Ignatieff 'not terribly optimistic' he can support budget
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says he's "not terribly optimistic" he will be able to support the federal government's next budget, giving another indication that Canadians might head to the polls this spring.
Ignatieff and NDP Leader Jack Layton have been calling on the government to cancel a planned tax cut for 2012, the final in a series that will bring the business tax rate down to 15 per cent. The tax cuts were contained in the 2007 budget, which passed with Liberal support.
Ignatieff told CTV's Power Play Monday the tax cuts are a bad idea at a time when the government is running a $56-billion deficit.
"The right thing to do is get our deficit under control; the right thing to do is help families pay for post-secondary education, help to look after their aging relatives when they get sick at home," Ignatieff said.
"Look, we'll read the budget but I'm not terribly optimistic that I can support it. I need to look at it first," he added.
Layton said it is unlikely that he, too, will be able to support the budget if it contains tax cuts his party "has opposed every step of the way." However, he indicated he would support the government if it made concessions on key issues.
"We think it's the wrong direction," Layton told Power Play. "On the other hand what we have said is that there are some things that need doing right now: helping out seniors who are struggling to get by and getting more family doctors and nurses trained. We've put these things on the table and we're willing to have a discussion with the government about how to get some results for Canadians."
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who earlier in the day guessed there's a "50-50" chance the federal budget will pass when put to MPs for a vote in March, said "there's always room in politics" for compromises.
He said that while some of the opposition's proposals are worth considering, others, such as the NDP's call for a tax rebate on home heating fuel, are "extraordinarily expensive."
"I think when opposition parties come up with ideas they should cost them and be open and frank with the Canadian people about what it means in terms of taxation, what it means in terms of deficits," Flaherty told Power Play.
Earlier Monday, when providing an update on the Economic Action Plan in Vaughan, Ont., Flaherty said that while he is open to proposals from the opposition, the government is "not open, of course, to changing the direction of growth in the Canadian economy."
The haggling over the budget came as the opposition parties opened the new session of Parliament by hammering the Tories over help for average Canadians during an anemic economic recovery.
After being asked by Ignatieff if the government plans to reconsider business tax cuts and offer more help to families, Prime Minister Stephen Harper replied that a Liberal alternative would raise taxes on 100,000 Canadian businesses, which would be damaging to the economic recovery.
"The business community does not support that. That is not in the interest of job creation in the Canadian economy," Harper said in Question Period. "This government will not do anything that will hurt the Canadian economy."
Harper evaded questions from Layton, who used his time during Question Period to call on the government to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement for retirees and invest in training to get more doctors and nurses into the health-care system.
Harper said in French that the government is committed to helping families and encouraged "the opposition parties to not think about elections but to think about helping families."
But in a sign the Conservatives are thinking about an election, the prime minister announced that Guy Giorno, Harper's former chief of staff, has been appointed the party's National Campaign Chair.
In other government news Monday, Flaherty announced he is on target to balance the books by 2015. The finance minister said he can reach the goal through spending freezes and the end of stimulus funding that was introduced during the recession.
"Unlike most advanced economies, our medium-range goal of a balanced budget by 2015 is an achievable goal, supported not by overly optimistic forecasts and crossed fingers, but supported by the prudence we showed in the past and the discipline that is guiding us now," he said.