Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, and NDP leader Jack Layton. Photos by the Associated Press.
With the national economy struggling under the weight of a global economic crisis, Governor General Michaëlle Jean yesterday delivered a throne speech that was both incredibly brief (the English version contains just 750 words) and, due to the intense Ottawa cold, surrounded by hardly any of the usual vice-regal pomp and circumstance. Which was probably just as well, given that yesterday’s speech was really just the pre-game show for today’s main event, the federal budget.
Just two months after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty‘s fall fiscal statement unified the opposition, divided the public, and nearly brought down the government, Prime Minister Harper’s right-hand man is set to deliver a highly anticipated budget that the Conservatives are calling the next step in their “Economic Action Plan for Canada” (our preferred moniker: “Fixing the Economy: This Time We Mean It…Really!”). Not only is this one of the most anticipated budgets in recent Canadian history, but it is also notable for the number of pre-speech details that have been released by the government. Rather than trying to keep its contents secret, cabinet ministers have spent recent days leaking juicy fiscal details to any reporter who will listen.
Based on the flurry of tidbits that the government has let slip over the past few weeks, it’s easy to piece together the major components of the economic plan: $7 billion in infrastructure spending, $1.5 billion for retraining laid-off workers, $2 billion for social housing, home renovation incentives, increased government control over the banking and credit-card industries, a mix of temporary and permanent tax cuts, and deficits expected to total $64 billion over the next two years.
Photo by Andrea Schaffer.
Much of the announced stimulus spending is in keeping with the pre-budget demands of the opposition parties. That goes especially for the promises of tighter regulations for credit-card companies, investment in affordable housing, and cash for public infrastructure projects (no word on whether the TTC’s Transit City plan will be among the beneficiaries). But although the Conservatives have seemingly acquiesced on several key issues, many MPs are still not satisfied. New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton has already pledged that the NDP caucus will vote against the budget and continues to tout the Liberal-NDP coalition as the sole option for economically ravaged voters. (No surprise there: a coalition is the NDP’s only realistic chance to get into government for the foreseeable future.) The Bloc Québécois is likely to follow the NDP’s lead, leaving it up to the Liberals to decide the fate of the fiscal plan.
Barring a big surprise in today’s speech, Liberal leader and Etobicoke—Lakeshore MP Michael Ignatieff is widely expected to give the Conservatives a chance to put their proposals into action. While the Grits have reservations over some of the budget’s probable components—namely the permanent tax cuts—Ignatieff has sent strong signals that he intends to support it, saying last week that Canadians need another election “like a hole in the head” (the Liberal chief’s feelings about the coalition are said to run along similar lines).
While the Harper government will likely survive for at least a little while longer, there’s no way to know for sure until after Minister Flaherty delivers what could well be the most important speech of his life this afternoon at 4 p.m. ET. But even if things end up going all to hell, just remember the mantra that has kept us afloat through the crisis thus far: at least we’re better off than Iceland.