Conservative economists are up in arms that anyone could suggest lowering the qualification requirements for workers wanting to access an insurance program they are obliged to contribute but for which they do not necessarily have access.
Case in point, Stephen Gordon an economist at Laval was interviewed on CBC and he had the temerity to assert that the opposition parties were purporting to return Canadians to the dark days of UI dependency where workers worked 10 weeks and then took a “vacation” (10-42 which he admits was a small group of “users”). An honest look at the previous programme would conclude that although there was a small user base of “bilkers” the other group was more a victim of a defunct east coast growth paradigm, entrenched rural local business interests and governments bereft of vision (with some irony what we might call an “industrial policy” the very thing conservative economists hate). It would in fact take the complete collapse of the fishery to provoke a fundamental rethink of the structural dependence by design aspect of the old UI system. Apparently this is wrong. They still have not yet arrived at areal solution for the structural dependence on the EI program.
But all of this is beside the point. No one in the opposition is suggesting a return to UI as a guaranteed income scheme. Although I do not know why this should disturb a conservative economist? Conservative economists tend to love programs which enforce some requirement to work. Let us call this their Victorian vice. Indeed the reason conservative economists like the WITB is because it gives an incentive to welfare recipients an incentive to work. It is therefore somewhat perverse that they should prefer to exclude formally employed workers from the EI system so that they can go on welfare and then be incentivised to work through programs like the WITB. In a bizarre twist during the interview Gordon suggested that while access to the program (which all workers are forced to contribute) should remain restricted those who do qualify should have their benefits increased! A new moral milestone: not only a distinction between the deserving poor but a distinction of merit between deserving and undeserving workers: All enough to make a good Victorian blush at the recognition of their Dickensonian sentiments.
But I digress. Gordon even went further and conceded that relaxing the qualifying criteria would only benefit 2% more of the unemployed. He went further to say that there were other ways to help the poor: such as beef up the GST rebate. For a man who does not receive the GST rebate and is woefully ignorant of how much income replacement it would represent it was not only callous it was disingenuous. It was disingenuous because Mr. Gordon knows full well the EI system should be well funded requiring no draws on general revenue. It was only a fleecing of the program which moved billions from the program to general revenue that voila the program needed extra funding. As an aside, this is why the finance minister’s suggestion the increased EI payments are partly to blame for the increased deficit ring hollow. It was that minister who raided EI to make room for his silly tax cuts.
But the point is this, there is no choice between increasing benefits or increasing eligibility if we make an honest accounting of how large the surplus was in the EI fund. Similarly it is a false choice between beefing up the GST credit or the WITB program or extending eligibility. The EI fund should be fat; it was raided to pay for silly tax cuts that even the economist in question wrote a long blog post against. It is therefore disingenuous to turn around and make it a question of where money is best spent. EI is paid for by employers and employees, the fund was fat, and it was depleted by a raid on what appeared to be its fat in good times. In short, the trade off can only be posed if one accepts the hanky panky involved in the raiding of the EI fund.