New Brunswick proudly leading the pack in people on E.I.

New Brunswick proudly leading the pack in people on E.I.

New Brunswick — In New Brunswick, we have a lot to be thankful for: we have scenery —  like, really nice scenery, and a lot of it — and thanks to a recent surge in employment insurance claims, we can now also say that more of our people have managed to qualify for E.I. than anywhere else.

According to Statistics Canada, 33,210 New Brunswickers were on E.I. in January, a jump of 4.2 percent over December’s numbers, meaning the highest increase in Canada. For a province with a population of only about 750,000, those are significant numbers.

“We just like to see high numbers in anything, at this point,” said Finance Minister Roger Melanson. “I think it’s pretty cool that we’re seeing numbers higher than anywhere else in Canada — even if those high numbers are regarding unemployment.

“We need to focus on the positive,” he added.

New Brunswickers couldn’t be happier to be leading the country in something — anything.

“I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve been on E.I. since, oh, I dunno, November?” said Saint John man Dan Devine, 28. “When I initially applied, I wasn’t sure I’d qualify since I quit my job, but it was a breeze. Now all I have to do it fill out my report every couple of weeks.

“The answers are ‘no-no-no-yes-no’ — but keep that on the down-low,” he confided with a sly wink. “You didn’t hear it from me.”

Employment opportunities in New Brunswick are few and far between. Our reporter did a cursory job search on, and found that the most coveted jobs in Fredericton, the capital city, were as: a maid for Merry Maids; a part-time station attendant at Air Canada (for a whopping $13 hourly); a manager-in-training with Giant Tiger (applicants must be willing to relocate to Western Canada); and an “order desk agent” — whatever that is — at Covey Basics for $11.50-$13 hourly. While all of the jobs listed are low-paying, require little to no education, and are mostly part-time or temporary, New Brunswickers are relentlessly hopeful.

“OK, sure, N.B. is a breeding ground for unemployment,” said longtime job-seeker Wendall McLaren of Fredericton. “Unless you want to work part-time as a cashier at PetSmart, you’re pretty much screwed. But we need to look on the bright side: it’s getting easier and easier to qualify for E.I., you can stay on it for longer stretches, and you get paid a lot more than you would if you were actually working a full-time, minimum-wage job around here. We’ve don’t have much to complain about, when you think about it.”

Youths and young graduates of New Brunswick post-secondary institutions are among the hardest hit by unemployment; they’re also the proudest to be able to qualify for employment insurance.

“My parents’ generation could only dream of qualifying for E.I.,” said Moncton woman Kelsey McKay, who has a degree in molecular biology and who worked at McDonald’s until recently. “Sure, they could get a job in their field, start a family, and begin their adult lives in New Brunswick, but they had to work to get money. I, on the other hand, mostly stay at home and apply for a job every few days, and collect E.I. It was a long road to get where I am, but all my hard work has paid off.”

New Brunswick employers say it’s easier than ever to find qualified employees to fill the few vacancies that ever arise.

“We’re gods among men!” said Harry Drake, an account manager with IBM. “We’re adding 100 news jobs over the next 3 years, and the government is paying us to supply them! And many of these are jobs that already exist and are filled, but that doesn’t even seem to matter to anyone. New Brunswick gives new meaning to the term ‘employer’s market’ — we’re not held accountable for how we treat people, we can fire them on a whim. There are always hundreds, if not thousands, of desperate people to fill in.”

Gwyn Thomas, an educated young woman from Miramichi, does her best to avoid the negativity that she sometimes sees in her peers. “As long as I can keep working enough hours to get my E.I., I just really don’t care about finding meaningful, long-term employment,” she explained. “I have 3 degrees and where has that gotten me? Sitting on my butt in Tim Hortons, filling out a job application among 50 other overqualified people. But I think we’re all just grateful there’s a job to apply for — that should be enough.”

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