The Commons: Smiling Diane

When you smile, the whole world smiles with you--sometimes

Diane Finley entered the room smiling. The Human Resources Minister is seemingly a firm believer that—as the lyric goes—when you smile, the whole world smiles with you. Or at least that the whole world is less likely to hear what you’re saying as threatening. Furrowing of the brow is to be avoided. Bright eyes are the order of the day.

“Today, I’m pleased to announce improvements to employment insurance to make it work better for Canadians,” she said with a smile.

“Today,” she added a bit later, “I’m pleased to provide details on our plan.”

The centrepiece of this plan: more e-mails.

Canadians, it would seem, are apparently at a loss. Some are unaware of where to find work. Others do not realize that their skills match job openings in other industries. But soon, through the wonders of modern communication, the unemployed will be more deeply and frequently enlightened.

“Currently, Canadians receiving EI benefits are only sent three job alerts every two weeks. These alerts come from the job bank, which only has about 20% of the jobs that are available. And we believe that this must change. As I said, we must help Canadians who want to work get back to work,” Ms. Finley explained. “As part of our announcement, we will be sending job alerts twice a day to Canadians receiving EI. And the job alerts will come from many sources, including the job bank, but also from private sector sources.”

Some significant portion of the $21 million set aside for improving the EI system will be spent on these emails. Though presumably these new expenditures will be easily covered by the billions saved from consolidating the government’s computer systems. Perhaps the consolidated computer systems will even make sending these emails that much easier.

There is also some business about defining “suitable employment” and what constitutes a “reasonable job search.”

Ms. Finley was eager to explain what this much was not about. “Folks, let me be crystal clear about something. These changes are not about forcing people to accept work outside their own area nor about taking jobs for which they are not suited,” the minister explained. “If someone on EI has a health problem that prevents them from taking an available job, then that job will not be deemed to be suitable employment.  That is, they will not be required to accept that job. As another example, if there is work available but someone on EI is not physically capable of performing the work, then that would not be deemed to be suitable employment.”

So what is this about?

“We want to help a roofer who goes on EI each winter apply his skills with a residential construction company until he can return to his preferred occupation once the local roofing season begins again,” Ms. Finley enthused.

If that is it, it is perhaps a wonder why it took Ms. Finley so long to explain what it is her government is planning to do. And why this hasn’t all been detailed in legislation.

“These improvements will introduce new, needed, common sense efforts to help Canadians get back to work faster,” Ms. Finley ventured. “That’s good for the economy, that’s good for employers and that’s good for Canadians and for their families.”

At the very end of the question and answer session that followed, Ms. Finley was asked if the government would be consulting with Parliament on its proposed changes.

“There is a consultation process that is required through regulation and we’ll be following that process,” Ms. Finley responded.

This was not much of an answer to the question asked, but Ms. Finley delivered it with a smile.