Opposition wants to know where budget cuts will be
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says he can balance the budget within the next four years with no "draconian" measures, but the opposition wants specifics on where the cuts will be found.
NDP Leader Jack Layton questioned Prime Minister Stephen Harper Tuesday on the government's plan to cut $4-billion in spending annually.
"The prime minister . . . said his critics are living in a fantasy world if they think it's going to affect essential services, but what about the unemployed who can't get the benefits they need, are they living in a fantasy world?" Layton said in question period Tuesday. "What about the seniors, who have seen their pensions disappear, are they living in a fantasy world? What services will Canadians have to do without when the prime minister is finished his cuts?"
Harper said he will not cut pensions or health transfers to the provinces to find the savings.
"We are looking at budget reductions of less than 2 per cent across the entire size of government, 5 per cent in operation expenses over a three year period," Harper said in response. "Canadians expect us to cut this kind of fat, find these efficiencies."
Question period continued to be cordial two days into the latest sitting of the House of Commons, with politicians taking the time to congratulate each other on their various successes.
Flaherty presented the latest version of the Conservative budget on Monday. The fiscal blueprint was originally tabled in March, but was never voted on by MPs due to the federal election.
The document presented Monday was virtually identical to the March budget, with a couple of additions. The most recent version includes $2.2 billion in funding to cover the cost of a harmonized sales tax agreement with Quebec and eliminates the $2 per-vote subsidy for political parties.
It also sets out a plan to eliminate the federal deficit by the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
Flaherty said Tuesday this can be done without deep cuts to cherished programs or services.
Instead, the government will strive to cut 5 per cent from the government's operating costs.
"This is not draconian and it's not even that dramatic," Flaherty told CTV's Canada AM.
The projected deficit for 2010-2011 is $36.2 billion. The deficit for the 2011-2012 fiscal year has nudged upwards to $32.3 billion.
Flaherty said he has no intention of cutting transfer payments to the provinces for health care or education, and won't implement layoffs to the public service.
"We're not going to do any of that," Flaherty said.
"What we're going to do is look at what it costs to operate the government of Canada and do as the private sector does (and ask) can we do this more efficiently, more effectively? And what we're looking to accomplish is 5 per cent savings on the operations side, which is hardly draconian."
Flaherty rejected the possibility that the government would consider further amendments to the budget from the NDP. He said the budget already includes measures that were worked out in discussions with the NDP before the budget was originally released in March.
There will be no further changes, he said.
"We weren't playing games in the budget. We left everything as it was and that was the budget they would not support back in March. We hope they'll support it this time," he said.
With the Conservatives' new majority status, they will have no trouble passing the document without the support of any of the opposition parties.
Though MPs didn't get the opportunity to vote on the budget in March, both the Liberals and NDP had signalled at the time their intention to reject the document.
After the release of the budget on Monday, NDP Leader Jack Layton said he didn't agree with the political party subsidy cuts "but we'll live with it."
The official Opposition leader said the budget doesn't spend enough on infrastructure, which would have spurred job creation.
"We would have liked to have seen an adjustment to the corporate tax reduction, a slowing down in the continued giveaway to the banks and oil companies and we would have taken that money and given a reduction to small businesses," Layton said.
Liberal interim leader Bob Rae called it a "groundhog budget . . . with the same spirit of compliancy" on poverty.
"It's not a document that's intended for all Canadians," he said.
Other measures in Monday's budget:
- $400-million to extend the ecoENERGY Retrofit-Homes program for a year.
- A Family Caregiver Tax Credit that would save $300 for people caring for sick or disabled relatives.
- Legislation to make the $2-billion Gas Tax Fund permanent for municipalities.
- An initiative to forgive student debt up to $40,000 for doctors and $20,000 for nurses who move to rural areas.