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A hallmark of Michael Ignatieff so far as Liberal leader, both actual and interim, has been his penchant to transactional politics; he has so far picked his battles on small and short term policy differences rather that outlining a long-term plan. At the Liberal convention which concluded yesterday in Vancouver, Ignatieff did not spell out his demands, policy outlook or election warnings to the government in his convention speech, he felt that such minor details would be more appropriate for a press conference proceeding the event. Despite his insistence that he will be a transformative visionary leader that is looking forward to shaping Canada over the next eight years through 2017, it is not too credible when Ignatieff’s Canadian hindsight only extends back just five. The latest election threat (but not necessarily an election) is his insistence that the Prime Minister look at EI reform to temporarily extend benefits to workers who have worked 360 hours and to harmonize standards for EI benefits across jurisdictions.

The history of EI in this country has been quite tumultuous for parties that have manipulated it, back to RB Bennett who proposed it, to Trudeau who vastly expanded it to Mulroney and Chretien who subsequently slashed it to Martin who allowed EI surpluses to balloon under his watch. Ironically, it was Chretien in 1995 that changed the standards of EI payments to reflect local unemployment rates breaking down benefits by region. Though all of Canadians pay into EI, the benefits distributed are dependent upon local employment rates. Thus, EI is sort of like equalization but for jobs.

“It seems unfair to Canadians that if you pay into the thing, your eligibility depends on where you live. We think 360 (hours) is roughly where we ought to be.” — Michael Ignatieff

Now Mr. Ignatieff is proposing that we do away with regional differences and temporarily make EI more generous. An election threat from Ignatieff does not ring in the ears of the Prime Minister today after the Liberal leader put the screws to the Liberal senate to pass the Conservative budget just months ago — a budget, which among other things, included a global five-week extension of EI benefits despite region.

What Mr. Ignatieff may instead be attempting is to wrestle an easy “concession” from the Conservative government in order to show that he intends on making Parliament work while boasting that he will decide the timing of its dissolution. EI may indeed be an important policy issue for the Liberal leader to champion as for deregionalizing the program would be beneficial for Ontario, a province that disproportionately pays into it for the benefits received. As Ignatieff is looking to regain Ontario seats lost under the wayward leadership of Stephane Dion, the new Liberal leader may figure that he can shore up his Ontario base and challenge Stephen Harper where the Conservative Prime Minister needs to grow.

Yet today, a spoiler appeared on the scene. Ontario PC leadership candidate Christine Elliott and wife of federal finance minister Jim Flaherty also declared that the EI program was ineffective and unfair for Ontario. Elliott proposed reforming the program to benefit a fairer proportion of out-of-work Ontarians considering the number of the province’s residents pay into it. If EI cannot be reformed, Elliott suggests, Ontario should opt-out of the program. Does this signal a tag-team effort by federal and provincial Conservative forces to deflate Ignatieff’s election threat? Christine Elliott may be serving as a safety valve to deflate Ignatieff by suggesting that a friendly to the Conservative government is advocating a similar position. If a June election is contingent upon EI reform for Ontario, Elliott may be providing the Conservatives cover should they move forward with reform and it would have the added benefit of splitting credit from Ignatieff.



  • Durward

    Doing something stupid is still doing something stupid no matter who supports it.
    Oh well back to the welfare mentality of the eighties and nineties, Stupid stupid stupid.

  • David

    Once again I believe this is more Ignatieff bluster. In the past he had said he couldn't support the Conservative budget; He did. He signed the letter to the GG that he'd (along with all Liberals) create a coalition Gov't; He didn't. This is another hollow threat in what has become a trend. Don't forget Dion had higher polling numbers after his convention win then Ignatieff has now! Dion did it without a gov't deficit or bad economy as well.

  • wilson

    Watching QP today, it doesn't look like the government is budging on opps demand for further EI reform.
    And, PMSH did not answer Duceppes questions, Ministers did.

  • Fred

    Iggy just put himself on a knife edge. Make the eligibility level very low – to keep seasonal workers i.e the Liberal Maritime voting base happy and the costs would go way up and the Ei contribution to General Revenue would go way down. So this increases the deficit while making it very attractive to legions of new workers to play EI games

    The other side of Iggy's “National Standard” knife blade is to make it a high hurdle to qualify and screw things up the other way.

    What ya gonna do Iggy ??

  • Peter

    Did anyone else view Ignatief's wearing of the Canucks Jersey as a shallow stunt. He probably can't name four players on the team. Plus, does Iggy even know what icing is? Doesn't come across as a hockey fan at all

    Word around Vancouver is the fans aren't happy, the team hadn't lost all post season until Iggy puts the jeresey on…….Their calling it the curse of Ignatief.

  • wilson

    o/t topic, sorry BUT

    Got to listen to Adlers latest :
    click link below then
    goto Audio Vault; May 4; 1pm; minute 7:45
    AND continue to listen at minute 17:15 for the best ever Adler


  • northside 777


    (ICING). . . isn’t that something Ignatieff wants to put on his CV before he retires back to the USA?

  • http://www.ripefruit.ca steve81

    You can’t just opt out of EI, it’s an exclusive federal jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada since 1940. Is Ms. Elliot interested in reopening the Constitution?


  • http://www.bluelikeyou.com/ Joanne (T.B.)

    You're right, Wilson. Best Adler ever for sure!!

  • Bec

    Finally, I actually get to see what “lipstick on a pig” looks like.
    It is the federal Liberals, DEMANDING reform to THEIR, EI policies.

    Amazing arrogance.
    Normal people would be hiding behind the barn, showing embarrassment and a bit of humility, but then we aren't dealing with normal, humble people.
    We just have to try and navigate through and attempt to comprehend, their unmitigated gall.

  • terry1

    Stephen,EI is a good wedge issue for Iggy and the Ontario Tories won't change that because McGuinty will neuter her remarks sooner than later. Dalton was at the convention and fully supportive og Iggy so Ms. Elliott's remarks won't go unnoticed by the Ont. Libs.

    However, you did hit the strategic piece on the nail. Problem is ewhat harper can do about it w/o further damaging his credibility among his rabid western fans on the far right. He can't keep selling out his base.

  • Liz J

    What really tops all statements by the anointed one was “Mr. Harper doesn't understand Canada. That's about a galling as it gets. As Adler said, this from a person who spent much of his adult life outside of Canada.

    Opportunity knocked, the Liberals lured him back with an offer he couldn't refuse. His rise to the top of the Liberal scrap heap is nothing to be proud of. Seeing the architects of the great Liberal divide, Chretien and Martin at the coronation was a sign they're still stinking up the outfit.

    They can all get stuffed.

  • wilson

    PMSH doesn't have to do anything about it.

    Iffy is demanding 'temporary' reforms….and they are unneccesary because the higher unemployment areas ARE NOW accessing EI easier and for longer.
    It's done.

    Yah would have thought Iffy learned something from that steep hill he had to back down over the $3 Billion emergency fund threat.

    Terry, this government does not make policy on the fly. PMSH has no fear that Canadians want an election because: fa small number of unemployed don't qualify for EI.

  • terry1

    More anger from the angry tory crowd….Liz J. >>>>>>>i thought the MSM are all scum according to some of your posts here. You pick and choose your lies just like your leader. Must be contagious.

  • http://www.mileslunn.blogspot.com Miles Lunn

    I think if Harper doesn't compromise here he could pay big time. We are in a recession and people are losing their jobs so temporarily making EI eligiblity easier makes perfect sense and enjoys strong public support. Who cares if it angers the right wing base. The overwhelming majority of Canadians cannot stand this group anyways so there are far more votes to be gained in the centre than the hard right. Besides the fear of another Liberal win will be enough to get them to vote Tory even if it involves holding their noses up. By contrast many centrists who voted Tory last time around are quite open to switching to the Liberals. Most people care about their livelihoods and the people around them, not some political ideology.

  • pete e

    EI reform may be a good thing if you mean it in the Cretien sense. If you mean it in the Santa Claus sense, it is just an incentive to increase unemployment. Can you think of a worse prescription to get us out of a recession?

    In the short term (with stimulus in mind) the best thing to do for EI is to slash the contribution, that is, to subsidize employment. In the long term the best thing is to transfer those savings to income tax savings, to encourage capital formation.

  • Omanator

    He wants the gold plated pension from the HC.

  • Omanator

    I think Iggy's demand is purely optical. He does not give a hoot for the people. If he were in power he would not do it either. He is demanding it to gain votes. The question is how many people will see through this. I am not saying that people are not suffering at the moment. Have unemployment in my own family.

  • terry1

    Wilson, I wonder if Adler will comment on this latest tory attack on democracy:

    “The governing Conservative Party has moved to shield its 143 sitting MPs from grassroots challenges to their right to run for the Tories next election. This means incumbents will be automatically nominated as candidates and spared riding-level battles.”


  • terry1

    Enough said:
    “When challenged on the issue in the House of Commons yesterday, Harper changed the subject. That is a good sign the ground is shifting under the government's feet on EI.”

    Another Harper flip flop coming!

  • terry1

    After Chretien's convention speech the next best line was as follows:
    “Bob Rae got off one of the best-received lines when he said the current government consists of Mr. Harper, a throne and a mirror”.

  • Liz J

    Not surprising the NDP are on side with the Liberals. Work 9 weeks, collect EI, work 9 weeks, collect EI ….. sounds like the makings of a welfare state.

  • Michael

    If Harper really understood Canada, wouldn't he have a majority?

  • Michael

    How many people do that? Seriously? How many? Enough to justify screwing everyone else?

  • MaryT

    A lot of people will do that, and a lot of employers, in small towns will allow it. Students only have to work a day or two here and a day or two there to get 360 hours in to qualify. The biggest problem to getting EI is for those who quit a job and can't collect. A valid reason for quitting is no excuse. Safety concerns on a lot of jobs cause people to quit. A lot of smokers have quit jobs due to no smoking in the work place. I am talking about construction workers, road crews, truck drivers. No smoking in an enclosed work space is one thing, but out in the open is ridiculous. Every case must be handled differently but as it is now, one size fits all.
    The changes that the liberals put in many years ago must be changed and they will. But first the public needs to be educated on how it was the liberals that screwed things up.

  • Omanator

    Terry1. The only people who parachute people into ridings are the Liberals. During the last election campaign all Conservative riding association held their convention, many long before the election was called. But you would not know about that.

  • terry1

    Your party is going to parachute 143 MP's into the next election and possibly many more in rdidings they don't now have

  • terry1

    Mary T….there is a difference in being laid off and quitting your job. If one quits their job for no good reason, the EI benefits are either disallowed or seriously delayed. I'm not sure of exact regulations but quitting is not grounds for immediately EI payments.

  • terry1

    More Liz J and her angry Tory nonsense.

  • BigThatcherFan

    I'm not sure I understand Christine Elliott's plan and how it's a beneficial strategy for the Progressive Conservatives. However progressive she gets on welfare, Dalton McGuinty can always out progressive her. Did she mention what the incentive for finding work would be by increasing welfare eligibility during a recession?

  • Gabby in QC

    A very interesting blog post by Brian Lilley, Ottawa Bureau Chief for radio stations CFRB and CJAD
    (H/T SDA)

    “What this would do in essence is give some Canadians 52 weeks of EI payments for 9 weeks of work. Someone who worked during July and August could get EI payments until the end of the next summer.”

    There's still hope for some members of the Press Gallery.

  • Omanator

    Says who? Some liberal clown called terry1?

  • Omanator

    More than you think

  • Omanator

    Says who? Some liberal clown called terry1?

  • Omanator

    More than you think