Be­ware the cracks

The Compass - - OPINION -

Mar­lene Giers­dorf is the ex­am­ple of what may hap­pen to some peo­ple un­der the new Em­ploy­ment In­surance reg­u­la­tions. The sin­gle mother staged a one-woman protest out­side a Ser­vices Canada of­fice in Prince Ed­ward Is­land last week af­ter be­ing told her EI claim, which she filed in Novem­ber, was be­ing dis­con­tin­ued be­cause she had re­fused to ac­cept work.

It’s not that she didn’t want to work, she says, but that she can’t af­ford a car. She lives in Lower Mon­tague.

The job Ser­vices Canada said she should take was in Char­lot­te­town, a 50-minute drive from her home­town.

With­out trans­porta­tion – and with no pub­lic tran­sit avail­able be­tween Mon­tague and Char­lot­te­town – the 30 year old says it was im­pos­si­ble for her to com­mute to Charlet­te­town.

Her story, re­ported in PEI’s daily pa­per The Guardian, noted that prior to fil­ing for EI ben­e­fits she worked 60 hours a week in a com­mu­nity care fa­cil­ity and left work due to stress. Her former boss, she says, gave her a good ref­er­ence.

By the time she got her first EI cheque in Novem­ber, she had al­ready been with­out in­come for two months.

Giers­dorf told The Guardian that if she had a car she would gladly take a job in Charlet­town. How­ever, as the head of a one-in­come, sin­gle-par­ent fam­ily, she can’t af­ford a ve­hi­cle. And hav­ing had no in­come for nearly two months, she was down to her last $100. Buy­ing a car was not a pos­si­bil­ity.

Per­haps, if she was able to con­tinue to col­lect EI ben­e­fits, she might have been able to get back on her feet fi­nan­cially, though she would still face a strug­gle given that the EI ben­e­fits are just a frac­tion of full-time wages.

Ac­cord­ing to Giers­dorf, the folks at the Ser­vice Canada of­fice ad­vised that her only op­tion was to ap­ply to the pro­vin­cial government for wel­fare. That sug­ges­tion, in it­self, is a glar­ing ex­am­ple of how the EI rules won’t nec­es­sar­ily fix a prob­lem and may, in fact, cre­ate more.

If Mar­lene Giers­dorf is an ex­am­ple of how the new EI rules will be en­forced, we are will­ing to bet there will be many peo­ple lin­ing up for fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance from pro­vin­cial so­cial as­sis­tance de­part­ments.

Canada’s new EI reg­u­la­tions may work fine in densely pop­u­lated re­gions, where sub­ways and pub­lic tran­sit op­tions are avail­able for low-in­come work­ers.

In ru­ral ar­eas, how­ever, where peo­ple set­tled and man­aged on sea­sonal work, the ge­o­graph­i­cal dis­tance from the small town to the larger cen­tre will be a tremen­dous chal­lenge for many.

How many more will end up like Giers­dorf, de­nied ben­e­fits be­cause they don’t have a means of trans­porta­tion to ac­cept work?

The le­gal minds be­hind the EI changes likely never imag­ined how some­one’s unique sit­u­a­tion could af­fect their abil­ity to seek em­ploy­ment be­yond their com­mu­nity.

While we won’t ar­gue that there are many peo­ple who do have the means to travel for work, and could take a paying job in­stead of re­ly­ing on EI, it is a fact that there are some, like Giers­dorf, for whom the new reg­u­la­tions will pose prob­lems.

The EI rules, like any leg­is­la­tion, are open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion, and le­gal chal­lenge.

Sadly, those who will be most im­pacted - like Giers­dorf -don’t have the means to en­gage lawyers to chal­lenge Ser­vice Canada and their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the rules.

And that’s a point that the le­gal minds who cre­ated the one-size-fits-all rules are quite aware of.

What re­mains to be seen now is whether there will be a trickle, or a flood, of peo­ple seek­ing fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance from their pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments when they fall through the EI cracks; and whether pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments will ever chal­lenge Ot­tawa on the faults within the new EI leg­is­la­tion.

Bar­bara Dean-Sim­mons

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