Canadians could face 'several difficult years': throne speech

The Conservative government is presenting a six-point economic stimulus plan in this week's budget and "will spend what is necessary" to rescue Canada's sagging economy during the global financial crisis, according to the throne speech delivered Monday.

Tories 'will spend what is necessary' to boost economy, Jean says

Senators and Supreme Court justices listen to the speech from the throne on Monday. The Harper government outlined its economic stimulus plan in the speech, which lasted for about eight minutes. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))

The Conservative government is presenting a six-point economic stimulus plan in this week's budget and "will spend what is necessary" to rescue Canada's sagging economy during the global financial crisis, according to the throne speech delivered Monday.

The plan includes stimulating the economy through public and private investment, with immediate cash for infrastructure, as well as offering help for the poor, the unemployed, aboriginals and struggling industries such as the auto sector and forestry, according to the speech, read by Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean on Parliament Hill.

"Canadians face a difficult year — perhaps several difficult years," Jean said in the eight-minute address in Ottawa that gave broad strokes of the government's planned response to the economic turmoil.

"In the face of such uncertainty, our government has developed a clear and focused plan. Our government will spend what is necessary to stimulate the economy and invest what is necessary to protect our future prosperity."

The speech also said the government will take action to protect the stability of the financial system and ensure access to credit.

The address in the Senate chamber marked the government's first day back since Prime Minister Stephen Harper forced the suspension of the last sitting to avoid a confidence vote.

The fate of Harper's minority government rests on the upcoming budget, which will be delivered by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

Budget bits leaked by government

Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks at Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean as they wait to begin Monday's throne speech in the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. ((Tom Hanson/Associated Press))

Extremely cold weather also played havoc with the ceremony surrounding the throne speech.

Officials said the temperature — which felt like –32 C with the wind chill — was too cold for the 21-gun salute and military band that traditionally greets the Governor General's arrival on Parliament Hill.

Finance officials said the budget, expected to be one of the most extensive in Canadian history, is based on lengthy consultations with the premiers and opposition leaders, along with submissions from more than 680 groups and organizations.

Senior officials from the Prime Minister's Office have already said the stimulus package would plunge the country into a $64-billion deficit over the next two years.

The massive deficit estimates are a far cry from the slim $800 million surplus predicted by Flaherty for the next fiscal year in his economic update in November.

In the throne speech, the government said the global economy has weakened since Canadians voted in the last federal election.

"In fact, it has weakened further since Parliament met last month," Jean said.

Parts of the budget have already been leaked, including $2 billion for social housing, $1.5 billion for job retraining and billions more in aid to farmers.

Earlier Monday, Transport Minister John Baird announced the Harper government plans to spend at least $7 billion on new infrastructure projects.

The deficit estimates come after a dozen years of federal surpluses. The Conservatives, however, say the measures are temporary and that they have a plan to take the country out of the red within five years.

Tories 'have to get the detail right': Ignatieff

Speaking shortly after the throne speech, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the tone of the address was much different from previous throne speeches from the Harper government.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff reacts to the speech from the throne in the foyer of the House of Commons on Monday. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))

He noted Monday's speech also included some of the language the Liberals have been using to describe what is needed in the budget.

"Imitation is the greatest form of flattery," Ignatieff told CBC News from the foyer of the House of Commons.

But the Liberal leader maintained he was still going to wait until Wednesday before announcing whether to endorse the budget, saying he and his caucus need to take the time to examine the document fully.

"The devil really is in the detail here, and they have to get the detail right," Ignatieff said.

Layton prepared to vote against budget

Earlier in the day, NDP Leader Jack Layton reiterated he's prepared to vote against the budget because he believes a coalition government would better serve Canadians.

"I can simply say a budget vote is a vote of confidence and we don't have confidence in Mr. Harper," said Layton.

"We're aware Mr. Harper will say and do anything to keep power. We've seen it too often."

NDP Leader Jack Layton, seen in the foyer of the House of Commons on Monday, says his party will vote against the upcoming federal budget. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said he cannot support the throne speech because the four-page document is so thin. But he said he will wait to see Tuesday's budget before passing final judgment on the Tories.

He said there was no mention in the throne speech of any other pressing issues facing the country, in particular the environment.

The Liberals, under former leader Stéphane Dion, and the NDP agreed last month to topple the government by voting against it in a no-confidence vote and form a governing coalition. The coalition also had the backing of the separatist Bloc.

Harper instead asked the Governor General to prorogue, or suspend, the parliamentary session before the vote could occur. Parliament has been shut down for close to two months.

Ignatieff, who took over the Liberal leadership from Dion in December, has appeared lukewarm to the idea of the coalition.

With files from the Canadian Press