EI changes driven by contempt and ideology
TheStar.com – news/canada/politics
Published On Fri May 25 2012. By Thomas Walkom, National Affairs Columnist
Behind this week’s changes to Canada’s Employment Insurance system lie bone-headed ideology and contempt.
The bone-headed ideology stems from the Conservative government’s primitive, Economics 101 view of the world.
The contempt is that of comfortable, well-heeled politicians who, deep down, assume that those unfortunate enough to have lost their jobs lack moral fibre.
That much is wrong with the Employment Insurance system is well-known. Its biggest failing is that it no longer helps most of the jobless.
All workers except the self-employed must contribute to EI. Yet thanks in part to “reforms” introduced more than a decade ago by a previous Liberal government, only 40 per cent of the unemployed even qualify for benefits.
In Toronto, that figure drops to 26 per cent.
The reason? The rules as they stand are biased against those who for no fault of their own must take part-time jobs to make ends meet, as well as contract workers who are technically deemed self-employed.
Added to this is the fact that the EI fund has been used as a cash cow by successive governments — either to pay off debt (as Jean Chrétien’s Liberals did) or to fund other programs.
Thus EI now pays for maternity, parental and compassionate leaves. It funds training programs and subsidizes self-employed fishermen.
All of these may deserve government support. But they have little to do with a program that is supposed to help the jobless get by while they search for work.
The government’s new rules deal with none of the program’s real problems. As the University of Toronto’s Mowat Centre suggested last year, aid to fishermen (which represents less than two per cent of benefits paid out) might be better handled through the kind of support programs available to farmers than EI.
But this government’s solution is to force 60-year-old Atlantic fishermen to pick fruit.
If there is a theme to the changes announced this week byHuman Resources Minister Diane Finley, it is wage reduction. To this Conservative government, anything that might interfere with the mythical free market — and particularly with the market’s downward pressure on wages — is anathema.
Are cash-strapped farmers forced to bring in desperately poor workers from South America to harvest crops? Then the answer is not to reform the food system so that farmers — and farm labourers — can make a living wage. It is to make more Canadians so desperate that they will take be forced to take these Grapes of Wrath jobs.
Thus the new 70 per cent rule: If you lose your job, you must be willing to take a wage cut of up to 30 per cent to qualify for EI benefits. Lose that job and you’re liable to another 30 per cent wage cut. And on. And on.
To these Conservatives, this is only fair. They’ve made it. Therefore they must be virtuous.
If you haven’t made it, you must be a slug.
And indeed they have made it. Former Conservative foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon, for instance, has no need of EI. He received a $78,866 taxpayer-paid severance package as a reward for being defeated in the last election.
This month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave him a cushy job as Canada’s ambassador to France.
Nor will Finley need EI. If she loses her MP job in the next election, she’ll be eligible for a lifetime, publicly funded pension entitlement of $1.8 million, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. That’s on top of the roughly $2.5 in lifetime salary and pension her husband, Harper crony and Conservative Senator Doug Finley, is taking from the public purse.
They’re doing fine. So why can’t you? You loser.
< http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1193419–walkom-ei-changes-driven-by-contempt-and-ideology >