The NDP had a press conference today, and I'd already decided not to do another tired "NDP decides to oppose whatever happens this fall before it even happens" post. That seemed to be the lead of the press coverage out of Jack Layton's presser.
But reading some CanWest coverage, I was interested to see Layton also had some substantive comments to make on reforming employment insurance:
NDP Leader Jack Layton signaled willingness Monday to compromise on employment-insurance eligibility reforms over the summer.I'm glad Layton recognizes that compromise means everyone has to give a little and move from their starting positions. And perhaps now that Layton has signaled the 360-hour mark isn't sacrosanct, his colleagues who were attacking the Liberals last week for saying the same thing will get the message and instead begin moving forward on EI reform in a constructive way.
He said he does "not close the door" on a work requirement for benefits greater than the 360 hours the New Democratic Party has advocated for many years.
And he praised as "creative and helpful" a proposal by the Western premiers to pare 58 employment-insurance eligibility zones down to three: urban, rural and remote.
Layton's comments at a news conference echoed Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff saying he's prepared to put some "water in (his) wine" to reach a compromise with the government this summer over EI reforms.
However, Layton said EI improvements remain a top priority for the NDP and "ultimately, you have to create a consensus" if change is to occur.
Eligibility now ranges from a minimum 420 hours where unemployment is at least 13 per cent, to 700 hours where it's under six per cent. Layton said the NDP "would not be inclined to support" a minimum higher than the existing 420 hours.
Layton points to his party's private member's bill on EI reform, but, frankly, a non-binding private member's bill isn't going to achieve EI reform. He's been flogging it for months. The EI working group is clearly the way forward, and as I've noted previously, Liberal pressure has already moved the Conservatives from their previous staunch defense of a common national standard of EI eligibility. It's the Liberal strategy that has brought us closer to meaningful EI reform.
Of course, Layton's party isn't part of the working group. His strategy of blind opposition over the last week has left his party on the sidelines of the EI debate, and now he's trying to push his way back in or be rendered irrelevant on an issue the NDP has been out on front on for some time. So it's natural he's trying to re-engage in the debate.
To be a serious player in this debate though, Layton is going to have to clear up some confusion: does he want to make parliament work, or not? And that doesn't mean passing enough non-binding motions and private member's bills to wallpaper his condo, but cooperating with the other parties, giving a little to get a little, working in a substantive way to get something done.
He's still sending mixed signals. He says today he's willing to put some water in his wine to get something done on EI reform. Yet his surrogates still attack Michael Ignatieff for doing just that, and Layton still signaled today he'll bring the government down at the first opportunity this fall, seemingly leaving no ground for achieving a consensus on EI reform.
It's a hard circle to square, so I hope Jack undertstands my confusion. Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers