Employment insurance: a pillar of our social system

A program by and for workers

For 70 years, the federal unemployment insurance program (now called employment insurance) has provided a safety net for workers who have lost their jobs. Not only does it let workers look for employment opportunities that match their skills, but it also embodies the values of solidarity and equality on which our social system is based.

When created in 1941, the unemployment insurance program was funded by the federal government in conjunction with the premiums paid by employers and workers. This shared funding made it an extremely generous program that benefitted anyone who had the misfortune of losing their job. In the 1990s, Ottawa stopped contributing to the program and successive reforms increasingly curtailed unemployed workers’ access to benefits.

A series of reforms with devastating results

Today, there are 1.3 million unemployed workers in Canada, or 200,000 more than before the 2008 recession. However, the number of unemployed workers eligible for employment insurance benefits has also been dwindling.

In 1990, 83% of unemployed workers received benefits. However, in the years that followed this number dropped considerably and, in 2014, only 36% of unemployed workers were eligible for benefits. When Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his Finance Minister, Paul Martin reformed employment insurance in the 1990s, almost five out of every 10 people had lost their benefits.

Following the Conservatives’ devastating reform of employment insurance in 2012, the number of people eligible for benefits reached its lowest level since the employment insurance program had been introduced in 1941—less than four out of 10—even though all workers contribute to the fund. This reform also led to the adoption of new rules, which forced workers to accept jobs far from where they lived and included positions paying up to 30% less than their previous job.

Both the Liberal and the Conservative governments withdrew more than $50 billion from the employment insurance fund to pay for unrelated programs. With each successive reform, they continued to tighten conditions for access to benefits, which, inturn, undermined the security of the unemployed. It is now time to put an end to decades of destructive reforms and to provide adequate funding for the employment insurance program, which is one of the pillars of our social system.

During the last election campaign, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party promised to cancel the devastating reforms made to the employment insurance program by the Conservatives. In their 2016-17 budget, the Liberals rescinded the Conservatives’ reforms and announced $1 billion in investments for the unemployed. However, of the 850,000 people who lost their job and do not currently have access to employment insurance, only 50,000 will now be eligible for benefits under these measures. Therefore, in effect, the government is abandoning 800,000 Canadians in need - meaning 800,000 Canadians will not receive the support they were promised. In addition, this reform does not extend to include seasonal workers. It is urgent that we rectify the situation and return the employment insurance program to the people to whom it truly belongs: the workers.

Employment insurance: a political effort

Defending workers has been at the heart of the NDP’s political efforts since the founding of the party. Employment insurance is vital to economic prosperity. Thus, we believe that this program must be reformed so that it can benefit everyone who contributes to it.

Our plan for employment insurance will:

  • Establish a single eligibility threshold of 360 hours of work in the preceding year with benefits based on the best 12 weeks. It will also eliminate eligibility criteria that vary according to the region and its unemployment rate;

  • Financially support the provinces in order to enhance training, which will create tens of thousands of opportunities for up-skilling and transitioning to work;

  • Help parents by providing longer parental leave and assist those with loved ones suffering from serious illnesses by improving compassionate care benefits.

Only the NDP is proposing to revise the employment insurance program so that benefits are more accessible and generous. By fundamentally rethinking this program we can restore its original purpose: to ensure decent living conditions and adequately protect the unemployed.


Useful links:

// Accueil Bonneau

// Carrefour Jeunesse Emploi Hochelaga-Maisonneuve

// Carrefour Jeunesse Emploi Mercier

// Carrefour Jeunesse Emploi Rosemont – La-Petite-Patrie

// Comité chômage de l’Est de Montréal

// East Island Network for English Language Services

// Youth Employment Services