TORONTO - His federal cousins may be itching for an election, but Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty doesn't want Canadians to have to head to the polls over employment insurance reforms.

The Liberal premier has long decried what he calls a lack of fairness in a program that gives unemployed Ontario residents about $4,000 less than jobless workers in other provinces.

But while federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff threatened an election a few weeks ago over what he calls a failure to set a minimum threshold of 360 hours to collect benefits, McGuinty isn't willing to go that far.

"As an Ontarian, as a Canadian, I'm not looking for an election," McGuinty said Thursday.

"I'm looking for somebody to fix employment insurance, and the sooner that they can do that, the better."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper surprised many Wednesday by issuing an apparent election threat over EI reforms, while rejecting a demand by the federal Liberals for a single, nationwide eligibility requirement for EI at a uniform level of 360 hours worked.

Harper rejected Ignatieff's demands three times during a debate, and declared himself ready to take on the Liberals over the issue.

That disagreement could threaten to reopen the long-standing rift between the Ontario Liberals and the federal Conservatives - one that has been closing amid growing co-operation as the country battles the recession.

In recent months, Ontario agreed to harmonize the province sales tax with the GST - long on Ottawa's wish list - while the federal government made several concessions in its budget to appease the province.

McGuinty has vowed to not give up his fight on employment insurance despite the concessions, and reiterated that position Thursday.

"Our workers are the subject of discrimination," he said. "We get about $4,000 less by way of employment insurance benefits than Canadians who lose their jobs in every other part of the country.

"We're also the single biggest contributor to employment insurance."

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, who is from the hard-hit city of Windsor, was more direct, saying he'd like to see Ignatieff's suggested reforms implemented.

"An unemployed autoworker in my community takes longer to qualify and gets less benefits, even though my community has the highest unemployment rate in the country," Duncan said.

"This is about a province of Ontario that's contributed an enormous amount to the employment insurance program and is not accessing it."

Christine Elliott, one of the front-runners in the leadership race to head Ontario's Progressive Conservatives, also backs the reforms.

She said Thursday if Ontario workers don't get treated fairly, they should "take matters into our own hands."

"From the point of view of Ontario, EI reform is not a political issue, it is a fairness issue," said Elliott, who is married to federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

"In its present state, it is manifestly unfair to Ontarians, a province which is bearing much of the brunt of the recession."

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