With only a few minutes’ warning, the Prime Minister called a press conference at the National Press Theatre – something which he’s done so rarely that it can likely be counted on a single hand. And yet there he was – only twelve minutes late instead of his usual thirty (it’s as though the PMO runs on Gay Standard Time), and he delivered a very quick statement.
Basically, he expected Ignatieff to ask questions in Question Period, and hey, he doesn’t want an election either, so the best way for them all to avoid one is to vote to pass the estimates on Friday. Um, okay.
But when the media got their four questions, things started getting pretty clear that Harper has no intention of deviating from the course. On the changes to the EI system, he said that Ignatieff’s proposal of a 360-hour national standard – or the “45 day work year” as he likes to erroneously refer to it as – he said it’s a no go. Instead they’re planning on some major changes to the system like making the self-employed eligible to pay into it, but that’s a plan that can’t be done “on the back of an envelope,” and needs the summer to be discussed.
On the topic of stimulus funds, Harper kept saying that if Ignatieff wants them to be spent faster, then he needs to vote to pass the spending estimates, which is patently disingenuous. There is allocated funding that will be rolled out whether there’s an election or not. (If it is during an election, it will likely be done in the form of a Governor General’s warrant, but that’s beside the point). The point is that the government hasn’t even spent the money that was committed in 2007, so how can they claim that these spending estimates will speed things up. They won’t. It’s false and misleading.
The other two points – the real numbers of our fiscal situation and the isotope crisis, Harper says that those have already been answered with the report that was released last week and through the answers in the House respectively. He misses the point, however, that those answers have been wholly unsatisfactory. Sure the isotope crisis is a “long-term problem” but the point that the opposition has been making is that you haven’t put forward any kind of solution, no matter that you’ve been presented with options. Sure, it costs money – but this is a public health issue. If it costs a little more money, then we shouldn’t hesitate to spend it, rather than to prop up failing auto companies that ended up declaring bankruptcy anyway.
As for Layton, well, he told the scrums in the foyer after Question Period that if the Liberals want to change the EI system, then they should simply put forward an amendment to their Private Members’ Bill on the subject and pass it by Friday (as though the legislative process is that speedy).
Harper – for all his protestations that he’s “always willing to meet” with Ignatieff, and that he insists he had no input from the Liberals on the budget process (you will recall that Flaherty refused to meet with the Liberals when they tried to approach him) – really doesn’t sound all that willing to budge, or even acknowledge Ignatieff’s concerns that he outlined this morning.
In other words, the election doomsday clock has moved forward one minute closer to midnight, and the election call is looking much more likely by the end of the week.