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Workers, employers are calling on the federal government to pay off EI program debt

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OTTAWA — With employment insurance premiums set to rise in the new year, both employers and workers are calling on the federal government to step in and rescue the program from the considerable amount of debt it has fallen into since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program, which is financed entirely through premiums paid by workers and employers, accumulated $25.9 billion of debt by the end of 2021, according to the Office of the Chief Actuary.

The rise in debt comes after a staggering number of Canadians were unemployed during the pandemic and eligibility rules for the program were relaxed to ease access to jobless benefits.

Since then, the labour market has bounced back and temporary changes to the EI program have been reversed. However, the question that lingers is: who should pick up the tab on the accumulated debt?

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Employers and workers are hoping the federal government will.

“The current deficit happened because of the pandemic, and it is not the fault of any employee and it’s not the fault of any employer,” said Jasmin Guénette, vice-president of national affairs at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

After a two-year freeze, EI premiums are set to rise by five cents per $100 of earnings in 2023, which is the maximum increase allowed in one year by legislation.

However, the increase falls short of what the Office of the Chief Actuary recommended for the program to break even by 2029.

Nancy Healey, the representative for employers on the Canadian Employment Insurance Commission, said “both business (and) labour are concerned about the amount of debt that’s in the EI account right now.”

The EI system is overseen by a commission that regularly reviews problems and the appeals system, as well as its financing. The commissioners bring the voices of workers and companies to the table, often consulting their constituents and raising concerns with permanent officials.

The representative for workers on the commission, Pierre Laliberté, said the federal government hasn’t indicated whether it has any intention to pay off any of the debt.

“Everyone was surprised by the fact that at budget, there was no or partial compensation for the cost incurred during the pandemic,” he said.

When asked whether there are any plans for the federal government to pay off some of the debt, a spokesperson for Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said in a statement “these debts are resolved over many years, with the premium rates being determined using seven-year break-even projections.”

“With the 5 cent increase, the rate will become $1.63 in 2023, which remains one of the lowest rates observed in Canada’s history,” said Jane Deeks, the minister’s director of communications.

Who should pay for the accumulated debt is part of a larger discussion on EI reform.

In 2021, the Liberals campaigned on a promise to modernize EI and pledged to expand the program to cover self-employed workers and address gaps, including those highlighted by the COVID-19.

Miles Corak, an economics professor at the City University of New York and longtime researcher on EI, said the reform should include changes to how the program is financed.

In a note published by the C.D. Howe Institute earlier this week, Corak made the case for tripartite funding of the program, where employers, workers and the government contribute.

He argues workers and employers shouldn’t be burdened by unexpected shocks to the economy like the pandemic that cause a spike in “involuntary” unemployment.

“Sometimes workers are willing to work, are in the right place, and have the required skills, but the jobs are just not available,” Corak wrote in the note, which is addressed to Qualtrough.

Corak suggests the federal government should cover increased costs to the program caused by unexpected economic shocks. At the same time, it should collect any surpluses accumulated during times of low unemployment.

Corak, who participated in public consultations held on EI reform, said both employer and workers’ groups seemed to react positively to his proposal.

“I’m sort of looking between the tea leaves here thinking, OK, that might be a way to get federal government financing involvement into the program,” Corak said.

While the Liberals haven’t given a timeline for the implementation of the reform, they are expected to present their plan by the end of the year.

The idea of having the government contribute to the program isn’t new. Prior to the 1990s, EI was financed through contributions from workers, employers and the federal government.

Unifor president Lana Payne says the union wants to see federal contributions reinstated “to both mitigate the accrued program deficit and support long-term enhancements to the program for workers.”

However, Jennifer Robson, a Carleton University associate professor of political management, said she would be surprised if there was much enthusiasm from the federal government to contribute financially.

“My impression is that the current mood from the Department of Finance is much more one of fiscal restraint,” Robson said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 14, 2022.

 

Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press

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Canadian military would be 'challenged' to launch a large scale operation: chief of the defence staff – CTV News

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OTTAWA –

Canada’s military forces are “ready” to meet their commitments should Russia’s war in Ukraine spread to NATO countries, but it would be a “challenge” to launch a larger scale operation in the long term, with ongoing personnel and equipment shortages, according to Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre.

Eyre told Joyce Napier on CTV’s Question Period in an interview airing Sunday that while the forces in Europe are “ready for the tactical mission they’ve been assigned,” he has larger concerns about strategic readiness. He said there’s a lack of people and equipment, and further concern around the ability to sustain a larger scale mission in the longer term.

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The Canadian Armed Forces are still struggling to retain staff, with nearly 10,000 fewer trained personnel than they’d need to be at full force, and equipment stocks below what they require.

“We’ve got challenges in all of those,” Eyre said, adding the numbers reflect what’s been “let slip over decades, as we’ve focused on the more immediate (needs).”

Eyre said Canada’s military would be “hard pressed” to launch another large-scale operation like it had in Afghanistan, as an example, without having to redistribute its resources around the globe, as threats evolve.

“The military that we have now is going to be increasingly called upon to support Canada and to support Canadian interests, to support our allies overseas, but as well at home,” Eyre said, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, climate change impacting the landscape in the Arctic, and an increase in digital and cybersecurity threats.

“It’s always a case of prioritization and balancing our deployments around the globe, not just with what, but when, and with who … and getting that balance right is something that that we’re working on,” he said. “Could we use more? Yeah, absolutely. But we operate with what we have.”

“We prioritize and balance based on what our allies need, and what the demand signals, just to make sure that we achieve the strategic effect the government wants us to achieve,” he also said.

Meanwhile Defence Minister Anita Anand said on CTV’s Question Period last week that Canada should “be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” and balance its NATO commitments with securing the Arctic and promoting peace in the Indo-Pacific.

Eyre said his number one priority is getting Canada’s armed forces up to full strength, with an attrition rate of 9.3 per cent between both regular and reserve forces, up from 6.9 per cent last year. The Canadian Armed Forces Retention Strategy was released just last month.

“We are facing the same challenge that every other industry out there is facing in terms of a really tight labor market,” Eyre said. “Every other military in the West is facing the same challenge.”

He explained the organization is working on streamlining its recruitment process, among other changes, to meet the increasing need, with the goal to get numbers up “as quickly as possible.”

“Ideally, would have been yesterday,” he said. “We’re looking at where we can accelerate the recruiting, the training, and optimizing our training pipeline.”

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World Cup 2022: How soccer is evolving in Canada – CTV News

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Soccer wasn’t really a thing when I was a kid. I grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s. Sure, we all had soccer balls. And we played a lot of what should be more accurately called, Kick and Run. But I – and all my friends – did not really know the rules, the teams or the players. We might’ve heard of Pelé, but not more than that.

We followed hockey, baseball, football (CFL and NFL) and basketball, in that order. I did occasionally watch soccer on TV, but that was because we didn’t have a lot of channels and the soothing English accents often lulled me to sleep.

Things are much different now. My 13-year-old son is a massive soccer fan. He plays on a team three or four times a week. His schoolmates include a lot of second-generation Canadians, whose parents came from soccer-obsessed nations. He watches Premier League and Championship League matches. He’s watches La Liga and Bundesliga. He watches World Cup qualifiers and could tell me the backstory on most of the players. In fact, he watches classic games on YouTube and plays FIFA22 on his PS4 and as a result, knows more about Pelé than I ever did. But, because of him, I now watch enough football to know a game is a match, a goalie is a keeper and I know which plays end up in corner kicks or throw-ins.

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I once asked him, “How well do you know the Germany national team?” and he said, “Not very well.” He then proceeded to name seven of their 11 starters. It’s a different world.

I still know almost nothing compared to the other soccer dads, but like millions of Canadians, I watched Canada’s qualifying matches and I know we have a great team, with some stellar players who are worth watching. The qualifying matches regularly beat both hockey games and CFL football when it comes to viewership.

But we should care about more than just the matches themselves. The World Cup is one of the biggest and most lucrative sports spectacles on Earth. This will be the first one hosted in the Middle East. And although Qatar may look shiny and new on TV, it’s mired in what many Western nations believe to be medieval and backwards policies on working conditions, LGBTQ2S+ and women’s rights.

Finding people to talk about it in Qatar is NOT easy. One of W5’s goals this week was to talk to migrant workers to describe how they were treated, their living conditions and their labour rights. Most were too afraid to talk to us.

And to confound things, there have been many stories of journalists being detained or arrested for reporting on migrant workers. Last week, a Danish reporter was live on TV from Qatar and when asked what things were like there, he directed his camera operator to pan left – revealing security officials in golf carts, who immediately tried to stop the live hit. The next day Qatari officials apologized, but the message was clear: we can stop you from reporting when we want. It’s a fascinating video that’s been viewed millions of times around the globe.

The Qatari government denies they’ve put any restrictions on media. In a tweet, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy says “several regional and international media outlets are based in Qatar, and thousands of journalists report from Qatar freely without interference each year.”

Not everyone is convinced. Qatar ranks 118 out of 180 countries in the 2022 Press Freedom index, published by Reporters Without Borders. Freedom House, which is a U.S.-based freedom watchdog, gives Qatar a 25 out of 100 score on Global Freedom, which includes freedom of expression. (Canada ranks 98 and the US ranks 83).

A Reuters Institute column from last week on press freedom in Qatar suggests authorities obscure press freedom laws, by hiding behind trespassing laws.

“One of the most common risks when doing journalistic work in Qatar is to be accused of trespassing. This is what Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani of Norwegian state broadcaster NRK were accused of when they were arrested by officers of Qatar’s Criminal Investigations Department in November 2021, while covering World Cup preparations. The journalists were held for over 30 hours before being released without charge. They deny they were filming without permission,” says the article.

A little insider info: I have personally written, “we don’t want you to get arrested, but…” at least twice in correspondence with our team in Qatar. I’ve never encouraged anyone to break the law of course, but sometimes doing our jobs leads police or security into thinking they have a duty (or at least a right) to stop you.

Where do we get our story ideas? You. Emails, DMs, letters and tweets get to us and we read them all. Share your story with us and you can help us make a difference at W5@bellmedia.ca.

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Don’t have a cow: Senator’s legen-dairy speech draws metaphor from bovine caper

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OTTAWA — Haven’t you herd? A dramatic tale of 20 escaped cows, nine cowboys and a drone recently unfolded in St-Sévère, Que., and it behooved a Canadian senator to milk it for all it was worth.

Prompting priceless reactions of surprise from her colleagues, Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne recounted the story of the bovine fugitives in the Senate chamber this week — and attempted to make a moo-ving point about politics.

“Honourable senators, usually, when we do tributes here, it is to recognize the achievements of our fellow citizens,” Miville-Dechêne began in French, having chosen to wear a white blouse with black spots for the occasion.

“However, today, I want to express my amused admiration for a remarkably determined herd of cows.”

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On a day when senators paid tribute to a late Alberta pastor, the crash of a luxury steamer off the coast of Newfoundland in 1918 and environmental negotiators at the recent climate talks in Egypt, senators seated near Miville-Dechêne seemed udderly taken aback by the lighter fare — but there are no reports that they had beef with what she was saying.

Miville-Dechêne’s storytelling touched on the highlights of the cows’ evasion of authorities after a summer jailbreak — from their wont to jump fences like deer to a local official’s entreaty that she would not go running after cattle in a dress and high heels.

The climax of her narrative came as nine cowboys — eight on horseback, one with a drone — arrived from the western festival in nearby St-Tite, Que., north of Trois-Rivières, and nearly nabbed the vagabonds before they fled through a cornfield.

“They are still on the run, hiding in the woods by day and grazing by night,” said Miville-Dechêne, with a note of pride and perhaps a hint of fromage.

She neglected to mention the reported costs of the twilight vandalism, which locals say has cost at least $20,000.

But Miville-Dechêne did save some of her praise for the humans in the story, congratulating the municipal general manager, Marie-Andrée Cadorette, for her “dogged determination,” and commending the would-be wranglers for stepping up when every government department and police force in Quebec said there was nothing they could do.

“There is a political lesson in there somewhere,” said the former journalist.

Miville-Dechêne ended on what could perhaps be interpreted as a butchered metaphor about non-partisanship: “Finally, I would like to confess my unbridled admiration for these cows that have found freedom and are still out there, frolicking about. While we overcomplicate things, these cows are learning to jump fences.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2022.

 

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press

 

 

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