May election looms as opposition set to vote down Conservative budget

OTTAWA — Get ready for a May election.

OTTAWA — Get ready for a May election.

The Harper government is poised to fall within days, with all three opposition parties planning to vote against the federal budget.

Defeat of the government will likely occur this week, either over the budget or a non-confidence motion planned by the Liberals on Friday.

That would topple the minority Conservatives and send voters to the polls in early May.

The government’s fate was all but sealed by NDP Leader Jack Layton, who joined the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois on Tuesday in announcing his party’s intention to vote against the budget.

Layton said Prime Minister Stephen Harper “had an opportunity to address the needs of hard-working, middle-class Canadians and families and he missed that opportunity.”

Layton said the budget falls far short of the four conditions he’d laid down for NDP support: elimination of the federal sales tax on home heating fuel; measures to greatly increase the number of doctors; a big boost in pensions for poor seniors; and restoration of the home eco-energy retrofit program.

He said the government could yet survive by agreeing to amend the budget to respond to NDP concerns, but added that scenario is “difficult to imagine.”

Highlights from Tuesday’s federal budget:

Road from sea to sea to sea — Three generations after work started on the Trans-Canada Highway, the end is in sight.

The federal budget has allocated $150 million over five years to help build an all-weather road from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories.

The project, a joint venture with the territory, the private sector and local communities, would extend the Dempster Highway to the shores of the Beaufort Sea.

Culture kids join jocks at tax trough — Budding artists may soon be on an equal footing with budding hockey players — at least when it comes to tax breaks.

The federal budget introduces a new 15 per cent Children’s Arts Tax Credit for arts, culture, recreation and developmental activities which would save parents up to $75 a year per child.

It builds on the child fitness tax credit which was introduced in 2007 and mainly covered organized sports such as hockey and soccer.

The new credit is forecast to cost the government $25 million this year and $100 million a year in subsequent years.

Feds fire up volunteer firefighters — The government is hoping to fire up volunteers — specifically firefighters.

The federal budget offers a tax credit that would knock $450 off their tax bill. It would apply to any volunteer who puts in at least 200 hours a year.

The government estimates there are about 85,000 volunteer firefighters across the country. The tax break would cost the government $5 million this year and $15 million in subsequent years.

Cash for Stampede, Grey Cup — The Grey Cup and the Calgary Stampede celebrate their centennials next year and the federal budget includes $10 million for the milestones.

Pigs and plums — The government plans to spend $17 million over five years to help fruit farmers fight plum pox.

Plum pox virus hits plum, peach, apricot and nectarines orchards. It harms the fruit, reduces yields and cut the life of trees.

The budget also sets aside $24 million over the next two years for improving the health of hogs.

Tougher rules for amateur sports groups — A couple of sports groups lost their charitable status last year for issuing questionable receipts. Now, with measures announced in the federal budget, such organizations would face the same oversight as regular charities.

Charitable groups can be penalized for overpaying staff or fundraisers, and amateur sports groups could soon be covered under the same rules and face the same penalties.

Come-on credit cheques to be banned — Those unsolicited cheques mailed out by credit card companies to lure new card-holders are in the government’s sights. The federal budget proposes to ban the come-ons as a way of helping people manage debt.

Free gun licences . . . again — They haven’t managed to get rid of the gun registry, but the Tories have made licence fees disappear. The federal budget says the government plans to extend the current licence fee waiver until May 2012.

How’s the weather? — The budget is kicking in $27 million over two years to help to improve forecasting.

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