Liberals offer to speed EI bill

The Liberals have offered to speed passage of Tory EI legislation,hoping to rob the NDP of its rationale for propping up the Harpergovernment.

OTTAWA - The Liberals have offered to speed passage of Tory EI legislation, hoping to rob the NDP of its rationale for propping up the Harper government.

The Liberals proposed Thursday that the bill - worth up to $1 billion in extended employment insurance benefits for about 190,000 long-term workers - be whisked through all stages of the legislative process in the House of Commons by Friday.

That would all but ensure the Liberal-dominated Senate could give the green light to the bill before the first week of October. That's when the Liberals intend to introduce a motion of non-confidence in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government.

The move is clearly designed to embarrass NDP Leader Jack Layton, who has said his party will prop up the government at least until the EI reforms are implemented.

"We don't want to give Mr. Layton any alibis," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said.

Most bills take months to wend their way through the legislative process in both houses of Parliament.

Although Liberals believe the EI bill "falls radically short of serious employment insurance reform," Ignatieff said they want to expedite its passage.

"We're not going to hold it up. Let's get it through and get to the motion of non-confidence which we will bring forward in due time."

The Bloc Quebecois also proposed speeding up passage of the bill, although at not quite as fast a pace as Liberals want. The Bloc suggested it be sent without preliminary debate to a Commons committee for examination.

The Conservatives have arranged a meeting of all party House leaders to see if a consensus can be found to expedite the bill.

Layton has said he doesn't want to see any foot-dragging on the EI reforms. But the NDP wants time to go through the bill carefully at committee, including hearing from expert witnesses, to ensure it lives up to its advance billing.

Some critics, including labour unions usually allied with the NDP, have complained that only a tiny fraction of long-term workers will actually be eligible for extended benefits.

Even if all parties reach consensus on expediting the bill, it's doubtful it could be passed before the Liberal non-confidence motion is put to a vote.

Parliament is not sitting next week while Harper attends a G20 summit in Pittsburgh, leaving only a week to whisk the bill through both the Commons and Senate.

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