Tories want to offer parental benefits for self-employed

TheGlobeandMail.com – National – Tories want to offer parental benefits for self-employed: New EI legislation gives NDP another reason to support Conservatives after Liberals fail to topple minority government
Oct. 02, 2009.  Ottawa.  Bill Curry

The Conservative government will introduce new rules this fall that extend parental benefits to the swelling ranks of self-employed Canadians, many of whom have complained they cannot afford to have children and run businesses at the same time.

Sources say the government’s second piece of employment insurance legislation will be introduced before Parliament’s Christmas break. The bill would have a direct impact on the truck drivers, real-estate agents, hairdressers and other workers making up the growing ranks of self-employed Canadians, who now number more than 2.7 million people.

The NDP has for years called for changes to the system that would allow self-employed Canadians to take time off to care for their infant children. New Brunswick MP Yvon Godin, the NDP’s critic for EI issues, said many self-employed Canadians have told him they simply can’t afford to have children because of the current rules.

“This is very important,” he said. “Those people, I think, deserve to be treated the same as any Canadian. … We want the bill now.”

The bill could also have a direct impact on the stability of the Conservative government by effectively giving the NDP a second reason to support the Tories and avoid an election.

The NDP is currently the only party keeping the government in power.

The party’s primary stated reason for doing so is to ensure the passage of government legislation introduced last month that extends EI benefits for long-tenured workers.

However, that bill is moving quickly through the House of Commons and could become law in a matter of weeks, robbing the NDP of its main reason for avoiding a federal election.

Officials say this second bill will be introduced some time after Thanksgiving and before Christmas, giving the NDP another opportunity to push its EI agenda. Conservatives insist the bill’s potential appeal to the NDP is a “secondary” consideration for them, given that the extension of benefits was already part of the party’s platform in the last election campaign.

Government officials also say Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to keep governing and will not deliberately sabotage the fragile arrangement keeping the Conservatives in power.

“We won’t be doing anything that is blatantly aimed at forcing the opposition parties to vote against us,” said one senior government official Thursday.

Late Thursday, a Liberal motion of no confidence in the government was defeated 144 to 117, thanks to a mass abstention by the NDP caucus.

Mr. Godin, who is also the NDP Whip, rose in the House afterward to say the abstentions were on behalf of unemployed Canadians and were not a show of support for the Conservative government. NDP Leader Jack Layton later said his party would go forward on a case-by-case basis and called for an end to the political “brinkmanship.”

In June, the Prime Minister said he was willing to work with the Liberals on a “very major design change” related to EI and the self-employed; however, that two-party working group fell apart over the summer.

Earlier Thursday, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff delivered a speech outlining the reasons why his party moved the motion of no confidence. He said the Conservatives have lost control of the nation’s finances, are failing to protect Canadians abroad, are not doing enough on climate change, have been too slow to secure an H1N1 vaccine and are undermining the role of the federal government.

“These are the kinds of failings that have made us, week after week, month after month, not just over the last year, over four long years, come to the conclusion that we cannot continue to support the government,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “Is this a pattern of incompetence or is this a pattern of malice? It is a little of both.”

With a report from Jane Taber

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