May 3, 2009 / 8:21 PM / in 9 years

Canada's Ignatieff to push Harper on employment aid

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said on Sunday his party was ready to force changes in unemployment aid to deal with the growing recession.

Ignatieff, who was reaffirmed on Saturday as leader of Canada’s main opposition party, said with unemployment rising across the country, Canada needed to enact a national standard for when the newly jobless workers qualify to receive Employment Insurance.

The Liberals will propose temporary changes to the current system, which varies qualification standards based on which province or community a workers lives in, Ignatieff said.

Ignatieff denied he planned to use the issue to “jam” the minority Conservatives, but added: “If the government will work with me, then we’ll get it done. If they won‘t. Then we’ll have to have an election.”

A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he could not comment on the plan since he had not seen the specifics.

The minority Conservative government requires support of either the Liberals or Bloc Quebecois and New Democrats to remain in power, a situation the Liberals orchestrated this year to help the Conservatives pass the stimulus budget.

Its failure would have forced an election less than half a year after Canadians went to the polls, something Ignatieff said voters did not want to do.

But speculation the Liberals might be more willing to force an election now has increased with the party’s rise in the polls since Ignatieff, a former Harvard academic, took over the party late last year on a temporary basis.

The Liberals, badly beaten in last year’s election, voted him in as permanent leader at their convention in Vancouver.

A poll released on Saturday showed the Liberals have maintained the narrow lead they took over the Conservatives in March, although Harper led Ignatieff when voters were asked who was best to lead the country.

The Liberal’s support for the budget was conditioned on the government reporting regularly on how the stimulus money was being spent.

Ignatieff said since the measures only recently went into effect, it was too soon to say if more money was needed.

“We don’t know if this stuff is working.... I have said I am perfectly willing to come back in September and October, if Parliament lasts that long, as say, ‘This isn’t working,'” Ignatieff said.

Editing by Doina Chiacu

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