Trudeau tracker: Have the Liberals delivered on their EI election promises?
Promise of employment insurance reforms likely helped win seats in Atlantic Canada
When Justin Trudeau set out the Liberals' pledge to fix employment insurance during the 2015 election campaign he chose to do it in Atlantic Canada, a region heavily dependent on seasonal work.
But these days the prime minister is doing most of his talking about EI in Alberta, where job losses in the oilpatch have nearly doubled the number of unemployed during the one-year period ending in January.
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"Our heart goes out to all families across the country who are facing real challenges with the crisis that falling oil prices have led to," Trudeau said last week during a visit to Alberta to highlight measures his government took in last month's budget to improve benefits.
The Liberal platform included 14 separate references to employment insurance, including this main promise: "We will fix employment insurance to better serve Canadians now, and help boost Canada's economic growth now and in the long term."
Those promised fixes weren't just tinkering. They included reducing the two-week period to receive benefits to a single week starting next year, extending the "working while on claim" pilot project for another two years, and making it easier for first-time employees and people returning to the workforce to qualify for benefits by reducing the number of hours they had to work before making a claim.
People need help
"Employment insurance provides economic security to Canadians when they need it most. Those who have lost their jobs, through no fault of their own, or are out of work to raise children, provide care for a loved one, or get needed skills training, should not struggle to get the support they need," the platform read.
And let's not overlook the political element in all of this. The changes outlined by Trudeau on the campaign trail last September included reversing measures introduced in 2012 by Stephen Harper's government that required EI claimants to travel farther for lower-paying jobs.
"Although things might look fine for Stephen Harper from 24 Sussex Drive, in many parts of the country, including here in Atlantic Canada, people need help," Trudeau said at a campaign stop in Bouctouche, N.B. "They need real help, not the empty reassurances that Stephen Harper offers or the empty promises of Thomas Mulcair."
It's never possible to say with 100 per cent certainty just how important a campaign promise is to attracting votes, but the commitment on EI no doubt played an important role in the Liberals' clean sweep of all 32 seats in Atlantic Canada.
Delivering on promises
But how well did the Liberals do in delivering on those commitments in last month's budget?
The answer is that, with one notable exception, the government has followed through, even if the focus now is less on seasonal work than providing help to people who lost year-round jobs when oil prices plummeted.
The budget commits more than $2.4 billion over two years to the Liberal EI reforms.
Nearly half of that money is earmarked for allowing people to begin receiving EI benefits after a one-week wait. There's also money to pay for an extra week of benefits for new entrants to the work force, and those returning to work, and to extend work-sharing agreements.
But the second biggest chunk, totalling $582 million over two years, is to extend benefits to people who lost their jobs in a dozen EI regions, including areas heavily dependent on the oil and gas sector.
That was not part of the Liberal platform. And for those interested in irony, many of those regions are not places where Liberal fortunes run deep.
It may well explain why the government has chosen, or been forced, to ignore its campaign promise to bring in a 12-month premium contribution holiday for companies that hire workers aged 18-24.
There was no mention of that commitment in the budget. No suggestion, even, that it is coming down the road.
The official explanation is that the government has already made substantial commitments to ease youth unemployment, including doubling the Canadian Summer Jobs program to nearly 70,000 jobs over the next three years, and kicking in more money to the federal student grant program.
Or in layman's terms, when it comes to remaking employment insurance, some "fixes" will take longer than others.