Early reviews mixed from Ignatieff; more expected Wednesday
NDP and Bloc expected to oppose budget
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the federal budget contains positive and negative aspects, but he gave no hint on whether his party would oppose the document and trigger the collapse of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government.
Ignatieff met with his caucus Tuesday evening for what some insiders told the Canadian Press was a "grumpy" meeting.
A senior Liberal told the Canadian Press it's unlikely Ignatieff will support the budget without changes and will likely be looking for more concessions from the Conservative government.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has not yet commented on whether he's willing to change elements of the budget.
Other sources told the Canadian Press that during the caucus meeting, no one directly urged Ignatieff to join with the other opposition parties in a no-confidence vote to defeat the government.
Ignatieff is expected to announce on Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET whether his party will support the Conservatives' budget.
"The government has responded to the combined pressure of the opposition parties, and those results are positive," Ignatieff said earlier Tuesday outside the House of Commons.
"There are some things that we are concerned about. There is a negative side."
Seriousness of crisis
Ignatieff said he planned to examine whether the Tories have underestimated the seriousness of the crisis, something that would affect all the budget numbers.
"If they make that judgment wrong, pretty well everything goes south, including the deficit projections."
He said he wants to see whether the government has done enough for the unemployed and infrastructure and "are they going to get the money out the door."
Flaherty's budget promises billions of dollars in new spending — ranging from money for infrastructure projects to aid for worker training, and cash for enhanced employment insurance (EI) benefits — to help the country ride out the global economic downturn. As well, Flaherty's financial plan predicts a deficit of $33.7 billion for the 2009-10 fiscal year and $29.8 billion the following year.
The NDP and Bloc Québécois immediately came out to say they would not support the budget, repeating what they have been saying for days.
Layton: 'opportunity missed'
"It's very clear it doesn't help the most vulnerable. It's going to leave a lot of people behind, especially those unemployed," NDP Leader Jack Layton said.
He slammed the infrastructure funding requirement that municipalities match the money, calling it an "opportunity missed."
"In other words, it will never really flow," he said. "I believe that the coalition would put such measures in place, do it rapidly and in a much more stable and optimistic way."
Earlier, NDP finance critic Thomas Mulcair said the Tories also carried forward a controversial measure from the November economic statement — pay-equity reforms which he said would remove the right for women to go to court to demand equal pay for work of equal value.
"Of course, the NDP could never support a budget package that maintained that sort of measure," Mulcair said. "We suspect that the Liberals won’t be able to support it, either."
Duceppe: coalition a better option
Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe criticized the budget for not including enough for pay equity, the environment, seniors, social housing or lower income families.
"Obviously, we will not support that budget," Duceppe told reporters.
"I think the best solution by far is a coalition which agreed on a bailout plan that would have been much, much better to get us out of this crisis now," Duceppe said.
He slammed the cuts to equalization payments to provinces, saying the budget "still reflects Mr. Harper's ideology."
Duceppe said families making more than $150,000 a year would benefit more under the tax cuts than those struggling to make ends meet.
"Those making money would receive more money," he said.
May calls budget 'underwhelming'
Green party Leader Elizabeth May called the budget "underwhelming and worrying," saying it starts on the base of the November economic statement.
She also said Ignatieff should take into account the best interests of the country in his evaluation of the document.
"We've got a budget that should be about stimulating the economy, and I'm very worried it doesn't do this," May told CBC News outside the House of Commons. "I can't see how anyone can read this budget in our current economic crisis and believe it's what the country needs."
Toronto Mayor David Miller said the budget creates a time-consuming application process for municipalities, in which "money will flow very slowly, if at all."
"Municipalities are already investing in infrastructure," Miller told CBC News from Toronto. "We were hoping our federal partner would support us by investing in the projects we’re already doing, so we can expedite them."
The first confidence vote on the budget is set for Thursday evening, at which point Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government could be toppled.
The Bloc and NDP do not have enough votes between them to bring down the government, needing the support of the Liberals.
While Ignatieff said he doesn't think Canadians want an election in the middle of a recession, he has maintained he's not afraid to fight one.
Under Stéphane Dion, the Liberals 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.
Although Ignatieff has appeared lukewarm to the idea of a coalition, he has said he would support such an agreement if he believes the federal budget is not in the country's best interests.
With files from the Canadian Press