Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised that changes being made to the unemployment insurance program will be carefully monitored and reviewed to make sure they are helping the people hit hardest by the economic downturn.

​The prime minister made the comments following a roundtable session with several unemployed workers in Calgary.

"We all sat down together and had a really good conversation, a really honest conversation," he said.

He said his government is committed to helping Alberta, a province that has contributed greatly to the national economy and now finds itself in hard times.

The federal budget tabled last week includes changes that would temporarily enhance benefits in some regions, granting up to 70 weeks of coverage to long-tenured employees in 12 regions with high unemployment.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters in Calgary after a roundtable session about changes to the EI program with unemployed workers. (CBC)

Trudeau has faced criticism of his government's decision to boost EI benefits for parts of the country while leaving some hard-hit areas of the oilpatch out of the budget plan.

The government has said it picked 12 regions that needed the most help with extra weeks of EI benefits for jobless workers including parts of Alberta as well as Newfoundland and Labrador, northern British Columbia, northern Manitoba, northern Ontario, northern Saskatchewan, Whitehorse and Nunavut.

Calgary was on the list but Edmonton was left off, as were parts of Saskatchewan.

The 12 regions had what Finance Minister Bill Morneau described as "sharp increases in unemployment that have been sustained," or what the budget describes as a two per cent increase in unemployment rates over a three-month period over the last year "without showing significant signs of recovery."

University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe says the federal government had to draw the line somewhere, leaving some regions out of its enhanced EI provisions. But the way Ottawa came up with its list was a little subjective, he added.

"So it's not a very clear formula that you could just punch in numbers to and get an answer to," said Tombe.

Trudeau told reporters that the effect of the changes will be closely monitored and reviewed to ensure that regions most in need of assistance receive it. 

Trudeau's agenda in Calgary included the roundtable discussion at the Kerby Centre, which was followed by a media availability. Later in the afternoon Trudeau was set to meet with officials at the Thomas Riley Building at SAIT Polytechnic.

With files from The Canadian Press