I think this brouhaha around employment insurance that the Liberals have been raising since their convention, and the NDP for some time before that, is starting to cause the Conservatives deep concern.
How else to explain that this morning I woke-up to an inbox stuffed with clippings from Conservative pundits and editorials from Conservative-friendly papers all poo-poohing the Liberal proposals for a fairer EI system. And Diane Finley (’s staffer) even wrote an op/ed today filled with so many falsehoods it raises the question: if a Conservative minister wrote an editorial saying the sky is purple and the ocean tastes like koolade, would CanWest just print it without comment?
Clearly, they’re spooked. And I can well understand why. While I really don’t see how we get into an election over EI, if we do I know which side of that campaign I’d want to be on. And it’s not their’s.
Here’s an interesting fact I learned in my morning reading. Now, the Liberals have been proposing a national 360 hour standard for EI for the duration of the recession. Critics say that number is crazy low. And not having a point of comparison, I thought maybe it was. Then I learned the current figure is between 420 to 910 hours, depending on where you live.
So, at the low end, we’re talking a difference of 60 hours. Or, a week-and-a-half of full-time work. Quelle horror! And while that regional disparity may have made sense once, it really doesn’t in today’s economy. It just doesn’t make sense anymore that someone in Ontario needs to work twice as long to qualify for EI as someone in Newfoundland. Nearly 70 per cent of unemployed Ontarians don't qualify for EI. Fighting to maintain that unfairness isn’t a position I’d want to take in an election campaign.
Will the Conservatives be putting this comment by Diane "Let them eat cake" Finley in a commercial?
"We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it.”Probably not. But I’m sure someone will be ensuring that comment gets lots of play, as well as all the similar comments made by Conservative ministers, not to mention Stephen Harper himself, who called changes to make the system fairer an “absurdity.”
Anyone who has been on EI knows its far from lucrative. Why would someone voluntarily leave a job will full salary (and maybe benefits) in order to collect a fraction of their salary? It doesn’t make sense. What we’re talking about is helping Canadians who have lost their jobs because of this recession get back on their feet and find new employment, and ensuring they can benefit from a system THEY paid into.
Unemployment is rising sharply in regions where it never has before, highlighting the disparities of he current system. Over 300,000 Canadians have lost their jobs since the last election, thanks to a recession only the Harper Conservatives didn’t see coming. And many, many more are concerned about the safety of their jobs and the livelihood of their families.
Do the Conservatives really want to die on this hill, and fight an election calling potential EI recipients featherbedding freeloaders? Fighting against a fairer EI system when so many Canadians are either losing their jobs or fearful that they will soon be out of work? Saying people in Ontario should work longer to receive benefits?
They’ll back away from this somehow. And they should, because the focus here should be on making the EI system work for Canadians, and because they’re not that stupid.
If they want to unnecessarily force an election on this though, I say bring it on. Luckily for all the unemployed Conservatives that election will create, the Liberal will ensure a fairer EI system will be there for them.
*Michael Ignatieff's op/ed on employment insurance reform
*Liberal fact check on EI and Conservatives mistruths
PS. Check-out my entry for the YLC's positive politics ad challenge, "Is this your Canada?"
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