In a rather transparent temporary fix, the pre election Budget proposes to temporarily continue existing and recently expired work-sharing arrangements and to extend two “pilot projects” for one more year rather than let them expire in short order.
The pilot projects are the working while on claim project which gives workers greater room to take a temporary job without lowering their EI benefit when they resume a claim, and a project which bases unemployment benefits on the best 14 weeks of prior earnings as opposed to the norm of 26 weeks. This latter measure applies only in 25 high unemployment regions.
Both of these measures are pretty small beer (though the cost is over $400 Million per year), and should be made permanent in all regions. The main aim is to to encourage workers eligible for EI to take up offers of temporary hours of work when available during a claim, without paying a price down the road. Surely there should be a consensus on that at least.
I would infer from the temporary nature of the extensions that it is an attempt to avoid election debate over future EI “reform” in the higher unemployment regions. I am tempted to further infer that a majority (hence “stable”) Harper government would not renew these measures, and would turn to making the system even more restrictive. (Already, well under one half of unemployed workers qualify for EI benefits.).
The government failed in the Budget to heed labour calls to extend benefits in non traditional high unemployment regions (such as several industrial cities in Ontario) or to announce any new programs to train unemployed workers using EI funds.
I note Harper took a swipe at the opposition parties for favouring easier access to EI during his opening campaign statement. But I expect the future EI agenda will be hidden unless he is pressed on the issue by the opposition parties.
And I look forward to positive EI proposals from those same opposition parties.