Prince Rupert city councillor Joy Thorkelson wants the province’s Employment Insurance (EI) Economic Region greatly downsized.
In an update to city council last Monday, Coun. Thorkelson noted that the extremely large region that Prince Rupert is classified under and covers more than 50 per cent of the entire land area of the province, is not suitable to address the largely seasonal work that personifies the North Coast.
“Every province is broken up into economic areas. Our economic region goes around Cache Creek, north. So from Cache Creek to the Yukon border, to Haida Gwaii to the Alberta border … The government averages the employment [rate] and they come up with numbers for that area and that is what determines how many hours you need,” Coun. Thorkelson said.
“So if there’s lots of employment [in the area], which there was – there was 100 per cent employment in areas like Fort St. John, and because there are more people in Fort St. John than there are on our side, that skewed the whole north of B.C. The whole employment rate went up and the whole unemployment rate went down because one community was heavily weighted.”
The councillor added that 100 workers in Prince Rupert had more than 490 hours worked, but fell short of the 525-hour threshold needed to qualify for employment insurance.
In a seasonal-work based community, Coun. Thorkelson noted that the new Liberal Government had said that they would change the threshold to 490 hours for seasonal-based communities like Rupert or winter-based cities such as Whistler.
“[Our area] is driven by what happens in Fort St. John … There are five EI areas in the southern part of the province (Southern Interior B.C., Abbotsford, Vancouver, Victoria and Southern Coastal B.C.). You can take a bus from one side of your EI area all the way to the other. You can actually bus from your EI area all the way to someone else’s EI area. That’s the idea – that you should be able to get a job in your EI area. You tell me how someone is supposed to travel everyday to Fort St. John and back again every day. Obviously, it’s an impossibility,” Coun. Thorkelson added, saying that making the EI region smaller can only be done through the federal government and when a group from Prince Rupert approached the former Conservative government with another delegation from Vanderhoof along with a petition with 5,000 signatures, the government said there wasn’t enough support.
“They refused to bring it down, although they’ve done it back east. They’ve made it smaller in New Brunswick and they do it every so often,” she added.