Tag Archives: Employment Insurance

Between a rock and the hard place


Only at election time does the rhetoric about the Maritimes’ proud and noble traditions – and its resilient and inventive people – soar above the Parliament buildings like so much papal smoke.

If we are to believe the campaign propaganda issuing from the mouths of all party leaders, we East Coasters are a sturdy and discerning bunch – willing to strip the shirts from our backs for those in need, sure, but equally suspicious of political carpet-baggers and snake-oil salesmen, fresh off the plane from the Centre of the Universe, asking that we buy what they’re merchandising.

Good for us, they say, rightly so: Handle us with care.

Of course, at any time other than an election cycle, they call us defeatists, welfare bums, worthless leeches sucking the life-blood from the national economy thanks to our alleged addiction to seasonal employment disorder and the requisite tankers of money Employment Insurance generously supplies.

The truth is, as always, somewhat more nuanced. Perhaps that’s one reason why we Maritimers are having a hard time making up our minds about who should own the keys to the castle in Ottawa later this month.

Shall it be the current prime minister, whom the decidedly non-conservative Toronto Star political columnist, Heather Mallick, castigated (rather brutally, if funnily) in a recent issue of the broadly left-wing American journal, Harper’s Magazine?

“What a long, strange slide it has been for Canada since 2006, when Stephen Harper became prime minister,” she wrote. “You thought you saw the last of Richard Nixon when he helicoptered off the White House’s South Lawn. Wrong: the man had a clone. And that clone must have been watching a lot of Sarah Palin speeches. Harper is Nixon without the charm, he’s Nixon without the progressive social and environmental programs. If he wins re-election in October, Americans might want to consider a northern wall.”

Nixon without the charm? Come on Ms. Mallick. I was 13 years old in 1973, when the world learned of the egregious crimes engineered by his bunch of thugs and supplicants determined to upend the U.S. democracy. President Nixon was famous for being entirely charmless. If anything, Stephen Harper is “Tricky Dick” on a good day.

Still, mistrusting democratically elected boosters of the so-called status quo has become our. . .well, status quo.

Shall our next federal leader be Liberal Justin Trudeau, about whom his political opponents say is untried, untested, elitist, infantile, unschooled, irresponsible, and, maybe worst of all, a true believer in the national Grit track record in this country?

Shall it be the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair, who is losing his base in Quebec as I write – the victim of his own hubris and arrogance?

Shall it be Elizabeth May, whose Green Party does a magnificent job of criticizing the mainstream parties in its sights, but seems to fail repeatedly in transforming popular opinion into votes?

Whatever the reasons are for our general, political lassitude in this part of country, we must shake ourselves awake, become who we must be: the heroes of our own lives.

It’s all very well to talk about New Brunswick’s emerging industrial clusters, technology centres of excellence, and innovative economic sectors, but none of it means much when the crucial resource needed to power these initiatives is vanishing.

As absurdly simple as it sounds, people, not governments, build long-term economic capacity. They launch businesses, invent new products and services, and employ relatives, friends, and strangers. They inspire others to become entrepreneurs, exporters, teachers, lawyers, doctors, and builders.

That’s not only at election time. It’s all the time

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Bring us your tired, yearning to work



Through no fault of their own, 50 million people around the world are rootless and stateless. The victims of wars and warlords, dictators and economic dissolution, they wander the Earth as refugees, as unwilling nomads, and in numbers not recorded since the end of the second, great, European conflagration of the 20th Century.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government once a beacon of light in the United Nation’s Human Development Index – plays a crass round of poker in which it chooses those immigrants it wants, those it will merely tolerate and those it would rather wash its hands of entirely. 

The latest incarnation of this game of drones is the new regime governing the nation’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney says he’s doing Canadians a favour by restricting the number of international grunts businesses in this country can hire and installing punitive fines on  those who flout the fresh regulations. 

As CTV reports: “Under the new rules, employers in places with high unemployment rates won’t be allowed to hire temporary foreign workers in the lowest wage and skills groups in the accommodation, food service and retail sectors. Companies will also be required to re-apply each year to have low-wage TFW’s, instead of every two years. The cost of that will rise to $1,000 per employee, up from $275.”

Mr. Kenney justifies his decision in typically bellicose terms: “As opposed to being a last resort, in too many cases it’s (the TWF) become a first or only resort. . .That is unacceptable. I don’t care how tight the local labour market is, you shouldn’t be setting up a business and spending money on capital for a business if you don’t have the human capital to staff it.”

Don’t you just love the way these guys talk? 

Human beings become “human capital”, commodities that governments can and do rate and rank according to their own political exigencies and circumstances. 

At the same time, the minister in charge of labour markets doesn’t give a fig about the condition of labour markets if giving a fig means annoying a partisan base of low-end citizen workers/voters who, once their pogey runs down, can’t find sufficient numbers of mc-jobs to qualify them for another, ritualistic term of government-sanctioned, fully funded couch potatodom. How exquisitely NDP of him.

All this from a government who thinks it perfectly reasonable to lecture Atlantic Canadian provinces on their habitual use of Employment Insurance to actually sustain a labour market that backstops at least four, bone-fide seasonal industries (fishing, forestry, tourism, and agriculture).

In fact, on this subject in this country, almost no one looks good. Abuses of the system are systemic and rampant. And no government – Tory or Grit – has ever figured out a compelling, convincing, comprehensive, rational fix. 

But why should they bother? After all, no one in this country gets elected by insisting that low-wage foreign workers are only here because native-born and naturalized citizens don’t possess the skills that commercial enterprises actually need.

Have you ever worked a naan oven at 5 am in the morning? I didn’t think so. 

On the other hand, too many employers in this country work these people like virtual slaves; gaming the system at every opportunity to feather their marginal nests. As there are no federal oversights, no provincial or municipal protections that practically apply, what else would we as fine, upstanding Canucks expect?

Today, according to the Canadian Council for Refugees, “the number of migrant workers in Canada has increased by 70 per cent in the last five years. Canada has been shifting towards a reliance on migrant labour. In 2008, for the first time, the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada exceeded the total number of permanent residents admitted in the same year. At the end of 2012, the gap had grown: There were 338,189 temporary foreign workers in Canada on December 1, 2012, compared to 257,515 new permanent residents.”

Rather than revile these people publicly, we should embrace them as essential contributors to our society. Or, have we become too hardened to the plight of the world’s rootless that we have forgotten our own history?


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