Friday, January 9, 2009

Will EI be the critical budget item?

I expect the upcoming budget to contain tax cuts. You can't expect Conservatives to bring out a budget without them. It wouldn't be fair to expect a complete capitulation and get only 100% of what the opposition asks for, and nothing the Conservatives want.

I also expect infrastructure spending. No one denies it's time for shovel-ready projects. However, the projects presented in the budget should be examined to see whether they're a) re-announcements of already committed money vs. new money, and b) really shovel-ready for 2009 vs. spending programs over several years. Past Conservative announcements seem very prone to these two, IMHO. Anyway, I think any party in government would have some trouble finding shovel-ready spending.

But Mr. Harper in a CTV interview (check out Scott's DiaTribes and Far and Wide) said he doesn't want to make EI more generous. However, if EI measures are omitted from the budget I wouldn't see this as a dirty partisan trick; only a different set of values. Ones which I don't share. What I don't think is fair is generalization of EI as paying people not to work. EI is an insurance system against downturns just like this one (although I won't speak to how effective it is nowadays). Honestly, without it what can you do? Use your savings (sell investments? I thought there were buying opportunties), move somewhere to a new job (where is that, now?), start your own business (like what?).

Strengthing EI was one of three priorities Mr. Ignatieff mentioned in response to a "first-100-days" question in his first town hall meeting. I hope he stands up and pushes hard for an EI boost. Unemployment is both an economic and a social problem. Flaherty says he expects big job losses soon. The CCPA plan suggests $3.4B for EI. Carol Goar has a good article on EI repairs.

But can Iggy support a budget without an EI boost? Maybe. But how will that reflect upon him? Is it something the BQ and NDP will dress him in for the next election?

Can Harper put in something for EI? Maybe. I doubt it, based on past performance. The opposition will claim whatever EI love he gives as not enough, and his own party might not support the EI measures. It could be lose-lose for Harper to put any EI help in the budget.

1 comment:

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