Employment Insurance in Canada: History, Structure and Issues

Employment insurance in Canada is a legacy of the Great Depression, and remains a pillar of the nation’s modern social programs. Since its creation in 1940, the program has undergone many significant evolutions, both philosophically and structurally. Moreover, debate over the program has remained constant throughout its existence, and is still present in contemporary political discourse. This feature provides an introduction to the history, administration, and issues relating to Employment Insurance in Canada.

History of Employment Insurance in Canada

Historical overview of public employment insurance

Administration of the Employment Insurance Program

Laws, bureaucracies, processes, and finances of employment insurance

Issues Concerning Employment Insurance in Canada

Debates on the philosophy and structure of employment insurance

Sources and Links to More Information

List of article sources and links to more on this topic

History of Employment Insurance in Canada

Historical overview of public employment insurance

Early Unemployment Policy

Prior to establishing a federal unemployment program in the 1940s, the Canadian approach to unemployment was characterized by a number of key elements.

First, unemployment was not considered an important government priority (Pal, 1988). Unemployment itself was a relative recent feature of Canadian history. Permanent reserves of labour did not begin to appear in the Canadian colonies until the 1840s, and it wasn’t until an economic depression in the 1870s that Canada first tasted widespread unemployment, leaving thousands of Canadians jobless and destitute. When it did appear, unemployment tended to be viewed as an individual and local issue; it was considered a problem lying within the individual, rather than a broader social issue requiring state action. Aid to the unemployed was provided mainly by municipalities, churches and other charitable groups, with only occasional, emergency assistance from provincial and federal governments.

Second, there existed some uncertainty regarding constitutional jurisdiction over unemployment assistance. The British North American Act, which set out the written part of the Canadian Constitution, was relatively silent about those activities associated with the modern welfare state. As such, even if unemployment was recognized as a social problem requiring state action, it nevertheless wasn’t completely clear which level of government would be responsible ― federal or provincial.

While unemployment policy in Canada remained non-existent, even into the early 1900s, this was not the case in other countries. Many European nations had begun to view unemployment as a social phenomenon. To this end, countries such as Britain, France, and Denmark had instituted public programs to provide temporary financial assistance to individuals who had found themselves out of work.

First World War and Unemployment Programs

Following the World War I, Canada was faced with the issues of integrating returning soldiers back into Canadian life while dealing with an economic recession. In response, the federal government introduced the 1918 Employment Officers Co-ordination Act, a federal-provincial cost-sharing program in which the federal government subsidized provincial employment offices. In addition, the federal government created the department of Employment Services, mandated to provide employment data and advice. The creation of Employment Services represented an important first step in the evolution of Canadian governments’ views towards unemployment as a more permanent and national issue (Pal, 1988).

This shift in views was further reflected in other events. In 1919, the Government of Canada signed a draft document which recommended public unemployment insurance at the first International Labour Conference. Also that year, the Liberal Party of Canada endorsed public unemployment insurance at its first national convention. The federal government also appointed a Royal Commission on Industrial Relations in 1919 (also referred to as the Mathers Commission, after its chair T.G. Mather). In its final report, the Mathers Commission recommended the introduction of a broad range of labour reforms, including the implementation of a national scheme of social insurance for workers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

While views of unemployment were beginning to change, the structure of actual policy and programs continued to reflect more traditional approaches. As the recession deepened, the federal government provided financial assistance to municipalities in support of their relief costs. With the end of the economic crisis in the mid 1920s, however, the federal government eliminated the program and reduced its Employment Services funding. The cuts were justified on the grounds that, in normal times, unemployment was a local, rather than federal or provincial issue (Pal, 1988).

Unemployment Policy in the Great Depression

The issue of public unemployment insurance again resurfaced in the 1930s with the onset of the Great Depression. In 1930, the Conservative government of R.B. Bennett was elected due, in part, to a promise of federal action against unemployment. Initially, the federal government pursued the traditional model of providing temporary and emergency funding to municipalities in support of their relief aid. Over time, however, the Conservative government adopted the policy of a public unemployment insurance scheme, one that would be administered by the federal government and provided nationally.

In 1935, the Conservative government passed the Employment and Social Insurance Act, which established a national unemployment scheme. This new scheme was modelled on the British approach at the time, which included flat-rate financial benefits for the unemployed based on worker, employer, and state contributions. Eligibility was somewhat limited, however, as it excluded seasonal and low-skilled workers were. The program was to be administered by a commission, one constituted by both employees and employers.

Implementation of the program was, however, discontinued in 1935 with the election of the Liberal government of William Mackenzie King. While Prime Minister King did not publicly reject unemployment insurance in principle, he did question it on constitutional grounds ― and specifically, on the notion that unemployment insurance was an area of provincial jurisdiction and that the federal government could not unilaterally impose its own scheme. In 1936, the Liberal government referred the Employment and Social Insurance Act to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ultimately struck down the legislation on those very same grounds. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, which at the time was the highest court of appeal in Canada, subsequently upheld the Supreme Court’s decisions. With these judicial decisions, provincial jurisdiction over unemployment insurance was affirmed. If the federal government was to proceed with its own scheme, it would have to seek a constitutional amendment transferring jurisdiction from the provinces.

Establishment of National Unemployment Insurance

Beginning in the late 1930s, the federal government initiated constitutional negotiations with the provinces to expand federal powers in the area of unemployment insurance. By the decade’s end, Prime Minister King was successful in gaining unanimous provincial consent on this issue; in July 1940, the British Parliament passed an amendment to British North American Act, recognizing unemployment insurance among the list of explicit federal powers. This amendment was, in part, passed due to a clear shift in views about unemployment ― both among Canadians and government officials following the Great Depression. In this context, unemployment was increasingly viewed as a social and involuntary phenomena requiring concerted state action. Moreover, with the election of a provincial Liberal government in Quebec, rather than the staunch provincialist Union Nationale, the biggest holdout province would agree to an amendment.

In August 1940, the federal government passed the Unemployment Insurance Act, instituting a national public system of unemployment insurance. The new scheme was financed through contributions by employees, employers, and the Government of Canada. Contributions were paid into, and benefits paid out of, an Unemployment Insurance Fund, with the federal government investing surpluses and covering any shortfalls. The program was administered by the Unemployment Insurance Commission, made up of three commissioners appointed by the federal cabinet; the Commission had the authority to make regulations to enforce the Act.

At its outset, the new scheme was somewhat narrow in its coverage. While the Act applied to all private and federal public sector employment generally, it nevertheless did exclude a number of different types of employment, such as agriculture, forestry, fishing, logging, hospital care, education (teachers), and any employment earning more than $2,000 per year. Additionally, municipal and provincial public sector employees were excluded unless their employers agreed to participate. As a result, only about 42 percent of the labour force was covered under the new insurance scheme (Pal, 1988).

To be eligible for benefits, workers were required to show they were unemployed, available for suitable work, and had contributed to the program for the last 180 days. Workers could be completely disqualified from receiving benefits if they had participated in a work stoppage or strike, and disqualified for up to six weeks if they had been fired for misconduct, quit voluntarily without just cause, or refused suitable employment. Moreover, unemployment due to illness, injury, pregnancy, or retirement was not covered under the program. The length of time for which a claimant could receive benefits was based on the number of days s/he had contributed to the program (one day of payments for every five days of contributions, up to a maximum of one year).

Following its enactment in 1940, the Unemployment Insurance Act was amended several times. In 1955, however, the legislation received a major overhaul. Key reforms included the complete integration of seasonal workers into the insurance scheme (which had begun in 1950). Coverage under the Act now extended to approximately 75 percent of the Canadian labour force due, in large part, to this extension (Pal, 1988). In addition, the new legislation reduced the maximum benefits period from one year (52 weeks) to 36 weeks, though it did extend the minimum benefit period from 6 to 15 weeks.

Liberalization of Unemployment Insurance

The 1960s saw a number of trends in unemployment policy. To begin, the unemployment insurance program came under considerable financial strain. The 1940s and early 1950s had been a period of strong economic growth and relatively low unemployment. In the 1957-1962 period, however, the country faced a recession in which average annual rates of unemployment reached 7 percent. As a result, the Unemployment Insurance Fund was reduced to a small reserve and became highly dependent upon government advances to remain solvent.

Government officials also began to believe that manpower training and placement should be given higher priority in economic management. This stemmed in large part from the recognition that economy was becoming increasingly vulnerable to rapid technological change and labour market instability (Pal, 1988). While unemployment levels might have remained the same overall, there would be increasing levels of turnover within the labour market. As such, the belief was that unemployment benefits should move away from simple cash payments and provide some measure of retraining and placement to help workers deal these changes in the labour force.

In 1970, the federal government released a white paper, entitled Unemployment Insurance in the 1970s, which proposed to make unemployment insurance more generous while encompassing a wider level of service for workers. Central to this paper was the notion of re-orientating the program to ensure that mainstream economic society was open to all individuals, with a combination of financial aid and active services to assist workers in dealing with labour market adjustments. The white paper subsequently led to the passage of new Unemployment Insurance Act in 1971, which greatly liberalized unemployment insurance in Canada in terms of access and benefits (Pal, 1988).

The new Act ushered in a wide range of changes to the structure and nature of unemployment insurance. Under the new scheme, private sector contributions were to pay for administrative costs of the program, sickness, maternity and retirement benefits, as well as regular benefits, up to a national unemployment rate of four percent. The federal government was responsible for all extended benefits and some regular benefits for national unemployment rates above four percent. At the time the Act was passed, there were no significant administrative changes; the Unemployment Insurance Commission continued to oversee and implement regulations, and to enforce the Act.

Unlike it predecessors, the new Act was almost universal in its coverage. Whereas the 1940 Act had covered only 42 percent of the labour force, and the 1955 version approximately 75 percent, the 1971 Act covered 96 percent of wage- or salary-earning workers (Pal, 1988). Eligibility for benefits was also liberalized, as a claimant now only had to show s/he possessed eight insurable weeks of work in the previous 52 weeks. While workers could still be disqualified from receiving benefits if they quit voluntarily, were fired for misconduct, or refused suitable employment, the disqualification period was reduced from a maximum of six weeks to three. Benefits were also extended to other grounds of unemployment besides involuntary job loss, to include illness, maternity leave, and retirement. Under the new Act, the maximum duration of benefits was 51 weeks, compared to 36 weeks under the 1955 version.

Trends in Unemployment Insurance since 1971

Since the 1971 Act was passed, unemployment insurance has undergone significant changes.

Structurally, unemployment insurance has been reformed substantially. This is, in large part, a reaction to the financial costs of the program following the liberalization of eligibility requirements and the range of benefits provided to workers. These strains have been particularly pronounced in periods of economic crisis, during which demand on the system increases substantially. During the 1980s and early 1990s, unemployment insurance often incurred billions of dollars in annual financial shortfalls.

As a result, changes to the structure of unemployment insurance were introduced by the federal government, some of which came almost immediately after the passage of the 1971 Act. This included significant clawbacks on benefits (such as wage replacement rates or the percentage of their previous income claimants could receive), as well as a tightening of eligibility requirements. Examples of reforms in the 1976-1996 period are as follows:



Program Reforms

Bill C-69


  • Disqualification increased from 3 to 6 weeks for those who quit without just cause, were fired because of misconduct, refused to accept suitable employment, failed to attend a placement interview, or refused to follow instructions from personnel handling their claims.
  • Maximum age for coverage reduced from 70 to 65
  • Wage replacement rate reduced from 75% to 66.67% for claimants with dependants

Bill C-27


  • Maximum benefit period reduced to 50 weeks

Bill C-14


  • Eligibility requirements tightened
  • Wage replacement rate reduced to 60%
  • Benefit clawback introduced to recover benefits paid to high income recipients

Bill C-156


  • Seasonal fishermens’ benefits modified
  • Maternity benefits modified
  • Adoption benefits introduced

Bill C-21


  • Penalty increased from 6, to 7 to 12 weeks for quitting without just cause, for
  • being dismissed for misconduct, or for refusing to accept suitable employment

Bill C-113


  • Those who quit without just cause, were fired for misconduct, or refused to

accept suitable employment became ineligible for benefits

  • Wage replacement rate lowered to 57% (from 60%)

Bill C-17


  • Wage replacement rate lowered to 55% (raised to 60 percent for low-income earners with dependants)

Bill C-12


  • Program renamed to Employment Insurance (EI)
  • 20 weeks of use in the past five years, to a maximum 5%
  • Repeat claimants face a benefit clawback of up to 100%, depending on earnings

and weeks of benefits in the last five years

  • Weekly maximum insurable earnings revised to $750

Prior to 1990, the cost of unemployment insurance was shared by employees, employers, and the federal government (through general government revenues). In 1990, however, the federal government eliminated its own customary financial responsibilities, making the program completely self-financing. As such, the entire cost of unemployment insurance would be shared between employees and employers alone (though the federal government continues to be responsible for any annual surpluses and deficits). In 1996, the name of the program was also changed to Employment Insurance (EI). This was intended to reflect the program’s primary objective of promoting employment in the modern economy and labour force, and to move away from the image of supporting unemployment.

With these various structural changes, unemployment insurance returned to financial health in the mid 1990s. In 1993, the program fell just short of a balanced budget, with annual contributions nearly equalling the benefits paid. Since 1993, annual surpluses in the billions have been the norm. It’s important to note, however, that this period was also one of strong economic growth and reduced levels of unemployment, which contributed to the surpluses. With the economic recession of 2008-2009, the employment insurance program is projected to return to annual deficits.

Administration of the Employment Insurance Program

Laws, bureaucracies, processes and finances of employment insurance

Legislation Governing Employment Insurance

The structure and operation of the Employment Insurance program is governed by two key pieces of law. The Employment Insurance Act is federal legislation, passed by Parliament, which sets out the program’s basic framework. This includes its administration, benefits, eligibility requirements, penalties, claim procedures, and premiums. Since the program’s creation in 1940, the Act has undergone significant amendments and reforms.

  • See the History of Employment Insurance in Canada for more information on historical changes to the Employment Insurance Act.

In addition, the program is governed by Employment Insurance Regulations, a set of rules implemented by authorized government departments and agencies for the purpose of refining the provision of employment insurance.

Key Administrative Departments and Agencies

Numerous government departments and agencies are responsible for the stewardship of the Employment Insurance program. At the time of writing, the Employment Insurance program fell under the federal Department of Human Resources and Social Development (also known as Human Resources and Social Development Canada or HRSDC). This department is responsible for a number of areas of public policy, including income security, learning, skills development, and employment. Three senior cabinet ministers are associated with the HRSDC: the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, the Minister of Labour, and the Minister of State (Seniors).

In managing the Employment Insurance program, HRSDC is assisted by the Canada Employment Insurance Commission (CEIC). While the program is primarily administered and delivered by HRSDC staff, the Commission plays a role in developing policy and enforcing Employment Insurance regulations. Additionally, the Commission oversees the appeal system (see below), as well as the EI Monitoring and Assessment report process, an annual program report for Parliament and the public.

The Commission has four members, each representing different stakeholders. The chairperson and vice-chairperson roles are filled by the deputy minister and associate deputy minister of HRSDC, and represent the interests of the federal government. The two remaining members represent the interests of employers and employees respectively. These two commissioners are appointed by the federal Cabinet in consultation with organizations representing employers and employees, and serve for a term of up to five years.

In 2008, the federal government created the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board (CEIFB), a crown corporation, to further assist HRSDC in managing the EI program. More specifically, the Board is responsible for administrating the Employment Insurance Account, to which employer and employee contributions are deposited and from which benefits are paid. In this context, the Board is authorized to oversee the premium rate-setting mechanism for the program in order to ensure revenues and expenditures balance over time. Moreover, the Board manages a separate account in which annual surpluses from the program are held and invested. The Board consists of three members, with a chairperson representing the interests of the state, and the CEIC commissioners representing employers and employees respectively.

While HRSDC and the Commission are responsible for processing claims and the application of benefit provisions, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is responsible for all matters of insurability, including the collection of Employment Insurance premiums from employers and employees. As such, the CRA will, in accordance with governing legislation and regulations, determine who is required to pay into the program, as well as their precise premiums (which depend in large part on level of income). In addition, CRA oversees the collection of contributions through the federal tax system.

Setting of the Annual Premium Rates

With the establishment of Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, a new mechanism for setting annual premiums for employers and employees was adopted. Under this new system, the Board is responsible for setting premium rates with the goal of ensuring the program generates just enough revenues to cover expected payments on an annual basis. Accordingly, the Board takes into account past differences between revenues and expenditures, future projections, and any other information it considers relevant. In addition, the Board may consult with other government entities (in particular, the Ministers of Human Resources and Social Development and the Minister of Finance), the general public, and organizations representing employers and employees.

Appeals of Employment Insurance Decisions

Under the Employment Insurance program, there exists an appeal process for persons who have been denied benefits. This process consists of multiple levels of appeal. At the first level, individuals may appeal a decision to the Board of Referees, an independent administrative tribunal consisting of a chairperson, a member selected from the employee and employer communities respectively. The chairperson is selected by the federal government. The latter two members are selected by the employee and employer commissions on the Canada Employment Insurance Commission, and serve on the Board for up to three years.

Decisions of the Board of Referees may be further appealed to the Office of the Umpire, which is a superior administrative tribunal that manages proceedings relating to the EI appeal process. Decisions of the Office of the Umpire may then be appealed in the regular Canadian court system. Appeals are first heard by the Federal Court of Appeal, a federal court which hears cases arising in the domain of the federal government. This court’s decisions may be further appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, the highest court in Canada. Decisions of the Supreme Court are final.

Finances of the Employment Insurance Program

Employment Insurance represents one of the largest programs in the federal government in terms of cost and revenue. While both administered and guaranteed by the government, the program is intended to be self-sufficient in the long-term, with employee and employer contributions completely covering administrative and benefit costs.

In the fiscal year 2007-08, program expenditures totaled $16.06 billion (Government of Canada, 2008). The vast majority of expenditures, $12.3 billion, were associated with income benefits paid to individuals during their employment period. This included regular benefits, fishing benefits, and special benefits for sickness, maternity, parental leave, and compassionate care. Regular and fishing benefits accounted for approximately 70 percent of total benefits paid, while special benefits accounted for approximately 30 percent.

Administrative costs for the program totalled $1.7 billion. The remainder of program expenditures, $2.1 billion, stemmed from services provided in support of employment and skills training, commonly referred to as “active employment measures.”

Revenues for the period totalled $16.9 billion, which includes total employee and employer contributions to the program, as well as penalties collected for incorrect claims or overpayments. As a result, for the fiscal year 2007-08, EI recorded an annual surplus of $875 million. Including this annual surplus, and interest earned during the year, the cumulative surplus in the Employment Insurance account reached $56.9 billion at March 31, 2008. It is important to note, however, that the cumulative surplus does not represent actual cash in the Employment Insurance account, but simply a record of annual surpluses which the federal government has subsequently invested in its general budget.

The large cumulative surplus reflects a long period, beginning in the early 1990s, in which the EI program has recorded greater revenues than expenditures on an annual basis. With the economic recession of 2008-09, however, the program will go into considerable deficit. Lower economic activity and higher levels of unemployment will result in a decline in premiums collected, and a sharp increase in benefits paid. These shortfalls are expected to continue for several years, and will require advances from the federal government so the program can remain solvent on an annual basis. Moreover, employment insurance premiums may be raised in the short term to partially cover these deficits.

Issues Concerning Employment Insurance in Canada

Debates on the philosophy and structure of employment insurance

Philosophy of Unemployment Insurance

A basic issue surrounding insurance for the unemployed centres on the validity of the idea itself and, in particular, the notion that the state should provide financial benefits to workers who lose their employment. Supporters of unemployment insurance often underscore the vulnerability of workers in an era of rapid technological change and sudden movement of capital from one country to another. As such, workers often face unemployment through no fault of their own, and should be provided with short-term financial support as they seek new employment. In addition, some view unemployment insurance as an important mechanism for promoting social equality, where wealth is redistributed more equally between employers and affluent workers on the one hand, and, on the other, those at the periphery of the mainstream economy.

Critics of the idea of unemployment insurance tend to emphasize its moral assumptions and practical economic implications. In this context, unemployment is viewed not as an involuntary and social phenomenon, but as a voluntary circumstance stemming from deficiencies in an individual’s character. As such, some suggest that unemployment insurance promotes “getting a free ride” in society, in that it encourages EI recipients to benefit from “public handouts” at the expense of becoming productive and self-sufficient members of society. In a more economic vein, this sort of criticism focuses not on the moral implications of unemployment insurance, but its practical impact on economic growth and productivity. A corresponding argument is that unemployment insurance, through its very existence, encourages higher levels of permanent unemployment, or entrenched seasonal employment, as individuals will choose to receive benefits as opposed to entering the labour force on a full-time basis. This systemic unemployment, in turn, is a detriment to economic growth and productivity. There is also a regional component to this argument. Employment Insurance reduces the incentive for workers to move from places where employment is seasonal or unstable to places where there are labour shortages.

Appropriation of Employment Insurance Surpluses

Another key issue centres on the existence and appropriation of past surpluses in the EI program. Unemployment insurance is intended to be self-sufficient, with annual employee and employer premiums covering benefits over the long term.

Beginning in the middle of the 1990s, Employment Insurance witnessed regular surpluses in the billions of dollars each year, with a cumulative surplus of $57 billion as of March 2008. This was due to the fact that premiums paid into the system were reduced at a slower pace than benefits paid out. As discussed above, however, this amount is only a record of total annual surpluses, as the money was diverted into the federal government’s general revenue and used in support of its annual budget during this period.

This led to criticisms of the federal government, particularly in allowing the surpluses to accumulate to the level that they did. In this context, critics have argued the federal government should have recognized that contributions were much too high relative to what was required to cover annual benefit payouts. As such, the government should have either reduced premiums to a more appropriate level, or increased benefits to take advantage of the surpluses.

The issue of Employment Insurance surpluses has received both legal and political attention. In 2007, unions in Quebec took the federal government to court over its appropriation of Employment Insurance funds, asking that the monies be repaid to the workers. In its 2008 decision, Confédération des syndicats nationaux v. Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected the unions’ argument, ruling that the federal government is free to set premium levels, and to use any resulting surpluses in any way it sees fit.

In 2008, the Conservative government, helmed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, reformed Employment Insurance to address some of these criticisms. In particular, the federal government created the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board (CEIFB) to oversee the setting of annual premium rates. In setting rates, the Board is also mandated to ensure that only enough revenue is collected to sufficiently cover annual expenditures. As such, the program should not incur the billions of dollars in surpluses ― the norm between 1994 and 2007.

Liberalizing Employment Insurance Benefits

Another issue concerning Employment Insurance has centred not on its revenues, but its benefits. This issue received substantial public attention in 2009 with the recession and allegations the EI program failed to provide adequate support to workers during the economic crisis.

Calls for reform in this context have focused on a broad range of areas. One issue has been the eligibility requirement needed to access benefits. As of September 2009, individuals could only claim benefits if they worked a certain number of insured hours in a one-year period. Another issue is that this hourly threshold varies from one region to another, depending in part on regional levels of unemployment. In areas with lower unemployment rates, individuals were required to meet a higher hourly threshold in order to receive benefits.

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Critics have argued this system is unfair, not only because it excludes individuals who need benefits but have failed to meet the hourly threshold, but also because it results in different levels of access for individuals based on where they live. As such, many advocates have called for a new single and lower hourly threshold ― one that would be uniform across the country and permit more individuals in need to claim employment insurance.

Another issue has centred on the amount of benefits and the length of dispensation. Critics have suggested the current system does not provide a sufficient living wage for claimants, and that the current maximum period for regular income benefits is far too short to allow for many workers to adjust to changes in the labour market and find adequate employment.

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In this context, critics have advocated significant changes to Employment Insurance. The Canadian Labour Congress, for example, has called for the federal government to raise regular benefit levels to 60 percent of earnings calculated on a claimant’s best 12 weeks (of income). Further, they have proposed that the maximum allowable period for receiving benefits be extended to 50 weeks. As of September 2009, the program provided a benefit rate of 55 percent of a claimant’s average earning, with a period of benefits dependent on the claimant’s regional unemployment rate and the number of insurable hours s/he accumulated in the previous year.

The issue of benefits has received significant political attention. In 2009, for example, the Liberal Party of Canada was highly critical of the governing Conservatives for not liberalizing Employment Insurance benefits to help workers in dealing with the recession. The Liberal Party called on the government to institute a national 360-hour threshold for access to benefits, for as long as the economic crisis lasted. According to the party, this would allow 150,000 more Canadians to claim EI benefits. In addition, the party proposed that self-employed Canadians be allowed to participate in Employment Insurance on a voluntary basis.

In response, the minority Conservative government agreed to establish a working group of Conservative and Liberal MPs to study the program and propose improvements. The panel was scheduled to report its recommendations to Parliament in late September 2009. The Liberal Party, however, left the working group before it could make its recommendations, arguing that the Conservatives failed to negotiate in good faith on this issue, an allegation the government denied.

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