Budget set for March 22, but will NDP support it?
NDP Leader Jack Layton says the prime minister "isn't giving much of a signal" that he wants to avoid an election, as the opposition parties prepare for a showdown over the March 22 budget.
The government controls the timing of the budget vote, and the Conservatives are expected to push it as far back as possible, to have more time to talk about what the plan offers Canadians.
That would put the opposition on the defensive, forcing them to explain to the public why they would want to defeat the budget, CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife said Wednesday night.
A delay in the budget vote could set an election back to May 9 or May 16.
Late Wednesday morning, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty confirmed the date the budget would be unveiled, saying it would be a responsible budget with no new major spending programs or tax increases.
Hours later, Layton said he still believes the demands he has made as a trade-off for his party's support of the budget are "practical and doable" despite the clear signals of government belt-tightening in order to pay down the deficit.
"There's no reason why the government couldn't adopt them," Layton told CTV's Power Play Wednesday evening. "I think maybe Stephen Harper would prefer to see an election. He certainly isn't giving much of a signal that he wants to work with us."
Layton has called on the government to allocate more money for family doctors, and has also recommended a boost to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for senior citizens.
Layton denies that his suggestions are too costly to implement, citing as an example his proposal to remove the federal sales tax from home heating fuel. He estimates such a move would cost the government $700 million, which he says will cost the government the same amount of money as an upcoming corporate tax cut to the banks alone.
The Conservatives need the support of at least one of the opposition parties in order to pass the budget. The Liberals and Bloc have signalled they will vote against the budget, leaving the prospect of an election firmly in the NDP's hands.
Flaherty said Wednesday in addition to no new big spending programs, the budget will also not include changes in transfer payments to the provinces.
However, he hinted Wednesday that the opposition parties "will find that there are some measures in there that they would like."
"It's difficult to satisfy some of (the opposition requests) because they're big new spending programs, so we can't do that because we won't be able to balance the budget in the medium term," Flaherty told Power Play. "So no big new spending programs, but that doesn't mean there won't be new initiatives, because we can take some initiatives, reallocate some money and be more targeted in what we do."
The Bloc has demanded billions of dollars in Quebec-only funding, and the Liberals have demanded a roll-back of corporate tax cuts to 2010 levels.
Fife said Wednesday that means it's all but certain the budget will not pass and the election process will begin, likely leading to a spring vote.
Layton said if the government produces a budget his party finds unpalatable, they are ready to hit the campaign trail.
"The objective facts are that we are ready and we of course need to be ready, whether it's candidates or finances, our policies, we're set to go," he said. "But I think what Canadians would prefer is that we actually get some results. I think they look at Ottawa and say ‘something's broken up there. Why are they not getting things done for us?'"
Layton has recovered from a battle with prostate cancer, and is healing from a recently fractured hip. But friends and doctors of the NDP leader say he will be ready to go for an election campaign this spring.
The 2011-12 budget is expected to be about $30 billion.