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EI reform not worth election, majority says Add to ...

Employment insurance has raised the temperature in the House of Commons in recent weeks, but a new poll suggests people don't think it's an issue worth an election.

The Liberals are pushing for a shorter qualifying period for EI and have mused about toppling the government if it won't act.

However, the Harris-Decima survey conducted for The Canadian Press suggests they should be cautious about taking that route.

The survey indicates 53 per cent of respondents favour some expansion of the system - a longer benefit period, higher payouts or shorter qualifying times.

Only 29 per cent said they were satisfied with the status quo.

Asked to choose the best among the three expansion options, 52 per cent picked a longer benefit period.

The last Conservative budget added five weeks of EI benefits, but the Liberals are arguing that the qualifying time should be cut to 360 hours of work in the previous year.

Now, the qualification period ranges from 420 hours to 700 hours, depending on the region of the country.

The Tories argue the Liberal proposal is prohibitively expensive.

Despite the overall poll support for improvements, only one in four respondents said the issue justifies bringing down the government and forcing an election. More than two-thirds were against the idea.

Jeff Walker, senior vice-president of Harris-Decima, said the poll suggests a majority feel the benefits should be improved, but they aren't wedded to the idea.

"We've definitely got a number of people that say, 'I'm not prepared to kind of go to the wall on this, even though my preference would be that maybe it should be expanded'," he said.

"Ultimately it's saying, this is important, it would be nice to have, worthwhile doing probably, but this is not an election issue necessarily."

He said Harris-Decima has followed opinions on EI for years and the support for improvements in the latest poll reflects a shift from historical findings, in which people were far more divided.

"It seems that the recession has pushed people to rethink some of their opinions about the EI system and how it works, but again not quite to the extent that they say we need to fight an election over the Liberal versus the Conservative version of expanding it."

Mr. Walker said the opposition parties should recognize that they have support for changes among the populace and should probably continue to push for improvements.

But they shouldn't push too far, he added.

"It won't be a ballot question in an election, I don't think."

The poll surveyed just over 1,000 people as part of an omnibus phone survey May 28-31. It is considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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