Mixed signals on EI
TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial – Mixed signals on EI
August 03, 2009
No relief is in sight for Canada’s 1.6 million jobless. Despite signs of a fragile recovery, economists predict more workers will lose their jobs in the months ahead.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper recognizes the “great tragedy” faced by laid-off workers who aren’t eligible for employment insurance (EI) benefits. He promised last week to address their plight when Parliament resumes in September.
But his reassuring words were contradicted by the bellicose rhetoric of his human resources minister and his parliamentary secretary. Both appear bent on torpedoing a Liberal-Conservative task force on reform of employment insurance. The six-member working group is scheduled to report to the Prime Minister on Sept. 28.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley accused the Liberals of living in an “academic fantasyland” – a cheap shot at party leader Michael Ignatieff – if they think EI coverage can be extended to all Canadians who have worked just 360 hours in the previous year. (EI applicants currently need at least 420 hours to qualify for benefits.)
Pierre Poilievre, Harper’s parliamentary secretary, said the government would never accept the Liberal demand. “A nine-week work year would cost billions and the only way to fund it is through higher taxes, so we can’t support that.”
In fact, Ignatieff has said from the outset that the 360-hour threshold is negotiable. “I’m prepared to put some water in my wine,” he said last week. But hopes that the task force can agree on meaningful EI reform are fading fast, given the Conservative sabre-rattling.
The government needs to get its priorities straight. The unemployed are looking to Ottawa for help, not partisan posturing.
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