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Tory cabinet reveals $6-billion worth of budget initiatives

From Monday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Further departing from convention on pre-budget secrecy, the Harper government announced yesterday it will offer $1.5-billion in new training funds for laid-off workers in its coming stimulus package.

The disclosure by Conservative Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, on CTV's Question Period, was the latest in a series of orchestrated advance announcements of measures contained in tomorrow's federal budget.

In recent days, members of the Tory cabinet have publicly revealed nearly $6-billion of the budget's contents, including broad spending plans and a promise of permanent tax cuts. Further advance information on the budget is expected today.

Ms. Finley said the $1.5-billion in budget cash the Tories have planned for job training as the recession deepens will assist both those eligible to collect Employment Insurance and those who don't qualify.

"A lot of people are going to be losing their jobs," she told CTV. "We want to be sure we're helping them."

Another $500-million in training funds will be aimed at what Ottawa calls "long-tenured workers" - those who have worked at the same job for a long time and have a narrow set of skills but are not close to retirement age.

On Saturday, Ms. Finley also announced more than $2-billion in budget cash to build new public housing and renovate existing units. About $1-billion would fund renovations of current public housing - a boon for building trades workers - leaving $600-million to build more on-reserve aboriginal homes; $400-million for extra seniors housing and $75-million for additional residences for the disabled.

"Construction start-ups are slowing down across the country so there's a lot of people in the construction trades that are going to be available for work," Ms. Finley said in an interview.

Separately, Prime Minister Stephen Harper signalled Saturday that the Tory budget will include permanent tax cuts for individuals and business - not just temporary reductions.

"I think that if we're talking about tax cuts, these measures in most cases have to be permanent to be effective," the Mr. Harper said in an interview with Montreal's La Presse newspaper. He said the reductions will be modest.

A government source said yesterday the Harper government's budget will also boost funding for graduate student scholarships, the Canada Health Infoway initiative to accelerate a move to electronic health records and the Council for Innovation.

The barrage of advance previews of the budget started last Thursday with a statement that the Tories will run deficits totalling $64-billion over two years. The revelation, seen as an attempt to get the bad news out of the way, also disclosed that the government expects it will take five years to climb out of deficit.

With a report from Daniel Leblanc

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