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What to expect from the budget

Continued from Page 3

Lorraine Doyle from Richmond Hill writes: Our faith in economic experts has been shaken by recent events that seem to have taken them by surprise and spiraled out of their control. Governments obviously need to consult outside their traditional circles for advice. I am very concerned that Mr. Harper has surrounded himself with members of Mike Harris's team. They did not work for Ontario, and I can't imagine their tired strategies, based on a rigid ideology, working for Canada. Can Mr. Harper be persuaded to seriously look at a wide range of opinions, at imaginative solutions, at the opinions of experts from a variety of fields, some of whom will disagree with him?

Brian Laghi: I think you've hit the nail on the head of the problem facing Mr. Harper. As an ideological conservative who is sometimes seen as rigid, many Canadians don't think that he believes in some of the traditional interventionist answers that buffer Canadians from the difficulties inherent in losing a job, their home, or being forced to stand by while their kids have trouble going to university. Conversely, when Mr. Harper and his team do adopt such strategies, they risk being seen as dishonest and untrue to themselves. Canadians may figure it's better to vote for real interventionists (Liberals, New Democrats) than to pretend ones.

One more point. When Mr. Harper does start to spend money, he risks demotivating his own supporters, who may no longer think he's the real conservative deal.

Heather Cameron from Penticton writes: We wouldn't need such a large deficit if Harper hadn't cut the GST. Why is this link not being made?  If I recall there was advice not to cut the GST, but he did it to 'buy votes.'  How has the lack of GST revenues played out in terms of current situation? Are we going into a bigger deficit because of this opportunistic decision by the government, or did the GST cut help reduce the pain over the last year or so?

Brian Laghi: Depends on who you ask. Some Tories I've spoken to believe the GST cut actually stimulated the economy in early 2008,  contributing to economic growth because Canadians bought more goods and services. Politically, however, the government will have trouble making this case, as the deficit balloons. Opposition politicians will argue that there's no free lunch, and that will seem logical to voters who think the government tried to buy them off.

Stephen Wicary, globeandmail.com: That's about all the time we have. Thanks, as always, to our readers for their questions and to you, Brian, for your answers. One last topic: With the Liberal Party returning to some sense of discipline and order, and with Mr. Ignatieff announcing a lean new shadow cabinet yesterday, how do you think the Conservatives will fare on the floor of the House as the budget debate begins?

Brian Laghi: I expect that the Tories will take a very conciliatory attitude on the floor of the House because the public does not want to see shenanigans from their elected officials while Rome burns. I think the Liberals will probably ape this behaviour for a short period of time, for the same reason.

But as the recession starts to bite, the Liberals will aim an increasing amount of blame at the Tories. Remember that job losses, while serious, have not really begun to rocket just yet. When they do, Liberals will have little choice but to attack the Tories and argue that they are simply representing the dispossessed. This will soon start to eat into the Conservative efforts to woo and maintain lower and middle-class workers, who make up the core of Tory support.

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