OTTAWA – Jack Layton is not suffering from election fever.
The NDP Leader said Sunday he would like the parties to work together to improve the Employment Insurance program, rather than force an election over the issue.
Layton’s party has a bill before the Commons that would lower the eligibility threshold for EI applicants, bringing an estimated 150,000 out-of-work Canadians onto the benefit rolls.
The bill will go to second reading on June 10, and the NDP has an opposition day motion scheduled the day after that.
“We are not planning a motion of non-confidence on the 11th, because there is still time for our bill if it gets to committee to be adopted by the end of June, and that way we could actually be delivering help by the end of summer,” Layton said in an interview.
“I’m meeting with many of these people and they need the help.”
The Bloc Quebecois and the Liberals have already signalled they’ll support the proposed legislation, which would set a Canada-wide standard for EI eligibility at 360 hours of work. Currently, there are different thresholds in different parts of the country, depending on local labour-market trends.
The Liberals have also been pushing for this change, although they would only like to see it last through the recession, while the NDP want to make it a permanent change.
The problem is that the Conservatives are opposed to the measure, which entails government spending. If the opposition parties pass the bill, it could mean a vote of non-confidence in the government.
The NDP, meanwhile, is suffering in the polls while the Liberals make gains – not the ideal time to go into an election for Layton.
He says he’s open to changes from the parties, in order to keep the bill moving.
“If other parties have amendments they would like to propose, we’re certainly open to discuss that because that vehicle could be through the House by the end of June if there was willingness on the part of parties to get some improvements and we hope there will be.”
Still, Layton points out the Conservatives have been negative on the issue.
They have insisted changing the eligibility rules would be a costly measure that would not make a meaningful change to the economic landscape.
“I would say we don’t have any particular signals that the Harper government is willing to fix the EI program, they’ve been quite belligerent so far, trying to say that EI is just a way for people to live lucratively at home,” Layton said.
The Liberals, meanwhile, are split internally on whether the moment is right for an election. Their opportunities to bring down the government are slim, anyway. The government scheduled their opposition day motion for June 23. It is unclear whether the Commons will even be sitting on that day.