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Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable

Brian Gable

I am thrilled that we aren't having an election this summer. Tim is having lots of chuckles about Michael Ignatieff compromising to avoid an election call. I have no doubt the pundits will have lots of fun dissecting the politics of the week as well before heading out to the cottages and golf-courses of the country for the summer.

There will be lots of time over the next three months to examine the tactical and strategic implications of the last three days (yes, it is only Wednesday) but before Tim and his buddies pop the champaign bottles down at the Tory bunker, something the Prime Minister said caught my eye:

"Harper said earlier this week that his priority was acting on an earlier campaign promise, to extend EI benefits to self-employed workers who are not currently covered under EI."

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And this "campaign promise" made it into today's deal between the Liberals and Conservatives:

"The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition today agreed to form a working group to develop proposals for Employment Insurance eligibility reform that will:

(a) allow self-employed Canadians to participate voluntarily in the Employment Insurance system"

The thing is, this "campaign promise" is made-up. It never existed. It wasn't in the 2008 Conservative platform (PDF). It wasn't in the 2006 Conservative platform (PDF). In fact, I'm pretty sure the first time the Prime Minister ever floated the idea of fully extending full, voluntary EI benefits to the self-employed was this week

The closest the Conservative Party came to such a "campaign promise" was in 2008 when they ran on a plank to extend maternity and paternal benefits to self-employed Canadians that would be paid out of the EI fund. The press release at the time could not have been more clear; opt-in to the EI system if you are self-employed, make payments for at least six months prior to taking the parental leave and you too, mister or misses self-employed worker, can take a parental leave. That's it, that's all.

What would it do for you if you lose your job? Nothing, unless you or your spouse had a kid the day before the bad news came.

Harper was very clear during the 2008 campaign that this was simply a parental benefit. The headline in the press release was "Extending maternity and parental benefits to self-employed Canadians". The only time the words "self-employed" appear in the 2008 platform, it says "a re-elected Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper will give self-employed Canadians the opportunity to access maternity and parental benefits".

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Not a word about self-employed workers being eligible for unemployment benefits (and in fact the cost of the change, estimated at $147-million, only further confirms this).

This of course makes sense. As of October 2008, the notion that there was going to be a recession was unimaginable to Stephen Harper, so why say anything about helping the unemployed? Babies? Yes. Jobless? Never.

So on the substance of today's announcement, Michael Ignatieff:

1) Got the Prime Minister to acknowledge for the first time that there are regional inequalities in the EI system and to study ways to address them. Yes, he compromised as well, but Harper will at the very least need to make a substantive argument, in writing, against a national standard for EI after recognising today that there are regional inequalities. A small step forward but certainly more than nothing; and

2) Got the Prime Minister to make-up a campaign commitment out of thin air, claim he made it years ago and then commit to study ways to implement this long-held commitment.

I know, I know. Boring, Rob. Talk tactics and politics, not this garbage.

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Who won? Who lost?

All I can say is to every pundit who writes a column in the next 48-hours claiming that Ignatieff (or Harper, for that matter) had a terrible week, showed weakness, blah, blah, blah, that's cool. In fact, I may be prompted to write a more political post toward the end of the week too. Just do me a favour; don't ever use the term "trying to make parliament work" ever again.

I don't know what the term means. Making parliament work? What does a working parliament look like? One where both sides give in in order to find common ground? That's not a working parliament, that is one leader showing weakness, isn't it?

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