The Tories Pitch EI Benefits for the Self-Employed

Via Sue, I read this CBC article about Prime Minister Harper’s plan to extend employment insurance benefits to self-employed Canadians like myself:

At Eurospa in Ottawa’s east end, the Conservative leader announced that his party will give self-employed Canadians the chance to opt in to the employment insurance system, providing them with parental leave and other EI benefits…

The self-employed business owners who choose to participate could collect employment insurance or parental benefits once they had worked enough hours to qualify, even if their business collapsed.

The article points out that this is a program aimed directly at professional women, a demographic that the Conservatives struggle to reach. After all, they did announce the thing in a spa. I wonder if the Prime Minister got his toes painted.

Sue makes some salient points in critiquing the plan:

If optional, how would you control the quality of the business owners paying into the plan. You’re much more likely to see “marginally successful” business owners paying in, because they’re the ones who expect to have to collect. That’s not going to work, because you will have far too many outputs to cover from the inputs.

If the plan is mandatory, you’re basically taxing all the successful entrepreneurs to support the unsuccessful ones. Um ex-squeeze me? Not over my dead body!! As a successful OR unsuccessful entrepreneur, a mandatory EI program leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.

I agree with Sue about the kinds of business which are likeliest to opt in. It’s hard to imagine how the plan will pay for itself in the long run.

I hope the plan remains optional (that’s how it sounds from the article), because otherwise it’s essentially a tax on the small business owner. When you become self-employed, you adopt greater risk in order to potentially reap greater reward. I’m comfortable with that, and don’t need my government to soften the blow should my business fail.

That said, I do think extending paid family leave to the self-employed is a good move. There are plenty of proven social benefits from such a program that extend beyond the individual.

What do you think?


  1. I guess the question is whether the number of self-employed people is big enough to throw off the overall balance of the EI system if only the flakier ones opt in.

    I almost regret not having collected EI after I lost my company job in 2001, but I leapt into freelancing within two weeks. Now, of course, I’m on medical leave from another company job I started a couple of years later — sure glad I’m not still a freelancer now, I tell you!

  2. I believe the theory is that the self-employed will have an EI pool all of their own, so “we” can’t leech off you good folks with real jobs. That’s where the viability question comes in.

  3. EI for freelancers does seem to go against the grain of what a successful freelancer is – if you need EI, then are you successful enough to make a go of it? I agree with the viability comments above.

    I used to work for EI. Let me tell you that the number of people who start a job as their 40th+ week of benefits rolls past is very high. And it’s not surprising. I would do the same thing – sit on the couch until the very last week of benefits. It’s human nature.

    After working there, I came to see EI as essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul – there’s a rather unethical smell about it. It’s a program that for the most part delays working people getting on with their life (excl mat leave and medical leave). Some people draw upon EI over and over again, whereas others, like my father, would never draw on it out of principle of providing for his family on his own, yet paid over $30,000 into it. $30k that he would have much rather kept to pay to send his kids to university.

    EI should be optional for everyone, which would expose the flaws in this system. It’s basically a giant slush fund for the government. Besides, you can get employment insurance through your credit card – why do we need the government doing it still, at a big overhead to the public?

    And don’t get me started on seasonal workers who pull in big dough during their work months, then still get EI. They love the EI system.

    Replace the word ‘worker’ with the word business owner in the main post and you still describe EI. “You’re much more likely to see “marginally successful” workers owners paying in, because they’re the ones who expect to have to collect.”

  4. I have to look into the details further, but it seems to be the benefit is not so much for freelancers who aren’t doing well but for parental/maternity leave, and any other leaves the government adds tied to EI. I was lucky enough to have some benefits when my first kid was born, but it wasn’t nearly enough money so I reported income and didn’t collect every week I could have. For the second kid, I was working again after 3 weeks because I had no cushion at all.

    Can you get employment insurance through your credit card? That I’d like to know more about!

  5. I’m a freelance writer who is strongly in support of allowing self-employed Canadians like me to opt into the EI program — mostly because of the maternity/ paternity angle. The idea of having a child without any paid leave from work is daunting, and I know of more than one woman who decided to enter the “regular” workforce in order to qualify for the mat benefits.

    But I must add that I’m quite surprised (and disheartened) at the tone of the comments here, as if the EI program is somehow only for the lazy or inept. My father lost his job in a car dealership at the age of 50 in the early ’80s, and he struggled to find and keep work for the decade that followed. His age, poor eyesight, and difficulties adjusting to an increasingly technology-based workplace made him an easy person to get rid of in the subsequent jobs he held. My mom worked a retail job for minimum wage while my dad went on and off EI, and somehow they managed to raise my sister and me in a modest home in Winnipeg. I cringe at “Chris,” who stated his dad held it as a principle not to accept EI. Having such principle is nice if you can afford it. Maybe he and his dad will agree not to go to publicly funded doctors and hospitals out of principle too, or avoid driving on taxpayer-funded roads — we should all be able to pay our own way in life, no?

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: