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Liberals pitch to middle class with $8.2-billion platform

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff speaks to supporters at a town hall meeting Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ryan Remiorz/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Michael Ignatieff unveiled a platform centred around a "Family Pack" of measures he says can be launched in the first budget of a Liberal government, placing the focus of his campaign on immediate help for the middle class rather than thorny long-term issues like erasing Canada's deficit.

Using common grocery store lingo, Mr. Ignatieff intends to sell his "Family Pack" - spending for day care, tuition, elderly care, seniors and home renovations - as a concrete and affordable package that can be implemented right away.

To pay for it, the Liberals will raise corporate tax rates back to 2010 levels - a move the Conservatives immediately attacked as a threat to Canadian jobs that will force higher prices on consumers.

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In releasing his 94-page red booklet, Mr. Ignatieff chose to only offer voters a two-year plan, rather than the five-year plan the Conservatives outlined last month in a 2011 budget that found no support among the opposition parties.

As a result, the Liberals don't say in writing exactly how and when they will erase the deficit, though officials on hand for the platform release said they expect to balance the books in the same fiscal year promised by the Conservatives: 2015-2016.

A two-year timeline also sidesteps how Liberals would handle talks with cash-strapped provinces looking for new deals on transfers for health care and social programs. Further, there are few details when it comes to climate change and curbing greenhouse gas emissions. That's a sharp contrast from the 2008 Liberal platform under Stéphane Dion, which centred around emission targets and an unpopular carbon tax.

The new spending proposed by the Liberals adds up to about $8.2-billion over two years -$2.7-billion in the first year and $5.5-billion in the second. Most of that is tied to the Family Pack measures previously announced by Mr. Ignatieff in the opening days of the election campaign.

However, beyond that the plan carries on much of the Conservative spending presented in the March 22 budget. For instance, the budget's $300-million for low-income seniors is matched by the Liberals and increased to $700-million. The Conservative plan to spend $400-million for one year on energy-retrofit programs is included in the Liberal plan, renamed and made permanent.

As he faced reporters' questions about the various items that are not in the Liberal platform - such as detailed climate-change measures - Mr. Ignatieff said he's focused on delivering a plan that is realistic.

"There are a lot of things you'd like to do. There are a lot of things you could do and there are about five things you absolutely must do," he said. "And that's why the next Liberal budget, if we have the honour to form a government, will be heavily focused on the Family Pack plan, because we think we can deliver that for Canadians."

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Conservative Leader Stephen Harper suggested the Liberal election platform would be far more costly for Canadian taxpayers than his suite of promises.

"They want loads of new spending and they are prepared to finance that through new tax increases," he said. "That's a very different position than our party."

The Liberal platform promises to set a "firm and realistic deficit target - down to 1 per cent of GDP within two years" and set rolling targets later to erase the deficit completely.

Using Finance Canada's estimates for GDP, Liberals calculate that by the year 2012-2013 they will reduce the size of the deficit to about $18.9-billion. The deficit for 2010-11 is forecast at $40.5-billion.

Mr. Ignatieff and his deputy leader, former finance minister Ralph Goodale, said two-year targets are better than five-year targets because they add a sense of urgency to the deficit battle. Mr. Goodale said two-year targets - combined with bringing back large "prudence" factors into government estimates and reviewing program spending - will revive the successful elements Liberals used to erase the deficit in the 1990s.

Most of the new spending comes from the Liberal vow to reverse corporate tax cuts, which they say will raise $5.2-billion by the second year. The Liberals say they will find $500-million through a review of government spending, $225-million from ending an oil sands tax break and $263-million from killing the Public Private Partnerships program.

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The Liberals would raise the corporate tax rate to its 2010 level of 18 per cent, up from the current rate of 16.5 per cent. The Conservatives want to bring that to 15 per cent by Jan. 1, 2012.

In Gatineau, Que., across the river from Ottawa, New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton accused the Liberals of drawing their platform from previously announced NDP policy proposals, including ideas about health care, child care and the environment.

"I wouldn't hold a lot of faith that what we read in that book would actually be implemented by the Liberals," he said.

With reports from Steven Chase and Gloria Galloway

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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