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Political opponents give thumbs down to federal budget

Let the mudslinging begin — unless a spring election can be avoided in light of the federal Conservative budget announced Tuesday.
The Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois have all panned Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's 2011 budget proposal, necessitating a fifth federal election in a decade unless the minority Tories amend the document.
"We don't want an election," Vancouver Island North Conservative MP John Duncan told reporters Tuesday. "We think we've reached out to the opposition in several ways ... it's not a big spending budget but it's also one that holds the line on taxes.
"It keeps us on our path," he added. "It's taking us back to a balanced budget, it doesn't increase taxes, it does wind down stimulus funding in a reasonable manner. We think we've put forth a very reasonable budget that supports seniors that have done so much for making our country what it is."
The budget includes student loan forgiveness for rural doctors and nurses, $400 million to renew a home energy retrofit program and a new program to link veterans with job training opportunities. Other highlights include a tax credit for volunteer firefighters who perform at least 200 hours of service in a year, and a new caregiver tax credit that "brought tears to the eyes of one of my colleagues from Quebec," Duncan said.
"This is an area where families are torn apart with no existing programs, federal or provincial, that they could turn to," he added.
The K’ómoks First Nation, embroiled in treaty negotiations, will not be impacted by the budget, added Duncan, noting all sides are progressing toward a critical agreement-in-principle.
The federal Liberals, expected to introduce a non-confidence motion Friday, have criticized the Tories for overspending on jails and jets, and for bestowing tax cuts on corporations.
Regarding the question of a balanced budget, Vancouver Island North federal Liberal candidate Mike Holland recalls his party was left with a "deficit sandwich" between the $40 billion incurred by former Tory leader Brian Mulroney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's $57-billion deficit.
"There's no magic on balancing a budget. You don't casually give a two-per-cent tax cut to the largest corporations in Canada," Holland said. "No prime minister in the history of Canada ever inherited a better economy than Stephen Harper ... unemployment's gone up 1.7 per cent under his watch. (And) we've lost 300,000 full-time jobs."
An inflated national debt is not softened by unnecessary purchases such as 65 fighter jets originally worth about $50 million that Holland said will now cost $460 million per plane for a total of $30 billion.
"That is more than it's going to cost for us to build the hospital here," said Holland, who also points to a $13-billion expenditure on prisons. "They've got mandatory sentences now if you grow more than five marijuana plants. We've got better things to do with our tax dollars than to follow the Americans on this."
He also notes government spent more on the G8 and G20 summits over the course of a weekend than it did on seniors for an entire year.
"They've thrown a few nickels and dimes here, more on a public relations stance than a sound economic policy."
Ronna-Rae Leonard, NDP candidate for the Vancouver Island North riding, said the 2011 budget falls short of tackling issues people care about, and provides only small amounts to make life more affordable.
"The budget is a great disappointment for Canadians looking to Ottawa to get something done for them," she said. "No wonder so many Canadians say Ottawa is broken."
Although gas tax transfers will be permanent, Leonard said the budget provides no new funding for municipalities. 
"The stimulus fund is over, but the municipal infrastructure deficit continues to grow. Municipalities face growing responsibilities without federal support. It is clear that the family pocketbook is simply not saved by this budget. (NDP leader) Jack Layton proposed reasonable budget measures to help middle class families; unfortunately, Stephen Harper decided to provoke an election over helping Canadians."
reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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