NOTEBOOK: The country’s EI hotspots — pre-COVID-19 crisis — were mostly in Atlantic Canada

Click to play video: 'New CERB to offer Canadians more money than EI'
New CERB to offer Canadians more money than EI
The vast number of Canadians who applied for Employment Insurance since March 15 could receive more cash, as the federal government races to distribute money through the new Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB). – Apr 3, 2020

When the federal government first announced the eligibility rules for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), it limited the $2,000-a-month benefit only to all those who had applied for employment insurance on or after March 15.

A former federal political staffer — who also happens to be a son of Atlantic Canada — messaged me right away: “People on the East Coast are going to go nuts over that!”

Indeed, in the pre-COVID-19 crisis period, the Atlantic Canada employment picture was much bleaker, particularly in rural parts of the region, than the otherwise relatively rosy picture in the rest of the country. In Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, nearly eight per cent of the workforce or about 95,000 people were receiving employment insurance (EI) benefits in February. By contrast, no other single province had more than 2.7 per cent of its workforce receiving EI benefits.

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In central-eastern Newfoundland, better than one in four persons, or 25.6 per cent, of the labour force in February was an EI beneficiary — a ratio which was tops across the dozens of what Statistics Canada calls the “economic regions” of the country. Last week, Statistics Canada released the latest data — for February — on the number of employment beneficiaries in each region of the country. This will be the last monthly snapshot of EI beneficiary before the COVID-19 crisis sideswiped Canada. By mid-March, most of the country was in lockdown and millions were thrown out of work.

February economic data, then, forms a sort of baseline from which to measure the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 crisis and the different policy responses by federal and provincial governments.

One of the policy responses that was quickly modified by the federal government from its original form was the eligibility requirements for the CERB. The big change was to remove the restriction that prevented anyone whose EI benefits were running out from receiving the CERB. With more than 442,590 Canadians already receiving EI benefits in February, failing to provide a support program for those individuals could have been a big problem. And it could have turned into a monster political problem for Liberal MPs from Atlantic Canada. Though just over six per cent of Canada’s workforce is based in the four Atlantic provinces, more than 20 per cent of the country’s EI beneficiaries are based there.

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(The number of EI beneficiaries, it’s important to note, is not a measure of the number of people who are unemployed. As not all of those who are unemployed qualify for or seek employment insurance, the number of unemployed will generally be higher in any region than the number of EI beneficiaries.)

The following table lists the 20 economic regions in Canada ranked by the highest percentage of the region’s labour force receiving employment insurance benefits in February. For a point of reference, Canada’s national labour force had 19.5 million people in it in February of which 2.27% were receiving employment insurance.

Economic Region
Labour Force
Pct on EI
South Coast–Burin Peninsula and Notre Dame–Central Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador13,80054,00025.6%
Campbellton–Miramichi, New Brunswick13,63066,90020.4%
Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec7,59039,10019.4%
West Coast–Northern Peninsula–Labrador, Newfoundland and Labrador8,43047,90017.6%
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia9,06054,80016.5%
Parklands and Northern, Manitoba3,45037,4009.2%
Prince Edward Island7,58084,3009.0%
Southern, Nova Scotia4,50051,4008.8%
Côte-Nord and Nord-du-Québec, Quebec4,37058,6007.5%
Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland and Labrador10,040144,1007.0%
Edmundston–Woodstock, New Brunswick2,70039,0006.9%
North Shore, Nova Scotia4,70073,2006.4%
Prince Albert and Northern, Saskatchewan6,320105,6006.0%
Moncton–Richibucto, New Brunswick6,910116,9005.9%
Bas-Saint-Laurent, Quebec5,15091,0005.7%
Saint John–St. Stephen, New Brunswick3,79083,9004.5%
North Coast and Nechako, British Columbia1,94046,8004.1%
Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec5,530135,3004.1%
Northeast, Ontario10,150253,3004.0%
Fredericton–Oromocto, New Brunswick2,73070,7003.9%
Source: Statistics Canada / Global News
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When the CERB was announced in March, the government said that all new applicants for EI would be moved to the CERB program. So it seems likely that, even if StatsCan publishes data on EI beneficiaries for March, that data is now going to come with an asterix for any comparative purposes

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed his government to regularly publishing data on CERB disbursements, saying, “We will be releasing the latest figures on the CERB through the government’s Open Data portal three times a week so academics, researchers and Canadians can keep track of the work being done. We will continue to provide and open up data so that we can get the best advice from experts and continue to help Canadians.”

Click to play video: 'CERB expands for part-time, contract, seasonal workers'
CERB expands for part-time, contract, seasonal workers

That’s great. But, if I can make a suggestion, I’d like to see CERB recipients mapped to the same economic regions that StatsCan uses for EI beneficiaries. I think that would provide academics, researchers and even journalists with some good insight into how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting different parts of the country.

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One more table: this one is the opposite, essentially, of the one above. It shows 20 economic regions of Canada ranked by the lowest percentage of their labour force receiving EI benefits.


Economic Region
Labour Force
Pct on EI
Lower Mainland–Southwest, British Columbia17,6101,670,2001.05%
Ottawa, Ontario9,090740,1001.23%
Toronto, Ontario47,2503,696,7001.28%
Laval, Quebec3,380249,3001.36%
Montréal, Quebec15,6101,114,1001.40%
Regina–Moose Mountain, Saskatchewan3,100192,3001.61%
Winnipeg, Manitoba6,680412,9001.62%
Kitchener–Waterloo–Barrie, Ontario11,830729,4001.62%
Capitale-Nationale, Quebec6,970424,9001.64%
London, Ontario5,720344,1001.66%
Hamilton–Niagara Peninsula, Ontario13,160790,3001.67%
Stratford–Bruce Peninsula, Ontario2,710162,5001.67%
Outaouais, Quebec3,640210,7001.73%
Montérégie, Quebec14,970853,9001.75%
Calgary, Alberta17,340968,5001.79%
Chaudière-Appalaches, Quebec4,120227,9001.81%
Vancouver Island and Coast, British Columbia7,420404,1001.84%
South Central and North Central, Manitoba1,06057,5001.84%
Lethbridge–Medicine Hat, Alberta2,920153,5001.90%
Southwest, Manitoba1,12057,4001.95%

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