And how you might not want to do it just yet? Well, she’s sticking by that caveat, because at the moment, the short-to-medium-give-or-take-a-few-weeks fate of the 40th Parliament rests in the increasingly clammy hands of NDP Leader Jack Layton, and in the fine print of the employment insurance reform package that he was so quick to call a “very serious proposition” earlier this week, and which the government is planning to table later today.
The early reviews from his union brothers and sisters , however, have not been encouraging. Canadian Auto Workers Union president Ken Lewenza has already dismissed it as “crumbs for the unemployed” that will do little to help “the vast majority of the unemployed” — an argument that is further laid out in what, for the NDP, is likely detail excruciating in every possible way, in this morning’s Globe and Mail:
The Conservatives’ EI proposal would help only “long-tenured workers,” those who have contributed to the EI program for at least seven out of 10 calendar years and who have received regular EI benefits for no more than 35 weeks in the past five years. It would extend their benefits by between five and 20 weeks.
But as Toronto labour economist Armine Yalnizyan points out, the program’s restrictions act against the nature of much of Canada’s industry – manufacturing, the oil patch, forestry and, increasingly, the service sector – that is subject to periodic layoffs.
Plus, she said, the government is not addressing what the program was designed to be: an economic stabilizer that would prop up consumer spending during an economic downtown and a cushion to prevent middle class unemployed workers from slipping into destitution if they were suddenly hit by major expenditures.
Laurel Ritchie, national representative of the Canadian Auto Workers, said few laid-off members of her union – “only handfuls” – have been able to meet the long-tenure definition.
Canadian Labour Congress economist Andrew Jackson said his understanding of the new proposal is that it would fully apply only to unemployed workers who have initiated a claim to EI benefits since the beginning of the year.
Now, to be fair, it should be noted that these rather dour assessments are based on what was in the press release; it’s possible — not all that likely, but possible — that the legislation itself will be better than its advance billing suggests.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that relations between the NDP and CAW have been somewhat cool since that brief dalliance between the latter and the Paul Martin Liberals. But if the Canadian Labour Congress — which has thus far held its fire, even going so far as to call the idea of extending benefits for long-term workers “helpful” if limited — comes out against it, it’s hard to see how Jack’s pack can’t do the same. Even if they don’t, some NDP MPs — particularly those in ridings where CAW holds sway — may spend the upcoming G20 break week huddled in the riding office, fielding calls from outraged local labour groups.
Despite all those headlines proclaiming the fall election averted, Friday’s supply vote is only the beginning. If the Ways and Means motion sails through the House as expected, however, it will deprive the Conservatives of one line of attack that they were almost certainly hoping to deploy on the doorsteps during a fall campaign: that those heartless, election-hungry opposition parties had banded together to snuff the beloved home renovation tax credit. With 80 percent of the infrastructure spending ostensibly underway, who knows what other crowd-pleasing measures the government might suddenly produce, only to promptly tie it to the parliamentary train track and dare the opposition not to ride to the rescue?
In other words: Don’t get too comfy, y’all. It’s going to be a very long few weeks.
UPDATE: Rob Silver points out that newly elected party presidentPeggy Nash may find the NDP’s tentative decision to back the government leads to a bit of awkward silence around the water cooler at her day job as … “assistant to the CAW national president.”