Employment Insolence in Ottawa: Politicians should stop obsessing with power play as Canadians lose jobs

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's finger was back on the trigger again last week, threatening Prime Minister Stephen Harper with toppling the Tory minority government.

In other words, same song, different day.

Ottawa has been all but paralyzed since the 2004 federal election, which marked the beginning of a streak of ineffectual minority governments.
The business of governing Canada has nearly stalled as political parties focus on Machiavellian backroom plots to tighten their grip on power.
This time, Ignatieff is threatening to topple Harper over changes to Employment Insurance benefits and force a fall election.

Last spring, he forced Harper to form a committee made up of Grits and Tories to examine what to do with EI to help the 250,000 Canadians who've lost their jobs.

But instead of coming up with quick solutions that both sides can agree on, the committee degenerated into partisan bickering and back stabbing.

The Liberals want to level the playing field by removing all regional differences to EI eligibility. Up to now, claimants in places like Quebec and the Maritimes haven't had to work as many weeks as westerners or Ontarians -- where jobs are more plentiful -- in order to qualify for benefits.

But the Tories argue a 360-hour (roughly nine-week) eligibility threshold -- replacing the patchwork of 58 thresholds across the country -- would cost a whopping $4 billion annually.

The Liberals counter the Tories have grossly inflated the numbers to make their rivals look spendthrift. And, the Grits add indignantly, the Tories' cost analysis was a private document, commissioned to embarrass the Liberals.

While all this skullduggery carries on in Ottawa's halls of power, another 45,000 people lost their jobs across Canada.

The national unemployment rate sits at 8.6%, the highest in 11 years. Since last October, 436,000 jobs were lost, almost two-thirds from Ontario manufacturing. Alberta is doing a little better than the nation, but our unemployment rate, at 7.2%, is still the highest since 1996.
Gil McGowan, head of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says there's no time to waste on fixing EI.

"Unemployed workers need help now, not six months or a year from now," he told The Canadian Press.

Economists warn that the very nature of the Canadian economy is changing and workers' skills must change with it.

"No one said it was going to be a smooth recovery and especially not for employment," warned BMP Capital Markets' Doug Porter.

That makes EI and retraining programs an even more critical part of getting the economy back on the rails.

Canadians don't need another federal election. We've already had four this decade. And we don't need politicians using the economic crisis to score cheap political points against their rivals.

Canadians do need leadership. We need politicians who will set aside their own ambitions and find a way to work together on getting us out of this recession.

The sooner, the better.

Calgary Sun, Mon Aug 9 2009
Byline: Andrew Hannon

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