MARKHAM, Ont. - There's no need to change the threshold for employment insurance eligibility because as the economy worsens, more and more Canadians will find it easier to quality, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said Tuesday.
The current EI system adjusts every month to local economic conditions and is properly responding to the tougher job market, she said.
About 75 per cent of Canadians are finding it easier to get EI and for a longer period of time compared to last October, Finley said after an event in Markham, north of Toronto.
"If the unemployment rate goes up in a given region then it gets easier for people there to access EI for a longer period of time, and most of the regions around Canada now have become easier to access," she said.
"That is happening all over the country, each and every month."
The Conservative government has resisted calls by the opposition to establish a national threshold for EI eligibility at 360 hours of work, regardless of where an applicant lives.
Currently, the number of hours of work needed to qualify for EI varies widely across the country, from 420 to 910 hours, depending on the local unemployment rate.
Premiers in Ontario and the three western-most provinces - where unemployment is comparatively low - have complained the varying rules discriminate against their workers.
But Finley said changing the threshold will simply increase taxes and cause more job losses.
"What the Liberals and the NDP and the Bloc coalition, again, are proposing is a 45-day work year, and frankly, that's not going to help put people back to work," she said.
"It's not going to help stimulate the economy, what it will do is increase taxes tremendously and that will hurt business and that will actually become a job-killing tax."
A proposed NDP bill, which would add an estimated 150,000 Canadians to the EI roll, comes up for debate this week.
It's supported by the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois, but it would entail an expenditure of as much as $1.5 billion a year - and it's likely to die when the parliamentary session ends without the government's sanction to proceed to third-reading.
Last week, Finley announced $500 million in funding to help as many as 50,000 laid-off veteran workers better access skills training.
She also said on Tuesday that new changes will allow electronic records of employment to go directly into Service Canada's system and become immediately available to support the corresponding EI claim.