Ignatieff has left Harper all sorts of wiggle room even though on Harper's part he has explicitly rejected the demands that Ignatieff has made about EI. Ignatieff has in turn simply back-pedaled on the issue.
I saw Ignatieff in a short interview with Peter Mansbridge. He was extremely weak in my opinion. When Mansbridge asked him what his bottom line was, where he would draw the line as far as Harper's responses were concerned, Ignatieff looked to be weaker even than Dion. Ignatieff said he did not use terms such as ultimatum! He refused to say what would cause him to provoke an election. Harper will really have to exert himself to provoke Ignatieff into an election. The only hope to bringing down this government is that Harper uses this situation as an opportunity to make Iggy look even more a fool and wimp than he is. I expect Harper still has some tactical sense and will throw a few scraps to Iggy so that Iggy can claim he got Harper to give a few crumbs to Canadians none of whom after all want an election not even Rex Murphy!
Harper willing to talk with Ignatieff to avoid election
Liberals willing to vote no-confidence on Friday unless 'answers' given
Last Updated: Monday, June 15, 2009
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he is willing to meet Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to discuss his demands to avoid triggering a summer election, including further changes to the country's employment insurance system.
But Harper insisted Ignatieff was not taking a "realistic approach," saying major changes to EI "cannot be done on the back of an envelope in a few days."
He instead called for "dialogue" with Ignatieff over the summer on potential EI changes to be introduced in the fall.
“Mr. Ignatieff said he doesn’t want an election,” Harper told reporters Monday afternoon at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa.
“I don’t want an election. I don’t think anybody wants an election.”
The prime minister's comments came after Ignatieff listed a series of conditions earlier in the day that he said Harper must meet to avoid the Liberals toppling the minority Conservative government in a no-confidence vote slated for Friday in the House of Commons.
Ignatieff said his chief concern was getting more details from the government on additional employment insurance reforms before the House of Commons votes on budget estimates at the end of the week.
Harper again defended his government’s EI system changes, including a $500-million program for retraining laid-off, long-tenured workers and an extension of EI benefits if applicants participate in longer-term training of up to two years.
But he insisted the Conservatives would never support Ignatieff’s proposal for immediate, temporary change to the EI system that would make people eligible for EI benefits if they've worked 360 hours in the previous 52 weeks — regardless of where they live.Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff rises to question the government in the House of Commons on Monday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
After the prime minister spoke, Ignatieff said he saw Harper make "a couple of millimetre steps" that indicated he was willing to work with the Liberals.
However, the Liberal leader added it would be "a good idea" for them to meet before the vote — not over the summer as Harper suggested — because the Liberals are ready to vote against the government if he doesn't receive satisfactory answers.
"I think we need to meet a little sooner,” Ignatieff told the CBC's Don Newman.
Harper maintained the "easiest way" for Ignatieff to avoid a summer election is to have his party vote for the government's budget estimates on Friday and ensure stimulus funds continue to flow to Canadians.
"It's quite a contradiction," he said. "You can't say you're concerned about spending not happening and vote against giving the government the parliamentary authority to spend money."
The NDP and Bloc Québécois have already said that they will reject the economic report.
PM hints at EI access for self-employed
According to Ignatieff, the government must also provide "answers" on the following issues to maintain confidence from the Liberals:
Give more information about the rate of stimulus spending than included in last Thursday's progress report.
Show more details on the government's plan to contain the ballooning deficit, instead of offering what Ignatieff called "rosy projections."
Provide clearer answers on the government's plan to deal with Canada's medical isotopes shortage.
Ignatieff said the government's answers and performance so far on these issues "just aren't good enough."
"I don't need to have all the answers this week, but I need to be much surer in where we're going before I can safely vote in confidence at the end of the week," he said.
At the start of his statement, Harper also took a shot at Ignatieff, saying he came to the National Press Theatre to answer questions from reporters because he mistakenly thought the Liberal leader would ask them during Monday's question period.
Ignatieff's two questions before the House focused on the government's handling of the isotopes shortage, which Harper classified as a "long-term issue" the government was working to address.
During his news conference, Ignatieff said he was willing to extend the current session in Parliament and promised a "pragmatic" approach to resolving the EI issue.
"I am prepared to make compromises that will help the unemployed to get more help in tough times," he said.
The NDP and Bloc have called for the EI eligibility threshold to be expanded permanently, not just for as long as the current recession lasts.
Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe and the NDP's Jack Layton have also called for the elimination of the two-week benefit waiting period and for self-employed workers to have access to benefits, something Harper indicated on Monday the government was "committed to moving forward" on and discuss with opposition parties "over the next few weeks."
Speaking to reporters following Ignatieff's appearance, Duceppe criticized the Liberal chief for his "vague" and "inadequate" demands on the Harper government.
"I don't know what he wants," Duceppe said.
"Three of the so-called conditions are just reports, and the other one is saying that he wants to know the plan on EI. Knowing the plan and taking concrete action are very different."
Layton said Ignatieff missed an opportunity to press the government on improving EI and getting stimulus spending out the door faster.
"Neither of these things is happening,” Layton told reporters outside the House.
“When you require something and demand something, you use opportunities that exist to have the government’s direction changed, and he didn’t do that."With files from Rosemary Barton and The Canadian Press