Employment Insurance or EI flies beneath the political radar much of the time, but remains an important and relevant part of the Canadian social safety net. Changes are needed to respond to new labour market realities, but the program should not, as some argue, be folded into a universal basic income.
Low oil prices have taken their toll on an already weak Canadian economy, where household debt levels are at record highs and business investment continues to lag. The Bank of Canada held off on a further rate cut this week, opting instead to wait and see the size and structure of fiscal stimulus in the upcoming federal budget.
The Parliamentary Budget Office has come out with a report suggesting that the Conservatives will likely balance the budget ahead of schedule. But, and it’s a big but, they also found there would be no balanced budget in 2016 if there were no Employment Insurance (EI) surplus.
The Conservatives' use of the EI surplus to pay for a balanced budget deserves closer scrutiny.
Two major recent studies – from Derek Burleton and his colleagues at Toronto-Dominion Bank, and from former senior federal government official Cliff Halliwell published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy – provide excellent overviews of recent developments in the Canadian job market, and an informed framework for thinking about our future skills needs.
This message seems to have finally got through to the Harper government. In a speech to the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce on November 14, Employment and Skills Development Minister Jason Kenney told employers to stop complaining and to stop relying excessively upon temporary workers. Instead, he said, employers should “put more skin in the game” by increasing wages in high-demand occupations and by investing more in the training of Canadians.