Notley pushes Trudeau for EI changes
Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, February 3, 2016 4:25AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 3, 2016 9:57PM EST
The prime minister’s plan to help out struggling Alberta includes a $250-million payment from the federal stabilization fund, speeding up $700-million of infrastructure spending promised under the Conservatives and a possible boost to employment insurance benefits.
“Albertans have contributed tremendously to Canada’s growth, particularly over the past 10 years,” Justin Trudeau said after meeting with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley Wednesday in Edmonton.
“Now Alberta and Albertans are facing challenging times and, quite frankly, Canadians help other Canadians when they’re facing tough times,” he said. “That’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Premier Notley told reporters the prime minister had vowed to fast-track roughly $700-million of infrastructure spending that was committed in the 2015 budget but not yet spent, saying “we're able to confirm that the federal government will start pushing it out the door as soon as we're ready to go,” adding that it will take only months, or possibly weeks.
Notley said she also raised the issue of employment insurance.
Federal rules base EI eligibility on historical unemployment rates, putting Alberta at a disadvantage at a time when the number of Albertans claiming assistance has more than doubled.
Currently, an Edmonton worker must work 665 hours to qualify for EI and may receive up to 38 weeks of benefits, while a worker in high-unemployment regions in Atlantic Canada needs to work only 420 hours and can qualify for up to 45 weeks of benefits.
Notley said she wants “Albertans to enjoy same access to benefits” and that she is “hopeful the prime minister will respond.”
Trudeau said that the EI issues are “certainly something we are aware of,” adding that he had assured Notley “we are looking at this and working to move forward on it as rapidly as possible.”
Trudeau would not say whether he supports the Energy East or Trans Mountain pipeline projects that many believe would boost Alberta’s economy.
Although he said it is the responsibility of prime ministers to get goods to markets, he also said the country needs a “referee” on pipelines rather than a cheerleader, adding “cheerleaders don’t score goals.”
The federal Conservatives said Wednesday that Trudeau could signal his support for Alberta’s struggling resources sector by coming out in favour of the Energy East pipeline proposal.
“Who supports Energy East?” said interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose during question period. “The Liberal premier in New Brunswick, the conservative Premier in Saskatchewan, the Liberal Premier in Ontario and the NDP premier in Alberta.”
“Why this all-party support?” she added. “Because this is about jobs for people who are suffering.”
Finance Minister Bill Morneau responded that he “recognizes the enormous challenges for the people of Alberta,” adding that he believes a $250-million application by Alberta to a federal stabilization fund is “an important first step” and that the government will “be taking other actions in Budget 2016.”
Morneau also said the Liberals “have said repeatedly that we realize we need to help those organizations that are producing oil to get it to tide-water,” but that they also need “social licence.”
Support for Energy East, which won’t be approved or rejected until at least 2018, is unlikely to help Alberta avoid job losses in the near-term.
Energy East would carry crude oil from Alberta to New Brunswick using an upgraded pipeline to Montreal and a new section of pipeline between Montreal and a refinery in Saint John, N.B.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, meanwhile, criticized Trudeau for previous comments where he told Albertans “to hang in there,” adding that the Liberals could help laid off workers immediately by “getting rid of Conservative restrictions on employment insurance benefits.”
Mulcair told CTV’s Power Play that speeding up federal spending on infrastructure is also “a good way to get jobs created rapidly,” but that he’s not sure, “the money is actually there.”
Mulcair said he predicts the Liberals’ budget deficit will be “several times” the $10 billion they proposed during the election.
Statistics Canada revealed last week that Alberta lost more jobs last year than in any year since 1982 and that the unemployment rate had risen to 7.0 per cent from 4.8 per cent a year earlier.
Across the country, an estimated 100,000 jobs were lost in the battered energy sector last year, according to the Association of Petroleum Producers.
With files from The Canadian Press