Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff hit out at the Conservative government Wednesday, arguing its priorities are "prisons and planes" and accusing Prime Minister Stephen Harper of being out of touch with what Canadians want.
Wrapping up two days of Liberal caucus meetings in Baddeck, N.S., Ignatieff said: "The priorities of this government are prisons and planes. Is this what Canadians want from their government right now in the middle of a $54-billion deficit?
Ignatieff was referring to estimates that the government's law and order agenda will cost billions because of the need for more prisons and the government's plan to spend as much as $18 billion on buying and maintaining 65 new F-35 fighter jets.
"We think Canadians' priorities right now are child care, retirement security, post-secondary education. Basic things that are going to guarantee economic security and defence of our public health-care system," said Ignatieff.
But Harper retaliated Wednesday when speaking to reporters in Mirabel, Que., where he was announcing that the maintenance contract for Canada's current CF-18 fighter jets are being awarded to a Quebec-based company.
"We will need this equipment at the end of the decade," Harper said. "So the opposition should stop playing political games with this and support this, which is a necessary purchase for all of us."
Meanwhile, Ignatieff said one initiative to come out of his party's caucus meetings is that he and other Liberals will embark on a cross-country, open microphone town hall tour this fall. It will be a continuation of the Liberal Express tour that he conducted this summer, in which, Ignatieff says, Canadians seemed to appreciate his willingness to take unscripted questions.
Speaking to reporters, Ignatieff promised that a Liberal government would finally "get it done" when it comes to dredging Sydney Harbour. And he declined to give Harper credit for Canada's economic recovery.
"It's been the hard work of Canadians," said Ignatieff. "The fact that we've had a banking system put in place by good Liberal governments, and had a $12-billion surplus. So these guys surfed on stuff they didn't create. So Canadians understand that."
In a pointed barb at Harper, responding to the prime minister's announcement Wednesday in Mirabel, Que., Ignatieff said it has been 110 days since Harper was last in Quebec, a province he once courted heavily.
"He's been invisible in Quebec. It's as though he put a big X over Quebec."
Ignatieff also responded to questions about the sagging electoral fortunes of the Liberal Party, saying that Harper's Conservatives are a very narrow "dark blue" tent and that Canadians are tired of divisive politics.
"What Canadians are looking for is a big tent. I hope it's a red one that pulls Canadian regions together, that pulls Canadian people together, that says, 'What can we do together?' he said.