IN THE NEWS ~ Does PM's blueprint measure up to Obama's?

PUBLICATION: The Toronto Star
DATE: 2009.02.17
BYLINE: les Whittington

Does PM's blueprint measure up to Obama's?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose credibility as an economic manager is already under fire, will be facing more pressure to enrich the Conservatives' stimulus package in the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit.

Obama's arrival in Ottawa Thursday comes less than a week after U.S. legislators hammered out a $787 billion (U.S.) rescue plan for their economy and the White House unveiled a reconfigured bank bailout program worth another $700 billion.

Since the Harper government's business revival blueprint - which will inject about $40 billion into the economy over two years - was unveiled Jan. 27, there has been a growing conviction on Parliament Hill that the Tories' effort will be inadequate.

Opposition parties contend the package will have to be beefed up with billions of dollars in additional spending or tax incentives within a few short months.

That message has been reinforced by a litany of grim statistics from December, including a record loss of 129,000 jobs, a 47 per cent spike in bankruptcies and a trade deficit of $458 million, the first since 1976.

"I think what the most recent figures show is that the mask has fallen off what has been a complete lack of any kind of industrial policy," said NDP MP and trade critic Peter Julian.

Liberal MP Scott Brison accused Harper of still being behind the curve, saying "the Conservatives' approach looks complacent compared to what the Obama administration is doing."

Harper has maintained that his government's approach reflects the fact that the Canadian economy and financial system are not in the same desperate shape as is the United States. He has said Parliament needs to get the Jan. 27 budget package working before MPs start considering additional stimulus.

Nonetheless, Harper conceded more may well be needed.

"Obviously ... we will see how things unfold in the months to come," he said when asked if extra stimulus would be forthcoming.

Harper's stimulus package is a step in the right direction, according to his critics. But they have doubts about how much it will help the economy. There is also skepticism about the government's ability to free up the money quickly enough.

Liberal MP and finance critic John McCallum said the Liberals are glad that they have convinced the government to provide detailed report cards on whether the spending from the Jan. 27 budget is being delivered. The report cards are due March 26, June 23 and Sept. 10, and the Liberals say they will rethink their support of the Conservative minority in Parliament if the government is not quickly implementing the stimulative economic measures.