Jobless Canadians became a political football Thursday as Liberals agreed to fast-track the federal budget implementation bill through the Senate.
Until Thursday, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff had steadfastly resisted government demands to speed the bill through the Grit-dominated upper house this week.
But he reversed course abruptly Thursday, announcing that senators would rush the bill through an immediate final vote in a bid to ensure unemployed workers get access to enhanced Employment Insurance benefits…
So ends the phony war over the budget — about the phoniest phony war in the history of phoniness. Given that both major parties were agreed on the budget, the only thing they could find to disagree on was who wanted to pass it fastest. This they set to with a will, each accusing the other of holding up its passage.
But of course. As both parties had invested so heavily in the idea that the budget was all that stood between this country and Utter Ruin, so both were obliged to pretend that there was nothing more urgent than passing it into law — at the height of the madness, that the fate of the country hinged on whether a particular $3-billion spending envelope was pushed out the door this instant, or was delayed for a few days until the government could tell Parliament what it was for.
But there was only so far that this could be pushed. The Liberals, especially, having earlier won the battle in forcing the Conservatives to adopt a Liberal budget, were in danger of losing the (phony) war. For having endorsed the budget, and the miraculous healing properties claimed for it, they could hardly afford to be seen to obstruct it. Hence today’s fairly ignominious climbdown, following the “discovery” by a Liberal Senator that the extension of employment insurance benefits contained in the budget was retroactive to two weeks before its passage.
Why this should matter, in logic, is unclear: whenever you passed it, it would still be retroactive the same two weeks. But the political consequences were clear, and potentially deadly. As Michael Ignatieff so eloquently put it, “no Liberal will ever stand between a Canadian who stands in need of Employment Insurance and the benefits they need.” And that was that.