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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and Senator Lillian Dyck speak to reporters on Parliament Hill on Sept. 17, 2009.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The four parties in the House of Commons are nearing a deal to fast track the government's new employment-insurance legislation and put it to its first vote as early as Friday.

Government House Leader Jay Hill invited his Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois counterparts to a closed door meeting just after noon to discuss the government bill, which was officially introduced in the House of Commons Wednesday afternoon.

The Liberals announced Thursday morning that they are offering to pass the bill quickly, in the hope of taking away the NDP's stated reason for keeping the Conservatives in office for the short term.

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"We don't want to give Mr. Layton any alibis," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said.

Following the meeting, NDP House Leader Libby Davies told The Globe and Mail that all sides are close to a deal and that negotiations are expected to continue throughout the day.

For now, Ms. Davies said the most likely scenario would see MPs wrap up the second reading debate on Friday with a vote to send the bill to committee. A House of Commons committee would then have the option of meeting during next week's break to hear witnesses on the bill, or wait until the following week when the House of Commons is sitting again.

Prior to the bill's introduction on Wednesday, NDP finance critic Thomas Mulcair said his party would keep the government in power long enough to pass the legislation provided the bill delivered what the government promised it would.

The legislation creates a temporary change to existing EI rules, so that people who have worked a long time without claiming benefits can qualify for additional weeks of coverage. The bill includes several formulas to calculate the extra benefits.

However NDP MP Joe Comartin was quoted in today's Windsor Star suggesting the bill is not living up to how it was described by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley.

"We just don't see how they claim it will cost $900-million and benefit 190,000 people," Mr. Comartin was quoted as saying.

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Ms. Davies said her party does have concerns with the bill and at this point is not committing to support the bill into law. She says the NDP will support the bill's passage into committee so that MPs can call expert witnesses to analyze the proposed measures.

An official with the Conservative government would only say that a Thursday's meeting was good and that negotiations are ongoing.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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