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Fiscal Fury and Federal Foolery

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Photo of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa by Kasia/flickr.


There’s more than enough trash-talking to go with the tulips this spring on Parliament Hill, with some distinctly unflowery themes (Fiscal mismanagement! Attack ads! Election threats! Secret tapes!) echoing through the air.
Wait, secret tapes? It sounds sexy, but almost definitely isn’t. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s researchers have been poring over everything that Liberal Leader and Etobicoke Lakeshore MP Michael Ignatieff has said in his lengthy time as a public figure, resulting in a number of television attack ads against the Grit chief. The prime minister’s muckrakers may have recently struck gold, however, at least if Wednesday’s Question Period was any indication. After deriding the Liberals’ fiscal credibility, Harper quipped: “I cannot fire the Leader of the Opposition, and with all the tapes I have on him, I do not want to.” Sounds juicy, but no doubt the Liberals are prepared for whatever bombshell the prime minister has found, if it exists at all.
While Harper’s secret tapes may end up fizzling, the federal government’s precarious fiscal situation seems to be even more explosive than previously thought. Earlier this week Finance Minister and Whitby—Oshawa MP Jim Flaherty announced that this year’s federal deficit has ballooned by $16 billion since he presented his budget plan in January, to $50 billion from the originally projected $33.7 billion shortfall. Surprising no one, Ignatieff promptly called for Flaherty’s head, describing the minister’s performance this year as “incompetence on a historic scale.” Flaherty’s rejoinder, in short: “$50 billion? That’s chump change. You should have seen the deficits we had going in the eighties! Now those were incompetent.”
The biggest fiscal fighting words echoing across Ottawa this week, however, were Michael Ignatieff’s continued threats to bring down the Harper government if it doesn’t enact reforms to make the Employment Insurance system more accessible to the newly jobless. So will there be a summer election? Despite the Liberals’ aggressive posturing, the smart money’s on “no.” While NDP Leader and Toronto—Danforth MP Jack Layton has been firm in his support for EI reform, his party, which would have to vote with the Liberals on a confidence vote in order for the government to fall, would likely stand to lose seats were an election to be held in the next few months.
Even if summertime turns out not to be voting time, expect to see your local candidates gladhanding their way across the barbecue circuit over the coming months. Because in a politician’s mind, the next election is always just around the corner. Lucky us.

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