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Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Q&A

The explainer: Would new government mean new budget? Add to ...

Globe and Mail political columnist Jeffrey Simpson took your questions on the political implications of the budget Tuesday afternoon. Earlier, personal finance columnist Rob Carrick and economist Stephen Gordon took questions on the budget, which may not even be implemented depending on what the opposition parties do and what Canadians might do at the polls.

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To get more background on exactly what the budget means, and what it means for an election, here are highlights of the Q&A.

Say there is an election and a new government is formed, would they have to provide a new budget? (Question from a guest reader)

Jeffrey Simpson: Guest: If the government was "new" in the sense of another party or parties, obviously it (they) would present a new budget. If the Conservatives were re-elected, they could present this one again, or bring in another somewhat different one. If they got a majority, they wouldn't have to include some of the political sweeteners they added to this one, as they have to all their previous ones.

When would the vote for the budget happen? Would it happen before any non-confidence motions? (Question from reader Shane)

Jeffrey Simpson: Shane: The government can call for debate on the budget and vote when it wants, and the opposition parties can staple on amendments which would be, in essence, votes of confidence. The Liberals could use an opposition day -- one I think is provisionally set for Friday -- to move non-confidence.

If the budget gets defeated and we go to the polls early May, when would the next parliamentary session be? (Question from reader Connie)

Jeffrey Simpson: Connie: you asked a pertinent question. Yesterday, I attended a two-hour seminar organized by the Public Policy Forum in which a dozen or so of us discussed the formation of governments. Professor Ned Franks from Queen's presented data about the length of time between an election vote and the recall of parliament. The upshot of his research was the time varied considerably and that sometimes it was very long. The consensus around the table was that, as in other parliamentary democracies, there should be a time limit within which a govenrment should meet Parliament to determine if it has the confidence of the House and can therefore carry on. If memory serves, for example, Joe Clark was elected in early June but did not meet Parliament until October, and he was in a minority situation.

Want are the rumors coming in about what the Liberals have in their campaign platform? Anything that would move the numbers for them? What are they counting on to change the national narrative? (Question from reader Darryl)

Jeffrey Simpson: Darryl: My guess is that the Liberals will present some form of "democratic" reform agenda, trying to contrast their openness and respect for democracy with what they allege is Mr. Harper closed and disrespectful style. I would bet that just as the Conservatives' Accountability Act went over the top in response to the sponsorship scandal, so the Liberals might go over the top with a democratic reform agenda. They will probably have more on social programs and, if they read the polls, something big on health-care, although I must say that the party's position on health-care as artciulated recently in speeches by leading MPs is irresponsible in that if is full of rhetoric and illusions and very short of serious policy. And they have decided to get down in the gutter with Mr. Harper and slug it out with negative ads, thereby paying him and his gang the ultimate political compliment that such tactics are necessary because they are seen to work, for which we electors are responsible.

Is it clear if Elizabeth May will be on the ballot this spring or will the other parties fight to block her again? (Question from reader Joshua)

Jeffrey Simpson: Joshua: I don't know what you mean by "on the ballot." She is running in a B.C. constituency, so she's on the ballot there. As for the television debates, I don't know if the networks have made up their minds. I know their news executives have met, but I don't think they've announced the format. They fly by the seat of their pants all the time, since there are no guidelines or rules as to which party leaders should participate, as in number of seats or share of the popular vote. I hope we don't get five leaders as we did last time. It was incoherent and unhelpful.

Clearly with almost a million Canadians voting for the Green Party in the last election, they should be in the debates. Given your comment about the last one, what format would you suggest? (Question from reader Tom)

Jeffrey Simpson: Tom: I would say a party needs 10 per cent of the seats in the Commons and 10 per cent of the popular vote, or something close to this, to participate in the leaders' debate.

Do you think anything is going to change seat-wise after the next election? (Question from reader Thomas)

Jeffrey Simpson: Thomas: Of course the seat count will change; it always does after an election. The question is in which direction, and I do not know. I would simply say -- as I did before the last election quite wrongly, by the way -- that the Conservatives have everything going for them to win a majority, and that if they cannot, they never will with Stephen Harper. I mean they have an improving economy and have spent oodles of money on projects across Canada plus large sums on advertising of all kinds. They have had control of the national agenda; they have many elements of the media tub-thumping for them daily; they are experienced campaigners; they are up against a rookie leader of the opposition etc. etc. If they can't win a majority with so much going for them, damned if I know when they ever will.

Anything on TFSAs or RRSP contribution room in the budget? (Question from reader Ray)

Rob Carrick: Easy one, Ray. No. This is a deficit-era budget, which means measures like improved RRSPs and TFSAs -- measures that could be costly to Ottawa in terms of lost tax dollars -- have been ignored.

So with all these tax cuts Canadians are likely to see how much in their pockets on average? (Question from reader Brandon)

Rob Carrick: Hard to say, Brandon. This is a budget with small, targeted tax measures and very little that applies broadly like, say, a cut in income tax rates. If you have kids or you're a caregiver to someone or you're a low-income senior, then you have the best chance of benefiting from this budget. Max benefit would be a few hundred dollars.

Reintroduction of the home-energy retrofit program at a cost of $400-million a year. What does this include? (Question from a guest reader)

Rob Carrick: It's all about making energy-efficient improvements to your home. For more details, check out this website: http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/corporate/retrofit-summary.cfm

What's in the budget for those running a small business? (Question from reader Bob)

Stephen Gordon: There's a credit that can be used against small businesses' EI premiums; probably the biggest item. It should be stressed that all items in the budget are very small in scale. Total new measures is less than one per cent of total spending. (For more on small businesses and the budget, read our full story)





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Read the full discussion transcript below, or find a mobile-friendly version by clicking here.



<iframe src="http://www.coveritlive.com/index2.php/option=com_altcaster/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=6704e65554/height=650/width=460" scrolling="no" height="650px" width="460px" frameBorder ="0" allowTransparency="true" ><a href="http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=6704e65554" >Live from the 2011 budget in Ottawa</a></iframe>


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