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Ignatieff blasts Harper's deficit ‘games'

Globe and Mail Update

TORONTO — Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff labelled the Prime Minister an economic fumbler Friday and said he is going to demand more than a passing grade from Stephen Harper when he introduces his budget next week.

He also criticized Mr. Harper's government for releasing figures Thursday projecting a $64-billion deficit over the next two years – saying it was an irresponsible thing to do that won't help the country.

“I asked Mr. Harper not to play games like that,” he told 500 people at a luncheon of the Canadian and Empire Clubs in downtown Toronto. “I told him to put the facts and figures on the table, not let them slip out at his convenience. But the guy just can't help himself … he thinks it is all just some kind of a game.”

Mr. Ignatieff said he has five tough question to put to Mr. Harper about his budget on Tuesday: Will it help the needy? Will it save jobs? Will it create the jobs of tomorrow? Will it be fair to all of Canada's regions? And will it burden our children with debt?

“And if the answers don't cut it … if the government fails, I am ready to lead [the country]. I do not seek office at any price. But I am ready.”

Mr. Ignatieff indicated he and his party would decide “in an expeditious manner the next morning” whether to support or vote against the budget – thus deciding on the fate of the minority Conservative government.

Asked if he still supported the idea of a Liberal-NDP coalition to replace a Conservative administration defeated in the House of Commons on a vote of non-confidence, he replied carefully that he hadn't changed his mind on it. Mr. Ignatieff has formally backed the proposed coalition, crafted by his predecessor, Stéphane Dion, with the leaders of the NDP and Bloc Québécois, but his enthusiasm for it has been reported as tepid.

Mr. Ignatieff said he won't be content to give Mr. Harper merely a passing grade on his response to Canada's economic troubles.

But asked at a media scrum following his speech what grades Mr. Ignatieff would require the Prime Minister to achieve on his five questions, the Liberal leader said he and his party would grade the budget as an ensemble, not on each of its constituent parts.

In his speech, Mr. Ignatieff upbraided the Conservatives and Mr. Harper for spending and cutting taxes rashly, completely misjudging the economic crisis heading toward Canada during the fall election and predicting a surplus when in fact the federal government is heading deep into deficit.

Mr. Ignatieff said he and his party can accept the necessity of a temporary deficit but he said: “I want to see the plan that digs us out of it quickly.”

The Liberal Leader slipped Obamaesque phrases into his talk – “We can act,” “We can choose,” “I know we can,” “We can get there together” – and he told his audience: “The inauguration of President Obama shows us how one man putting himself at the head of millions can restore trust and restore faith in the political process. We in Canada must do the same.”

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