Ignatieff says he's ready for an election
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says he's "ready" for an election as he kicked off a campaign-style tour of 20 ridings held by other parties.
However, Ignatieff did not go so far as to say he's actively seeking to bring down the government.
"It's not up to me to call an election, it's up to (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper. All I can do is frame up alternatives," he told CTV's Power Play Wednesday.
"I'm satisfied with our state of election readiness. But I repeat, it's not up to me to choose an election, but I'm ready."
At a kick-off event at an Ottawa mall, Ignatieff took aim at the other opposition parties, urging Canadians to vote strategically to take down the Tories.
"You're going to get four more years of Stephen Harper if you vote for (NDP Leader) Jack Layton or (Bloc Quebecois Leader) Gilles Duceppe, it's that simple," he said.
The speech was in the riding of Government House Leader John Baird, who Ignatieff referred to as the "snarling face of a government that Canadians want to change."
When asked about whether such a partisan shot would set the tone of an election campaign, Ignatieff said the tone has already been set by the Conservative government.
"I've had five years of nasty. But the message I get from the public is, ‘Keep it civil, keep it clean.' They want a good clean fight. They want a vigorous debate of ideas. I will not hesitate to go at them hard. This is not personal, I have no personal animus or dislike of Mr. Harper," he said.
Ignatieff held a news conference in the foyer of the House of Commons earlier Wednesday morning to announce the tour, which will take him to five provinces.
He is expected to use the 11-day tour to try to frame the central question in the next election, which could come as early as this spring.
Flanked by a handful of Liberal MPs, Ignatieff painted the Conservatives as a party focused on corporate tax cuts, billion-dollar fighter jets and mega-prisons.
He said the Liberals, meanwhile, offer an alternative with "different priorities" for voters, but he didn't know when Canadians may be heading to the polls next.
"What I'm pushing for is to make sure that when we have an election, Canadians know what the heck this election is about: clear choices," Ignatieff said. "An economic policy focused on middle class families, or prisons, planes and corporate tax cuts."
He cast doubts on whether the Liberals could support the next budget, but said his party will need to see what's in it before making a final decision.
"The government is offering the country four more years of austerity, plus jets, plus prisons," Ignatieff said. "We think these are the wrong choices, we've said so clearly, we're not walking back from that and other parties will have to draw the consequences."
The federal budget is considered a confidence issue -- defeating it, therefore, could trigger an election.
Layton and Duceppe have similarly been issuing demands about what the Tories will need to include in the budget to earn their support.
The NDP plans to unveil a new campaign war room within the next several weeks and says it has the money for an election.
But on Wednesday, Layton called on both Harper and Ignatieff to cut the election brinkmanship.
"I'm calling on the other party leaders to put the partisan games aside and show a little Canadian leadership," Layton said in text of the speech, which was made available in advance, and that he was to deliver in Sudbury, Ont.
He said the NDP plans to negotiate for "modest" increases in Canada Pension Plan and Guaranteed Supplement benefits for seniors, and removing the GST from home heating fuel.
In Ignatieff's case, he said the budget would have to whittle down corporate tax cuts, scrap plans for a multi-billion purchase of stealth fighter jets and abandon proposed prison expansions. Instead, more money would go into job creation, education, family care and retirement security.
Meanwhile, Harper and ministers have been making spending announcements across the country. Layton is also touring Canada while and Duceppe is travelling across Quebec.
Following Ignatieff's press conference, the Conservatives issued talking points saying that Liberal leader is trying to precipitate an "unnecessary election."
The Liberals also began distributing a 12-page booklet outlining what the party described as "five years of misguided priorities . . . (and) missed opportunities" under Harper.
"Looking back at those five years shows an ideological and uncaring government that has failed to address the challenges facing Canadian families and diminished our stature in the world," the booklet claims.
With files from The Canadian Press