Canada

'We will see' about more stimulus funds: PM

Prime Minister Stephen Harper appears to have opened the door to his government offering more economic stimulus spending in the coming months, on top of the $40 billion over two years contained in the recently tabled federal budget.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper appears to have opened the door to his government offering more economic stimulus spending in the coming months, on top of the $40 billion over two years contained in the recently tabled federal budget.

During Tuesday's question period, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff told the House of Commons that Canadians need "clarity" after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty indicated an openness to more stimulus funds if the global economic crisis makes matters worse in Canada.

The prime minister has previously insisted the government needs to "stick to the plan" in the face of the global downturn. He has also ridiculed the Liberals for supporting the budget and then demanding immediate changes only two days later.

Ignatieff rates high in leadership poll

A new poll suggests the Tories' federal leadership advantage has evaporated since Michael Ignatieff took over the Liberal helm.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey indicates the newly minted Liberal leader is viewed more favourably than either Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper or NDP Leader Jack Layton.

Ignatieff was the only one of the three to score a net positive rating. Forty-three per cent of respondents said they had a favourable impression of him versus 32 per cent who had an unfavourable opinion.

Harper was viewed favourably by 43 per cent and unfavourably by 49 per cent, relatively unchanged since last October's election.

Layton was seen positively by 37 per cent and negatively by 49 per cent of respondents, almost a complete reversal since the closing days of the election campaign when the NDP leader was the most favourably viewed national leader.

Liberal support was dragged down during the election by the unpopularity of then Leader Stéphane Dion, who consistently scored last in leadership favourability. Ignatieff was chosen through a hastily arranged process to replace Dion in early December.

The telephone survey of just over 1,000 Canadians was conducted Feb. 5-8 and is considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points 19 times in 20.

The Canadian Press

Ignatieff said the mixed messages showed Harper and Flaherty appear to have "some kind of disagreement."

"Can I, therefore, take it as being the policy of the government that the economic action plan is the plan, they’re not going to change, the facts are changing hourly, they’re not going to adapt, they’re not going to respond?" Ignatieff asked Tuesday.

Harper replied the government has taken action with its plan to inject tens of billions of dollars of stimulus into the economy, while adding he and the finance minister agreed that the government can't change budgetary policy "once a week."

"Obviously, Mr. Speaker, we will see how things unfold in the months to come," he said.  "But, Mr. Speaker, it’s important that we proceed with a plan."

Tory budget promises training, EI funds

The prime minister also hit back by inviting the Liberal leader to "do something he never did in the pre-budget period, which is actually provide some economic policy suggestions to Parliament."

The Conservative 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 benefits — to help the country ride out the global economic slump.

Last week, the Liberals ensured the passing of the budget, which forecasts a federal deficit of $33.7 billion for the 2009-10 fiscal year and $29.8 billion for the following year.

Stimulus 'falls far short': Layton

NDP Leader Jack Layton told the Commons that the Conservatives' stimulus package "falls far short" compared to the $838-billion US stimulus plan brought forth by U.S. President Barack Obama that was approved Tuesday in the U.S. Senate.

Layton said the U.S. recovery plan amounts to three per cent of the country's gross domestic product, while the Tories' package amounts proportionally to only a third of the U.S plan.

"Why is the prime minister refusing to do for Canadians what President Obama is doing for U.S. citizens?" Layton said.

The prime minister replied that Canada is in a different situation than the U.S., in part because the Conservative government began adopting stimulus measures in the fall of 2007.

"Those stimulus measures are certainly equal to what any other country in the world has done," Harper said.

"They’re one of the reasons, notwithstanding the difficulties we have, why our relative growth and employment rates have been positive compared to a lot of other countries, Mr. Speaker."

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