Blogs & Comment

EI panel kicks off this week to little fanfare

Remember when Michael Ignatieff nearly forced an election in June? Vaguely, right? It almost feels like a bad dream, but it wasn’t that long ago when Iggy threatened to pull the plug on the Harper and crew. Instead of sending Canadians to the polls, though, he decided to work with the PM on a number of things including EI reform.
Well, the time has come for the Liberals and the Conservatives to finally discuss those changes. This week the two sides will meet to figure out how the EI program can be improved. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely much will change, and it’s unclear if Canadians will even find out much about the meeting.
According to a Canadian Press article, “no one is saying much about the EI panel, even off the record.”

Liberals received a departmental briefing on the Employment Insurance system last week and the full group is supposed to sit down sometime this week. No word when or where.

“The contents of the EI working group are confidential,” Ryan Sparrow, the newly installed spokesman for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, said in a brief interview.

“We hope the Liberal party maintains that confidentiality as well.”

There are, however, subterranean Tory rumblings that the Liberals appear to be offering no ideas on how the panel process should work or what they want out of it. Liberal observers, meanwhile, grumble that the choice of MP Pierre Poilievre – one of Harper’s most loyal and partisan hit men – and the secondment of Sparrow from party HQ does not inspire confidence in a collegial negotiation.

“You try to make it work and, who knows, it might, right?” shrugged one Liberal.

That’s a very low bar to clear for a panel that was portrayed as the deal-breaker on a national election call barely three weeks ago.

We haven’t heard much from Ignatieff this summer on EI reform (or on anything else for that matter), so if this report is correct you have to question what exactly the Liberals are trying to do. Harper has made it clear that he doesn’t want to make changes to the EI program, so it’s up to the Liberals to press this issue and keep it on the agenda. (They pushed this hard after Ignatieff became the official leader of the opposition, but they’ve been pretty much silent on the issue since the threat to bring down the government was averted.)
I still don’t think EI reform will be the catalyst for an Iggy win, whenever an election does happen, but abandoning their only policy idea (whether you agree with it or not), can’t be good for the party, which is now looking far less powerful than it did a month ago.