downturn and slower market demand for the company to close its doors leaving you, and 57 other employees, unemployed. You will, depending on the geographic area in which you reside and the locale's unemployment rate, be eligible for benefits anywhere between 7 and 45 weeks.

You've been employed at a local manufacturing plant for the past five years. Following the withdrawal of funds from an ATM, you are swarmed by a band of hooligans and have both your legs broken with a baseball bat in the ensuing robbery. You are hospitalized for one month and unable to work for an additional ten months. You will be eligible to receive employment insurance benefits for 15 weeks.

You've been employed at a local manufacturing plant for the past five years. You have chosen to start a family with your wife and, not surprisingly, cigars are handed out after she squeezes out a 6 pound 8 ounce screaming Jeezler. Congratulations... you, as the father, are eligible for 35 weeks employment insurance benefits.

The inequity in the above scenarios should be blatantly obvious to anyone with the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time. Does it make any sense, whatsoever, that a person who CHOOSES to have children and voluntarily leave their job should be entitled to more employment insurance benefits than someone forced to leave their job through no fault of their own?

If the government's recent changes to EI are intended to save the program money then they will, undoubtedly, be moderately successful. A more ominous consequence however, according to the Canadian Labour Congress, will be to "exert a terrible downward pressure on all workers' wages".

If the government's recent changes to EI are intended to introduce fairness and equity into the program it has failed miserably. There is simply no rationality in extending more generous benefits to individuals who CHOOSE to have children and voluntarily give up their job than to those who, through no fault of their own, lose their job. The more astute observers note that "the new approach is a discriminatory system that flies in the face of Canadians' commitment to fairness".

There is one question that is consistently overlooked when it comes to Canada's Employment Insurance Program: "Why is the EI program being used as a glorified child-care subsidy replacement program?"

Submitted by Norm de Plume, 30 June 2012