OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Liberals will vote against the minority Conservative government’s budget if they consider it incapable of tackling the financial crisis, party leader Michael Ignatieff said on Sunday.
The government is set to unveil a budget on January 27 and needs the support of at least one of the three opposition parties, which last month struck a deal to bring down Prime Minister Stephen Harper over his handling of the crisis.
If the Liberals oppose the budget it would most likely mean the downfall of the government, since the other two opposition parties seem determined to vote against the document.
Harper, who only escaped defeat in December by managing to have Parliament suspended temporarily, says the budget will contain many billions of dollars in stimulus measures.
Although Canada has run budget surpluses for more than a decade, officials concede it will now plunge into the red. One media report cited officials as saying the budget deficit next fiscal year could reach C$40 billion ($32 billion).
“This deficit is squarely Mr Harper’s responsibility. He spent us down to the red line in the good times and so we face the hard times ... with the cupboard bare,” said Ignatieff, who demanded that the budget protect the vulnerable, help people stay in work while creating jobs.
“If the budget does not respond to the circumstances, if the budget is not equal to the crisis that we all face, we have to vote against,” he told Liberal legislators, accusing Harper of not telling the truth about the nation’s finances.
Harper aides criticized the tone of the comments, saying Canadians expected legislators to work together.
“It’s unfortunate that the Liberals are busy once again playing politics and scheming how to seize power,” said spokesman Dimitri Soudas.
Harper won a stronger minority in an election last October and called on all parties to work together to face the crisis.
A few weeks later, the government said Ottawa could stay in surplus and tried to cut off public financing for political parties, a move that would have crippled the opposition.
A budget defeat for Harper could mean the country going to the polls for the second time in a few months. Alternatively, the country’s acting head of state could ask the three opposition parties to put together a government.
Voting against the budget could be problematic for the Liberals, who put in one of their worst electoral performances last October. The party, which still trails the Conservatives in opinion polls, has cash woes and would find it hard to fight another election so soon after the last one.
Liberal legislators said Canadians did not want an election and vowed to be responsible when it came to the budget, while making it clear that Harper could not take them for granted.
“It would be a mistake for Stephen Harper to underestimate the capacity for other parties in the House of Commons (lower chamber of Parliament) to come together if he fails to provide us with a budget that we can work with,” Liberal finance spokesman Scott Brison told reporters at the end of the day.