Edmonton Sun

Edmonton-SunPrime Minister Justin Trudeau is sticking by his government’s decision not to grant extended employment insurance benefits to the Edmonton region and says he’s confident the economy will improve.

Trudeau is in Alberta this week to promote his Liberal government’s first budget, released last week.

It includes extended EI benefits for people in 12 regions across the country struggling through the economic downturn.

The employment insurance extensions were granted to everywhere in Alberta except for the Edmonton region, which includes surrounding communities such as Leduc, Nisku, Strathcona County, Fort Saskatchewan and Spruce Grove.

The exclusion has sparked wide criticism from opponents who say that while the City of Edmonton’s unemployment rate has fared better than the rest of the province, outlying communities are struggling.

“EI has always been divided into regions and it’s always been evaluated on a local regional basis as to how people are doing and for now Edmonton’s not doing as poorly as a lot of other places in the country,” Trudeau said in an interview on Global Edmonton Wednesday morning. “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.”

He said his government would monitor the numbers in the region closely, but added he’s optimistic the situation will improve.

“I’m optimistic with the kinds of investments in infrastructure we’re doing, the more generous Canada Child Benefit cheques we’ll be sending families, with the existing changes that apply right across the country on EI, things are going to get better,” he said.

Earlier this week, the prime minister said people in excluded regions such as Edmonton and Saskatchewan should be thankful they haven’t been hit harder by the economic downturn.