April 3, 2011 / 6:30 PM / in 7 years

Liberals lay out election platform

<p>Canada's Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff announces an election platform during a campaign stop in Ottawa April 3, 2011. REUTERS/Blair Gable</p>

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada’s opposition Liberal Party unveiled a C$8.2 billion election platform on Sunday that promises to cut the government deficit but stops short of saying exactly when the federal budget would be balanced.

The Liberals, who trail Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in polls ahead of the May 2 election, said they will cut the deficit to 1 percent of gross domestic product in two years, largely by canceling a planned corporate tax cut.

The platform unveiled by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff in an elaborate webcast townhall presentation pledges to continue the deficit cutting until the budget is balanced but does not specify what year that will happen.

The Conservatives, who have been in power since 2006, have said they can have the budget balanced by the 2015-16 fiscal year, but the Liberals said the economic assumptions used by the government to reach that target were not credible.

“We’re not going to play into that game,” Ignatieff told reporters in Ottawa.

The budget proposed by the Conservatives on March 22, only days before the government fell and the election campaign began, had projected a C$29.6 billion deficit for the 2011-12 fiscal year, or 1.7 percent of GDP.

The Liberal platform largely repeated promises Ignatieff has already made on the campaign trail, including C$1 billion in education funding and C$1 billion to help families with home health care.

The 94-page platform also included C$400 million in tax credits to promote energy conservation, but has less emphasis on the environment issues than the party’s platform in the 2008 election, when they lost ground to the ruling Conservatives.

The Conservatives immediately denounced the platform, saying it would be impossible for the Liberals to keep their spending pledge without breaking a promise not to raise taxes on families.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters in Toronto that the Liberals did not have a clear timetable for balancing the budget.

Jack Layton, leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party, said the Liberals “borrowed” some of their ideas from his party, but added that he doubted the Liberals would implement them if they got elected.

Liberal governments in the 1990s balanced their budgets in tough economic times so there is less need to reassure voters by putting a specific timetable in the budget, said University of Victoria political scientist Dennis Pilon.

Pilon said the Liberals must win back voters who abandoned the party in the last election in 2008. “That is probably who this platform is aimed at,” he said.

A Nanos Research tracking poll released on Sunday showed the Conservatives holding a lead over the Liberals but with both parties down slightly from the tracking poll released a day before.

The Conservatives had 40.7 percent support, marginally down from 41.3 percent, while the Liberals slipped to 29.4 percent from 30.3 percent a day before. Both changes are within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

The Conservatives hope to form a majority government after failing to win majorities in the 2006 and 2008 elections. Minority governments require the support of at least one opposition party to pass major legislation and remain in power.

Pollsters say that under the Canadian electoral system a party normally has to win more than 40 percent of the national vote to win a majority of the seats in Parliament.

Reporting Allan Dowd; Editing by Anthony Boadle and Paul Simao

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