Here's something you won't hear from me very often - maybe even never again: I agree with the Harper Conservatives. Well, sort of.
The devil will be in the details, of course.
"Unemployment Insurance" was started in Canada as part of the federal social network built by right-wing governments - mostly right-of-centre Liberals - to stave off a
political spiral into the dark dankness of socialism as represented first by the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and later by the New Democratic Party (the red hordes that actually first came up with ideas like helping laid-off workers,
universal health care - you know, all that heathen socialist stuff that good Canadians hate so much that no government, no matter how right-wing, dares to get rid of it).
U.I., as it was know until the mid-1990s when the name was changed to the more descriptive E.I. (Employment Insurance) was initially a way to help out people who had lost their jobs, to tide them over until they found new jobs.
Over the years, it changed. And I don't just mean the 1990s name change.
U.I./E.I. slowly morphed into two very separate functions.
It continued in its original role, helping hardup workers through a tough time.
Indeed, in that role, the U.I./E.I. service improved over the years, not only doling out cheques for those who were between jobs, but including and developing programs - some of which blew in and blew out again on the changing political winds - that were aimed (with varying degrees of success) at helping find jobs, or even offering retraining for those whose occupations or careers were evaporated by changing times and technologies.
But U.I./E.I. also took on an entirely different role - one that never really fit either the "between jobs" or the "insurance" aspects initially built into the system.
Changes in benefit criteria turned U.I./E.I. into a mainstay supplemental income for seasonal workers - fishing and lumber industries come immediately to mind - who aren't really "between jobs" when the fish aren't running or the woods are closed in mid-winter and late summer.
In fact they are only waiting for the next fishing season to open, for the snow and ice to come off the trees, for the fire hazard to subside.
And since the seasonal lay-offs are entirely predictable, it's not really "insurance" they're looking for, but a basic income supplement - or better pay while they're working, kind of like teachers get 12 months worth of pay over their 10-month period of work.
In any case, seasonal pay-outs of income supplements should be structured separately from bona fide E.I., with a separate source fund - which could be paid into specially by employers who routinely rely on seasonal employees.
So while I agree with most of the E.I. changes proposed by the Harper Conservatives, in some respects, I don't think they're going far enough.
That said, I'm waiting with bated breath to see some of their definitions of "appropriately acceptable" employment changes that the unemployed must accept in order to maintain benefits.
It's those devilish details. And stupid comments like, "Any job is better than no job," don't inspire confidence.
On the other hand, maybe sending a 63-year-old office worker out to pick strawberries is not a bad idea, from a Conservative, moneysaving perspective - killing a few of them off might help assuage our pension problems.
But Prime Minister Harper needs to be careful that his plan doesn't backfire: the physical exercise could make some of those long-in-the-tooth workers healthier, allowing them to live - and collect pensions - longer.
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