The Commons: Of algebra, the premiers and a new mom named Jennifer

The PM, it seems, has a conversation with a premier every 9.7 days on average


The Scene. It was of something Peter Van Loan said in his third response yesterday that Thomas Mulcair asked his first question today.

“Does the Prime Minister agree,” the NDP leader asked, “that employment insurance is, to quote his House leader, ‘an incentive for people to be unemployed?’ ”

Mr. Harper stood and clarified the necessity of employment insurance and asserted his interest in seeing people find jobs. Then he attempted to deal with the details.

“In the past, the way employment insurance worked was that individuals who went back to work lost dollar for dollar everything that they gained when they returned to work,” he said. “For the vast majority of people that is what happened. We are trying to make sure that Canadians can go back to work and continue to benefit.”

Mr. Mulcair proceeded to venture that Mr. Harper was not much interested in helping the unemployed. And, further, that Mr. Harper’s lack of interest extended to various people and concepts. “Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister is not interested in meeting with the premiers. He is not interested in working together. He is not interested in the unemployed,” the NDP leader alleged. “He will travel around the world to Davos, to South America, to China but he will not even sit down with Canadian premiers. In seven years he has only met with the premiers once, the worst record of any prime minister.”

There was grumbling from the government side.

“Why will the Prime Minister not even listen to the people on the ground?” Mr. Mulcair asked. “Why will the Prime Minister not work together with his own fellow Canadians here at home?”

Mr. Harper has actually met with the premiers en masse twice—in November 2008 and January 2009. But the Prime Minister had an even more impressive-sounding number to table here.

“On the contrary, Mr. Speaker,” he responded. “I have met in person or spoken by telephone with Canadian premiers 250 times since 2006.”

This didn’t quite explain why Mr. Harper does not wish to meet with the premiers this fall, but the Conservatives stood to applaud their man’s communications skills all the same.

The math here is tricky—a summit with all the premiers apparently only counts as one meeting in the Prime Minister’s tally—but roughly speaking it would seem the Prime Minister has a conversation with a premier every 9.7 days. This is more often than you probably speak to some of your friends, but less often than you should be calling your mother (and if one imagines a premier exists somewhere between a friend and a familial relation for a prime minister, that seems about right). But there are 13 premiers and territorial leaders. If Mr. Harper were going nearly ten days between calling one, it might take him four months to speak with each of them. So how to know what to make of this number? (Perhaps the real measure should be how often Mr. Harper has called Robert Ghiz as compared to how often previous prime ministers checked in on Prince Edward Island. Perhaps something of a Mendoza Line for cooperative federalism could be established.)

The math became more complicated as the discussion narrowed in on this question of employment insurance.

“Mr. Speaker, does the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development just not know that prior to August 5, EI claimants could earn 40% of their weekly benefits without any penalty?” Wayne Easter wondered from the far end of the room in his sing-songy whine. “Take Jennifer, a registered nurse in my riding on parental leave. Jennifer worked part-time to fill nursing-care shortages and keep up her skills. However, the government now has clawed back 50¢ on every dollar earned, making her worse off with the changes. Will the Prime Minister explain to this new mom on parental leave why he is taking half her wages for covering nursing shortages?”

In response, Diane Finley channeled Paul Harvey.

“Mr. Speaker, what the honourable member conveniently ignores is the rest of this story,” the Human Resources Minister reprimanded. “That is that if Jennifer had worked more than 40%, every single dollar that she earned would have been clawed back on her EI. That is a disincentive to work. Our country cannot afford that. We have a shortage of skills and labour right across this country in a wide range of sectors and industries and professions. As a government, we want to ensure that Canadians are always better off when they are working. We are working toward that goal and we will continue to work toward that goal.”

“She doesn’t get it!” called a voice from the Liberal corner.

Now it was Rodger Cuzner’s turn to test the minister’s problem-solving skills. “The basic math shows that anybody who makes $260 a week or under is penalized under these rule changes. Stats Canada figures show us that part-time workers’ median income is $230 a week. So that would tell me that EI recipients who are working part-time are being penalized,” Mr. Cuzner concluded. “When will the minister admit that there is a problem and come and fix this problem?”

Ms. Finley opted here for optimism. “Mr. Speaker, the vast majority of people who are working on a claim will indeed be better off,” she offered. “That was our goal: to ensure that we have all the talented work that we can get. And we are working to connect Canadians with jobs. That is something the Liberals did not do.”

There were more grumbles from the Liberal corner. “It’s not working!” called a voice.

“We want to help,” Ms. Finley explained. “We will continue to improve the program so that our goals are achieved.”

Perhaps we might straighten all of this out with conference call between the premiers, the Prime Minister and Jennifer.

The Stats. The economy, seven questions. Ethics, fisheries and the F-35, four questions each. Employment insurance and pensions, three questions each. Elections Canada, product safety and foreign investment, two questions each. Infrastructure, the environment, aboriginal affairs, the oil industry, immigration and poverty, one question each.

Diane Finley, nine responses. Rona Ambrose and Keith Ashfield, four responses each. Stephen Harper and Pierre Poilievre, three responses each. Mike Lake, Tim Uppal, Tony Clement, Colin Carrie, Ed Fast, Greg Rickford and Ted Menzies, two responses each. Peter Kent and Rick Dykstra, one response each.


The Commons: Of algebra, the premiers and a new mom named Jennifer

  1. The NDP are not interested in helping people to find permanent employment. They are interested in attempting to secure the support of the chronic unemployed. Instead of proposing policies that would create new jobs for those who have treated UI as a paid holiday for much of the year or even those who really want employment they are acting like a third-rate Party and trying to suck out a few more vote from the disadvantaged and unfortunate.

    • That you, Mitt?

      • That you Twit ?

        • Nope….it’s Emily. Someone you can’t cope with.

          • Do you have an opinion on the NDP strategy of taking advantage of the unemployed or are you a Twit ?

          • Your premise is wrong for starters, and I’m not even leftwing.

    • Please disabuse yourself of the notion that receiving EI is a “paid holiday”. Last time I was on EI, I rec’d approx $400/wk – my mortgage payments were $225/wk – that left about $175 to cover my condo fees, property taxes, phone & oh yeah EAT! What kind of “holiday” is that?

      • The NDP will help you receive more UI and more often. They will tell you how much they care about your plight. They will want you to vote for them.

        But, how will they help you get a good job ?

        • How is Harper helping people find a good job? By allowing corporations to hire immigrant workers at a 15% discount? Under Harper 500,000 good-paying export-related jobs have disappeared. All he cares about is exporting bitumen. Canadians don’t want to be open-pit miners working out in the middle of nowhere. They want good job and business opportunities close to home.

          Mulcair plans to restore balance to the economy so all provinces can prosper like they did under the Liberals. I’m sure he will also do more to help workers upgrade their skillsets so they can find good paying jobs; this will also help bolster innovation and productivity growth: build it and they will come.

          • @Waller – Sure Mulcan’t will promise jobs at the highest union rates that nobody in their right mind would pay for menial jobs. He will drive business down to the states where labour is cheaper. You are a silly reasonator Waller.
            All you NDP’ers want the highest paying jobs but not one of you want to work for the lesser paying, low skilled work that is necessary. Who do you think will? Those jobs will be filled by the immigrant workers, and happily at that.
            Also Mulbrainless plants a carbon tax on that same company to further price their product beyond your rediculous notions.

          • There are many examples where a professional or recent grad will grab an entry level job in the service industry just to make ends meet while waiting to be hired or rehired in their chosen field. This is not a career decision but rather a short term solution under the NDP these jobs may be at risk

          • Nothing but ignorant stereotypes. The NDP plan on lowering labor costs in Canada by revaluing the currency. It is currently 25% overvalued according to the OECD (based on PPP.) That means workers in Canada cost 25% more than competitor nations. If we restore the currency, we restore our competitive position and ability to sell value-added goods and services on the world market.

            Harper’s plan is to bet everything on bitumen. 94% of the GDP stays in Alberta, doing nothing for the rest of Canada. Plus the price of oil has to remain above $80/barrel for oil sands oil to remain profitable. It is a foolish and dangerous bet that will destroy the economy.

          • NDP slogans for the next election:

            We will devalue Canadian currency by at least 25% immediately.

            We will find new taxes for the oil industry until we cripple it.

            We will lower voting age to 12 and university tuition in Quebec.

            More government jobs–higher government pensions–annual 45 week UI payouts–free factory daycare—free union advertising…..

          • If you want an idea how tragic a national government would look then take a look at the first strategic move by their new provincial cousins in Quebec—to further the future economy of Quebec they rolled back the nominal increase in tuition to those naive students who helped elect them !

            That is the type of move a Mulcair government would do—nothing about job creation. It would be a socialist field day–all government jobs and spending programs to keep their idiotic voters happy and the hell with the economy.

          • The economy is going to hell under Harper. His right-wing ideology destroyed the American economy. It will also destroy ours. He also has a worse spending record than Bob Rae according to conservative columnist Andrew Coyne — although he has been slashing public benefits and services.

            The NDP are centrists under Mulcair, who was a former Liberal. When the Liberals were in power we had a booming economy. Harper has squandered all the advantages he inherited.

            He has: a) killed 500,000 good-paying export-related jobs; b) turned a $14B budget surplus to a $30B budget deficit; c) turned a $26B trade surplus to a $50B trade deficit; d) has the worst record on productivity growth; e) is dragging Canada down the value-added chain while the rest of the world works its way up it.

            Neo-cons arrogate the economy; but they always make a mess of it and leave behind massive government debt. They are nothing more than con men.

          • You are full of it.
            In a comparative Global sense the Canadian economy has done excellent the past 4 years, since the financial meltdown.

            If you think you can convince Canadians to vote NDP because they would run a smaller deficit and create more non-government jobs, then you are wacko.

            Stick to the traditional NDP method of securing the naive-vote at the hands of the fantasy-land union member and those more concerned about UI payouts then a good permanent job.

  2. Where’s Rae? Is he still AWOL?

  3. “That is that if Jennifer had worked more than 40%, every single dollar that she earned would have been clawed back on her EI.”

    …pardon! Am i missing something? 40% of what?

    • This happened to me back in ’99. My marginal tax rate was 64% on a $50K income level owing to the EI clawback. So you pay 64¢ to the government and take home 36¢ until the entire UI benefit that you collected is paid back. Then you go back to your normal marginal rate.

      Now check out the maximum marginal tax rates for the 1% in Canada. It’s nowhere near 64%.

      Ever wonder how the government managed a $7 Billion surplus every year for about 7 years? This was a notional surplus, of course,

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