The CEO Poll: Pogey makeover

Canadian business leaders back EI reform.

Business leaders give the federal mini-budget high marks.

Employment insurance in Canada needs reforming, according to a web poll of 122 CEOs conducted by COMPAS Inc. The survey was issued in response to a recent report from the C.D. Howe Institute that recommended changes to EI to address imbalances in the labour market.

The report contends that while many regions of Canada face high unemployment levels, people are still not relocating to areas where jobs are available. Reasons for not moving are complex, of course, but the report isolates EI as one factor because the program pays higher benefits for a longer period of time to those located in areas of high unemployment, thereby creating a disincentive to look for work elsewhere.

The CEOs polled agree with most of the policy changes outlined in the report. Reworking EI benefits to be portable across provinces for a trial period garnered the most support among the respondents, since they believe such a policy change would make it easier for job seekers to move to where employment is available. “It is difficult to ask people to move away from family and friends to get a job, but it has been a reality of life for generations,” wrote one CEO.

The respondents also strongly supported the idea of shortening the benefit entitlement periods and lengthening qualification schedules for young, repeat users of EI. A few of the CEOs’ comments reflected their belief that many users take advantage of the EI program. “EI benefits should have a more stringent means test as there are far too many abuses of the system,” wrote one.

“Employment insurance is viewed by many as their full-time job. Any program that is implemented to increase effectiveness must be carefully managed, as there are always the few (more than a few) who will take advantage of any loophole,” according to another respondent.

Other recommendations were popular with the CEOs, as well, such as using cost-savings from changes to the program for “moving bonuses” given to those who relocate for work.

But the effect of all of these measures could be limited, as one CEO pointed out: “I think our society needs to understand that we will have regional disparity.”