Friday, July 12, 2002
The Halifax Herald

Welfare blamed for East Coast’s dependency on federal transfers

By The Canadian Press

Saint John, N.B. – Cape Breton’s biggest strawberry producer says he will stop growing berries next year because he can’t get anybody to pick them in a region that has 10 per cent unemployment.

In Petit-Rocher, N.B., laid-off fish plant workers refused three years ago to commute on a free-of-charge, 90-minute bus to work at an unstaffed plant. They called on the government to establish make-work programs closer to their home.

Brian Crowley, president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, believes such incidents explain a Statistics Canada survey this week that suggested the four Atlantic provinces are the country’s most dependent on government transfers.

“Once everybody’s stamped up for EI, nobody has any reason to want to work,” Crowley said in an interview Thursday.

For every $100 Newfoundland and Labrador earned in the year 2000, the province pulled in $32.40 in transfers such as employment insurance, child tax benefits, Canada Pension Plan payments, old-age security and income assistance.

That amount puts Newfoundland and Labrador at the top of the transfer payment list in Atlantic Canada.

Prince Edward Island is in second at $27.77. New Brunswick takes in $23.90 while Nova Scotia gets $22.92.

By comparison, Ontario took in $13.30. Alberta was the lowest province, at $10.94, and the Northwest Territories was the lowest of all regions, at $9.27.

Crowley laid the biggest portion of blame on Atlantic Canada’s employment insurance, which he says pays people to stay home instead of training or looking for work.

But Sheila Regeher, director of the National Council of Welfare, defended welfare.

“This is money from programs they’ve paid into,” she said. “This is what those programs are for, is to have some protection against risk.”

Transfers for the rich don’t show up in the Statistics Canada figures, she added.

“Some people would argue that wealthy Canadians are becoming too dependent on RRSP deductions. You can call that a handout to the wealthy, but that doesn’t show up as a transfer because it’s integrated into the tax system.”

Crowley called for reforms to employment insurance so it would provide training to eligible people and not pay out money unless they take that training.

Canada’s fishery, which operates seasonally because the industry is too big for the supply of fish, could operate efficiently and profitably if surplus workers could be switched “to the jobs that need doing,” he said.