Monday, September 21, 2009

EI change good step but more needed: McGuinty

employment insurance ontario

TORONTO — Proposed changes to employment insurance by the federal Conservatives are a step in the right direction, but a bigger overhaul of the system is needed to ensure the next generation of workers can benefit from the program if they lose their jobs, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday.

"The Harper government is proposing some things which I think will help, in an immediate way, but I think we have to bring a major re-think to the program," McGuinty said.

"We need to reform the employment insurance system in a more fundamental way."

McGuinty says the new plan -- which extends benefits for workers who have been employed for seven of the past ten years -- doesn't take into account the modern economy and the fact that an increasing number of young people are working on contract or are self-employed.

"They're not going to have access to employment insurance benefits," said McGuinty.

"What happens when there's a slowdown in the economy? They lose their income."

He also noted the changes don't address one of Ontario's biggest issues with EI -- the fact that people in the province receive less support than those in other parts of country.

McGuinty has long decried what he calls a lack of fairness in a program that gives unemployed Ontario residents about $4,000 less than jobless workers in other provinces, and has called for a single national standard.

The new Conservative proposal on employment insurance would affect an estimated 190,000 so-called long-tenured workers, who would receive between five and 20 additional weeks of EI.

Many of those workers were employed in the forestry and automotive industries in British Columbia and Ontario.

The EI changes come just days after Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Canada's deficit was estimated to rise by more than $5 billion this year, to a projected $55.9 billion from $50.2 billion, and warned of painful spending restraints.

McGuinty has said he has confidence in his province's own deficit projections of $18.5 billion, but warned Tuesday that it will take some time to dig out of the recession and promised to keep focusing on jobs.

"There is a modest consensus that we are now arriving at the tail end of the recession but we're also being told that employment will remain a challenge for some time," McGuinty said.

"While, technically, we may experience some very, very modest growth, we won't see job creation return at the pace we'd all like it to be."

McGuinty wouldn't say whether the deficit projections may rise, but cautioned people in the province should be prepared to see some restraint on the part of the government.

"Ontarians need to understand that it is a difficult period, not only for their families and their homes but also in government, and we'll have to show constraint, especially if we want to move ahead with new programs like full-day learning for four- and five-year-olds," McGuinty said.

"It means that we won't be able to invest as heavily in other areas."

NDP critic Peter Kormos said he was concerned by those warnings, adding the government's economic policies are likely to lead to more service cuts.

"This big tax break for the corporate world that's part and parcel of Mr. McGuinty's harmonization, his HST, flat revenue sources across the board, an economy that's still faltering, mean that we're going to have bigger deficits, mean that the government is going to be cutting programs,"' said Kormos.

"We're going to see more hospitals shut down, more emergency rooms shut down, more school closures."

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan is slated to update the province's finances later this fall.