January 23, 2009 / 6:27 PM / 9 years ago

Ignatieff blasts government over deficit data

TORONTO (Reuters) - The leader of Canada’s main opposition party blasted government officials on Friday for leaking the size of upcoming deficits just days ahead of a much awaited budget that could decide the fate of the minority Conservative government.

“The release of this budget information was irresponsible and costly to the economy,” Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff said in a speech in Toronto.

Ignatieff, whose support the government needs to pass the budget and stay in power, accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of playing political games at a time of crisis and said next Tuesday’s budget was the prime minister’s last chance to show he had a real plan to tackle the recession.

“We’ll see whether Mr. Harper has started to listen, we’ll see whether he’s finally got serious. And if he hasn’t learned to listen, he is not going to lead for long,” he said in a speech in Toronto.

Government officials said on Thursday that federal deficits over the next two fiscal years would total $64 billion ($51.6 billion).

Ignatieff, who signaled this past week he is unlikely to defeat the budget and force another election, said on Friday he would wait until the morning after the budget is presented before deciding whether to support the package.

“I‘m going to have a special caucus, given the enormous historical political importance of this budget, and then consult with my colleagues ... and then in an expeditious manner the next morning, you’ll be in no doubt where the Liberal Party of Canada stands,” he told reporters.

His decision to wait a day breaks with the usual practice of opposition leaders to give a thumbs up or thumbs down immediately after package is presented in the House of Commons.

Tuesday’s budget is widely expected to contain major stimulus plans to boost the stumbling Canadian economy -- measures that opposition parties have been demanding since late last year.

Asked which way he was leaning, now that deficit figures have been released, Ignatieff quipped: “I don’t think I am leaning at all. I think, if I am correct, I am standing absolutely straight.”

Harper said in an interview published in the Ottawa Sun newspaper on Friday that Ignatieff should be “very happy” with the budget.

At a separate news conference in Toronto, New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton told reporters he has lost confidence in the government and indicated his party will vote against the budget.

“It’s a confidence motion and therefore, our vote certainly can’t be to express confidence in the Harper government after they’ve attacked the policies that are needed for so long,” Layton said.

He said the NDP had lost trust in the government’s ability to tackle the economic crisis. Instead, he said, a proposed coalition of opposition parties, working across party lines, would be better able to deliver on “an ambitious economic stimulus program that won’t leave people behind.”

Reporting by Frank Pingue, Cameron French and Wojtek Dabrowski, writing by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway

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