Liberals leave EI reform out the budget, here’s why

Ottawa –

The liberal government this week removed employment insurance reform from the federal budget. They are concerned that reforming the program in a slowing economy could push up premiums for workers and employers.

This is according to a spokesperson for Employment Minister Carla Quartraf, who said the federal government “continues to modernize the EI system.”

“However, current and near-term economic conditions have raised the alarm against measures that could put pressure on EI premiums, potentially making it more difficult for workers and employers to make a living. A decision deserves attention,” the spokesperson said. email.

After the last federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau handed Quartraf a mandate ordering him to move forward and implement a plan to “modernize the EI system for the 21st century” by the summer of 2022.

As the summer drew to a close, the minister promised reforms would soon begin. “By the end of the year, we’ll know what our vision for EI is,” she said in September.

A few months into 2023, there was little hope that the federal budget would finally hint at the government’s plans. Sure enough, the focus on the clean economy and healthcare left other topics on the agenda.

With a mild recession expected this year, the federal government appears to be avoiding EI reforms so as not to drive up the cost of the program. A recession is likely to be accompanied by unemployment. Now, expanding the eligibility may make the program available to even more people.

But this latest delay has left labor groups and experts feeling impatient.

There is a long list of complaints regarding the program’s current structure, eligibility requirements, funding, and management techniques. But workers’ biggest concern is that too few people have access to the program.

In 2021, liberals will campaign on a promise to modernize the EI, pledging to expand the program to cover the self-employed and address the gaps highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. bottom.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland hinted on Thursday that broader reforms are still underway.

“My colleague Carla Quartraf is working hard to improve broader EI, and it is an important task that must be done carefully and carefully,” she told reporters in Surrey, British Columbia. rice field.

Freeland cited two changes to EI announced in the budget.

One measure proposes to extend the EI temporary changes introduced in 2018. This increases the number of weeks of compensation available to seasonal workers. The other is intended to strengthen federally regulated prohibitions on gig worker employee misclassification.

The National Unemployed Council responded to the budget by asking the NDP to withdraw its support for the Liberal government through the party’s Supply Confidence Agreement.

“We are utterly disappointed that the government has betrayed its promises and has once again chosen to maintain the status quo,” group spokesman Pierre Serret said in a statement.

“In light of this situation, I urge the Liberal Democratic Party to withdraw its confidence in the government and urge lawmakers to secure their seats on this issue.”

Members of the Canadian Employment and Insurance Commission, including the voices of both workers and businesses, supported and criticized the oversight and review of the EI system.

Its workers commissioner, Pierre Laliberté, said it was “very disappointing” to see EI reforms left out of the budget.

At a minimum, the federal government could have addressed key gaps and included interim measures to expand access, he said. It’s really quite strange that I thought it was unfit to be blocked.”

During the pandemic, governments expanded access to EI systems through temporary measures. They expired in September, despite strong opposition from labor groups and the LDP.

Under the temporary measures, workers are forced to comply with the national requirement of working 420 hours of insured employment hours, compared to the usual 420 to 700 hours, depending on local unemployment rates. I qualified for EI based on Also, money paid to workers when they leave their jobs, such as severance pay, was not deducted from benefits.

The future of EI reform is uncertain as many economists expect the Canadian economy to enter a mild recession this year.

Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labor Council, said the implementation of EI reforms will help put workers’ economies “in recession” by ensuring that social safety nets can support those facing layoffs. “It will help me to endure,” he said.

But Laliberte said EI reform did not appear to be a priority for the Liberal Party or the NDP. Both focus on providing federal dental care plans, even though health care is under state jurisdiction and the EI program is a federal responsibility.

“It’s not sexy,” Laliberte said of the EI reform. “Isn’t it tempting to announce something new like dental care?”

In a statement, NDP deputy financial commentator Peter Julian said the New Democrats were proud of what they had achieved for Canadians on budget but were “not happy.”

“It is a shame that the Liberal Party failed to include EI reforms in the 2023 budget despite economists warning that we are headed for recession,” Julian said.

“New Democrats will continue to push Liberals to reform EI and make sure no workers are left behind.”

This report by the Canadian Press was first published on April 1, 2023.

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