OTTAWA — Michael Ignatieff tried to conjure some long-lost Liberal magic Sunday with a glitzy, red-sheathed campaign platform worth $8 billion to Canadian households and financed by higher corporate taxes.
Almost instantly, the so-called “Liberal Family Pack” attracted a barrage of brickbats from rival campaigns: Conservatives denounced it as tax-and-spend politics of the worst kind. The NDP cited a long Liberal history of broken Red Book promises.
The centrepiece of Ignatieff’s two-year, budget-style platform shifts government spending to nation-building projects and incentives for Canadian households — all of it financed by reversing Conservative tax cuts for the business sector.
“I want to show you this thing; it’s a big, serious document here,” the Liberal-leader-turned-talk-show-host beamed during a high-tech event in Ottawa while brandishing the 94-page platform to the delight of a crowd of supporters.
The applause had barely died down before the Conservative war room was on the offensive. They assailed the plan as a badly timed job-killer and Ignatieff as a flip-flop artist who initially supported the idea of lower corporate taxes.
“What he’s in fact doing now is changing his mind several years down the road and saying, ‘I’m going to raise corporate taxes three full percentage points in Canada,”’ a fuming Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said in Toronto.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty out there, Flaherty said.
“We’re not out of the woods yet, and to propose this kind of massive new taxation in Canada will be a burden on Canadians,” he said. Corporations are sure to pass the increased burden down to the consumer level, he added.
“We know who’s going to end up paying for it; it’s going to be we Canadians who end up footing the bill.”
Stephen Harper, who in the past has preferred to keep Sunday as a day of rest, sought instead to steal some Liberal limelight by promising to double an existing $500 fitness tax credit for children and add a new $500 credit for active adults.
Again, however, the Tories attached the caveat that the measures would have to wait for a balanced budget, something that’s likely four years away.
“A re-elected Conservative government will enact both of these measures before the end of our next mandate, because our approach is clear — when we can afford it, we will lower your taxes,” Harper said during a visit to an Ottawa gym.
Behind him, a group of kimono-clad youngsters kicked and punched the air, while others pedalled on stationary bikes, tossed medicine balls and strained through stretching regimens.
Initially, the Conservative campaign literature said increasing the tax credit for kids — an endeavour worth $145 million a year — would happen right away. That, however, was a mistake, officials said: both measures are contingent on a balanced budget.
Once implemented, the adult program carries an annual price tag of $275 million.
NDP Leader Jack Layton, stumping for votes in Quebec, dismissed Ignatieff’s platform as a hollow pledge, citing the Liberal red-book record of campaign promises that “were broken in record numbers” over the years.
Layton had problems of his own, however: his message of fighting for better health in western Quebec was partly drowned out by Liberal charges that Nycole Turmel, a retired federal civil servant and NDP hopeful in the riding of Hull-Aylmer, supported the Parti Quebecois in the 2007 provincial election.
The Liberal event, streamed live on the Internet, was peppered with slick video testimonials from Liberal candidates and questions for the leader from a studio audience and online viewers, with Ignatieff in shirt sleeves, holding court from centre stage.
The 94-page Liberal document promises a permanent home-energy retrofit program, assistance to family caregivers, a community “Heroes Fund” for fallen firefighters and peace officers, and a new Canada Service Corps.
It also features a number of measures already announced, including a $1-billion a year in student aid grants, expanded Canada Pension Plan benefits, a billion-dollar fund for more early learning and child-care spaces, and a $1-billion Family Care Plan for those with seriously ill or aging relatives.
“You know about family packs when you go to the supermarket — they gotta be good value for money,” Ignatieff said.
“We’re offering these policies to Canadians and saying, ‘We can deliver these practical benefits to Canadian families without raising your taxes.”’
The plan involves hiking the corporate tax rate back to 2010 levels, an end to tax breaks for oilsands development and a cap on stock option deductions — moves the Liberals say will generate more than $9 billion over two years.
Ignatieff said a Liberal government would balance Canada’s books four years from now, slightly ahead of the Conservative budget projections laid out two weeks ago.
During a campaign stop in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe waded into the debate about the safety of asbestos mining, a major industry in that part of the province, when he called for a thorough review of the practice.
The comments came at a crossroads for the embattled industry.
Quebec’s Liberal government must decide whether to provide a loan guarantee that would extend the life of the nearby Jeffrey Mine, one of Canada’s last remaining asbestos mines.
It was something of an about-face for Duceppe, who two weeks ago said asbestos — which has been linked to certain forms of cancer — is safely used in Quebec and doesn’t pose a health problem when properly handled.