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In the past week, there has been mounting concern across the country about the inability of our current EI system to see Canadians through the recession.

Opposition parties and thousands of Canadian workers want to know how a system that only covers 40 per cent of Canada’s unemployed will provide the stability our country needs during tough economic times.

In an attempt to quiet growing calls for EI reform, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley outlined a series of EI changes on Monday. But the Conservatives’ plan isn’t new, nor does it address any of the key problems under the current EI system.

In her announcement, Finley outlined EI changes that include a $500-million program for retraining laid-off, long-tenured workers and an extension of EI benefits if applicants participate in longer-term training of up to two years.

There’s nothing new here – the same $500 million was included in the Conservatives’ January budget.

Since the Conservatives are only re-announcing previous initiatives, the proposed “changes” still fail to address the biggest problem with our current EI system: 60 per cent of Canada’s unemployed remain ineligible for benefits, largely due to a grid system that bases eligibility and duration of benefits on the local unemployment rate.

The Harper government is telling Canadians that the only way to finance EI reform is to increase payroll taxes. This is simply untrue - the government actually accumulated a $54 billion surplus in EI premiums collected from 1994 to 2008.

By improving EI, the government has an opportunity to introduce stimulus spending that would stabilize our economy right now.

We need a standard eligibility of 360 hours – no matter where a worker lives. We need benefits that are determined by a worker’s best 12 weeks on the job, and coverage needs to last at least 50 weeks. 

Since October, 2008, over 321,000 Canadian workers have lost their jobs. Mr. Harper, we can afford to change EI. What we can’t sustain is more political games played on the backs of unemployed workers who need relief now.