E.I. and the Tyranny of Self-Righteousness

and Labrador, in April 2013, boasted an unadjusted 13.7% unemployment rate. 13.7%
of NL’s workforce represents 32,700 people. By any measure, it is far too many in
an economy, which the Premier boasts, is ‘white hot’. 

Employers’ claim,
that they can’t find adequate labour, is supported with the existence of 1600
vacancies, again an April figure. One indicator of problems, in the job market,
is the ratio of unemployed persons to the number of job vacancies, at least, officially.  In Nova Scotia it is 12.3, in New Brunswick 15.5,
the Canadian average is 6.5; in NL the ratio is 20.9!  

That’s a big
ratio of available labour to job openings. 
It should get noticed.

One reason,
of course, is that NL’s unemployment statistics are exaggerated by groups of aging
workers and fisher people. Many live in remote communities whose only raison
d’etre, was and still is, harvesting the sea. 
The ground fishery is barely standing,
a situation compounded by limited allocations, competition
from Chinese wages and the migration of young people to growth centers. Fisher
people must feel marooned, cut-off, not just from employment but from influence
on public policy, as they once had.

In time, we
will debate Newfoundland’s inability to maintain a fish company of
international size and brand power; for the present, however, we ought to pay
deference to aging fisher people who still try and cling to the only work most
of them know.   

A couple of
months ago a furor broke out in the House of Commons  over a “crackdown on EI
claimants that includes sending government inspectors to people’s homes…” The
Federal Human Resources Minister had to defend herself against charges, by
Union leaders and Opposition politicians, who accused her of “treating the
unemployed like criminals”. Cries of derision greeted the Open Line Shows and
other media.       

Imagine that
someone would deliberately rip off the EI system! As if the public purse is
inviolate to everyone, except Senators.

Recently, Church Bishops got in on the act, issuing a ‘Letter’ of concern over the
impact of the EI changes, which make it more difficult for people to refuse
work, requiring them to travel up to 100 KM. “You can’t look at someone
who is unemployed as a problem,” said the Archbishop of St. John’s, Martin
 As if the issue were really that black and

Like other
groups, the Churches were playing it safe on EI, offering no distinction between
the various groups of unemployed and why they are not working, especially those
living on the “white hot” Northeast Avalon.

admittedly, there are issues of skills matching, that is only part of the problem.  The truth is, the EI issue says far more
about the state of our politics than any issue of EI eligibility. Politics is
not just played by governments and political parties; just about every group,
these days, churches, unions, perhaps even the bake sale committee, feel a
sense of self-righteousness.  They are
scared they will be out of step with any group thought competent in matters of
political correctness.

The way all
these groups see it, having to distinguish between eligibility and what has
become ‘entitlement’, is fraught with risk, so why bother. And, anyway, the
claims come out of some miraculous pot! It doesn’t cost us anything, does it!  

It is not a
big leap to differentiate between one group of unemployed, whose remote rural
and age characteristics and skills challenges are distinctly different from
those of a younger, more urbanized group, who enjoy health and accessibility to
job openings.  But, interest groups won’t
go down that road; they might muddy a protected position, they might compromise
a safe constituency. Can’t have that, can we!

business types complain, few talk publicly about those who refuse lower wage jobs,
even when they offer well above the minimum wage.  

The fact is,
governments have corrupted EI policies, for years.
They have invented additional qualifying
weeks.  They have used the EI system to
shore up the votes of seasonal workers.  After
four decades of engaging in unbridled abuse and maiming the very purpose for
which the system was established, EI ‘entitlement’ has become broadly cultural.

have behaved so badly, and the constituency of EI users is so large, any
attempt to plug the system’s most egregious shortcomings, has to be opposed. 

political parties, churches and unions, any fix is a flag to claim some moral
high ground.  They would rather overlook
abuse, watch the sense of entitlement grow, and see foreign labourers eagerly sign
on to perform work, locals should be doing.

There is one
more aspect to this problem, to which the self-righteous are blind. It is this:
older, rural fisher people are being used, as cover, to stymy much needed
change.  Though they are largely disenfranchised
from influence now, that very group may have a far greater claim to better
but they can’t be heard. 
The thunder of the self-righteous perpetuates a system, in which they
are forced to share with those who can’t get their asses out of bed.   

public policy ought to trump self-interest and protect the public purse from a
system that is flawed.  EI is only,
euphemistically, an ‘insurance’ program; but it shouldn’t be.  It needs to be re-invented in a way that punishes
frequent users in locations, where jobs are available. It should also recognize
aging fisher persons and give them the dignity they are due.  And, yes, it should be calculated to force
the hangashores out of bed.   

foreign workers are welcome, an activist approach to getting healthy people off
their fannies should be a priority for any society worth its salt.  EI ‘inspectors’ are one thing, but some
better public policy supported by the very groups, who now oppose such change, would
be an even better beginning.

It is time that
the self-righteous recognized that there is virtue in self-reliance.
Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.


Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.


This is the most important set of negotiations we have engaged in since the Atlantic Accord and Hibernia. Despite being a small jurisdiction we proved to be smart and nimble enough to negotiate good deals on both. They have stood the test of time and have resulted in billions of dollars in royalties and created an industry which represents over a quarter of our economy. Will we prove to be smart and nimble enough to do the same with the Upper Churchill?


  1. Great article. And you are right, it is an issue that only the "brave" will tackle. It is a slippery slope of need versus entitlement with a good smattering of laziness.
    Some studies were done in the US many years ago that concluded any attempt to police such programs were more than likely to suffer the same effect and become more costly than the program itself.
    Some news program I watched a few years back when I still had a TV showed how folks would ride the trains between NH, Mass, RI, NY and with little effort could milk a combination of systems at once – rather clever I thought.
    It is not uncommon for many groups, police, firefighters, and a myriad of other groups who have an early retirement program to with little effort retire nicely with a few different pension programs.
    The "old days" of the defined pension plans may have all disappeared for those in the real world but there are many who have learned that government anything is a safe haven for easy access to money.