MPs begin battle of perceptions over budget
Published Tuesday, March 20, 2007 10:50PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 5:54PM EDT
With the federal Conservative budget tabled, politicians turned their attention to the process of both selling and attacking the big-spending plan.
"This budget focuses on the needs of ordinary working people and their families," Prime Minister Stephen Harper insisted in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
Jim Flaherty, his finance minister, posed smiling with the Tuesday front page of a newspaper that had dubbed him "the Money Bunny."
The Liberals dismissed the federal budget as an unfocused attempt to woo potential voters rather than a solid plan for Canada's economy.
"This is a shotgun budget," Liberal finance critic John McCallum told the House of Commons Tuesday.
"It's as if the finance minister shut his eyes, held a shotgun into the air, pulled the trigger, and hoped that he hit as many targets as possible."
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion continued the assault during question period.
He accused the Tories of failing Canadians on everything from the environment and child care to funding for First Nations.
Aboriginal leaders predicted Tuesday that Canada could see more native unrest because the budget failed to address their peoples' needs.
"There's no $10 minimum wage, which would have done something about poverty," said NDP Leader Jack Layton. "There's no child care plan, nothing for housing ..."
The Liberals and New Democrats have said they will vote against the budget -- with the exception of veteran northern Ontario MP Joe Comuzzi.
"It's for a single issue that's of absolute critical importance to all the people in Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario, and that's the cancer research centre ... and hopefully it's going to be funded in this budget," he told CTV Newsnet's Mike Duffy Live.
The centre would bring 300 jobs to the struggling city on the shores of Lake Superior. "To vote against it, every citizen in Thunder Bay would be tremendously upset with me," Comuzzi said.
Some commentators claim that some Quebec Liberal MPs are uneasy about voting against the budget.
The Bloc Quebecois may have staved off an early election by saying it would support the budget -- and the $2.3 billion it directs to Quebec.
However, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe argued the budget was aimed at keeping a federalist as premier of Quebec.
The budget gives Quebec a large share of transfer payments, and Premier Jean Charest, in the middle of an election, has boasted of his close ties with Ottawa.
"The prime minister, we know, wants to choose questions of journalists. He wants to choose judges, he wants to choose immigration commissioners," said Duceppe.
"And now he would like to choose Quebec's premier. Well I have news for him: Quebecers will be the ones to choose their own premier."
Flaherty defends budget
Flaherty said he was surprised the Liberals have decided to vote against the budget.
"I really don't know what basis they have for not supporting the budget," he said. "It's a great budget for Canadian families, and I would have thought they supported Canadian families."
He said the budget also has a great deal to offer seniors, people with disabilities and people trying to move from social assistance to the workforce.
Meanwhile, Nancy Hughes Anthony, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, has criticized the budget for spending too much.
"We are disappointed ... that overall government spending continues to significantly outpace the growth of the economy in the current fiscal year and next year," she said in a press release.
Flaherty countered that he has held carefully to Ottawa's economic plan, "Advantage Canada."
Analysts say the country will likely post a budget surplus in 2006-2007 of $9.2 billion, while government spending next year will total $233.4 billion, up about seven per cent compared to this year.
"This budget implements that economic plan, that we would hold spending to the rate of growth of the economy," he said.
"I said that on average, over the course of the term, we would accomplish that goal. We're on track to have spending be about one percentage point below the rate of growth."
The core of the budget is $39 billion devoted to fixing the so-called fiscal imbalance over the next seven years, a move that towards pacifying premiers who criticize Ottawa for taking too much provincial revenue.
"Two thirds of our new spending is to resolve that long bickering that's gone on between the provincial governments and the federal governments, which we accomplished yesterday," said Flaherty.
"It was expensive to do, but it benefits families across Canada, because it deals with postsecondary education and health."
The plan also calls for an increase in transfer payments for post-secondary education, and changes in the way health and social spending are structured.
Quebec has emerged as a big winner with the new formula. The province will get $919 million, almost one-third of the transfers allocated to the provinces in the budget.
That figure includes the equalization funds, and the new portion of transfer payments such as the Canada Health Transfer; the Canada Social Transfer; the environmental EcoTrust program and infrastructure funding.
Quebecers will head to the polls on March 26, and Charest will likely use the new transfer payments formula to his advantage.
However, Charest would only say, "Yesterday is a major step, but there is more work to do."
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said, "We are going to continue to be the subject of discrimination when it comes to funding for our health care."
With files from CTV's Robert Fife