Canada won't change industry aid despite attacks

Fri Jan 11, 2008 2:56pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's minority Conservative government said on Friday it would not alter a C$1 billion plan to aid hard-hit one-industry communities despite fierce criticism that the package is little more than political blackmail.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a trust fund on Thursday to help workers and said it would be part of the next budget, which is expected in early March. If the budget is not approved by Parliament, the aid money will not be spent.

Critics said Harper should make the aid available now and not use it as a tool in the next election campaign. If the budget is defeated, the government will fall immediately and an election called.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said there was nothing unusual about making the aid part of a budget.

"We are a democracy ... this is not a dictatorship. We must have parliamentary approval to spend money," he told reporters in Toronto. "It's a money item and we do money items in budget bills."

The trust fund is designed to help unemployed workers and communities -- many of them in rural areas.

In particular, forestry and automobile industries have been hit hard by the strong Canadian dollar and weakening demand in the United States, Canada's main trading partner.

Gilles Duceppe, leader of the separatist Bloc Quebecois, demanded on Friday that Parliament resume sitting next week to adopt the aid plan and accused Harper of playing with people's livelihoods.   Continued...