OTTAWA — While MPs return to the Commons today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will deliver his government’s latest economic report card in Saint John, N.B., far from the fractious opposition benches.
The statement on the progress of the government’s stimulus program will draw fire from the Liberals, who say they are ready to topple the government at their first opportunity, perhaps as early as this week.
Liberal finance critic John McCallum said it really doesn’t matter what’s in the economic statement.
“We Liberals have made our decision,” he said. “We’re voting against the government, so in that sense the outcome is foregone.”
This will leave NDP Leader Jack Layton to decide whether he can support the government, as he did earlier this month. All three opposition parties must vote together to defeat the government.
Appearing on CTV’s Question Period on Sunday, Transport Minister John Baird said Harper will provide an upbeat status report.
“He’ll be able to give Canadians a real update on where we are on the economy, where we are on infrastructure spending,” Baird said.
“He’ll be able to tell people what we’re doing to keep our banking system strong and the real success we’ve had working with provinces and municipalities across the country on infrastructure.”
Economist Aron Gampel of Scotia Capital said he expects Harper will say that while the economy appears to be recovering, there are still considerable uncertainties and risks.
“The substantial stimulus injected into the economy from both monetary and fiscal measures is beginning to show more signs that the economy is regaining traction, but the full impact will become more visible in the months ahead,” Gampel said in an email.
The minority government got its economic stimulus plan approved in the Commons last spring by promising to deliver a series of economic report cards. Each of these reports, though, comes with a confidence vote.
Baird would not offer any details of the latest status report.
“We’ve made great progress since June,” he said.
However, Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy told CBC TV that what was promised in June hasn’t been delivered.
“Most of what Mr. Harper left in June promising has not transpired,” he said. “Jobs have not been created, the dollars have not been spent, the effort has not been made
“We cannot support a government that doesn’t do what it said it would do and is not looking after Canadians needs.
Baird said Harper chose to present the update in Saint John rather than the Commons because he wants to speak to ordinary Canadians, not to avoid the opposition and the press gallery.
“He doesn’t want to live in a bubble in Ottawa. He wants to get out of the capital, talk to real people right across the country.”
The Liberals have spent the past week attacking what they are calling “a self-serving and politicized infrastructure stimulus program.”