OTTAWA — Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said Parliament must improve the employment insurance program within the next "six to eight" weeks and vowed his party will make that element of Canada's social safety net a priority when Members of Parliament return to Ottawa today.Don't they think this rhetoric comes some 13 years too late? After all - which party was it that trimmed EI benefits without reducing the premiums and then - mismanaged the surplus? From 1996 and up until the beginning of the recession, the unemployment was going down much faster than the government was lowering the EI premiums. The surplus (amounting to $54B) went into the general revenues, into wasteful spending.
Mr. Ignatieff's criticism of the existing employment insurance system follows similar proposals by the New Democrats and comes as a new poll puts the Liberals in first place among national parties as NDP voters jump to the Liberals.
"People are shedding jobs like crazy," Mr. Ignatieff said on CTV's Question Period. "We've got to have a government that steps in and says 'Let's put some floor under this. Let's give people an employment insurance system that allows them to get training for new jobs.'"
Liberals pretend to care now. But weren't they the ones in power when EI surplus funds got mismanaged? Years 2002, 2003 and 2005, that have been singled out by the Supreme court, are the years when Liberals financed their outgoing leader's "legusee" with taxpayers' money; when they were throwing away cash, trying to get re-elected in light of the Sponsorship Scandal; when Paul Martin was striking a coalition-like deal with Jack Layton in a desperate attempt to buy himself a few more months in power. That's where the money went.
And now they're trying to blame the Conservatives for merely admitting the obvious - that the money is gone. As if it wasn't the Conservative government that has finally stepped in to end this practice when funds, initially regarded as EI safety cushion were used to finance anything but the unemployment benefits.
The reason for this move is simple: with the new poll numbers, some senior Liberals may regard an early election as an opportunity for a "re-vote" that is almost certain to increase the party's seat count. So they're looking for a good excuse for a confidence vote that could trigger an early election. And, unless the poll numbers change, the EI issue seems to be win-win for them: If the government gives in to their demands - that will strengthen Ignatieff's image as a strong leader who can stand up to Harper, boosting Liberal support even further. If the government refuses to play along and an election is called - the Liberals get their now desired "re-vote" and they have a campaign issue which will allow them to retain the support of those NDP voters that are now supporting the Liberals.