‘No the second deportation!’ – Madelinots condemn Harper’s anti-social EI changes

Over 4,000 Madelinots demonstrate on Jan. 13 against Harper’s EI changes

Over 4,000 Madelinots demonstrate on Jan. 13 against Harper’s EI changes

By TONY SEED

CANADIAN workers and regional populations from many parts of the country are saying a resounding NO! to the anti-social changes to the EI program of the Harper government.

One of the most remarkable and militant demonstrations against the EI changes took place on January 13 on Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, 90 miles northwest of Prince Edward Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

An ocean of people – over 4,000 Madelinots, one third of the population of the island – demonstrated in front of the local office of Service Canada in the port of Cap-aux-Meules chanting and waving placards such as, “No to the Exodus of Madelinots! (Non à l’exode des Madelinots).” The total population of the island is 13,000.

The people said that the changes will affect every family and lead to forced migration. Some 2,800 workers, 40 per cent of the working population, receive some form of EI assistance.

2013.1.13.pendant-hiver-nombreux-travailleurs-iles

On the theme of exodus, the Madelinots parodied a new federal service called Job Alert by baptizing their demonstration Exodus Alert.

“Ottawa requires workers to take a job in radius of 100 km from their domicile. From our islands, that corresponds to the middle of the ocean, said Mayor Joël Arseneau, an employee of Service Quebec who said there were less than five offers of jobs on the Magdalen Islands at the time of the demonstration.

The Islanders are denouncing in particular the non-renewal of the pilot project of five weeks, which for nearly 10 years, allowed seasonal workers to avoid a slump without income they call “the black hole.”

Hundreds of protesters filled en masse forms of “insurance-region”, which will be sent to Ottawa. In these documents, modeled on the old forms of EI, they responded negatively to five questions.

“Do you want to go to work outside of your region, an area where you have no skill, and at 70% of your salary?” And “Is it possible to go fishing, cultivate the land and welcome tourists summer in January, February or March?” were among the questions.

On forced migration and deportation

2013.1.13.Madelinot front

The population of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, whose ancestors are largely Acadians, has known the horrors of deportation and forced migration in its history, said the mayor.

The ancestors of the Madelinots hail from the le grande dérangement – the great deportation of up to 18,000 Acadians beginning in 1755 by the British and New England colonialists from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island as part of the conquest tragedy that left thousands dead and survivors, in the words of Longfellow’s epic 1847 poem Evangeline, “scattered like dust and leaves.” It was, according to historian John Mack Faragher, author of A Great and Noble Scheme, “an organized campaign, at the state level, organized and hierarchically carried out, to remove all the people of a small nation and ship them elsewhere.”

“No to the second deportation!,” “No to the exodus!,” chanted the demonstrators. Two girls directed their signs to the Prime Minister of Canada. “Mr. Harper, we want to grow up in the islands.”

In 1996, when the first reform of employment insurance was levied, many islanders were exiled due to their livelihoods, said Mr. Arseneau. The intervention of the provincial government, however, permitted Islanders out of the crisis by encouraging business start-ups, mainly in eco-tourism. Travel to the island has flourished, in part due to imaginative marketing. The Madelinots even blocked a Tim Horton’s franchise from setting up shop.

“In addition to forcing seasonal workers from the island, the current changes will weaken the real estate, construction, institutions and education programs,” said Mr. Arseneau, who is also a Prefect of the MRC Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

Ironically, the threat to the social fabric of the community comes as reports emerge of the potential danger from climate change and the warming of the Gulf and winter ice to the protective cover that the winter ice provides to the fragile coastal ecology of the Magdalen Islands from storms.

“For now, our demands have gone unheeded in Ottawa”

Since June, a committee of elected officials and citizens have been preparing to counter the provisions of Bill C-38 which affect employment insurance. The first event mobilized 2,000 people in Cap-aux-Meules in early November.

“For now, our demands have gone unheeded in Ottawa,” said Joël Arseneau. He believes that the salvation of Magdalen is based on the multiplication of actions between the resource regions, primarily in Atlantic Canada, the Gaspé, Témiscamingue, the Lower North Shore and the Laurentians.

According to a report in TML Daily demonstrations were held on February 12 throughout Quebec, including the Gaspé and the Acadian shore of New Brunswick. “Slogans, banners and statements declared that the changes have nothing to do with reforming EI, and everything to do with an unprecedented attack on the most vulnerable.

“All these gatherings highlighted the determination of the workers and their allies to defeat the Harper government’s EI reforms. Everyone is called on to participate in the national action on February 23.”

2013.1.13.Non à l'exode des Madelinots

2013.01.13.Crédit photo- gracieuseté

2013.01.13.b.Crédit photo- gracieuseté

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