Ignatieff blasts $11B 'hole' in Tory platform

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is accusing the Conservatives of trying to conceal an $11-bilion "hole" in their platform that he suggests they would fill by cutting health-care spending.

Harper takes campaign break, other leaders rally on

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff will swing through the Toronto area Saturday, while Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has no major events planned. (Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is accusing his Conservative rivals of trying to conceal a $11-bilion "hole" in their campaign platform that he suggests a future Tory government would fill by cutting federal health-care spending.

Ignatieff said Saturday that the Tories' pledge to find $11 billion in government spending savings over the next three years would have "a devastating effect" on the capacity of government to serve Canadians.

The federal deficit had been projected by the Conservatives only two weeks ago to continue to decline to $0.3 billion in 2014-15, and the party expected that there would be a surplus of $4.2 billion in 2015-16.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's platform, released Friday, included pledges to eliminate the federal deficit a year earlier than forecast in the budget by controlling spending and cutting waste, as well as through retirements in the federal civil service.

The Liberal leader said Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has not given any explanation as to exactly how the Tories would find the savings, adding that the plan also undermines the Conservative party's credibility as fiscal managers.

Ignatieff also said he could only conclude the Tories will end up cutting health-care transfers to the provinces and territories, despite Flaherty's insistence the transfers would remain untouched even after the current federal-provincial accord expires in 2014.

"How are you supposed to go into the 2014 health accords with budget numbers that don't add up?" Ignatieff said.

But the Conservative campaign immediately hit back Saturday, saying Ignatieff has made at least $28 billion in uncosted spending promises during the campaign.   

In an interview airing Saturday morning on CBC Radio's The House, Flaherty said he didn't build the savings from the strategic review into the budget's fiscal track "because we don't have the savings yet."

"The strategic review that we've looked at is something we talked about in the four months that we worked on the budget," Flaherty told host Kathleen Petty.

"We’re booking nothing for 2011-12. After that we can bring in some allowances."

Flaherty said the "aggressive" review is long overdue as Canadians see the size of government continuing to grow "topsy" year after year.

"There's just more and more public servants, more and more programs and initiatives. We haven't looked at [spending] in 15 years in the largest organization in the country, which is the federal government."

The Conservative Party released a statement Saturday reiterating their commitment to increase health funding at  six per cent a year.

Hours before the  Tory platform unveiling this week, Ignatieff released an open letter on health-care funding, vowing to maintain the annual six-per-cent increase after the current health-care funding accord with the provinces expires.

Ignatieff's pledge prompted Harper and NDP Leader Jack Layton to make similar promises.

Baird slams Liberals' 'tax-and-spend' agenda

Meanwhile Saturday, the NDP's Layton campaigned in Saskatchewan, making stops in Saskatoon and La Ronge before heading back to Toronto to unveil his party's platform on Sunday.

Layton appealed to Saskatchewan voters send New Democrat MPs to Ottawa to fight for better health care and improved affordability.

 "Ottawa is broken and only new democrats can fix it," he told a rally of about 700 people in Saskatoon.

Harper, who did not have any campaign events scheduled for Saturday, was in Kitchener, Ont., to watch his son Ben play in a provincial volleyball tournament.

In his place, the Tories dispatched Conservative candidates John Baird and Lawrence Cannon for media interviews in Ottawa, the second Saturday in a row they were made available to the press.

Baird said the Conservatives have provided a plan that focuses on improving the financial security of Canadian families and completing the economic recovery. The Conservative candidates criticized the Liberal platform, which they called a "tax-and-spend" agenda.

Ignatieff admits debate nerves

Ignatieff said he believes Canadians want to hear a message of "practical hope" focused on what government can do for them.

"This is a big, hopeful, optimistic country, and I really do believe that Mr. Harper is appealing to fear," he said.

He added that he is looking forward to going head-to-head with Harper in the French and English debates on Tuesday and Thursday.

"Of course I am going to be nervous going into the debate, but I feel good about it," he said.

Ignatieff is making several stops in the vote-rich Toronto area on Saturday. At an event in Vaughan, Ont., the Liberal leader urged people to come into the big red tent to defeat Conservative candidate Julian Fantino, CBC's Rosemary Barton reported.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Eric Walton, Green Party candidate for the Kingston and the Islands, speak to supporters during a campaign stop in Kingston, Ont., on Thursday. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Fantino won a narrow federal byelection victory for the Tories in November, taking what was once a Liberal stronghold.

May vows to continue debate fight

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who released her  party's platform earlier this week,  held a "rally for democracy" in Halifax to protest the decision by the broadcast consortium to exclude her from the leadership debates.

Crowds of supporters chanted "GPC Democracy!" and "E May, on the way!" before the Green party leader spoke.

She criticized the broadcast consortium's decision to keep her out of the debate and said she would continue her fight to be included.

"I really hope I’m there Tuesday night," she said. "I’m keeping my calendar clear."

Earlier this week, a federal judge ruled the court will not hear the Green Party's arguments before next week's televised debates.

Bloc Québécois Gilles Duceppe will be campaigning through Metabetchouan-Lac-a-la-Croix, Jonquiere and St-Fulgence.