Monday, June 15, 2009

Harper tries to put off an election

Obviously the Prime Minister really, really doesn't want an election.
How badly does he not want an election?
Enough that he actually held a short Q&A with Hill reporters today.
Here's enough of the exchange to grasp the talking points:

Stephen Harper:
Just very briefly, Mr. Ignatieff said he doesn't want an election. I don't want an election. I don't think anybody wants an election. I don't think nybody in Canada wants or expects an election. This government is proceeding with its Economic Action Plan as was promised in the January budget that Mr. Ignatieff supported. Those measures are rolling out.
We've been very clear in great detail what those measures are now and over the next f months. And if Mr. Ignatieff wants to avoid an election, the easiest way to do it s simply to vote - and he wants to avoid an election and if he wants to avoid an election and see the spending continue, the easiest way to do that is simply vote for the estimates, vote for the spending to continue Friday and vote against an lection. That's what the Conservative Party will be doing and so I would encourage the opposition to do the same thing, pass the estimates and let the programs continue.

On our part, I should say I'm here because I did anticipate Mr. Ignatieff would ask me some questions today in the House of Commons that he never asked me so I'll give you a chance to ask some of them.

Merci beaucoup. Thank you very much. La première question goes to Brian Lilley, CFRB.


Mr. Harper, you've made it clear that you don't intend to go the route of the 360 hours for EI that Mr. Ignatieff put forward. TD Bank I think they put forward 560 or somewhere close to 600 hours. Are you open to other possibilities? You've hinted at it but you haven't given us any idea of what those possibilities (inaudible).

Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper:
Well, first of all, let's just be clear what we have done. Under our Economic Action Plan we extended duration of benefits for all EI recipients. We have vastly expanded the EI work-sharing program. We've extended benefits for long-tenured workers so they can keep retraining and of course eligibility requirements in virtually every region of the country have fallen dramatically in the past few months. That's why this government has spent $5.5 billion more on employment insurance this year. So, you know, that's what we said we would do in the budget. That's what Mr. Ignatieff voted for and that's what has been done.

In terms of additional action, Mr. Ignatieff has made only one proposal. That was the 45-day work year. That's a proposal designed to get the support of the NDP and Bloc. Mr. Ignatieff knows full well a Conservative government is never going to support such an irresponsible idea.

Now what I said on last Thursday that we do intend to look at some changes for the fall, I can tell you one major thing we're looking at because it's a campaign commitment is that we will look at ways of expanding the EI program so that the self-employed can opt in to aspects of the program. That is a major change. In fact, it's often the self-employed who are not covered today under EI. When you talk about people not receiving benefits, it's often people who don't pay in because they are self-employed. So that's a very major design change we are looking at in the fall.

Those kinds of changes and other major changes cannot be done on the back of an envelope in a few days. They do require some careful thought so I would encourage Mr. Ignatieff and his party if they want to contribute to that idea or if they have other ideas to be clear about them and we'll certainly be prepared to dialogue about them over the summer as we prepare for the fall session. But I think demanding major undefined changes is the space of a few days is not a realistic approach. So I would discourage that.

You said that stimulus spending would stop if there was an election, if there was a vote for an election this week. How much has already been allocated that would still be spent and how much of that stimulus money would just stop cold?

Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper:
Well, it's a combination of things I think is the easiest way to put it but obviously the reason we table estimates in June is the government needs parliamentary authority for a whole bunch of additional spending and that will include some measures, some important measures linked to the Economic Action Plan. And obviously we can't spend that money unless we have parliamentary approval. We asked for, as you know, emergency approval of $3 billion in March. We've now allocated over $2 billion of that. We need additional monies to proceed with a range of projects and that's why we have the estimates before Parliament now. So you know if you want - you know, it's quite a contradiction. You can't say you're concerned about spending not happening and then vote against giving the government the parliamentary authority to spend money.

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