PM says 'evidence' determined regions getting extra EI money
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the decision to extend Employment Insurance benefits by up to 20 weeks in some regions but not others was based on "evidence,” but Edmonton’s top economist disagrees.
Trudeau told a crowd in Edmonton – a city whose workers won’t be eligible for the extra money -- that accusations from critics that the government is picking "winners and losers" are incorrect.
"On the contrary, we are applying cold hard mathematics," Trudeau said. "If there was politics brought into this we might have made other choices.”
"We are making decisions based on evidence and not on popularity or political convenience,” he said.
Laid-off cook Patricia Gray, 69, said Tuesday that it made no sense to her that corporate oil sector workers in Calgary will get extended benefits, while work camp employees based in Edmonton will not.
The City of Edmonton’s senior economist Jonathan Rose told CTV’s Power Play Wednesday that he sees the government’s cut-off for the extra benefits as more “arbitrary” than evidence-based.
According to the budget, the regions that will be getting the expanded benefits are “those where the unemployment rate increased by two percentage points or more for a sustained period between March 2015 and February 2016, compared to its lowest point between December 2014 and February 2015, without showing significant signs of recovery.” Edmonton just missed the cut-off.
Rose said the government’s approach has produced “anomalous” results, with workers in places like Saskatoon and Whitehorse eligible, even though their unemployment rates are already lower than Edmonton’s.
Rose said he would have preferred “a more nuanced approach” to doling out the extra money -- up to $13,452 per worker -- with a focus on specific sectors of the economy that have seen a sudden decline.
“In the Edmonton region, we have a number of industries that have been hit very, very hard indeed,” he said, listing manufacturing, logistics and hospitality as examples. “Other parts of the economy are continuing to do reasonably well.”
Rose said that many of the people laid off in what he called “distressed industries” will have a harder time than average finding new work, because they will be competing with many other unemployed people who have similar skills.
Although Trudeau promised on Tuesday to “monitor and review” economic conditions in various regions, Rose pointed out that the prime minister hasn’t committed to a “timely review.”
“Unfortunately, Edmonton’s unemployment rate is moving up and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see us, in a month or two months, hit the criteria if you adjust the dates,” he said.
“My concern is that while (Trudeau has) said they will review these results they haven’t made it clear as to exactly when or what the impact would be,” he added. “Would we ultimately qualify or not?”
The 12 regions that will get extended EI are: Whitehorse, Nunavut, northern British Columbia, northern Manitoba, northern Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, northern Alberta, southern Alberta, northern Saskatchewan, Calgary, Saskatoon, and Sudbury, Ont.
EI claimants in these regions will soon be able to receive at least 50 weeks of benefits, up from 45 weeks. As well, “long-tenured workers” in these regions will see a boost from 50 weeks of benefits to as many as 70 weeks.
The one-year measure will start this July and extend retroactively to Jan. 4. 2015. A laid-off worker in any of the dozen regions identified will get up to $13,425 of extra income support, maxing out at $34,905, compared to $21,480 now.
Trudeau said Wednesday that the government has strengthened other parts of the EI program that will apply to all workers, like reducing the EI waiting period from two weeks to one week.
He also pointed to other government measures that will help middle class families, including the Canada Child Benefit and a middle-class tax cut.
"These are the kinds of things that will make a difference in the lives of everyone," Trudeau said.
Conservative MP Andrew Scheer told Power Play Tuesday that he thinks failure to extend benefits to areas like southern Saskatchewan and Edmonton region is “mean-spirited” and “very cold-hearted.”
However, the Saskatchewan MP said “any change to EI doesn’t change the fundamental problem … that we have a government that’s not promoting energy projects, that’s not helping get our oil and gas to markets.”
“They’ve blocked pipelines, they’ve refused to back the Energy East, they’ve killed the Northern Gateway pipeline,” Scheer said.
“There isn’t any amount of EI that will help get people back to work.”