IN THE NEWS ~ Flaherty holds firm on budget - Commons vote expected Friday as B.C. voters brace for rash of elections

Flaherty holds firm on budget
Commons vote expected Friday as B.C. voters brace for rash of elections
Andy Ivens, The Province; With A File From Postmedia News

NEWS, Page: A7

As opposition leaders took turns bashing the Harper government's budget on Tuesday afternoon, the prospect of a May federal election loomed large.

If the minority Conservative government falls, as expected, B.C. voters could wind up going to the polls at least three times before November.

There's a vote on the provincial government's HST, widely expected to be June 24, and municipal elections provincewide set for November. It could be four trips to the polls if unelected Premier Christy Clark decides to call a provincial election to get a mandate from voters.

The Tories could be defeated as early as Friday, when the House of Commons could be asked to vote on a non-confidence motion that was introduced by the Liberals on Tuesday.

The most likely date for an election then would be May 2.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tabled a cautious budget that offered targeted breaks to families, seniors, small business owners and communities -several of which were plucked from opposition wish lists.

NDP Leader Jack Layton was not impressed.

"We will not be supporting the budget that was presented," Layton told reporters in the Commons foyer, moments after the budget was brought down.

The budget met some of the demands of the NDP, but Layton said Harper failed to help the estimated five million Canadians with no family doctor, failed to remove federal sales tax from home heating, failed to adequately support seniors and failed to increase CPP benefits.

"Nothing in this budget has persuaded me that Mr. Harper has changed his ways and is prepared to work with others in Parliament to give middle-class families a break," Layton said.

Flaherty replied that the Tories won't negotiate any changes to the budget.

"This isn't collective bargaining," he said in a television interview.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said, "We don't believe the budget is credible," adding the priorities of the Tory government "do not reflect" those of ordinary Canadians.

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe said the budget ignored his party's demand for a transfer of $2.2 billion to Quebec to compensate it for harmonizing its sales tax with the federal GST.

Two opposition MPs from B.C. said Stephen Harper's time as prime minister is up.

"Mr. Harper has abused his power and I believe he has last touch with families," said Vancouver South MP Ujjal Dosanjh, the Liberals' opposition health critic.

"He refused to fire [International Co-operation Minister] Bev Oda for forging documents and misleading Parliament, he shrugged off the charges against his inner circle who were charged with breaking election law [and] he shut down Parliament to silence his critics. "The real [election] issue is going to be their propensity and deliberate strategy to not tell the truth to Canadians -whether it's . . . not sharing the real costs of mega-prisons, real cost of fighter jets or real cost of borrowing money to provide tax cuts to the five per cent of the wealthiest corporations in the country."

Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian of the NDP said the budget would penalize seniors living in poverty. "Sixty billion dollars in corporate tax cuts [over the next five years] seems to be their priority," said Julian. "[The Canada Pension Plan] needed to be reinforced and [the Guaranteed Income Supplement] needs to be added in and neither of those measures were taken."

"It's hard to keep track," he said. "With all of these scandals, we're back to the same kind of situation of the sponsorship scandal under the Liberal government."