Desperation in energy heartland: What will stop the pain from low oil prices?

With one of Canada's big banks cutting its economic forecast for the country for a second time in a matter of weeks, the focus is now on the federal government and what it can do to help stop the ongoing pain from low oil prices.

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The drop in commodity prices is hurting all of Canada’s economy, but it’s hitting Alberta the hardest. Earlier this week, Statistics Canada revealed that Alberta lost more jobs last year than in any year since 1982.

Its revised figures showed that the province had a net loss of 19,600 jobs in 2015 -- up from the 14,600 job losses it estimated in early January.

The province’s unemployment rate also rose to 7.0 per cent from 4.8 per cent a year earlier. And some are predicting it will get worse yet. In a research note Tuesday, TD Bank said it expects unemployment in Alberta to rise to 7.5 per cent by mid-year.

“It's a very pointed story about the resource sector, still in tough times in 2016, and needing a lift from not only low interest rates that we already, but some more government spending than we thought we were going to do this year,” Shenfeld told CTV News.

For some, like laid-off oil patch worker Mitchell Yagey, that’s meant desperate times. Yagey was recently forced to sell his girlfriend’s jewelry to earn enough money to pay the bills.

“I'm out of a job right now so I need some cash to make things happen here,” he said.

On Thursday, CIBC World Markets suggested the oil crash is taking investor confidence with it. The bank cut Canada’s growth forecast by almost a half a percent, saying the country still hasn’t felt the full effects of the resources price crash and the lower loonie.

Across the country, an estimated 100,000 jobs were lost in the battered energy sector last year alone, according to the Association of Petroleum Producers.

And many severance payments or employment insurance benefits are about to expire. That’s got many, including federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, calling for changes to EI to offer help to laid-off Alberta workers for longer.

“There's an urgent need to change the rules for EI to go back to a system that's more open, more generous, and more rapid. Many families are suffering right now,” Mulcair told reporters on Parliament Hill Thursday.

But it’s an idea that Employment and Labour Minister Maryann Mihychuk won’t yet commit to.

“Everything is being evaluated. And we will announce it as soon as decisions are being made,” she said.

Mihychuk instead focused on repealing two controversial bills brought in by the previous Conservative government that would have required unions to disclose details of their spending.

The legislation had angered Canadian unions, the Canadian Bar Association and the federal privacy commissioner, who worried the legislation would cost millions to enforce.

Conservative MP John Barlow criticized Mihychuk Thursday for focusing on such a small issue in the face of major job losses in the oil patch.

“With everything that's going on in the oil and gas sector, that this is their top priority is very frustrating,” he told reporters.

The prime minister will be in Calgary next week to meet with Alberta's premier, but the province may have to wait to learn how Ottawa will help until after the federal budget is unveiled two months from now.

With a report from CTV’s Richard Madan


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