Monday, September 14, 2009

Parliament Opens (Updated)

It has been an eventful day so far, and we haven't even gotten to Question Period yet.

From the Conservatives, we had Diane Finley and Jean-Pierre Blackburn presenting their proposed changes to EI. I'm sure I have the details wrong, but it expands accessibility to EI benefits if you haven't used it a lot and have worked steadily for seven of the last ten years. Better than nothing, certainly, but a labour spokesperson on Radio-Canada lampooned the proposals, saying it leaves seasonal and contract workers in the lurch. He said that there are thousands of people in Blackburn's own riding who still wouldn't benefit from this EI change. To sum up his view, it smacks of the idea of a "deserving poor" versus the "undeserving poor", a view of poverty that was last en vogue in the 19th century.

For the Liberals, Michael Ignatieff spoke at the Canadian Club about his vision of Canada on the world stage. This is an indication that rather than shy away from his own history abroad, the Liberals are going to focus on Canadian foreign policy as one of their electoral planks. Ignatieff was basically saying Canada needs to return to a position of influence in world affairs, and he severely criticised Stephen Harper's performance in that theatre. He even praised Brian Mulroney and John Diefenbaker for their international accomplishments, contrasting that to Canada's current record. His speech was pretty forceful and specific (such as a G20 secretariat hosted in Canada), showing that we may start seeing more of these policy proposals rolled out as we run up to the campaign and when we enter it.

Jack Layton's much-hyped speech this morning was a mere run-of-the-mill opening-of-session motivational piece. He did emphasise his willingness to 'make Parliament work', and certainly had some conciliatory tones towards supporting Conservative policies if they are worth supporting, but he didn't make any specific requirements for his support. I don't think what the Conservatives have proposed will be enough for the NDP, even though Paul Dewar quickly followed Finley and Blackburn to say they would take into consideration what has been proposed and act accordingly.

I missed Gilles Duceppe on Radio-Canada this morning, but from what I can glean from media reports there isn't anything new in what he said, just simply that they'll see what the Tories propose and decide based on that. This position is the default position of the Bloc, so it doesn't change the generally accepted view that the Bloc is perfectly willing to topple the government.

Question Period is about to start. I'm looking forward to gauging the tone.

15:32 UPDATE - In all likelihood, the government will not fall on Friday. From what I've heard today, the NDP is likely to vote for the ways and means motion at the end of the week, and the Bloc could even vote for it too. But don't fret. Although the media has run the headline that the government could fall on Friday, that was never the most likely scenario. In a few weeks, the Liberals are expected to put forward a non-confidence motion, which the Bloc is almost certain to support. Duceppe himself said today that he has no confidence in this government. What will remain to be seen is what the NDP will do in such a situation. If they decide to support the government or abstain, no matter what reason they can come up with, they will have to eat their hats.

17:39 UPDATE - Listening to the coverage this afternoon, the election balloon is almost entirely deflated. An open question to you readers, how has this changed the original timeline, that the Liberals would introduce a non-confidence motion at the end of the month which the Bloc and NDP would support? The Liberals are committed to it, the Bloc is all but committed to it, and the NDP will have to do some real gymnastics to vote in favour of the government. I have great difficulty with the idea that over the next two-to-three weeks the Tories will not do something to turn the NDP away, or that the NDP will be able to maintain friendship with the Tories.

The Liberals and Bloc will gleefully put the NDP in the Dion position. If the NDP has to support the Tories until next spring, that means the Liberals will have an easy time pulling progressive voters away from the NDP. The Bloc and NDP same some of the same voters in Quebec, so that would completely destroy the NDP's chances of winning a seat in the province.

The Liberals will vote non-confidence. We're 99% sure the Bloc will vote non-confidence. Can anyone really see Jack Layton supporting Stephen Harper for more than a month?

As far as I'm concerned, we're as likely to have an election in 2009 as were a few days ago.


  1. I agree, I can't see us (Canadians) not having an election in the near future. The NDP can't be seen as propping up the gov't without losing some of its support for long. It may actually play out well for the Liberals if the NDP votes for EI changes too. It may take some steam out of the "us vs. coalition" argument seeing as it shows the tories working with the socialists and prolonging the start of the campaign with all the media coverage surrounding it now will only make Canadians more use to the idea and less angry about returning to the polls, which could also help the Liberals I believe. However, if the Liberals are seen voting against the EI changes it may hurt them, unless they are able to say, "we wanted these changes months ago and under a liberal gov't families and individuals would have already been protected. This shows the incompetence of a Harper gov't and how slow it was to react to the economic crisis" something along those lines..

  2. I take your point, but if Layton isn't going to support the Tories next week or next month, why would he prop them up this week? It's really an all or nothing sort of game for him. If he's going to bring the Tories down, he'll do it friday or not until the spring (barring some particularly stupid step by the government - which can't be ruled out after last fall's fiasco).

    I suspect he figures if he props them up until, say, late november, he can count on the Liberals not forcing an election over Christmas or into the olympics. If parliament starts sitting again in January he can start voting against the government while daring the Liberals to force an election.

  3. I think he will support them this week so he can say to his supporters, "look what I have done for you, the NDP have achieved EI reforms." Jack might figure its something he can run with and he kinda needs it if some of these polling numbers are correct. If we go to an election he really has nothing to run on, at least if we went after the EI vote was passed he could say his party has done something the last couple months instead of constantly vote against the gov't. Jack doesn't want an election now, and doesn't want one in the new year after being seen supporting the tories. Least voting yes once, then going to the polls with EI to his name gives him something.

  4. But the EI reforms aren't going to happen this week, realistically they're not going to happen for a while. (In fact, at best any EI legislation won't receive final reading in the house until December or so) The confidence vote deals with a budget bill, so if he supports the government on this, he's going to have the support the government (or at least abstain) on a bunch of other stuff before he gets any payoff for doing so on the EI front.

  5. Yes it will take time to implement, but nonetheless Jack will be seen supporting it and can say he did his part. It doesn't really matter when it will actually be implemented, its just the perception Jack needs to most politics.

  6. Preferencing long-tenured workers over say, students completing summer jobs, is not dividing the working class in to "deserving" and "undeserving" poor, it is sensible public policy.

    The thing about unemployment is that there are different kinds and they require different policy solutions. Structural unemployment is where things like industry death happen (eg. the Auto Industry today). Those are the workers in the greatest need of funds for retraining and income supports.

    On the other hand, something like seasonal unemployment is a less effective way to spend EI money. It is tantamount to subsidizing seasonal jobs, since anybody can apply. However, I see no economic rationale for doing so (particularly if one's plan is to low the hour requirements to 360 hours, so that every student with a summer job could potentially apply).

    Similarly, a third type of unemployment is cyclical unemployment. Sometimes there are economic downturns and jobs are lost. However, as soon as the economy picks up, most of these jobs should be regained. While there is no need for retraining, it makes sense to provide these (usually long-tenured) workers with income support to help them weather the downturn.

    Treating different types of unemployment differently is not prejudice it is good public policy.

  7. I think there are many liberals who do not want an election. So, if Layton votes to keep the govt, perhaps those liberals will swing to him, for saving 300 million dollars. I think he could play that to his advantage.

  8. MaryT, just because 'some Liberals' don't want an election (I would argue it's actually 'very few') doesn't mean they like supporting Harper. The kinds of Liberal voters who would be inclined to support Layton are likely more anti-Harper than the typical Liberal. Layton supporting the Tories would be anathema to them and would likely push them further away.

    I quietly wonder whether this isn't actually a sort of political masterstroke by Ignatieff: forcing the NDP to support the Tories on EI to take the edge of NDP criticism of the Liberals for supporting the Tories since 2006.

    It's highly unlikely the NDP and Tories would find common ground for very long, and even if they did it would still mean the NDP would have to support the Tories for the economic update on the 30th, something which would be profoundly hypocritical seeing as how they voted against the same update just three months ago.

  9. Rob,

    But again, that begs the question, why would he support the government this week on a bill that has nothing to do with EI reform (and includes provisions relating to the Canada-Columbia free trade agreement that the NDP loathes) if he doesn't get any payoff out of it. If he forces an election next week or in October he won't be able to say "he did his part" on EI because he won't have accomplished anything. Worse he'll be criticized - rightly - by the Tories for delaying the implementation of proposed changes to EI. That's a hefty price to pay for less than nothing.

    The more likely scenario is that the NDP supports the government on any confidence motions over the next few months (or more likely abstains, which amounts to the same thing) until the EI legislation makes its way through the house. Unless you think that Jack Layton is a drooling fool (and I don't like him, but he's not dumb) that's the only strategy that makes sense.


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