CALGARY — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushed back at critics who say changes made to employment insurance to help the struggling energy sector don't go far enough.
Trudeau said in an interview with Global Calgary that people in Edmonton and Saskatchewan who complain of being left out of changes to the program should feel fortunate their areas have not been harder hit by the downturn in energy prices.
"I think that both people in Edmonton and Saskatchewan should be pleased that they are not hit as hard as other parts of the country and indeed the province have been,'' Trudeau said in the interview that aired at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
"We're of course going to keep monitoring to make sure we're doing everything we can for the places that need it.''
Budget boosted benefits for some, while neglecting others
Last week's federal budget boosted employment insurance benefits in some parts of the country, but left some areas of the oilpatch out.
The government said it picked 12 regions that needed the most help with extra weeks of benefits for jobless workers. Those include Newfoundland and Labrador, parts of northern and southern Alberta, northern British Columbia, northern Manitoba, northern Ontario, northern Saskatchewan, Whitehorse and Nunavut.
Calgary is on the list, but Edmonton isn't and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has complained that large parts of his province have also been shut out.
"We've heard the federal government say, well, they just sort of used this formula approach, they looked at where unemployment was high and decided to extend benefits in those narrow regions,'' Wall said Tuesday.
"But if it's about helping the oil sector, how can you miss two-thirds of our oilpatch? I am hopeful that they will (change their position on that).''
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a roundtable discussion on EI in Calgary, Alta. (Photo: Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Trudeau was in Calgary for an EI roundtable where he met with a dozen individuals, including some whose benefits had run out and others receiving the benefit to get their views on what could be done better.
But the prime minister wouldn't specifically commit to further improvements to employment insurance, adding the government is always considering ways "to improve or increase that impact if necessary.''
Trudeau said previous governments were keen to announce programs, but not so good at following up to make sure they were having the desired effect.
Unemployed workers shared their stories
Jill Fink said she appreciated Trudeau taking the time to talk to unemployed workers. She applied for EI in February after she lost her job in the non-profit sector.
"The prime minister made a real effort to speak to everyone in the room, which I think was very kind,'' she said.
Fink told Trudeau she is worried about people who don't have enough savings and support while unemployed.
"He spoke to creating things that work for all Canadians and support people in the right place at the right time.''
"He spoke to creating things that work for all Canadians."
Alex Kent, who also took part in the roundtable, lost his job as an environmental consultant last year when his company downsized. His employment benefits have run out and he has sent 130 resumes to as far away as Ontario.
He's had no luck.
"I told him a bit of my story, but also asked him what his government will do to try to escape the boom-and-bust cycle,'' Kent said.
"Is the government trying to be different and do different things?''
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The Liberal government delivered its maiden budget Tuesday, March 22. A deficit of $29.4 billion in 2016-17, nearly three times the $10 billion promised during the fall election campaign, and a projected deficit of $17.7 billion in 2019-20 rather than the balanced budget that was promised in October. (Source: The Canadian Press)
One of the earmarks of the budget is a commitment to spending on aboriginal issues. This includes: - $2.6 billion over five years for primary and secondary education on First Nations reserves, including language and cultural programs, plus $969.4 million over five years for education infrastructure. - $1.2 billion over five years for social infrastructure for Aboriginal Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and northern communities. - $10.4 million over three years for new women's shelters in First Nations communities, and $33.6 million over five years and $8.3 million ongoing for support services. - $40 million over two years for the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will be changing the structure of Canada's child benefits, ending income splitting and other tax credits for families and parents. This means: - $10 billion more over two years for a new Canada child benefit, absorbing and replacing both the Canada child tax benefit and the universal child care benefit. Targeted to low and middle-income families, the government says the new benefit provides an average increase of nearly $2,300 in 2016-17. - An end to income splitting for couples with children, the children's fitness tax credit and the children's arts tax credit. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The government will spend $2.5 billion over two years on a suite of changes, including reducing the required work experience for new entrants and re-entrants; halving the two-week waiting period; extending a pilot project to allow claimants to work while collecting benefits; simplifying job-search requirements; and extending the benefit eligibility window in specific regions with a higher unemployment rate. (Source: The Canadian Press)
- $5.6 billion more in benefits to veterans and their families over five years, including a disability award that increases to $360,000, retroactive to 2006, and an earnings loss benefit to injured vets of 90 per cent of pre-release salary. The government is also re-opening nine veterans' service offices across the country and adding a 10th. - Planned National Defence purchases worth $3.7 billion — ships, planes and vehicles — are being deferred indefinitely. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
Planned National Defence purchases worth $3.7 billion — ships, planes and vehicles — are being deferred indefinitely. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The budget includes $3.4 billion over five years to increase the guaranteed income supplement top-up benefit by up to $947 annually for single seniors, and restore the old age security eligibility age to 65 from 67. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals broke a major campaign promise to cut the small business tax rate. Instead, the rate will remain at the current 10.5 per cent on the first $500,000 of active business income. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will spend $1.53 billion over five years to increase Canada student grants to $3,000 from $2,000 for low-income students, to $1,200 from $800 for middle-income students and to $1,800 from $1,200 for part-time students. $2 billion over three years is also earmarked for a new strategic investment fund for infrastructure improvements at colleges and universities, in partnership with provinces and territories.
The Liberals' green infrastructure plan includes: - $2.2 billion over five years in water and wastewater treatment and waste management - $2 billion over two years for a low-carbon economy fund - Over $1 billion over four years to support future clean technology investments - $345.3 million over five years to Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada and the National Research Council to take action to address air pollution. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will spend $500,000 to help understand the role of foreign homebuyers in the country's housing market. The government says comprehensive and reliable data on the number of homes sold to foreign buyers does not exist right now. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The marquee Liberal commitment to Syrian refugee resettlement could end up costing taxpayers close to $1 billion. The budget provided an additional $245 million over five years to bring in the remaining 10,000 people needed to meet the Liberal promise to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
$142.3 million over five years will be spent to add new national parks and improve access during the 150th anniversary of Confederation. (Source: The Canadian Press
The Grits will provide up to $178 million over two years for the provinces for urgent affordable housing needs. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The budget earmarks $38.5 million over two years to strengthen and modernize Canada's food safety system. (Source: The Canadian Press)