Liberal reboot

Yesterday, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff announced that his party will no longer support the Conservative government in the House of Commons, thereby ramping up speculation of what would seem to be an imminent election.

But for Mr. Ignatieff, an election is his least-preferred outcome and I’d argue that the latest rhetoric isn’t indicative of a future powerplay for the Liberal leader, but rather of move to reset the Liberal message.

Michael Ignatieff hasn’t had a particularly eventful summer. In fact, the highly respected Chantal Hebert has noted that the Liberal leader was this summer season’s political loser as the man found it difficult to connect with average everyday Canadians on the hamburger circuit — despite liberal helpings of Grey Poupon.

After backing down terribly from his ultimatum without conditions in the spring on the immediate changes to employment insurance, Mr. Ignatieff declared victory when a study group was unveiled to look into the issue. But as anyone who has observed Ottawa political cynically knows, a commitment to study, is rather a move to defer and to delay. The highly partisan panel included known agitators Pierre Poilievre and Marlene Jennings, and these MPs rounded out by Minister Diane Finley and Liberal MP Michael Savage seemed more like headliners for a summer cage-match to entertain reporters looking for a story rather than a sincere effort by either party to move in any direction on EI. In a move which must have been highly disappointing for Liberal supporters, within the last week Ignatieff telegraphed his move away from his EI casus belli via Ralph Goodale.

Yesterday’s move seeks to remove the onus from the Liberals to “make Parliament work” — as the saying goes. Instead, that onus now rests upon the shoulders of the NDP and Michael Ignatieff surely expects that they will find a way to support the government. Indeed, much of the experience of being an opposition leader in a minority parliament is figuring out who is left holding the bag.

Michael Ignatieff — despite his academic credentials and reputation as a deep thinker — has underwhelmed on the policy front since he became leader of his party a few short months ago. Canadians — short of those in the Lesser Evil book club — aren’t familiar with the man and what he stands for and have only had the benefit of introduction courtesy of the Conservative Party’s Just Visiting ad spots. In politics, it is easy to differentiate oneself… by differentiating. And for Mr. Ignatieff, that will mean by opposing this government he is not likely seeking election, but rather something to put into the window for one in the future.

Today, the NDP indicated that yes, they are willing to “make Parliament work” and they submitted their list of demands.  Predictably, the Conservatives responded with a firm “no” to a wholly incompatible agenda and threw the NDP lot back with that of the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois.

Were Ignatieff’s musings yesterday a gamechanger? Of course, that’s unclear at this point.  Pollster Nik Nanos stated that there are too many “moving parts” at this point to avoid an election.  But, if there is any lesson to be learned from Canadian politics in politics, there is no orthodoxy and a week — let alone a month — is a long time in politics.

If the Liberal objective is to reset their message, we await for the coming weeks with interest to see what the modern Liberal Party of Canada is all about.

No eventuality can be solely manipulated by Michael Ignatieff however, and the Conservatives will take this opportunity to craft their message as well.  As Michael Ignatieff is now perceived to be the instigator of a future election, the Conservatives have and will continue to cite Ignatieff’s arrogance (it’s all about him).  Further, if we do go to an election this fall it will be because all three opposition parties voted to defeat the government.  This will only serve to underline the Conservative message that minority parliaments are the cause of political instability and that a majority government is the only solution.  Conservatives will then ask Canadians to consider two options: a majority Conservative government versus a coalition of socialists, separatists and Ignatieffs.

NDP convention — Saturday summary

Today, the NDP got down to business and discussed policy, policy and more policy. In fact, the difference with Liberal policy conventions and NDP policy conventions, is that at NDP policy conventions, policy is discussed.

I started following the day with interest as delegates debated building an oil pipeline from Alberta to Eastern Canada. The advantages — according to the delegates — would be that such a move would create hundreds if not thousands of jobs and it would maintain sovereignty over Canadian energy distribution as distribution channels now run through the US. The clear disadvantage? That would be a nod to the reality that Canadians consume oil and export oil from the oil sands — a sticky point to a party that ran on a moratorium on future oil sands development in the previous election. In the face of recognizing economic realities and lofty dreams, the party faithful sided with the latter firmly saying “no” to our own oil production and transport.

From there, delegates went onto women in “peace-building” (is this the same as Conservative “peacemaking” — or closer to Liberal “peacekeeping”?) The resolution carried as no controversy could be found in a feel good resolution for everyone. Then foreign aid came up and Libby Davies took the microphone to describe the conditions of the people in the Gaza strip after she had returned from… the West Bank. No mention of Israel, though one delegate found the Canada-Israel Committee’s presence at the conference “interesting”. There was some other drama as some delegates debated the highly generalized language of the foreign aid resolution which described aid to “countries”. One delegate moved to discuss aid on a case-by-case bilateral basis. There were also some procedural debates. One French-language resolution was discussed which may well have been lifted by the Bloc Quebecois mandating the use of the French-language by all Quebeckers. Further, a policy resolution on EI firmed up the party’s position closer to the 360 hour mark similarly being proposed by the Liberals.

Leo Gerard was one of the showcase speakers of the day. The president of the United Steelworkers certainly gave the best crowd-pleasing speech of the day but appealed to the worst elements of partisanship as he, at different times, called both Harper and Ignatieff “the prince of darkness” and called ideological opponents in the US healthcare debate “redneck jerkoffs”. Frankly, if the NDP is to ever be taken seriously, this sort of language is unacceptable from a showcase speaker during the convention of a mainstream political party. In fact, to emphasize the fact that the NDP is still not taken seriously, there will be little to no critical coverage of this language in the MSM tomorrow, as there would have been screaming headlines if this had occurred at a Conservative or Liberal convention.

Next, the results of the party executive elections were announced. Peggy Nash replaces Anne McGrath as president of the NDP while Rebecca Blaikie was elected treasurer. A motion was made to destroy recycle the ballots. Nash served as an MP for the NDP in the 39th parliament and then most recently as an adviser to the CAW. Blaikie is daughter of the former NDP MP and Dean of the House of Commons Bill Blaikie.

Next, Marshall Ganz — a Harvard lecturer and labour organizer — spoke to the crowd about his experience as a community organizer and as a campaign organizer for the Obama campaign. Ganz gave the most informative speech of day for assembled delegates. Though Ganz spoke about the “politics of hope”, the NDP would be better served going negative against Michael Ignatieff as the Liberal leader has left them a lot of room to maneuver on the centre-left. To stake out their place there, the NDP will have to define Ignatieff more aggressively than recent Conservative efforts did with the now famous Just Visiting ads. Particularly notable moments of culture shock were apparent from Obama speakers in their use of biblical parables to illustrate “teachable moments” at this convention. The party of prairie preacher Tommy Douglas has taken a long road eschewing social justice drawn from religious inclination to one taken from a more atheistic worldview and Obama campaigners seemed to be out-of-place making religious analogies to a largely secular party.

After Ganz, the party went back to policy debate and discussed a state-focused nuclear disarmament resolution in a “hey, remember the 80s/something happened on 9/11?” moment. As conflict has moved from cold-war area politics to one with asymmetrical non-state actors post 9/11, the NDP still seems bent on having the same “world without (US) nukes” policy discussion instead of addressing the real and present danger of global terrorism. Another striking moment came during the international policy discussion portion when NDP MP Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre) suggested that Tamil actions in blocking traffic in Ottawa and occupying a highway in Toronto were legitimate methods for Tamils to get the attention of the Canadian government.

The keynote of the day was Betsy Myers, the COO for the Obama campaign. According to her agency website, Myers banks between $15-20k per speaking arrangement. Myers talk was relatively light and uninspiring for delegates, but involved a Q&A session hosted by NDP national campaign manager Brian Topp. During Myers speech to party faithful, union delegates were notably absent from the speech. While union organizers make up an important part of the NDP field operation, they may have been upset by the party brass importing some expensive American talent to tell delegates about the shiniest new campaign techniques.


Union delegates absent from Myers speech and Q&A

After the Myers segment, Dippers poured out to hospitality events including a Keith’s brewery tour hosted by the NDP Nova Scotia Provincial caucus, that despite just forming government in that province, only managed to bring out five MLAs to the reception. Another big event of the evening was the Charlie Angus-sponsored Canadian Private Copying Collective gathering at the Delta. Of the federal caucus, only Angus and Bruce Hyer were present (a reader writes to inform that Claude Gravelle, Carol Hughes, Malcom Allen, Glen Thibault, Brian Masse, John Rafferty, Andrea Horwath, Ken Neuman, Leo Gerrard, and Andrew Cash also showed up during the event). They were joined by Canadian artists Eva Avila of Idol fame, Chris Cummings, Teresa Ennis, and Marie Denise Pelletier. The other free event was the NDP “tweetup” on Argyle street attended by Paul Dewar, Niki Ashton, Megan Leslie and Brian Masse. The VIPs, not at the brewery tour, copyright party or tweetup, must have been gathered at the Delta for a closed-door $300 “winner’s circle” meet-and-greet with Betsy Myers where MP Olivia Chow reported that Myers said that the NDP “[gives] voice to the voiceless”. Indeed.

Despite an initial setback after the party banned one of their leading activists, the eNDProhibition movement is making its voice heard at the NDP convention and is reportedly being more shrewd than the members of the Socialist caucus who are bluntly and clumsily pushing to nationalize everything. Dana Larsen, the NDP candidate who was fired during the last campaign for being pro-drug, was similarly barred from attending the NDP convention. The advocates for marijuana are looking for any small victory for their cause such as having the resolution on psychoactive substances debated on the floor. The eNDProhibition activists were seen lobbying GLBT delegates making the argument that they too once faced discrimination within their own party (Tommy Douglas’ views on homosexuality).


Some eNDProhibition buttons seen at the convention

Tomorrow will be an interesting day as the convention closes and the NDP debates their convention-headlining moment: the possible rebranding of the party. Observers will note a blue colour has washed over the NDP website and former party communications guru Ian Capstick noted to me that orange is simply terrible on camera. During the keynote, Myers spoke against a blue backdrop complete with “Jack Layton” in large letters overtop a barely visible “NDP-NPD” sitting next to large Obama logo. The party of Layton seems dedicated to embracing the success of the new American president who is for everything from the death penalty, to nukes, to civil unions over same-sex marriage, to two-tier healthcare, to increased troop presence in Afghanistan, to free trade with Colombia, to keeping Omar Khadr locked up. Layton may be embracing the blue colour in a nod to the US Democrats who turned red states into blue states for Obama in the 2008 election. The NDP slogan “it can be done” is somewhat similar to “yes we can” but seems to be more “convincing a disbeliever” in tone rather than a collective and affirmative call to action.

If Marshall Ganz could have given one lesson to delegates it would have been that without a personal story from each and every person about why they believe in your candidate enough to work on your team, the slickest political package and most sophisticated social media operation will never win a campaign. You can fly in the top-paid political talent, but without a strong field team you’ll be spending more time convincing people that “it can be done” rather than everyone believing that “yes, we can”. This weekend, the NDP may yet illustrate that it will fail at its own expensive imported lesson.

UDPATE: The NDP will not change its name. But not for a lack of trying. The delegates were only given an hour to debate an omnibus resolution on party constitution matters. No time was left to discuss the name change. As James Moore says, “everything old is new again”.

Where is Michael Ignatieff? Is he just vacationing?

Everyone in Ottawa is starting to wonder. Unlike the Prime Minister, who has official duties representing this country at events like the G8 and at funerals for past Governors General, as Opposition leader, Michael Ignatieff doesn’t have any real obligations when the House isn’t sitting beyond representing his constituents in Etobicoke-Lakeshore.

Being the type who would have his own passport stamped in the country of its issuance, Michael Ignatieff has been rumoured to be clearing customs at other ports of entry. Michael Ignatieff updated his twitter on July 17th and 18th to suggest that he’s been in Ottawa, at least recently, but many observers have noted that he hasn’t even been spotted on the hamburger circuit pressing the flesh with us regular folk besides his $40 a head, no hat, no cattle pancake breakfast fundraiser during Stampede. Instead of beating a party-building path flipping burgers and chewing the fat with the locals coast-to-coast, Ignatieff has been spotted in London giving a lecture on Liberalism and “tough times” to his friends who attended the Isaiah Berlin Lecture. This shouldn’t be so easily dismissed; this is a rare piece of work where the Liberal leader has mused openly about the economy, yet is characteristically light on what to do about it. His office has denied it, but besides London, Dr. Ignatieff has also been rumoured to be stimulating the economy in Provence, France, where his family has owned a villa for decades.

If so, I say let the man have his rest. He got himself worked up over EI before the summer break and when it was all over he couldn’t even get the Conservatives to concede the colour of the blue ribbon committee to investigate reform of the system. While some Conservatives may suggest that Ignatieff’s true employment insurance is Harvard should he lose the next election, for now Michael Ignatieff deserves a break before more concessions in the fall.

Will Professor Ignatieff make us go to summer school?

At the moment, the Prime Minister and Michael Ignatieff are meeting to discuss infrastructure funding, possible changes to EI eligibility and, as we’re quite sure, engaging in rational discourse.

Last week, the government released its second report on the status of the Economic Action Plan and Ignatieff told reporters that it was too serious to grade the government, yet he stated that it had “failed” yet Canadians “don’t want an election right now”. What is the state of our system? A student fails the course but gets a pass because the parents have already planned the summer vacation? And to torture the metaphor a little more, I ask, is Michael Ignatieff really advocating that while failing Conservatives, he allow Canadians qualify for a fully paid sabbatical after six weeks of work? The 45 day work year, set to be defended by Liberals on an election trail near you, surely will not cause a stampede of voters to the ballot box. This really cannot be Ignatieff’s plan.

So what is really going on here? Flashback one year to the hapless Stephane Dion going into the summer, the Prime Minister’s neutered foe who rubber-stamped every piece of legislation by heading up the abstaining opposition. There is chatter around town that Michael Ignatieff is following Dion in his indecisiveness, however, this may instead represent an element of political narcissism for professor Ignatieff. The shovels are in the ground, the money is leaving the federal treasury to build infrastructure projects all over this country and Michael Ignatieff tells everyone to wait; Iggy has an important decision to make. To threaten to plunge the country into its fourth election in five years (with a $1.2 Billion tab) just so the media doesn’t frame him as the second coming of Stephane shows that he wants to know that his opinion – whatever he finds it to be – is relevant. As for his pensive pondering, he spent enough time in university seminars musing about the prolix and banal, yet as he transitions from the theoretical to applied, Dr. Ignatieff is showing that he is finding it difficult to both suck and blow.

In his press conference yesterday, Ignatieff used soft words such as “replace confrontation with cooperation”, “we cannot allow ourselves to act irresponsibly”, “if the government needs to sit a little longer, so be it” , “the Liberal party accepts the need for deficit spending in tough times”, “we want to make parliament work for all Canadians”, “I just want to give a sign to the Prime Minister that I’m a reasonable person. If he has employment proposals that he wants to bring forward, he needs a little more time, let’s not let the arbitrary deadline of Friday the be the all and end all. Let’s keep this serene and calm and business-like” Do these sound like bellicose words? So, why the drama Dr. Ignatieff?

He supported the Conservative budget earlier this year, he voted for the Conservative changes to EI. The Conservative government is spending billions of dollars in an effort to stimulate the economy. Why is this about him?

Michael Ignatieff knows that Canadians want him to allow Parliament to work, but he pauses to let us all know that it will only do so after he’s scowled at our exams.

Spotted yesterday in Toronto

at the Filipino-Canadian community picnic at Earl Bales Park in Toronto. The event was titled “Celebration of 111th Anniversary of the Founding of Republic of Philippines and Birth of National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal”.

This was sent to me from a reader. It doesn’t really add anything new to the story, except to say that the Filipino community is still mad at Dhalla.

Dhalla-gate… Raitt-gate… EI reform? Is this really going to be what we’re talking about in a summer election? Let’s do everyone a favour and increase voter turnout by putting some more interesting topics up for debate.

Liberals: election now, before the economy gets better

In politics, one is usually driven to action to prevent a problem from developing, or to act to make something better when it is going in the wrong direction.

On the website of Michael Ignatieff’s war room chief Warren Kinsella, we learn why the Liberals are itching for an election now:

[In] politics, as in war, you attack when your opponent is weak, not strong. … Right now – due to the recession, due to a stumblebum Tory team, due to their leader who nobody likes – we know the other side is really, really weak. In a few months – due to a economy rebounding, mainly – they could be strong. Go with what you know is the reality, not what you hope may be the reality.

Of course, this logic is sound; if your enemy is weak, attack your enemy. This is strategy 101 and Iggy’s guy is among the best in the professional political class. However, it is difficult for Michael Ignatieff to say that he wants parliament to work when Liberal strategy reveals itself as ambition at the expense of jobs and the economy. If the economy is on track to rebound, why endanger this by throwing the helmsman overboard with an election? Prime Minister Stephen Harper released his second report on the Economic Action Plan to see Canada through this difficult economic period. Conservatives have revealed that 80% of planned stimulus is already out of the gate and those shovels are in the ground. It was also revealed that increased EI payments accounted for a large chunk of the deficit.

It will be difficult for the Liberals to go to an election on the economy for the following reasons.

  1. their chief election strategist explains that the economy will get better under the Conservatives and that the reason why Canadians should go to an election is because the Liberals don’t want the Tories to get the credit.
  2. they’ve complained that the stimulus money isn’t flowing when in fact it is.
  3. they’ve complained about the size of deficit when their only major plan for the economy is to increase EI eligibility (ballooning the deficit)
  4. Michael Ignatieff has written 17 books but at most a few scant paragraphs on economic theory while Stephen Harper has a graduate degree in economics.
  5. Ignatieff’s friends in the White House are racking up substantially larger deficits per capita and are doing nothing to stop an allied congress from destroying the Canadian economy with its “Buy American” protectionism.
  6. The Liberals have not produced any substantial pushback outside of Parliament save a boring two minute Youtube lecture on the politics of nice from Dr. Ignatieff. And on the economy? Grit girl Youtube ads? Torytube it ain’t, Warren.
  7. The Liberals don’t have a strong record themselves of balancing their own books. In substantial debt themselves under Dion and still posting underwhelming fundraising numbers under Ignatieff, how can the Liberals manage our pocketbooks when they cannot manage theirs?
  8. Conservative scandals highlighted by the opposition have not been on the economy. Raitt-gate will not turn the average voter. The scandal regarding Raitt’s unfortunate private remarks about cancer may indeed represent a “sexy” opportunity for career advancement for Dr. Ignatieff, however, he’ll find that the average Canadian voter doesn’t find this inside the Queensway stuff all too sexy or even relevant to them. Isotope supply is relevant, but a tape recording is not.
  9. If Michael Ignatieff wants to run an election on EI, he should wait a few years in order to pay as much into the system as the average Canadian voter. Forgive the talking point, but the man was outside of Canada for 34 years.
  10. During an election, Liberals will without fail propose social spending to fix the economy. This puts them on the ugly side of the wedge that is the $50 billion deficit.

July election on EI? Possible but quite improbable

Is there election fever in Ottawa? This seems to be the question on Parliament Hill whenever we move through the months of May and June in a minority parliament. Of course, the most fevered example was during the late months of spring in 2005 when Stephen Harper’s newly minted Conservative Party tried an assortment of creative parliamentary procedures to take down the Paul Martin government only to be upset by former Conservative leadership candidate Belinda Stronach when she crossed the floor to sit in cabinet.

But in June of 2009, months after an attempt by opposition parties to form a coalition government without vetting of the idea before the Canadian electorate and just months and a few weeks after that electorate returned Stephen Harper to power to deal with the global economic crisis, will we have yet another election?

From the MPs that I’ve spoken to, many believe that it is a real possibility with Michael Ignatieff tabling a confidence motion on Employment Insurance which will paint the NDP into a corner forcing them to support a vote of non-confidence in the government. For Jack Layton, leader of that fourth party in the House, his votes are critical to this government’s survival. Though Mr. Layton’s party is not poised to make any serious gains in an election held in the short-term any failure to deliver – in the context of an embarrassing collapse of the coalition game – will have the party grassroots looking to replace its leader. The next election will be Mr. Layton’s last if he does not perform. Mr. Layton needs more time to explain why he’s still fighting and build a real election plan. NDP executive director Brad Lavigne was in Washington last week meeting with senior Democrats to get a fix on both strategy and tactics. As for NDP confidence, they could easily save face if a number of their MPs had the flu on the day of Ignatieff’s confidence motion.

As for the leader of the Liberal Party, Mr. Ignatieff has an important objective; the man who ran second place to Stephane Dion in a leadership race doesn’t want to go into the summer looking like his leadership predecessor. You’ll recall that when Mr. Dion was leader of the party, his MPs were shamed and embarrassed as Stephen Harper rammed his legislation through while the Liberals feably sat on their hands. While Mr. Ignatieff doesn’t face a caucus revolt over inaction, he does want to appear as though he’s given the Conservatives a rough ride and his party will claim it as a victory as they go into the summer with their heads held relatively high. Strategically, going to an election in July wouldn’t be ideal for Mr. Ignatieff as a $5-6 million Conservative pre-writ ad buy defining the Liberal leader would be much more effective if the Conservative messaging is fresh in the minds of Canadians. On the other hand, despite a $50 Billion projected deficit posted by the Conservatives recently, the Canadian economy is starting to show signs of recovery. If Michael Ignatieff wants to defeat Stephen Harper in an election which which will certainly be defined upon the Conservatives’ traditionally perceived strength (taxes/economy), his advisers are likely telling him that this may be his best chance. Yet Michael Ignatieff’s only visible policy proposal on this has been EI reform.

As for the Prime Minister, he will only precipitate an election if he believes that he can orchestrate a majority win. Many observers now agree that the dissolution of parliament previous to the last election was a defensive measure by the Prime Minister as he read the global economic indicators and found himself staring into an abyss about to rattle Canadians. If we are to have an election, it will be because the Prime Minister would have allowed it; either allowed himself to fall on a Liberal confidence motion, confident on the framing on an election on EI, or because he will orchestrate a political crisis which will upend the polls. For example, polling is moot if the Prime Minister were to frame an election on cutting public subsidy for political parties with the $50 billion deficit to back him up as to why. “If an election were to be held today” is a pointless question when elections are framed, campaigns are waged and events occur to shape electoral intent during a 36 day writ campaign.

An election based upon EI is a ruse. It’s a ruse because it splits voters into two politically inequitable camps: the employed and the unemployed – the latter won’t deliver a win for Ignatieff. It’s a ruse because most Canadian voters have paid more into EI than Michael Ignatieff as the Liberal leader filed his tax returns to British exchequers and American secretaries of the treasury for thirty four years. It’s a ruse, because the man who came second to Stephane Dion is only trying to appear that he has already bested him now after just a couple months as Liberal leader. An Liberal triggered election on EI is a ruse because the Conservatives occupy an entire side of the debate, the other parties will be fighting each other to stake out their position on the issue. Finally, the Liberals need to rebuild their party. They are still only raising money at par with the NDP and of their nominations, I’ve heard that they still have about 200 spots to fill.

An election in July? A dreadful prospect for any opposition party and not ideal for the PM unless the man best positioned to set the stage can line up a major win.

Christine Elliott on fiscal policy

I had the opportunity to chat with Ontario PC leadership candidate Christine Elliott about the fiscal policy that’s earned her a few headlines over the past two weeks. Specifically, I asked about EI and her flat tax proposal. If the other candidates want to chat about specific policies they’ve outlined recently now that membership sales have cut off, please send me an email and we’ll set something up.

Related: Tim Hudak interview, Christine Elliott interview (different one), Frank Klees interview, Randy Hillier interview

EI Politics

A hallmark of Michael Ignatieff so far as Liberal leader, both actual and interim, has been his penchant to transactional politics; he has so far picked his battles on small and short term policy differences rather that outlining a long-term plan. At the Liberal convention which concluded yesterday in Vancouver, Ignatieff did not spell out his demands, policy outlook or election warnings to the government in his convention speech, he felt that such minor details would be more appropriate for a press conference proceeding the event. Despite his insistence that he will be a transformative visionary leader that is looking forward to shaping Canada over the next eight years through 2017, it is not too credible when Ignatieff’s Canadian hindsight only extends back just five. The latest election threat (but not necessarily an election) is his insistence that the Prime Minister look at EI reform to temporarily extend benefits to workers who have worked 360 hours and to harmonize standards for EI benefits across jurisdictions.

The history of EI in this country has been quite tumultuous for parties that have manipulated it, back to RB Bennett who proposed it, to Trudeau who vastly expanded it to Mulroney and Chretien who subsequently slashed it to Martin who allowed EI surpluses to balloon under his watch. Ironically, it was Chretien in 1995 that changed the standards of EI payments to reflect local unemployment rates breaking down benefits by region. Though all of Canadians pay into EI, the benefits distributed are dependent upon local employment rates. Thus, EI is sort of like equalization but for jobs.

“It seems unfair to Canadians that if you pay into the thing, your eligibility depends on where you live. We think 360 (hours) is roughly where we ought to be.” — Michael Ignatieff

Now Mr. Ignatieff is proposing that we do away with regional differences and temporarily make EI more generous. An election threat from Ignatieff does not ring in the ears of the Prime Minister today after the Liberal leader put the screws to the Liberal senate to pass the Conservative budget just months ago — a budget, which among other things, included a global five-week extension of EI benefits despite region.

What Mr. Ignatieff may instead be attempting is to wrestle an easy “concession” from the Conservative government in order to show that he intends on making Parliament work while boasting that he will decide the timing of its dissolution. EI may indeed be an important policy issue for the Liberal leader to champion as for deregionalizing the program would be beneficial for Ontario, a province that disproportionately pays into it for the benefits received. As Ignatieff is looking to regain Ontario seats lost under the wayward leadership of Stephane Dion, the new Liberal leader may figure that he can shore up his Ontario base and challenge Stephen Harper where the Conservative Prime Minister needs to grow.

Yet today, a spoiler appeared on the scene. Ontario PC leadership candidate Christine Elliott and wife of federal finance minister Jim Flaherty also declared that the EI program was ineffective and unfair for Ontario. Elliott proposed reforming the program to benefit a fairer proportion of out-of-work Ontarians considering the number of the province’s residents pay into it. If EI cannot be reformed, Elliott suggests, Ontario should opt-out of the program. Does this signal a tag-team effort by federal and provincial Conservative forces to deflate Ignatieff’s election threat? Christine Elliott may be serving as a safety valve to deflate Ignatieff by suggesting that a friendly to the Conservative government is advocating a similar position. If a June election is contingent upon EI reform for Ontario, Elliott may be providing the Conservatives cover should they move forward with reform and it would have the added benefit of splitting credit from Ignatieff.