There isn't a reasonable person in this country, no matter where they're from or their political stripe, who wouldn't agree that federal spending should be managed efficiently, fairly and accountably. Oh maybe a few senators wouldn't, but we're talking about reasonable people.
Most of us would agree that public money should be spent in the most effective way possible, based on fairness as a central principle. OK maybe certain interest groups would disagree, your big business groups, public service unions and the like.
But if you do agree that federal funds should be managed well and distributed according to accepted principles, there shouldn't be great objection to the changes being wrought in the employment insurance program.
The Conservative government says fraud must be rooted out and waste eliminated. It says more than $400 million is going astray every year, so elementary fairness to all taxpayers is at the root of its EI reforms.
But that's the problem. The changes aren't fair and they're not being made according to any public consensus. They're based on pure politics, slice-and-dice Conservative politics in which targeted regions, communities and groups find either favour or disdain.
These new EI reforms smack of that disdain. They favour the employed over the unemployed and high employment regions over those with less. Need I point out that job-rich zones such as Alberta and suburban Ontario tend to support Conservatives and lower-employment zones such as Quebec and Atlantic Canada tend to support other parties?
That's not a coincidence, it's politics. The Harper Conservatives seek to reward regions that vote for them and punish those that don't.
Now, if the EI system had previously been fair and somehow became unfair, the Tories would be fully justified in fixing it. But it hasn't been fair for decades. Rather than insurance to protect those temporarily out of work, it has evolved into a confiscatory tax on jobs that hurts workers and corporations no matter where they're from.
It's not fair that successive federal governments extracted $57 billion from EI premiums and diverted the money elsewhere. You don't see the Tories being fair by restoring the $57 billion to its rightful owners, you and me and the companies that employ us.
And the latest batch of changes target the innocent as well as the guilty, which isn't fair. They target regions that inevitably will be hurt the most. That's also not fair.
It's why the reforms are stirring such angry opposition across Quebec and Atlantic Canada. It started with changes to the eligibility rules, which were made over the objections of provincial political leaders in the five most eastern provinces.
Now they're turning the screw, with the decision to send little armies of intruders into the homes of EI claimants, supposedly to make sure they aren't ripping off the system. But the home visits also send a signal: don't claim EI if you don't want your privacy violated.
The federally-sanctioned home invasions are starting with 1,200 randomly selected claims, which ensures lots of people who have legitimate claims will be swept up as well. Enforcement agents will make unannounced house calls, demanding lease documents and utility bills and if they deem it necessary, even proof of pregnancy and personal banking information.
Now, we all know there are people who are exploiting EI. They're probably exploiting every other provincial and federal program that gives them maximum cash for minimum effort. And we've been wrong as a regional community to allow that to go on, just because as Maritimers, we don't like to interfere.
But politically speaking, it seems that the federal Conservatives have written off Atlantic Canada for the next election, still three years away. They don't need our votes and seemingly can't be bothered trying to win them any more.
That's trouble for people claiming EI. But it's also trouble for 14 Tory MPs from the East, who might find people here can't be bothered with them any more, either.
The Conservatives might think Maritimers are complacent. Judging by their careless attitude toward our votes, they might well be accused of the very same thing.
Dan Leger is a Halifax-based writer and commentator. Twitter: @Dantheeditor.