OSHAWA, Ont. - Helping laid-off workers upgrade their skills as the world waits for the economy to rebound makes more sense than a Liberal plan to reform Employment Insurance payments, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said Monday.
But now isn't the time to ask voters which plan they prefer because mounting a election campaign would derail the work being done to boost the economy, she insisted.
"It's important we focus not on partisan politics right now, but that we (move) forward, let us keep moving to get the economic stimulus out there to create programs like this," Finley said at a news conference in Oshawa, a city beset by job losses from the decaying manufacturing sector.
"We don't need another election right now," she said.
Finley visited a college to announce $500 million in funding to help as many as 50,000 laid-off veteran workers better access skills training and EI benefits.
Long-tenured workers could receive an extension of EI benefits for up to two years if they participate in longer-term training for a new career, as well as up to 12 weeks of benefits while searching for a job.
And workers who spend all or part of their severance package on skills training could become eligible for benefits sooner.
"This is an opportunity for people to take this time - people who are unfortunate enough to lose their jobs - to get the skills, to get the training so they'll have long-term jobs for the future," Finley said.
"That's our approach because that's what's needed."
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has also called for boosting EI but wants to see a national minimum threshold of 360 hours worked to collect benefits - something Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called "an absurdity."
"The prime minister's been very clear, that bringing in a 45-day work year is not going to help the economy one little bit," Finley said.
"Over 82 per cent of the people who have paid into employment insurance do qualify for the benefits (and) we've added an extra five weeks of regular benefits because we recognize that it's harder to find a job in tough times."
She said the new funding will become available "immediately," and eligible applicants will soon receive notices in the mail.