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Hardheaded

The Conservative caucus met this week, making a big show of its infrastructure investments by handing out hard hats bearing signs that boast: "Creating jobs".

Fair enough. Their federal budget rolls out billions in long-awaited infrastructure funding that will create new jobs in the construction industry and generate vaudevillian press announcements for months to come.

It's political showbiz.

What the federal government failed to do in its budget, however, was to make Canada's flawed Employment Insurance program recession-proof.

And there is no press release that will be able to cover up that mistake in the weeks and months to come.

Canada lost 234,000 jobs between November 2008 and January 2009. That's proportionately higher than the job losses Americans experienced during the same time period.

Canada's job losses should act as a vivid wake-up call for those who still insist the global recession and America's economic pain stop at the Canadian border.

Last year, when times were good in Canada, only 39 per cent of unemployed Canadians got access to EI. The rest weren't eligible.

Imagine the strain on provincial and municipal budgets as hundreds of thousands of formerly well-employed Canadians discover the word ‘insurance' in their Employment Insurance program is actually a misnomer; that they are completely on their own, with no help from their federal government, when they lose their job.

The ripple effects from this policy problem could be devastating to Canadian communities. Restrictive EI rules could force the unemployed straight onto welfare rolls. They could force middle class Canadians to pull out their RRSPs and give up on their pension savings. They could force more household bankruptcies, which only delivers more bad news to the economy.

Instead of averting disaster and acting on the widespread agreement in Canada that the federal government needs to fix the EI problem, our government is handing out hard hats with great self-applause and fanfare.

Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. Hard hats you say? How about hardheaded?

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