TORONTO—Thousands of unemployed, retired and concerned community members rallied in downtown Toronto on Saturday afternoon demanding that MPs use their last full week in Ottawa to fix Employment Insurance and take action to create good, long-term jobs.
“A plan for good, green jobs is the long-term solution,” said Winnie Ng, Co-chair of the Good Jobs for All Coalition. “In the next week, we need Michael Ignatieff to finally call the government’s bluff and fix EI because unemployment insurance is the most effective economic stabiliser and making it more accessible is the right thing to do. We’re calling on all MPs to work together to pass a bill that’s one vote away from delivering financial relief to thousands of families that have been thrown out of work through no fault of their own.”
“On Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he might consider addressing EI in the fall,” said Fa Lim, an unemployed former auto parts maker who lost his job, along with 2,400 co-workers, at the beginning of this recession. “If he and Mr. Ignatieff let MPs take their paid summer vacation without fixing EI first, they should never be forgiven. We’re depending on our government to deliver the unemployment insurance we’ve paid for, even if it means extending this sitting of Parliament into the summer.”
Following a rally that took place next to Toronto’s Metro Hall, the demonstrators marched through the financial district to draw attention to the Bay Street CEOs whose speculation and efforts to remove regulations helped to cause the global recession.
“Those of us who go to work everyday to actually make things and provide services did not cause this recession,” said John Cartwright, President of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council. “We deserve good jobs and fair retirement. In the meantime, we need the $57 billion EI surplus to be used for temporary relief, not more re-announcements from the Human Resources Minister and inaction from the official opposition.”
Last weekend, more than 1,700 mayors and councillors from municipalities across Canada adopted a Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ resolution which adds to laid-off workers’, faith leaders’ and even fiscally conservative bank economists’ endorsement of the Good Jobs for All Coalition’s recommendations for EI repairs. The FCM motion calls on the Government of Canada to immediately:
- reduce the number of hours of work required to qualify, making more unemployed workers eligible for EI;
- eliminate regionalization of EI eligibility and benefits, which are tied to regional unemployment rates, and move towards a system based on a country-wide standard minimum number of hours worked;
- enhance benefits from current levels (55 per cent of the claimant’s weekly average earnings); and
- eliminate the two-week waiting period.
- The Good Jobs for All Coalition is an alliance of more than 35 community, environmentalist, labour and student groups representing people throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Saturday’s demonstration was organised by the Coalition and Coalition members the Canadian Labour Congress and the Toronto and York Region Labour Council.
- Carol Hughes’, Member of Parliament (Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing), Bill C-280 will fix Employment Insurance by improving access and benefits. If adopted on third reading, it will level the playing field for every unemployed Canadian by setting uniform access requirements (360 hours of work) and removing regional inequalities that prevent fair access to EI.
- During this Parliament alone, 31 bills to repair Employment Insurance have been tabled. Clearly there is a consensus that EI must be fixed and it is time that the government and MPs take action.
- The latest EI coverage data for March 2009 that was released by Statistics Canada in May, confirm that only 46.78% of unemployed people throughout Canada and 35.65% of unemployed Ontarians are receiving EI benefits.
- At the end of March, a public opinion poll conducted by Harris-Decima found that the majority of Canadians – throughout all regions of the country and across income brackets – believe that the scope of employment insurance should be expanded.
- The EI fund surplus held by the Government of Canada was $57 billion ($56,952,606,000) as at March 31, 2008, the most recent figure available.
(Source: Public Accounts of Canada for 2007-2008, Vol. I, page 4.16)
- The accumulated EI surplus under the Conservative government has increased $6.2 billion. It was $50.8 billion as at March 31, 2006.