Populist Conservative budget puts Canada's Liberals in election squeeze

Wed Apr 22, 2015 12:08pm EDT
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By Leah Schnurr and Randall Palmer

OTTAWA, April 22 (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, facing a battle to win reelection to a rare fourth term in October, has boosted his chances with a populist budget expected to energize his base.

The tax breaks in the budget the Conservative government delivered on Tuesday, plus the cold hard cash it will give to every family with children starting in July, put pressure on Harper's main opponent, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, to spell out an economic agenda with just as much vote-getting appeal.

It may be a tough task.

Trudeau, the 43-year-old son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, has long been the front-runner to replace Harper but the Liberals are slipping in the polls as the Conservatives claim he will hurt the economy by raising taxes.

Analysts said the budget was a purely political document and indeed, within hours of it being delivered, the Conservatives sent out a fund-raising appeal to supporters with the "bad news" that Trudeau is opposing the government's plans.

The budget had plenty to attract seniors, who tend to vote more than other segments of the population and also tend to vote Conservative. Ottawa will relax rules forcing the elderly to withdraw retirement savings at a certain rate and will double the amount people can put into tax-free savings accounts.

"If you look at the strategy of the government and the people that it's targeting for support, it's got some very good targeting in it," said Andrew Graham, professor at the school of policy studies at Queen's University.

"Is it going to help this government? I think it will."   Continued...