Friday, February 20, 2009

Sudbury Star: Layton's Ideas worth debating.

This is from the Sudbury Star.

Layton doesn't get that much publicity compared to Harper or Ignatieff and not often relatively favorable mention as in this article. The article is critical of Layton for not costing out his suggestions but that criciticism is certainly fair enough!

Layton's ideas worth debating -
Federal NDP Leader Jack Layton was at his provocative best during a town-hall style meeting with Xstrata workers and other union members in Sudbury on Tuesday night, but there is some merit to his methods, even if the firebrand tactics are eye-rolling.
Parliament isn't sitting at the moment, so Layton has organized a travelling road show (he went to Sarnia on Wednesday) to take his message across the country campaign style.
He is pressing the federal government to lift the two-week waiting time for laid-off workers to collect employment insurance, he wants Ottawa to force Xstrata to honour its pledge not to lay off operations personnel until at least July, and he wants the federal government to lift rules that require municipalities -- and often the province -- to match federal funding for infrastructure projects to aid cash-strapped towns and cities that cannot raise capital dollars for needed investment.
Layton's suggestions are worth debating, but they're costly, and he hasn't said where the money will come from. (Ottawa's money comes from taxpayers, too.)
The federal government recently announced it will extend benefits for EI recipients for five more weeks to a total of 50, at a cost of $1.15 billion. That translates into $230 million a week, so the two extra weeks of EI would likely cost around $460 million. Considering those on layoffs are not likely to be big spenders, it's not likely to boost the economy much, but it would provide laid-off employees with a little more security while they search for work.
As for the demand that Ottawa force Xstrata to honour its agreement -- it essentially boils down to seven more weeks of pay. Xstrata had supposedly agreed, in July 2006 when it was purchasing Falconbridge Ltd., not to lay off operations personnel for three years. But in laying off 686 people recently, the company claimed it faced circumstances beyond its control. After negotiating with the Mine- Mill/CAW union, Xstrata agreed to pay workers another 16 weeks. That leaves the company almost two months short of its promise. Since the actual agreement has not been made public, we do not yet know if Ottawa has legal authority to force Xstrata to pay workers until the end of July. The NDP's demand that the document be made public -- or at least the relevant parts -- is reasonable.
As for infrastructure money, everyone -- even the federal government -- wants that money flowing quickly into communities to keep people working and introduce investment into local economies. Typically, infrastructure money from Ottawa must be matched with equal contributions from the province and municipalities, but Layton wants that rule lifted. Said the NDP Leader: "They've got to take away the conditions that the city of Sudbury has to match the money in order to get any of it because the city hasn't got the money right now."
Yet, here's a quote from Mayor John Rodriguez offered on Jan. 27: "In its recent budget, the city has $50 million in capital which allows us the flexibility of taking advantage whatever project presents itself."
OK, so Layton didn't do his homework. And lifting the matching funds requirement entirely would mean there would be only enough funding for smaller projects, since Ottawa cannot pay for everything. Matching funds from the province and municipalities means larger projects are possible. However, it might be worthwhile, as a temporary measure, to allow municipalities to make a lower contribution, say, 15 per cent. That would make more projects eligible without forcing more debentures or higher taxes on municipalities.
Layton's suggestions on government spending aren't entirely without merit, but he hasn't costed them, and they won't gain traction unless he does, and spells out where the money will come from.

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