Minister undervalues Canada’s unemployed

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says EI recipients may be forced to take work currently filled by temporary foreign workers

Grab a bucket and head to the berry patch. That would appear to be the message the Harper government has for Canadian workers displaced by a global economy still recovering from the worst recession in more than a generation.

Speaking to the editorial board of the National Post last week, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the Conservative government wants to reduce disincentives to work and create a greater connection between the EI program and the temporary foreign worker program. “If you don’t take available work, you don’t get EI,” Kenney said.

The proposed reforms would require unemployed Canadians receiving EI to accept local jobs currently being filled by temporary foreign workers. While those collecting unemployment benefits do have an obligation to apply for work, the minister’s solution would create a new underclass of the Canadian workforce while doing nothing to address the challenges the country faces in the years ahead.

If manual labour in the fields is the federal government’s solution to the unemployment situation, one must question the whole rationale for an Employment Insurance program. The key word there is insurance — with workers paying upwards of $800 a year in premiums, sometimes for 10, 20 or 30 years without making a claim.

Canadian workers who have devoted years of service to their employers, all the while paying their taxes and premiums for government programs, deserve more than a map to the nearest minimum-wage job.

Meanwhile, the country is coping with a growing demand for skilled workers in a variety of trades and occupations.

Instead of waging class warfare on the nation’s unemployed, the government should be investing more in training programs that will meet Canada’s needs in the future and provide some dignity to Canadians struggling to support themselves and their families.