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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks to reporters on the final day of the party's summer caucus retreat in Sudbury on Sept 2, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks to reporters on the final day of the party's summer caucus retreat in Sudbury on Sept 2, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Ignatieff's deficit fix? 'Wait and see' Add to ...

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff vowed that a Liberal government would get rid of the Harper government's $50-billion deficit without raising taxes, but wouldn't explain how it would do that.

"Wait and see," Mr. Ignatieff told reporters Wednesday on what was essentially the first day of a pre-election campaign for the Liberal Party, a campaign that will likely begin in earnest some time this fall after he and his party announced on Tuesday that they will no longer prop up the minority government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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Mr. Ignatieff was speaking at the closing news conference on the final day of a three-day caucus meeting in this Northern Ontario city.

"We are very concerned with the size of the deficit," he said. "We will not come to the Canadian public with proposals that break the bank. … We've inherited a $50-billion hole from Mr. Harper. We will clean it up without raising taxes."

Then he left to catch a plane, with reporters left wondering how he would accomplish that task.

The Liberal Leader also framed his ballot question Wednesday, saying Canadians will be asked to vote for the party best placed to lead the country into the "economy of tomorrow." Combined with their new slogan, "We can do better," it appears the main focus of the Ignatieff Liberals will be trying to outdo the Tory record on the economy. Party pollster Michael Marzolini has identified the economy as the most important issue for Canadians, followed by the environment.

Mr. Ignatieff denied he was being irresponsible in seeking to defeat the Harper government. "In my heart of hearts, I believe that we can offer Canadians a more compassionate and competent government," he said.

"This is a government that doesn't believe in government. And right now, right across the world, people are turning to government and saying … 'How do we create the dream jobs of tomorrow? How do we create jobs in northern, remote and rural regions of Canada?' "

He said he has a sense that "Canadians know the economic game has changed."

After a morning caucus meeting, Liberals quickly left the hotel to prepare for an election campaign.

There were signs it has already begun - Liberal television ads featuring the new slogan were unveiled to caucus, and Mr. Ignatieff announced that he has postponed a trip to China that he had bragged about in speeches the previous day.

"Stephen Harper has been Prime Minister for four years, and he's never visited China. We'll be there next week," he said.

That was Tuesday. Wednesday he said he wants to stay in the country to see how the "political situation develops."

"Mr. Harper has some cards to play; [Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles]Duceppe has some cards to play; [NDP Leader Jack]Layton has some cards to play, and it seems … responsible for me to be here while those issues are clarified," Mr. Ignatieff told reporters at his closing press conference.

He is done negotiating with Mr. Harper. "We did that in June," he said, referring to the negotiations that kept the Conservative government in power in return for an opposition day in late September or early October - when the Liberals will have the opportunity to bring a no-confidence motion - and a bipartisan committee on employment insurance reform.

The committee met three times over the summer with no success. It is now defunct, with the Tories accusing the Liberals of walking out on the group and not caring about the unemployed.

At his press conference, Mr. Ignatieff began to outline a narrative for an election campaign that critics say is unnecessary.

"What I have been saying is, this isn't just a recession. We can't go back to the economy we used to know," he told reporters. "Some of the jobs we've lost are not coming back, and Canadians know that and they know that they need a federal government that says, 'Okay, where do we have to go to create the jobs of tomorrow?'

"One of the key things that I am saying in Sudbury is, I don't want a Canada in which all the hope and opportunity has gone to Montreal and Toronto and Halifax and Vancouver. I want hope and opportunity here, in Sudbury …"

In his concluding remarks to his caucus, Mr. Ignatieff spoke extemporaneously, telling members that there is a sense of freedom now that they can vote as Liberals and against the Harper Tories.

MPs and senators also saw the new Liberal television ads, which will be released this weekend. The English-language ads are meant to introduce Mr. Ignatieff to Canadians, countering attacks from the Conservatives that he is a virtual newcomer to the country, having returned after decades abroad only because he lusts for power.

With a forest-like backdrop, Mr. Ignatieff explains to Canadians why he should be prime minister, and attacks the deficiencies of the Harper government.

The French-language version was shot in a studio, and hits harder at the Conservatives, insiders say. The Liberals are polling ahead of the Tories in Quebec and believe they can make gains in the province.

Last year the Liberals had difficulty raising money and were not able to counter Tory attack ads with ads of their own. This year, however, they have enough in the bank to run ads even though an election has not been called.

A fundraising dinner featuring former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien is planned for Oct. 1 in Vaughan, Ont. Liberals are hoping it could be the kickoff for an election campaign.

Party president Alf Apps has said that the Liberals hope to raise $1.6-million at the dinner, which Mr. Ignatieff will attend. It is for the "non-Bay Street GTA" Liberals and others.

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