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Budget Watch

Liberals focus on finances, but offer no details Add to ...

Determined not to leave the economy as a winning issue for the Conservatives, daily attacks from Michael Ignatieff and his Liberal MPs increasingly have a financial theme.

On the key economic issues - taxes, pensions, government spending - they say the Harper government has it wrong.

But the Liberals are waiting until a campaign starts before releasing detailed proposals on these economic files with cost estimates.

For now, that leaves them with no clear policy on some points.

The Globe examined the public record and spoke with Liberal critics for finance, pensions and EI to assess where the party stands now and how these positions compare with past statements.

The GST

Then: It was December, 2008 - eight days after Liberal MPs elected him interim leader amid a political furor over prorogation and a possible coalition - when Mr. Ignatieff uttered the words to a CITY-TV reporter that now flood the airwaves in a Conservative ad campaign: "I'm not going to take a GST hike off the table."

Now: "We will not raise the GST," Liberal finance critic Scott Brison said. Mr. Ignatieff has said the same several times. He has not gone back to explain his 2008 comments.

Why: Liberals have concluded that a GST hike would be very unpopular, and many economists say cuts to personal and business taxes would be better for the economy than cutting a consumption tax. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney - the father of the 20-year-old GST - recently said of the Harper government's two-point GST cut: "I thought it was good politics and very bad policy."

Employment Insurance

Then: In the midst of the recession in 2009, the issue of EI nearly triggered a spring election. Mr. Ignatieff called for the threshold for accessing benefits to be reduced to 360 hours nation-wide. Conservatives dismissed the proposal as a call for a "45-day work year."

Now: "We haven't put out any policy piece on EI yet. Obviously there'll be something about EI in our platform, but it will released at that time," said Mike Savage, the party's EI critic.

Why: Liberals argue policies that were needed at the height of the recession are not longer required. They now criticize the Conservatives for raising EI premiums while unemployment remains high. Liberals will have to decide whether to advocate for lower premiums or higher benefits. It's hard to see how they could do both.

Pensions

Then: The Liberals called for a voluntary, supplemental Canada Pension Plan in December, 2009. At the time, B.C. and Alberta were on board. Liberals said little about a proposal from unions and the NDP to expand the mandatory benefits and premiums of the existing CPP.

Now: The Liberal supplemental plan is still there, but no province supports it. A recent meeting between Mr. Ignatieff and Canadian Labour Congress President Ken Georgetti led to a CLC news release praising Mr. Ignatieff for having "come out in support" of enhancing the existing CPP. Liberals say that's not new, but past comments were vague.

Why: There is far more support among provinces for a scaled-back version of the labour/NDP call for an expanded CPP. Liberal pension critic Judy Sgro insists there's still time to sell provinces on the merits of the Liberals' core pension proposal.

Corporate taxes

Then: The Liberals cut corporate taxes in government and did not object when Conservatives announced a five-year plan to reduce corporate taxes in 2007.

Now: Liberals changed position on corporate taxes at a Montreal policy conference in March, 2010. Declaring further cuts unaffordable, Mr. Ignatieff vowed to freeze rates at 2010 levels, in part to pay for other measures.

Why: With Ottawa in a deficit, the Liberals needed to find a way to pay for campaign promises. The official Liberal line is that corporate tax cuts are unaffordable when Ottawa has a deficit, but stealing a standard campaign plank of the NDP is also a likely factor.

Follow on Twitter: @curryb

 

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