Ignatieff on an election, EI and socialism

The Liberal leader hasn’t scrummed after QP as often as his predecessor. Which is probably a decent trick—the less automatic an appearance in the foyer, the more relevant it initially seems when you do show up. (Jack Layton, on the other hand, is there everyday. Though in his situation, that’s probably necessary.)

At the same time, he’s also a gotten a bit better at the weird ritual—Let’s all crowd in cozy next to each other and shout questions at another human being! Whee!—though he surely benefits from a favourable comparison with Mr. Dion.

Anyway. Since the 11 o’clock news reduced this to a sentence or two, here’s today’s appearance. As Susan Delacourt notes, there’s at least one decent attack ad in here. Perhaps from now till the end of this parliamentary session, we’ll try posting a “scrum of the day.” Try to contain your excitement.

Question: Mr. Ignatieff, were the changes this morning a step in the right direction and, if not, are you willing to bring the government down, try to bring the government down this summer?

Michael Ignatieff: What changes? I mean this is a reannouncement of the budget provisions on training. And, you know, faced with a worsening unemployment crisis, all they can do is reannounce. They keep reannouncing infrastructure projects. They keep reannouncing employment insurance projects that don’t address the real issue. The real issue is eligibility and they – when we put forward perfectly sensible proposals they falsify them systematically. You can get to a national standard of EI without raising payroll tax as we favour keeping the payroll tax suspended. You can do it without extending length or duration of benefit, right? They are creating the fantasy, the fiction that we want to create 360 EI and then you’re on benefit for 50 weeks. Everybody knows, everybody knows you can’t do that.

So the difficulty I’m having is I’m trying to make Parliament work, right? I’m here to get improved EI for Canadians, period. And the difficulty I’ve got at the moment is every time we put a proposal forward, we get it systematically misdescribed, I will – that’s polite language. And so we have a problem but we’re still trying to make Parliament work for Canadians and that’s my position. It’s been my position since January.

Question: Will you bring them down this spring or the summer over this?

Michael Ignatieff: We’re not there yet. We’ve got plenty of time to work this out. We’ve got plenty of time for them to see sense and see the light. But he says things in the House that he would never dare to say to an unemployed Canadian, right? That’s the thing that drives me crazy.

Question: Mais, M. Ignatieff, auriez-vous le courage de déclencher une élection qui se déroulerait en juillet, par exemple?

Michael Ignatieff: C’est pas une question de courage, bon Dieu, c’est pas une question de machismo. C’est une question de travailler pour les Canadiens afin qu’ils puissent avoir une assurance-emploi avec un — des critères nationaux parce que, comme vous pouvez constatez, vous pouvez être dans une seule ville et toucher de différentes de niveaux d’assurance-emploi. Ça n’a plus de sens. Et nous croyons que ce serait très bon pour les Canadiens d’avoir un système d’assurance avec des critères nationaux et puis on va revoir la situation après quelques années afin de voir si ça marche ou pas. Et on peut le faire sans augmenter les impôts, sans augmenter les impôts. Je veux que ça soit clair.

Question: Comment on fait pour payer pour ça, par exemple?

Michael Ignatieff: Par les revenus général.

Question: So it would come from outside the EI fund. That would be a new change.

Michael Ignatieff: It would be funded out of general revenue.

Question: Do you have any evidence at all that the government will compromise on this? They’re calling it a socialist scheme.

Michael Ignatieff: I love socialist scheme. You do something for the unemployed and suddenly you’re a socialist? Come on, let’s get serious here. We think that this is good, sensible, practical politics. We think that it will not increase payroll taxes. We think it will not extend benefits unduly, extend length. It will not increase the level of benefit. All it means is that you get a national standard and the key point here is to – 150,000 Canadians will get EI benefit. People have already contributed and not eligible now, 150,000 people will get benefits. The good thing about that is that it is the fastest and more direct way to get stimulus into the economy.

You notice today I asked two questions. One was about why only six percent of the stimulus has got out. I did so because that’s one of the problems. That’s one of the reasons why we need to get stimulus into the economy right now. The fastest way to do it is to make this change in EI.

Question: Can you foresee introducing a confidence motion on this during an Opposition Day (inaudible).

Michael Ignatieff: I can certainly foresee it. I use your word. I can foresee it.

Question: In the near future?

Michael Ignatieff: I can foresee it and I can foresee it in the near future. But I repeat the word foresee. Let me say it again so it’s perfectly clear: I am trying to make Parliament work for Canadians, number one. Number two, I am trying to get EI improved for all Canadians. That’s what I’m trying to do.

Question: How long would it last and when would it end?

Michael Ignatieff: Well, remember that they’ve got – some of their EI changes are dated two years forward. That’s one way to do it. The other way to do it is to move it forward while the current levels of unemployment remain. I’m not fussy about either. We do feel that it needs to be a time-dated measure because we’re running – the other point here they’re running $120 billion deficit over five years. Any responsible politician has to look at that number and produce time-dated measures rather than indefinite ones.

Question: M. Flaherty vient de dire que —

Michael Ignatieff: Qui, excusez-moi, qui vient de dire?

Question: M. Flaherty vient de dire que le déficit sera substantiellement plus important que ce qui avait été prédit en janvier.

Michael Ignatieff: Oui.

Question: Qu’est-ce qu’il faut penser de ça?

Michael Ignatieff: Mais on n’a aucune base de raisonner. C’est ça qui est troublant pour les Canadiens. Un jour il dit — au mois d’octobre il disait il n’y aura pas de déficit puis pendant le budget ils ont annoncé un budget de, je ne sais pas, 15, 20 milliards. Maintenant le Fonds monétaire international prédit un déficit de 118 milliards sur cinq ans. Alors nous sommes dans un flou complet sur ces chiffres. Moi comme élu responsable j’ai peu de ces chiffres. C’est une dégradation sérieuse de la situation financière du Canada et c’est une des raisons pour lesquelles nous proposons des mesures sur l’assurance-chômage qui sont responsables, qui prendre compte de la situation que vous décrivez.

Question: Mais vous avez parlé des revenus généraux d’où proviendrait ces sommes. Mais ça veut donc dire qu’il y aurait plus de déficit à cause de (inaudible).

Michael Ignatieff: Mais c’est le seul — c’est une augmentation du déficit que je crois est responsable dans une situation de crise généralisée. C’est une stimulation qui va directement aux gens les plus touchés. Du point de vue social c’est la meilleure chose que moi comme élu je préfère pour mes concitoyens. Dernière question.

Question: Wouldn’t that be a really big departure from the practice of decades of funding the EI fund, EI payments from within the fund rather than from general revenues?

Michael Ignatieff: Well, we feel very strongly that raising payroll tax at the moment is a job killer. It is very important it seems to me to do everything we can to encourage employers to take on workers. And we think this is the way to thread that needle. Merci.

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