Thursday, September 17, 2009

EI, fast-track facts, votes and more (updated)

A busy few days at work and some sleepy evenings have me rather behind in my blogging. Before I get to the rather surprising (and not) developments of yesterday that have made a fall election extremely unlikely, allowing me to make plans for October (work trip to Nashville, fun fun) let me talk about the more recent developments of today.

The Liberals offered today to fast-track the Conservatives’ EI reform legislation, which the NDP says is their reason for propping-up Stephen Harper’s government, through Parliament, so the NDP would be free to either vote for or against the government on the Liberal confidence motion in late September/early October knowing the EI changes have been passed and are flowing.

Fast-tracking a bill requires the unanimous consent of all parties, and it can mean a number of things. It could mean doing all three readings at once and bypassing committee, essentially passing it in a matter of hours, or a day or two. You’ll recall the Ontario government’s TTC back-to-work legislation was passed in an afternoon in this manner, and the bill was rushed over to the Lieutenant Governor who was at a Maple Leafs game for his signature/royal assent immediately after.

I’m told Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale offered Liberal support for doing this with EI this morning, but there wasn’t unanimous support from the parties. There does seem to be a general consensus in principle around fast-tracking the bill, however. It seems that both the NDP and BQ want it to go to committee, and I’m hearing the BQ have some issues with the bill they want to look at. The house leaders have been meeting and there’s no word on what they’re looking at but there does seem to be agreement around fast-tracking it past first and second reading and quickly getting it to committee, with the committee possibly even sitting during the break-week next week. Conceivably, it could come back the following week for a past-tracked third reading, be sped through the Senate and be law before the Liberal opposition day, but we don’t know what sort of timeline will be agreed upon. All I know is the Liberals support moving it through as quickly as possible.

One point that I want to clarify having spoken with Liberal sources, asI was confused on this myself: the Liberal Party will not be voting in favour of this EI legislation. Not everyone needs to vote in favour of the bill for it to be fast-tracked. There just needs to be all-party agreement to dispense with debate and go straight to the vote. The Liberals are saying lets speed this thing through quickly but we’ve made clear we don’t support this government, they can’t be trusted, there needs to be change and we will be voting against them.

The Liberal Party will also be voting against Friday’s ways and means motion. I’m told the whip has ordered all hands on deck, the Liberal caucus will be out in force, no one is leaving town early.

Now, as for the strategy here. Are the Liberals trying to squeeze the NDP? Absolutely. We think this EI legislation is wholly inadequate, it will help only a fraction of the unemployed that need help, and it does nothing about what was the NDP’s prime concern on EI (and one of ours too): eligibility and access. But I’ll get more into that tomorrow when I write about the events of the week.

But the NDP latched onto this EI legislation as their fig leaf, saying they will prop-up the Harper Conservatives until it’s passed. We’re saying fine, lets pass it tout de suite, get this inadequate help out to the few that it does help more quickly, and then the NDP is free to either vote against the government on the Liberal confidence motion, or they can find another reason to support Harper. And if the NDP stalls on it, they’re delaying help to the unemployed that they seem to deem pretty important.

Now, I’ve been reading NDPers saying this is disrespectful to the unemployed, that using this legislation to “embarrass” the NDP isn’t fair to the unemployed. Frankly, I think they’re projecting. Think about it from the perspective of the unemployed: even if the Liberals are playing strategy here, if it means the bill is fast-tracked and they get their benefits faster, what do they care if the NDP is embarrassed? They’d be getting their benefits more quickly. And if the offer to fast-track is rejected, then those that oppose it can explain those unemployed people why they need to wait longer for the help.

So, we’ll have to wait and see what the house leaders agree to. It will be very interesting indeed.

No matter how quickly the EI bill goes through, I’m still seeing a fall election as highly unlikely. This morning I dropped my prediction down to 10%. Today’s events might bump it to 15%, at best, but no higher.

NOT MUCH LATER UPDATE: Breaking news tonight:

One day after claiming victory for extracting employment insurance reforms from the Conservatives, New Democrats now say they've read the fine print and the government's latest bill is not the prize they had hoped.

The party will attempt to use the leverage it gained from offering to keep the government in power in exchange for the EI improvements to extract further concessions when the bill goes to a House of Commons committee. This will prolong a debate that the Liberals are attempting to move off the agenda.

The legislation is the only reason NDP leader Jack Layton has put forward for providing short-term support for the government in a confidence motion Friday on budgetary matters.

I'll have to do some pondering on what this means. Bottom-line, I suppose, is the fast-tracking won't be particularly speedy, so the NDP will likely still be able to use EI as their rationale for propping-up the government on the Liberal confidence motion in a few weeks time.

Now, I suppose the question is, are the NDP serious about trying to improve this bill, or are they just playing for time? I agree with them this legislation is wholly inadequate, that's absolutely correct. That's why we feel this government must be defeated. The NDP had been indicating something was better then nothing, now they're apparently saying there must be changes, which will effectively slow-down passage of the bill?

So, serious desire to improve or mere stall by the NDP? I think a little of both. Seeking improvements is a good reason for spending more time with the bill, with keeping your excuse for propping-up Harper alive as an added bonus.

I do still, however, question their motives. For example, if they thought they had a strong bargaining position, why didn't they demand more Tuesday, when the Conservatives announced their proposed legislation, before it was written and introduced? This is getting into ground I want to leave for the next post, but Layton didn't attempt to negotiate at all. He could have said then "we want more on this and this" to Harper, if they wanted his support. Instead, they said we're going to keep you alive until EI passes, before they'd read the bill. That surrendered a fair bit of power in the negotiation to Harper, I'd contend. Better to demand more before pledging conditional support.

I suspect Layton didn't make the demand at the time because he knew Harper would likely say no, and then Layton would be left to either support legislation he has deemed inadequate or go to an election he really doesn't want. So he'll try for changes in committee instead.

I don't know where that will go, or if the Liberals will support opposition amendments in committee and then vote against passage of the bill overall, as promised. But, while I may be wrong on the math, I believe that, if the Conservatives oppose an amendment in committee, the NDP and BQ can't pass it on their own without Liberal support. Even a Liberal abstention would leave them out-numbered by the Conservatives. Maybe that's their plan, delay the legislation without seeming like its delayed for political reasons, while trying to tag the Liberals as obstructionist toward better legislation.

We'll see, as they say. I'll now bump the election odds back down to 10% though.

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Northern PoV said...

The NDP are embarrassing themselves.
This EI tweek is just like Harper's tax cuts - targeted to such a narrow group as to cost little and mean less in the big picture.

Robert said...

Yah 200,000 working Canadians such a small group of real people. Not to mention those who depend on those 200,000 children, parents, and dependents so close to 400,000 Canadians. HOW DARE THEY HELP THEM. Bet you are a Liberal.

Jeff said...

Robert, MILLIONS OF CANADIANS are out of work, and this bill does nothing for them. Not to the parents and children that rely on them. And this bill does NOTHING for them. It helps only a small percentage of those in need.

But you don't seem to care about them, do you? I want help for all those that need it, and for that we need a new government.

So save your ridiculous sanctimony, please and thanks.

Robert said...

It does something for about 20% of them or 200,000 of them. I remember a quote from Iggy, "half a loaf of bread is better then no load at all". I guess that was just another Liberal talking point and another flip flop right?

It is ok until the other parties do it. All an election will do is drag us out another 5 months before something can be done for the unemployed. We will see if the Liberals mean what they say or if they leave the committee table again like they did in the summer and leave these people hanging.

PS. I don't have a short memory all the problems in the system that the Liberals cry about, Liberal policies.

Jeff said...

Half a loaf would be 50%, Robert. 20% is crumbs.

The millions that get nothing will thank you. But at least the NDP will live another day. That's what counts.

Robert said...

Those Millions would have had help if the Liberals didn't change the rules but that is beside the point.

Your problem is there are millions of unemployed it is the same problem I have so we share a common goal. Problem I have is I don't trust the Liberals, I don't let the fox guard the chicken coup. So when I see an extension of EI now or a Liberal promise "to do sometime in the future maybe if they are elected after an election they are going to lose anyway." All take the now.

Sorry if that is too real for you but if someone said to me "I will give you $100 now to do something or maybe $1000 in the future when I really wont have the power to give $1000" I'll take the $100. That is it. You wont win and Harper wont make this offer after he wins another election. TAKE IT NOW.

Oemissions said...

Thank you so much. Good work.
So many games in the House while people are suffering.

penlan said...

"One day after claiming victory for extracting employment insurance reforms from the Conservatives, New Democrats now say they've read the fine print and the government's latest bill is not the prize they had hoped."

Looks like stalling to me. Jack needs more time to fund raise etc. That's how I see it.

Parliament's on break next week? Why? They've only been back 1 week. Sheesh.

Rural said...

I note that the EI changes in bill C50 are TEMPORARY as well as having many limitations, looks like the NDP have been sold a bill of goods!

Jon Pertwee said...

I guess "too real" means taking the most pathetic offer dangled at you. Harper could offer Jack Layton a car freshener and Layton would call it a great day for all Canadians.

Selling out for nothing and retaining the pompousness seems to be the thing for the NDP today. But ask Robert to be sure.

Robert said...

Rural every change the Liberals proposed this year were TEMPORARY glade you don't even know your parties policy.