As he kicks off his winter tour, Michael Ignatieff says he's not pushing for an election but warns that casting a ballot for the NDP or the Bloc is a "protest vote" that ensures four more years of Tory rule.
The Liberal Leader would not, however, commit to voting against the upcoming Conservative budget sight unseen. "We will reserve our ultimate decision on the budget until we see it," he told reporters Wednesday morning in Ottawa.
And then he proceeded to take a shot at his NDP rival, Jack Layton, who is conducting a tour of his own. "I have always said unlike Mr. Layton I like to read a document before I vote on it.."
He said he doesn't think the Harper corporate tax cuts make any sense and that the multi-billion purchase of the new stealth fighter jets and the millions of dollars of spending on new prison cells are the wrong choices. "We are not walking back from that and other parties will have to draw the consequences."
It's is a toned down version of what he had suggested in interviews late last year, telling The Globe and Mail: "I have low expectations that there will be anything in the budget" that his party can support "because I think the differences in political philosophy are very clear."
The timing of the next election, he said Wednesday, is up to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. And it's his Liberals, he added, that can provide the only viable alternative to the Conservatives.
On his tour of ridings he hopes to win, Mr. Ignatieff will be asking Canadians whether they are better off after five years under Mr. Harper? He doesn't think so – and he released a 12-page document explaining why.
"I think Canadians are entitled to ask, are you better off than you were better off five years ago, " Mr. Ignatieff said, surrounded by his candidates from the Ottawa area. "Is the economy stronger and is Canada more respected in the world? And I think the answers to all of those questions is no."
The Grit document is a depressing read, painting a damning picture of Conservative rule and characterizing the last five years as ones of "neglect." The Liberals ask Canadians whether their income has kept up with cost of living increases over the past five years or whether they are in a better position now to take care of a sick relative or whether their "kids' future looks brighter now than it did five years ago?"
It hits the issues Mr. Ignatieff has been pushing since the summer: retirement preparation, home care and pension concerns as well as government spending, including the $56-billion deficit and $16-billion for 65 new stealth fighter jets. The economy, the Liberals argue, is weaker than it should be.
The campaign salvo talks about the environment, suggesting the Tories have wasted five years on that front too. It argues that democracy is weaker "after Harper's one-man rule, and decision to shut down Parliament two years in a row to avoid accountability."
And it is critical of the Harper government's foreign policy, noting the embarrassing loss last year of Canada's bid for a United Nations security council seat and the dispute with the United Arab Emirates over air landing rights.
"Conservatives bungled our relationship with the United Arab Emirates, losing our base of operations for Afghanistan at a cost of over $300-million," the Liberals note. "Canadians visiting this country now face steep $1,000 entry fees."