Harper rejects opposition job benefit demands

Fri May 22, 2009 2:43pm EDT
 
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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper rejected demands from the three opposition parties on Friday that the government relax eligibility rules for unemployment benefits.

The main opposition Liberals have threatened to try to bring down the minority Conservative government if it does not agree to let workers be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) after a standard 360 hours of work. Current rules require 420 to 700 hours, depending on the region of the country.

"They are suggesting that what we should do is bring in an EI system where any Canadian in anywhere in the country in perpetuity could work 45 days and collect EI benefits for a period up to a year. This is an absurdity. This has nothing to with the real problems of the recession," Harper told reporters.

Harper said the biggest problem in this situation is long-term employees who have been laid off, are finding it difficult to get a job and may need retraining, not employees who started working a short time ago.

"This is just a recipe to raise payroll taxes," he said of the opposition demand. "It is not a proposal that this government is going to adopt. It is not financially responsible."

It would require all three opposition parties to vote together to bring down to bring down the Conservatives, who hold a minority of the seats in the House of Commons and need the support of at least one other party to remain in power.

While the opposition parties have demanded the 360-hour standard, and threatened to make this an election issue, it is not clear if they would be willing to take the country back to the polls so soon after last October's general election.

Most analysts do not expect a new election before the autumn at the earliest, partly because voters are cool to the idea of another vote so soon, and partly because of political reluctance to fight a campaign over the summer.

(Reporting by Scott Haggett; writing by Randall Palmer; editing by Rob Wilson)