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No ‘common sense’ used when making EI changes, PEI Premier says

P.E.I Premier Robert Ghiz (C), flanked by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall (L) and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter (R), answer questions after they present the first report of the health care innovation working group in Halifax, Nova Scotia, July 26, 2012.

ADAM SCOTTI/REUTERS

Premier Robert Ghiz of Prince Edward Island found some agreement from one of his western counterparts on Friday over proposed federal changes to employment insurance that he says don't take into account the country's different regions.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford said the changes, which hit so-called repeat claimants such as seasonal workers the hardest, don't account for a wide variety of economies.

She said while all premiers are focused on improving their economies and ensuring Canadians can live where they want, EI changes aren't the right way to do it.

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When the changes were first proposed earlier this year, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said the intent was get Canadians off EI and into jobs they qualify for.

The new rules, expected to take effect next year, would would force the jobless seeking employment insurance to take lower paying jobs — for some, in unrelated occupations.

But some provinces say the changes would hit repeat claimants such as seasonal workers the hardest and Mr. Ghiz said common sense wasn't used when making the changes.

PEI's three largest industries are tourism, agriculture and fishing, all of which are seasonal.

"We need seasonal workers to fill those positions. We're not going to grow potatoes or catch lobster in the month of January so therefore we need to make sure we have the workers there," Mr. Ghiz said. "That's why the unemployment system has to be adaptable across the country based on different economies."

Ms. Finley's director of communications Alyson Queen said the changes are common sense and necessary if the program is going to continue to be flexible and responsive to the economy.

She said the federal government recognizes the importance of seasonal industries in Atlantic Canada and that "individual circumstances will always be taken into account."

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Ms. Queen said that should job opportunities in their area match their skills then workers unemployed in the off-season are expected to take the jobs.

Mr. Ghiz said forcing seasonal workers to go elsewhere for permanent work will just leave a void requiring foreign workers to maintain the industries.

Ms. Redford said some changes also don't take into consideration the fact that not everyone is willing to relocate.

"There's no doubt that there are people who live in this country who work in seasonal employment ... who are not going to choose to live in other parts of the province or country and we have to respect that," she said.

The Atlantic premiers have been vocal in their opposition to the changes and how they will affect their province's economies. Mr. Ghiz has said he's concerned that if people are encouraged to leave for jobs in other parts of the country, they may not return.

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