The Commons: Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair exchange diabolical plans for EI - Macleans.ca

The Commons: Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair exchange diabolical plans for EI

One could almost smell the sulphur…

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The Scene. The Prime Minister has a special gift for making his government’s policies sound altogether banal, utterly and profoundly unremarkable.

“We will continue to do our best to try and put some resources into helping people find jobs,” Mr. Harper said this afternoon, under questioning about his government’s proposed changes to employment insurance. “At the same time, for those who still cannot find work in their seasonal industries and seasonal parts of the economy where people have difficulty finding work, there will, of course, be employment insurance as a safety net for those people.”

But if Diane Finley’s smile did not assuage the opposition parties, what chance do Mr. Harper’s words? From the other side of the House, there is worry that seasonal workers will be particularly impacted. There is fretting that the unemployed will be compelled to take lower paying jobs. There is fear that those without work will be deprived of EI benefits. There are concerns that the Harper government didn’t consult with the premiers. There is even dismissal of the Conservative plan for more and better emails.“Mr. Speaker, there is not a single aspect of this plan that will actually help anyone find a job,” Thomas Mulcair fumed this afternoon. “What unemployed Canadians can look forward to are threatening emails from the Conservative government telling them what low-paying jobs they must now apply for, at least until they get kicked off EI and then they will not even be able to pay for their Internet connections any more. Can the Prime Minister explain why the Conservatives want to force unemployed workers to choose between a 30% pay cut or the EI benefits they have paid for and they deserve?”

Seated a couple spots over from Mr. Mulcair, David Christopherson thumped his desktop in appreciation for the NDP leader’s effort here—the government’s grand plan tied up in a harrowing tale.

When it was his turn, Bob Rae suggested that the changes would result in a downloading of costs to the provinces. Mr. Harper assured him it was all good.

“In terms of the specifics here, no one is suggesting any downloading, quite on the contrary,” the Prime Minister ventured. “We want to make sure the people who are getting EI or thinking of getting EI have the opportunity to work in the labour market. There are many cases where those labour market opportunities are not being taken advantage of and these reforms are part of a package to accomplish that. It is good for all parts of the country, including Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Unpersuaded, Mr. Rae reviewed the concerns of seasonal employers and proceeded to an almost philosophic query. “Could the Prime Minister tell us why he will not withdraw these suggestions until such time as he has established a stronger national consensus for the kind of changes that this requires?” the interim Liberal leader wondered aloud.

Regardless of whether the Prime Minister could or should or would, this question seemed doomed from the moment it escaped Mr. Rae’s mouth.

” Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Harper offered by way of response, “these changes are widely supported by employers.”

Standing for his sixth and final intervention, Mr. Harper moved then to land a final shot—a little something to be clipped for the afternoon chat shows or evening news.

“Our philosophy here is different than that on the other side,” he explained. “We want to make sure people can get jobs when jobs are available rather than employment insurance. We want to make sure that when jobs are available Canadians get first crack at those jobs, not temporary foreign workers.”

Ah ha. Here, apparently, the Prime Minister had figured out the opposition’s diabolical plans to put every citizen of this country on employment insurance while importing millions of foreign workers to perform all of the jobs that are presently filled by Canadians.

Faced with such a “dangerous economic experiment”—as the daily emails from the Conservative party warn Mr. Mulcair is preparing to unleash—the plan for more and better emails should seem all the more reasonable.

The Stats. Employment, 11 questions. Military procurement, five questions. Ethics and the RCMP, three questions each. Labour, fisheries, infrastructure, the budget and the environment, two questions each. Syria, the disabled, veterans, poverty, trade and disaster relief, one question each.

Diane Finley, seven responses. Stephen Harper, six responses. Vic Toews, four responses. Andrew Saxton, three responses. Rona Ambrose, Lisa Raitt, Keith Ashfield, Tony Clement and Denis Lebel, two responses each. Peter Van Loan, Julian Fantino, David Christopherson, John Baird, John Duncan, Peter Kent, Jim Flaherty, Peter MacKay and Ed Fast, one response each.