OTTAWA (Reuters) - Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, in an unusually belligerent mood, blasted members of the Senate on Tuesday for not passing the government’s stimulus-laden budget legislation quickly, and warned that the economy would continue to worsen in 2009.
“Canada entered the recession in a relatively strong position but we are facing a very difficult year in 2009,” he told the upper chamber’s finance committee.
“We will see our domestic economy deteriorate, it is deteriorating as we sit here ... we can expect imports and exports to fall, industry sectors to weaken.”
Flaherty said the next set of jobless figures -- due out on Friday -- “are not likely to be good” and said the situation called for extraordinary measures.
The key jobs report follows data released last week that showed the economy shrank sharply during the fourth quarter of 2008. Another contraction during the first quarter of 2009 is considered almost a certainty.
The minority Conservative government introduced a budget in late January that will rack up a total of C$64 billion ($50 billion) in deficits over the next two fiscal years.
The bill passed through the House of Commons relatively quickly and must now be approved by the unelected Senate, which is dominated by opposition Liberals.
Flaherty, usually one of the most jovial government ministers, angrily accused senators of deliberately dawdling and urged them to work through a scheduled parliamentary vacation next week to pass the bill.
“You’ve got the bill in front of you. I hope you deal with it this week and don’t go on holidays without dealing with it,” he snapped at one point, saying the severity of the global financial crisis meant the country could not afford to wait.
“I invite you please to look at the wider global context and not be parochial in your assessment of this legislation,” he told the committee.
Liberal Senator Pierrette Ringuette retorted: “I‘m not being parochial and I think that you’re being very aggressive right now, without reason.”
Opposition senators say that while they are happy to quickly approve the stimulus portion of the budget, they dislike the fact that the government has packed the draft legislation with other measures that they say have nothing to do with helping rescue the economy.
Flaherty refused to countenance the idea of splitting up the budget bill and told reporters afterward that if senators held up the budget, they would have to answer to Canadians.
“We don’t need the Senate, quite frankly, creating obstacles ... this is an emergency and yes, if I‘m being pushy about it, I‘m being pushy intentionally on behalf of Canadians,” he said.
“I get the impression from some of these senators that they’re living somewhere other than Canada.”
Members of the upper house are appointed by the prime minister, but the Conservative government says it wants senators to be elected.
Additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa and Frank Pingue in Toronto; editing by Rob Wilson