We don’t believe that the federal Conservative government really dislikes Canadians. Maybe it is just the poor and the unemployed for whom they have little patience.
Or it just might be the way they deliver their messages on the very sensitive issues that matter to most Canadians.
Take the government’s tone (and attitude) regarding its approach to Employment Insurance (EI) reform. It comes across as punitive, as if to say ‘too many of you lazy bums have been getting away with taking advantage of us good, conservative, employed, taxpaying Canadians and we are going to make sure all that ends’.
The feds took a similar approach in outlining reforms to the refugee admission program and in response to the Attawapiskat First Nation’s cry for help when they faced a winter freezing to death from inadequate housing.
Now they are doing it again through changes to the national insurance program which is supposed to be in place to help the same people who they are disparaging – people who lose their jobs.
The federal Conservative government seems to believe that people receiving Employment Insurance are for the most part laggards who are not trying to find work, people who, through no fault of their own, are either seasonally laid off, laid off as a result of the current economic climate and its impact on their industry or are otherwise made redundant.
They are, however, by and large, people who want to work but are unable to find suitable employment.
And, the operative word here is ‘suitable’, meaning work for which one is trained; work that allows one to maintain one’s dignity and, more or less, one’s current lifestyle; work that allows for the bills to be paid in a timely manner and so on.
Of course, most people, we would argue, would accept a step-down, a rethink of what might have before been considered ‘suitable’ and accept alternative employment once such employment allows one to maintain one’s dignity and until better options become available.
So, pronouncements from the government that seem to disparage the unemployed are quite troubling.
Following up on finance minister Jim Flaherty’s comment to the effect that there are no bad jobs when one is unemployed, is the news that the government now suggests that unemployed workers on EI could be required to accept employment outside of their scope of training and for up to 30 per cent less in wages and up to an hour’s commute away. There has also been talk about the Canadian unemployed (those receiving EI benefits) being put to work on farms to do work that is now being done by seasonal migrant farm workers trained to do those jobs, or to work at McDonald’s. No kidding.
One also has to wonder what the federal government’s real agenda is considering that EI is an insurance safety net, the premiums of which are paid by the workers themselves and their employers. This is not government money, although past governments have certainly taken advantage of the monies collected while continuing to limit who can receive benefits so that these days self-employed and part-time workers do not qualify.
Perhaps it is time to look at allowing the provinces to develop their own policy on unemployment insurance payments.
But perhaps with these new policies that is exactly what the Conservatives are aiming for. They are, after all, opposed to what has derisively been termed the ‘nanny state’ approach to government, and an attenuated federal government would therefore be a significant goal.
Perhaps their long-term aim is to create enough regional crises through policy changes that eventually each province will become disaffected enough to call for a movement away from significant federal governance.
That way, Alberta can become its own sovereign jurisdiction and the rest of Canada can do whatever it wants.