The Commons: ‘The government is trying to patch EI with duct tape’

The opposition peppered the PM on Employment Insurance. Layton recommended Harper “learn to count”


The Scene. Michael Ignatieff put his right thumb and index finger together and tried to explain the situation to the Prime Minister.

“Mr. Speaker, there were 24,000 new claimants for employment insurance this January,” he said. “That is bad enough. But thousands more Canadians are losing their jobs and are not able to claim EI, even though they paid into the system.”

He closed his fist as he approached the question.

“The government is trying to patch EI with duct tape while evading the real issue, which is eligibility,” Ignatieff continued. “Will the government adjust the eligibility requirements so that all Canadians, wherever they live, can claim EI when they need it?”

The Prime Minister rose to respond. Or at least speak next.

“Mr. Speaker, the leader of the Liberal party should know that eligibility for EI is determined by the region in which one lives, according to a formula. As, obviously, employment conditions become more difficult, eligibility becomes easier,” he explained. “This is the government that has put additional moneys into EI. This is the government that has made sure people who need EI during this recession will be able to access it for a longer time to get more training. We have brought in new additional EI training. Also, we have made sure that EI cheques can get out faster.”

The Liberal leader did not appear obviously impressed with this. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “I take that as a ‘no,’ so let me rephrase the question.”

Demonstrating a certain ambidextrousness, Ignatieff put his left thumb and index finger together this time. “Lots of Canadians have paid into EI, they lose their jobs and they cannot get the benefits they need when they need them,” he explained. “So, I ask again, is the Prime Minister prepared to review eligibility requirements for EI so the system is fair—because it is about fairness here—fair for all Canadians?”

Back came the Prime Minister. “Mr. Speaker, the leader of the opposition should know those who are not eligible for EI it is often because in fact they did not pay into EI in most cases because they are not participants, and of course there are cases where they do not have sufficient hours,” he said.

“Nooo!” yelled the Liberal side.

“He doesn’t understand!” moaned one.

“However, this government has brought in important enhancements to EI,” Mr. Harper continued. “The leader of the opposition was asked for some proposals for the budget. He did not provide any. That is why we have moved forward with the proposal to increase the number of weeks of eligibility.”

At this point, Ignatieff seemed to discard his script. “Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister keeps asking me for proposals. It is as if he wants me to do his job,” he said, his Liberals applauding loudly. “I would, of course, like to do his job when the time comes. However, let me ask the question again. Is he saying that the fact that the unemployed are not eligible is their fault?”

Mr. Harper stood and adjusted his suit jacket. “Mr. Speaker, of course we are not saying that,” he said, offering perhaps his first direct response to the man seated across the aisle. “That is why this government has been acting to help the unemployed during this recession.”

Not one to demure from a challenge, the Prime Minister continued, his voice rising as his hands swung this way and that, prodding the air and pointing dismissively at his rival. “What we are saying is that whether somebody is prime minister or not, when they are elected to have responsibility in this House during a recession, they are here to help Canadians, not just to try and play on bad news for their own strategic advantage,” he yelped. “It is irresponsible and Canadians see through it.”

The Conservatives applauded their leader happily.

A question from Gilles Duceppe later gave the Prime Minister an excuse to use the word “coalition,” then it was Jack Layton’s turn, the NDP leader choosing to confront Harper with arithmetic.

“Mr. Speaker, 129,000 more Canadians were thrown out of work last January, yet the number of EI recipients only went up by 23,000 in that month. That is, 100,000 Canadians lost their jobs but did not get any help from this government,” he explained. “Can the Prime Minister explain the huge discrepancy between the number of people thrown out of work and the number who cannot get help for their families when they need it most from this government?”

Mr. Harper blamed the NDP.

Layton tried again. “Mr. Speaker, in Canada there were 1,310,000 unemployed in January, but only 560,000 of the total unemployed were receiving any help from EI,” he said. “Under this Prime Minister, 57 per cent of those hard-working Canadians who live by the rules, paid into the insurance fund but needed help cannot get it. Why will he not fix it?”

Before the Prime Minister could respond, Layton offered a half dozen suggestions. “He could reduce the minimum to qualify, drop the waiting period, and increase the wage replacement rate. He could make sure that no matter where one lives in Canada, one gets the same kind of help. That is what Parliament wants him to do. Why will he not do it?”

Mr. Harper blamed both the Liberals and the NDP.

“I do not know which is worse, the Liberal party that votes for something then criticizes, or the NDP that asks for something and then votes against it,” he said, returning to his seat with a slight smile.

Once more came Layton. “Mr. Speaker, the fact is the majority of people who need help from EI cannot get it from this government,” he said. “The Prime Minister should learn to count. We are talking about real people here.”

Mr. Harper once more directed everyone’s attention to the NDP. “This is the problem with the NDP,” he said. “They are so anxious to be against everything, to never have any responsibility for anything, but they vote against everything. That is why at times like this the workers of Canada never entrust their future to the NDP.”

That clarified, the workers of Canada, declining in number as they may be, will surely sleep better tonight.

The Stats. Employment, 13 questions. Forestry, five questions. Economic development and the CBC, four questions each. Afghanistan, arts funding, fetal alcohol syndrome and election financing, two questions each. The budget, Kashmir, the Montreal port, the gun registry, science, student politics and Omar Khadr, one question each.

Stephen Harper, seven answers. James Moore, six answers. Diane Finley, five answers. Denis Lebel, Stockwell Day and Lawrence Cannon, four answers each. Leona Aglukkaq, two answers. Christian Paradis, Vic Toews, John Baird, Peter Van Loan, Lisa Raitt and Gary Goodyear, one answer each.


The Commons: ‘The government is trying to patch EI with duct tape’

  1. In Ignatieff’s defence, he wasn’t in the country when his own party made “reforms” to EI that restricted eligibility in the 1990s.

    • In fact, Iggy wasn’t in the country during any major Liberal policy initiatives in the past three decades, so it would be grossly unfair for the Tories to mention anything the Liberal party has done since the mid 1970’s.

      • But Critical, by that same logic it would be grossly unfair for Ignatieff to claim any part of the record of previous Liberal governments, at least those since the mid 1970s.

        • Sorry – I was being sarcastic. I should have been more obvious.

  2. Right, like you’d support the way pogey used to be in this country. Besides the changes began under Mulroney.

  3. Ba Da Bing : my boy Stevie does it again = Mr. Harper blamed both the Liberals and the NDP.

    “I do not know which is worse, the Liberal party that votes for something then criticizes, or the NDP that asks for something and then votes against it,” he said, returning to his seat with a slight smile.

    • Boy, yr easily impressed.

  4. Someone chalk that down- the first time in several years an actual answer has been given in the House of Commons .
    “Mr. Speaker, of course we are not saying that”
    *sigh*…. an actual response. I think I orgasmed.

  5. While Canada’s unemployed get burnt, Harper fiddles with his buttons.
    And Wayne wan… er claps.

  6. It is an interesting phenomena that is taking place in our HOC due to that new guy. He has generated an actual answer from the PM (made Sophia happy) and morphed Steven Harper’s natural nastiness into a sort of dry wit (Wayne joins Sophia).

    Ignatieff may over the long haul pull off something remarkable, something that evaded Trudeau, Mulroney, Chretien and Diefenbaker. He may actually through his own actions and those he elicits from his opponents elevate the status of all politicians in the eyes of the Canadian public. What is truly ironic is that the person with the most to gain from this is Mr. Harper; a man with the capability of being a great prime minister but a man with a strong natural predisposition towards immediate partisan gratification. So strong that it has precluded him accomplishing anything substantive during his time in office todate.

    • So yr saying SH could be a great PM if only…Mulroney would have been a national treasure if only…Martin might have been a success as PM if only… It’s the if onlys that separate what is, from what might’ve been.

  7. EI is just another ridiculous vote-buying scam. There is no “right” or “fair” way for the government to run it, because it wasn’t invented to actually help anyone or fix anything in this country.

    No wait – I should say, it was never intended to help anyone EXCEPT politicians, bureaucrats, and maybe a million or so marginal earners who have the good fortune to live in regions with chronic political corruption and nicely gerrymandered ridings. Or maybe it’s the other way around – they have the extreme bad fortune to have allowed themselves to be sucked into being the block-voting tools of political slimeballs. It depends on how much you value independence and self respect.

    Free people have their own EI plan, which is known by the technical term “saving money for a rainy day”. They also have a series of safety nets called family, neighborhood and church. And they have job mobility which arises from their natural-born ability to adapt and thrive under changing conditions.

    Or rather they used to have these things, before they were kicked to dust by a bunch of idiot socialists and slick opportunists lurking in Ottawa and the provincial capitals and hiding behind feel-good “caring” rhetoric. As the old saying goes, “And the Minister looked upon the Plan, and saw that it was good. And the Plan became policy.”

    And soon the crock of manure turned into a sacred cow.

    End of story.

  8. And it was Harper who said “Also, we have made sure that EI cheques can get out faster”, not Ignatieff.

  9. It was the Liberals under Paul Martin who tightened EI eligibility rules, and then used the surplus that amassed as a result to balance the budget. So its a little rich for Iggy to demand Conservatives act hastily to rectify things after Liberals had 13 years in power.

    As for Layton, perhaps someone should explain that many losing their jobs don’t qualify immediately for EI due to severance pay being received. Not to mention you aren’t considered an EI recipient until your waiting time expires and you begin to recieve benefits. I do admit though that I am in favor of getting rid of the two-week waiting period. Always thought it was unfair to get knocked in the teeth with two weeks lost pay as a result of a layoff.

  10. Duct tape Iggy?

    Maybe that’s all that’s left. It seems to me that Ontario has been clobbered into the grave largely because McGuinty bought political power at the expense of the Ontario economy. Both he and his unions have a type of political blood on their hands. So Iggy, if by chance you are reading this, show us how your calculus will work for the collective good of Canada.

  11. Couldn’t be any worse than cuddly cute Steve, comes in a fuzzy blue sweater. You can squeeze him, we promise he wont bite. Steve already auditioned for the Holmes part. Better stick to what he knows, counting beans.

  12. Good lord, do we have a whole new crop of trolls, or has Wayne just started posting under multiple names?

      • You never know. I’m always suspicious about the sudden appearance of new, energetic trolls. Sometimes they’re the same old trolls in disguise, like our old friend whose name shall not be mentioned.

      • What if that happens to any of us — anonymity heaped on anonymity? Oh, the agony of not knowing.

        And Jack — If you’re right, then all those trolls have gathered on my front lawn, nearest the tree.

  13. EI is broken and should be dumped right away. Then maybe we can build a true insurance system with premiums based on your risk of losing a job (consider where you work, the history of the sector in job loss and your own personal history of being unemployed) and payments rated accordingly. We somehow seem to be able to do that with other government mandated insurance programs such as workers comp. Trying to make an ‘insurance’ program into anything else is just silly and it becomes a social welfare program by another name (so that recipients will not be demeaned because they are unemployed). Every government can ‘fiddle’ with the program to no end and you will end up with the mess we have today.

    • You say many things that have merit. But your conclusion is to make EI more like Worker’s Comp? I can’t think of a more bureaucratic nightmare than that place. Plus, aren’t they provincial?

    • Maureen has a good point worth pressing our local reps about, IMHO. The added bonus — the premium “premium” for high unemployment industries might bolster any impetus for change in that industry — on the part of the industry AND its employees. I’m all for supporting “traditional” industries when they are museum artifacts in tourist villages, but not as basins into which we pour tax dollars.

  14. ”Mr. Harper stood and adjusted his suit jacket.”
    Love that tidbit. Only someone who really came to watch QP would pick up on that.

    • “Personal drapery overhanging his girth” would be more precise.

  15. duct tape has many uses except when it comes to EI (and real ppl); Ignatieff is the new Red Green. go figure.
    the national conserv min-govt are the real slackers here getting tax-payer pogey, expecting everyone else to do their job for them while they either fidget or wildly wave their arms about self-importantly and rant and lecture ad nauseum (boooooo!); frantically shuffle their papers around, strike a pose–trying to look *governmental-like*–and collect their “pay”. their ridiculous embarrassment of a reality show is played; and over.
    the Opposition has finally figured out that a majority of Canadians no longer see the min-conservs as relevant or helpful–or even in the 21st century–either, and are now *representing* us; bravo!
    Canada seriously needs an upgrade.

    • *representing* by answering their own questions since the min-con govt aint got any. the lameness of the national min-cons is off the chain.

  16. What is almost impossible to look at is Helena Guergis’ smug face behind Harper.
    Please someone change her seat, she is horrible to look at every QP.
    My gag reflex is being activated when I don’t want it to be.

    • I still did not see Mr. Harper answer the question on the E.I other then blame the fellow parties. I am a conservative, a pretty right winger. But right now the conservatives have to get back to policies. Maybe the older Economic reform policies. I miss the days of the CA party. They were a real branch of conservatives if I might ad.


    On December 4 King Stephen decreed
    That the will of Parliament he would no longer heed.

    Queen Michaelle backed him tout de suite
    And Canadian democracy was under their feet.

    With Prince Iggy up-propping this noxious regime
    He seems to have joined the Conservative team.

    Now Canadians are patient, and hope for the best,
    But we seem to be failing this critical test.

    Since kings, queens and princes are doing us in,
    And to ignore their connivings would be a sin,

    If we’re ever to get our democracy back
    We may have no option but to play our Jack.
    (Layton, that is.)

  18. Censor test:


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