By JEFF GRAY
Globe and Mail Update
Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien launched his party's election platform on Wednesday, stressing investments in the "information economy" and slamming the Canadian Alliance on health care.
The Alliance policy "has finally seen the light of the day," Mr. Chrétien said. "It is one health-care system for the rich, and one for the rest of us."
The campaigns had gone into overdrive on Tuesday after Alberta MP and Alliance campaign co-chair Jason Kenney told The Globe and Mail his party favoured allowing provinces to expand private health care to supplement the universal public system.
"This morning, their leader has refused to clarify the position of Jason Kenney and [Alliance health critic] Val Meredith," Mr. Chrétien said, calling access to high-quality public health care a "fundamental Canadian value."
The Liberal platform — the third "red book" — had been largely revealed by the Liberals before the election was called, but it does add some new promises. "It builds upon our steady record of success," Mr. Chrétien said.
The Liberal Leader launched the new platform at an Ottawa hotel, reiterating the party's plans to inject new money into health care and provide tax cuts.
The document says a re-elected Liberal government would spend at least $5.9-billion over four years on research and development, education, the environment, health, culture, crime prevention, various children's programs and housing.
The platform trumpets the Liberals' approach to health care, saying they would enforce the Canada Health Act and citing the September deal with the provinces to inject $21-billion of federal money into the system over five years.
"The Liberal Party is the party of medicare. We will make the biggest investment in our health care that any government of Canada has ever made," Mr. Chrétien said.
Answering a reporter's question about the Liberals' massive 1995 cuts to provincial transfer payments, which the Canadian Alliance says took more than 30 per cent from the health-care system, Mr. Chrétien said the fiscal situation made tough choices necessary.
"When we started in 1993, everybody knew that we had $42-billion of deficit and we had to deal with it," he said. "So yes, we had to make some cuts, not only in health care but in every other department but, I think, Indian Affairs," Mr. Chrétien said.
The platform document also reaffirmed the pledge of $100-billion in tax cuts over five years made in the recent Liberal mini-budget.
On debt reduction — a big priority for Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day — the platform promised to stick to the 50-50 concept, devoting half the surplus to tax cuts and debt reduction and half to social and economic spending.
It's a repeat of a 1997 promise, but a party official said Wednesday "it's a rule of thumb, not a straitjacket" and may not see a perfect 50-50 split.
With a report from Canadian Press