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This article was published 1/4/2016 (1425 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — The NDP MP for northern Manitoba says changes to employment insurance are inadequate to deal with the economic problems faced by many of her constituents.
Northern Manitoba, one of the three economic regions in Manitoba used by the federal government to determine eligibility for employment insurance, had an unemployment rate of 35.2 per cent in January. That’s up from 32 per cent a year ago and 23 per cent a decade ago.
The area is one of 12 economic regions in Canada that qualify for extended EI benefits introduced in the recent federal budget because the unemployment rate grew by more than two percentage points in the last two years. The federal budget changes mean if you lose your job and live in that region, you can get an extra five weeks of benefits. The extended benefits will begin in July and run for one year. They will be retroactive to claims back to January 2015.
Other changes to EI will include reducing the waiting period before receiving benefits to one week from two weeks. As well, workers who are new to the workforce or returning to it after time away won’t have to work more hours than anyone else in order to qualify for EI.
NDP MP Niki Ashton (Churchhill-Keewatinook Aski), who has represented the area in Parliament since 2008, said that will be helpful to some people, but she said the region’s problems go much deeper than that.
"Where do you begin?" Ashton asked.
The northern Manitoba region is a bit of a misnomer because it includes eastern Manitoba south to the U.S. border, as well as the Interlake and all of the province north of the big lakes. Residents in the region account for one-eighth of Manitoba’s population, but more than one-quarter of those currently receive employment insurance in Manitoba. Unlike most other economic regions included in the EI benefit extension, northern Manitoba was one region that got on the list due to a cause other than the sharp drop in oil prices.
It’s more a long-term problem of lack of investment, lack of opportunity and lack of training, said Ashton.
"What we are dealing with here isn’t oil shock, it’s colonial shock," she said.
Much of the region’s population is indigenous, and employment opportunities on reserves are few and far between. But employment off-reserve has also been hit hard by cuts in the mining and other resource sectors. Ashton said it would go a long way to show Ottawa understood her riding if the federal budget had made specific commitments to projects such as the East Side Road, or investments in the University College of the North.
"UCN is really opening up opportunities for people," said Ashton of the system of northern college programs in which she used to be a teacher prior to entering politics.
"But if there was federal support, so much more more could be done."
Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk said the EI changes made in the budget are not all the government intends to do.
"The changes we are making are substantial and phase one," she said. "I’m hoping this is the beginning."