Asked about the snub on Global News Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wouldn’t go into specifics. He said the government is responding to the areas where people have been hit the hardest.
“We got clear asks from Albertans… to respond to the very real crisis that happened because of lower oil prices and that’s exactly what we’re delivering through these changes to the EI program that will respond to what thousands of families are going through in terms of difficulties,” Trudeau said.
The government of Canada divides Alberta into four EI regions: Edmonton, Calgary, Northern Alberta and Southern Alberta. The changes announced Tuesday affect three of the four regions, excluding the Edmonton region.
Siobhan Vipond, secretary treasurer with the Alberta Federation of Labour, said she was pleased with the overall changes, but not happy to see Edmonton was left out.
If a person lives in Edmonton it doesn’t necessarily mean they work in the city, Vipond said, and if a person who lives in Edmonton is laid off they should be able to access the same benefits as everyone else in the province.
“The new reality of work is people travel for work,” she said. “If you’re unemployed and you need to rely on your EI benefits then they should be there for you.
“The regional differences, we think, are only there in order to deny benefits to workers who need them.”
In Tuesday’s budget, the federal government announced EI benefits in 12 jurisdictions hit hardest by unemployment can now be claimed for a maximum of 50 weeks, an increase of five weeks.
The changes also reduce the time laid-off workers must wait before they start claiming EI, as well as slash the number of working hours they need to have accumulated in the year prior to applying to receive EI.
“The criteria that the federal government had were an increase in two percentage points in your unemployment rate and we (the city of Edmonton) only saw 1.8 percentage points so we didn’t make the cut-off,” John Rose, the City of Edmonton’s chief economist, said.
Rose believes Edmonton will hit the criteria sooner than later, but whether Edmontonians will be able to take advantage of the benefits is still unknown.
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised in the next few months that we would in fact hit those two percentage point increase requirements. The question is, there’s nothing in the budget about whether or not these availabilities will be reviewed, how often they will be reviewed,” Rose said.
In January, Alberta lost 10,000 jobs, bringing the unemployment rate in the province to 7.4 per cent, the highest in 20 years. However, Edmonton has been somewhat insulated, recording an unemployment rate of 6.5 per cent. In Calgary, the jobless rate sits at 7.7 per cent, half a percentage point above the national average.
“We’ll be well above seven per cent in the second half of 2016, unfortunately,” Rose said of Edmonton’s unemployment rate.
Watch below: John Rose weighs in on the EI benefits changes and what they mean for Edmonton
The city is still looking for answers, as is the province.
“We understand it’s because our job numbers are relatively better and if the criteria were shifted to include Edmonton then a whole bunch of other parts of the country would have become eligible as well that aren’t necessarily in difficult situations,” Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said.
“I want to get confirmation that if our numbers shift, if the economy deteriorates, that we would become eligible.”
“Should those numbers change we will advocate vociferously to have Edmonton included,” Premier Rachel Notley said.
Watch below: Reaction to how Alberta is impacted by Federal Budget 2016
Watch below: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discusses how Alberta is impacted by the 2016 budget
Here are some of the major changes coming to EI:
- To begin claiming EI, Canadians will need to accumulate 420 to 700 hours of work in the 52 weeks prior to their claim, depending on the unemployment rate in the region where they live. That’s a significant drop from the current minimum of 910 hours.
- The waiting period for EI claimants before they start receiving benefits is currently two weeks. It will be reduced to one week.
- The duration of EI regular benefits will be extended by five weeks, up to a maximum of 50 weeks of benefits, but only for eligible claimants in the 12 economic regions with the sharpest increases in unemployment.
- A ‘Working While on Claim’ pilot project will be extended to 2018. The pilot project allows people to keep 50 cents of their EI benefits for every dollar they earn.
- Requirements for claimants to accept lower pay and longer commuting times the longer they rely on EI will be eliminated. Claimants will still need to conduct job search activities and accept suitable employment while on EI, however
With files from Emily Mertz, Monique Muise Global News.