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Liberals target families with education pledge

Safia Farouk,left, Andrew Garrett, centre and Andrew O'brien (hands at right) working on the campaign team for local Liberal candidate Omar Alghabra at the Payal Banquet Hall in Mississauga, Ont March 28 2011. Michael Ignatieff, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada was visiting the area in preparation for the May 2 federal election.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff will make a major campaign pledge on education on Tuesday, vowing to reward students who get good grades with money toward their postsecondary schooling.

The promise, aimed at the so-called sandwich generation - people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children - is part of a Liberal push to promote life-long learning and provide support for low-income students and their families.

It is the first major policy announcement of the Liberal Party's election campaign, and one of a bundle of pledges the Liberals are rolling out this week designed to appeal to families.

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The program is expected to include a new way to help families save for their children's postsecondary education.

It is part of a broader Liberal strategy for actions they will take on behalf of families should they form government. Last October, they announced a $1-billion home-care program that would allow people to take time off work to look after ill family members.

The proposed investment in education and learning is also an effort to contrast the Liberals' priorities for families with those of the Conservatives.

The Liberals are seizing on the heavy personal debt loads many Canadians are carrying. The party sees parents as struggling to give their children a good education at the same time they are saving for their retirement and looking after aging parents.

John McCallum, the former Liberal finance critic who is running to keep his seat in Markham, said funding for the program would be "substantial." But he would not give a complete dollar figure.

Mr. Ignatieff described the program simply as "imaginative" during an event in Toronto on Monday.

To pay for the promise, the Liberals said they would use $6-billion in savings achieved by cancelling the corporate tax cuts to which the Conservative government has committed.

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Mr. Ignatieff will make the announcement at Sheridan College in Oakville, a riding that the Liberals believe they can take back from the Conservatives. Tory Terence Young won it in 2008 by nearly 6,000 votes.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper kicked off the campaign battle for the middle-class vote on Monday with a pledge for a $2.5-billion tax break aimed at parents of children under 18.

The measure would allow parents to split, or share, up to $50,000 of their household income for tax purposes. The Conservatives estimate this promise would allow almost 1.8 million families to save, on average, $1,300 a year.

But there's a big catch: It wouldn't take effect until the deficit is eliminated - a date that could be four years in the future.

Liberals claim the Harper Conservatives have boxed themselves into a corner by going ahead with planned corporate tax cuts and buying fighter jets and not leaving themselves enough money to help middle-class families. This is why, Liberals maintain, the Conservative income-splitting program announced Monday would not come into effect until 2015.

The Liberal Party is expected to release its full platform toward the end of the week.

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About the Authors
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

Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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