Once Again, Being Unemployed Is Not A Crime


I’ve been following, with great interest, the news about changes to the Employment Insurance Plan here in Canada. I’m not currently on EI, so that was not the reason why I was following this story closely. What got my attention was the following statements Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made at the press conference:

“There is no bad job, the only bad job is not having a job. I drove a taxi, I refereed hockey. You do what you have to do to make a living.”

And:

“We are going to have significant labour shortages in this country. That means we are going to have to encourage more persons with disabilities to work, more seniors to work, more aboriginal people to work, including young people. We need to get rid of disincentives in the employment insurance system to people joining the work force.

-source: www.680news.com but the underlining added by me for a reason.

Mr. Flaherty, respectfully, what do you think that I and other unemployed Canadians have been doing? We are already doing just that. We are trying to get any type of work we can to keep a roof over our heads and food on our table. What you just said implies that I, and others who are unemployed, are lazy and do not want to work.

Let’s use for example how hard I’ve been looking for work over the last two years. In addition to applying for jobs in my chosen field of information technology (of which I have experience in for 20 years), I’ve also applied for the following jobs (this is a sample of an even larger “hit list”):

  • •Internet Café Cashier
  • •Accounts Payable Clerk
  • •Home Depot Floor Worker
  • •Insurance Broker
  • •Goodwill clothing store sorter
  • •Any type of work in Fairmont Hotels (cleaning, bellhop, etc)
  • •Dog dropping scooper in a park (I was told I was overqualified)

On top of that, I go through the want ads in the newspapers every morning at 7:15 a.m., the time my job search starts. I network with friends and former co-workers. I’m registered on various job search portals and the Canada Job Bank to apply for jobs. I went to Career Foundation for workshops on resume writing and interviewing. I use Indeed, CareerDoor, and even have an ad on Kijiji and Craigslist. I have a Youtube Video and a Google+ video, and I chronicle my job search efforts on my blog. While I am still out of work, It is no contest when I say I’ve taken extraordinary steps to find work. Yet, the impression I am being left with after listening to the Finance Minister is that somehow I, and many other unemployed yet extremely qualified individuals, are lazy because we are out of work and haven’t tried enough.

I wrote in my previous blog post “Being Unemployed Is Not A Crime” that the issue of unemployment is not easily explained with a simple single sentance. I’m not going to repeat the points here, but I will say it’s a complex problem that deserves more than just a soundbite to fix. I’d like to go over some of the points in Mr. Flaherty’s statements.

He first of all claims that everyone should take any job that comes to them. That on paper is a valid point and, in my case, I have branched out to apply for positions outside of information technology (see above). That’s my choice. However, I am concerned about the message he is sending to our young people and to others who passionately care about their career. When I was in my teens, I was told by those in positions of authority (including the Canadian Government) to consider post-secondary education to get a better job instead of settling for a high school diploma. I took their advice, worked in IT for 20 years, and got my shot. Now I’m hearing someone from the Canadian government say it’s somehow ….wrong?….to try to get into the career of their choice that they spent so much of their money to get trained for. Isn’t that their personal right to do so? To get their shot like I did?

Section VII of the Canadian Charter Of Rights And Freedoms states as follows:

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”.

What does this mean? It means freedom to act without restraint, within respect of the law. It also means the power to make personal choices that touch, “the core of what it means to be an autonomous human being blessed with dignity and independence in matters that can be characterized as fundamentally or inherently personal.”. If a person wishes to focus their job search on the field of their expertise, not only is that their choice, it’s their right under the law of the land to do so.

There is also Mr. Flaherty’s argument that there is a shortage of labour in some provinces like Alberta, and people should consider going there to look for work if work cannot be found close to home. Again, valid point, but again, more complex than he thinks. Relocation is a big step, and a decision not to be made lightly. It involves splitting up families and separating those from others who need special care or assistance.

The reason why I would not consider moving to Alberta is that I have no family or friends there to stay with while I get back on my feet. There is also the issue of qualifying for important provincial services. To qualify for AHCIP coverage, for example, one has to reside in Alberta for at least 183 days in a 12 month period. Think about that for a moment. If one decides to go to Alberta to take a new job, and during their first 182 days of residency requires medical care (accident for example), that person has no medical insurance. No insurance, and no one to fall back on in their new home: not exactly a position I’d want myself or anyone else to be in.

There’s also the question of what happens to those provinces that are considered “have-not” status if their population flocks away to where all the jobs go. That doesn’t exactly solve that province’s issues that makes it a “have-not” province, does it? Wouldn’t it make more sense to find a way to make that province prosperous and a generator of good jobs so people would not have to leave in the first place?

A person has the right to decide for themselves where they want to work. Take a look at the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section VI):

“(2) Every citizen of Canada and every person who has the status of a permanent resident of Canada has the right

a) to move to and take up residence in any province; and

b) to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.”

I underlined point b) for a reason. There are many good reasons why a person would not want to make that decision to leave their city or even their province. Maybe the idea of breaking up a family could prove too disruptive. Perhaps it’s the care of a sick or elderly parent that is keeping that person where they are. Or, hey, maybe they just like where they are. There’s nothing wrong with deciding where you want to be, and to be told that you are not trying hard enough to get a job simply because you do not want to move is, quite frankly, harsh to the point of being uncaring. Your job is a part of a life, but your job should not dictate how you live your life. That choice is up to you.

As I said, the issue of unemployment is a very complex and difficult challenge our society must deal with. It certainly deserves more discussion and thought than the comments presented by our Finance Minister…a member of a government that we elected to solve the unemployment problem in the first place!

Thanks for reading!

David

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