March 30, 2016 10:15 am
Updated: March 30, 2016 7:48 pm

Trudeau standing by government’s decision to exclude Edmonton from EI extension

WATCH ABOVE: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about EI, infrastructure and the economy in an interview on the Global Edmonton Morning News.


EDMONTON – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is sticking to his government’s decision to have the Edmonton region left out of improved Employment Insurance benefits announced in the federal budget.

“For now, Edmonton is not doing as poorly as a lot of other places in the country,” Trudeau said Wednesday.

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“But, as I’ve said, we’re focused on giving people the help they need, and we’re watching very carefully to see how the economy goes and if there is more need to step-up later.”

The federal government announced in its budget that EI benefits in 12 jurisdictions hit hardest by unemployment can now be claimed for a maximum of 50 weeks, an increase of five weeks.

READ MORE: ‘I understand the frustration’: Amarjeet Sohi discusses Edmonton’s exclusion from improved EI benefits

Alberta is divided into four EI regions: Edmonton, Calgary, Northern Alberta and Southern Alberta. The changes impact three of the four regions, excluding the Edmonton region.

The regions are based on where a person lives not where he or she works.

The prime minister said while Edmonton residents cannot receive the extension they can benefit from the other changes made to EI.

“Moving from a two week waiting period to a one week waiting period, making it easier for entrance or re-entrance into the work force to access EI, helping with work sharing programs, like significant changes across the board.”

READ MORE: EI changes welcomed by laid off Alberta workers — if they’re in the right city

The criteria for a region to receive the added benefits is for the unemployment rate to increase by two percentage points. Edmonton has experienced a jump of 1.8 percentage points to 6.5 per cent. Alberta’s unemployment rate rose to 7.4 per cent in January, the highest it’s been in 20 years.

WATCH: Edmontonians got the chance today to get up close with the prime minister. Tom Vernon was there.

Leaders in Leduc have said being left out of the expanded benefits isn’t fair for the workers feeling the brunt of the downturn in areas like Nisku and Devon, and the Opposition agrees.

“To purely look at this by numbers basis and say that Edmonton isn’t affected and we should be thankful that we’re not affected is really a message that I think the prime minister should rethink,” Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux said Wednesday.

“At the end of the day, EI is a short-term measure but it’s a way for a lot of families who are out of work to put food on their table, to buy clothes for their kids.”

While speaking later Wednesday at the Mill Woods public library in Edmonton, Trudeau once again defended the decisions made when it comes to employment insurance.

“We are applying the cold hard mathematics. If there was politics brought into this we might have made other choices. The fact is we can be reassured that we’re making decisions based on evidence, not on popularity or political convenience,” Trudeau said.

“We are continuing to base our decision on evidence and facts and make sure that we’re helping out the people who need the help the most.”

Watch below: Trudeau speaks about employment insurance while visiting Edmonton 

While Edmonton Chief Economist John Rose has predicted the city will hit the criteria soon, Trudeau is more optimistic.

“With the kinds of investments in infrastructure we’re doing, with the more generous child benefits cheques we’ll be sending families, with the existing changes that apply right across the country on EI, things are going to get better,” Trudeau said.

When it comes to pipelines, the prime minister and Natural Resources Minister James Carr have said they support getting the product to tidewater. But Trudeau believes the key is a regulatory process that will allow pipelines to proceed, not federal funding.

“We’ve put in a regulatory process that will reassure people who are worried that we’re not making a choice between the economy and the environment, that we know as we move forward we have to do them both together.”

Trudeau added it was important to restore public trust in the federal government’s ability to protect Canada’s long term interests and grow the economy.

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