EI benefits extended for northwestern B.C. residents

But it shouldn't take a crisis for this to happen, says NDP MP.

  • May. 14, 2016 11:00 a.m.

NORTHWEST RESIDENTS shouldn’t have to wait until there’s a crisis to have their Employment Insurance benefits extended, says Skeena NDP MP Nathan Cullen.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with the decision, but this shouldn’t be treated like a one-off,” said Cullen of the decision to add five additional weeks of coverage to the existing 45 weeks for qualifying applicants.

The decision, announced in the federal budget to come into effect in March, adds those five weeks to qualifying applicants in 12 regions, one of which is northern B.C..

It applies to regions where the unemployment rate has increased in size by two percentage points between March 2015 and February 2016 compared to the lowest point between December 2014 and February 2015.

The extended benefits will begin in July and be retroactive to January 2015, a move said to incorporate job losses caused by a downturn in the oil and gas industry.

That would apply specifically to areas such as northeastern B.C.. which has seen its unemployment rate climb from 4.2 per cent in March 2015 to 9.7 per cent in March 2016 to then retreat slightly to 9.4 per cent in April 2016.

But the northwest has had a historically higher and steadier unemployment rate which in April 2016 was 7.8 per cent and 6.1 per cent in April 2015.

“We’ve been trying for years to treat the northwest separate from the northeast. They are so utterly different,” said Cullen in saying the northwest has been more vulnerable over the years to economic shifts.

And he’s also looking forward to promised improvements as to how many people can qualify for EI in the first place.

“It really seems to have been designed not to deliver,” said Cullen. “As many as a third of people paying into it weren’t able to even qualify.”

“It’s like having insurance and not being able to use it.”

Long-serving applicants will also see the length of time they can collect extend to 70 weeks.

Cullen also said it’s important to remember that the money for EI comes from employees and employers, not the federal government.

Late last week, the federal government also announced it was extending benefits in three more areas.