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Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable (Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail)
Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable (Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail)

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An 'unusually blunt' <br/>Jim Flaherty wades back in to budget swamp Add to ...

Jim Flaherty meets Tuesday morning with private-sector economists in advance of next Monday's federal budget - and don't be alarmed, but the last time he met with this group was the day of the Japanese earthquake.

The Finance Minister will be listening to their economic forecasts and depending on what they say he may or may not be tweaking his budget. He wants to introduce more or less the same budget he did on March 22; Mr. Flaherty and his team took four months to craft that document, but it was never debated since the government was defeated and the country plunged into an election.

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In a piece Monday for Progressive Economic Forum, Canadian Auto Workers economist Jim Stanford characterized Mr. Flaherty as " unusually blunt" in an interview Sunday on CTV's Question Period when he had said he was worried about the possibility of another recession.

Mr. Stanford believes the Finance Minister's frankness was likely a result of delving a little farther into the quarterly GDP numbers released by Statistics Canada Monday and not seeing such great news. He says the numbers showed that "Canada's free-spending consumers and governments - the very sectors that saved our bacon during the worst of the recession - have now hit the wall."

"This reflects the turning off of stimulus taps (by both government and the Bank of Canada). The problem is, there's not nearly enough offsetting momentum being provided by the private sector (through investment and/or exports). This implies slower growth ahead," Mr. Stanford says.

He argues the "positive boost" from the stimulus has now stopped. And he wants Mr. Flaherty to reconsider his austerity plan.

"Merely by freezing government spending, Canada's real economic momentum has been considerably undermined," Mr. Stanford writes. "If we actually start cutting back in any significant way, watch out. Combined with the fitful uncertainty which still grips Canada's private sector, that would be enough to turn Mr. Flaherty's worry about another recession into a reality."

CIBC World Markets Chief Economist Avery Shenfeld, meanwhile, says we won't see "a budget drawn up under the assumption that a global recession is about to hit."

"In fact, Ottawa is likely to stick with the Canadian growth trajectory used in the pre-election budget. But recent news from outside Canada has underscored risks to the global economy, ones that he is hearing from his G20 counterparts," Mr. Shenfeld told The Globe. "The budget will implicitly be counting on those counterparts to make the right calls and keep the global economy moving forward."

The race for Speaker

Lee Richardson, the five-time-elected Alberta Conservative MP who has never made it into Stephen Harper's cabinet, wants to preside over the Commons as Speaker - and he's running hard.

He was openly campaigning for the perk-laden job at the Ontario Progressive Conservative convention this weekend. The federal party had a hospitality suite and numerous MPs and Ministers were about including Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Government House Leader Peter Van Loan and Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino. Another Albertan, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, was also spotted.

Mr. Richardson has reportedly been studying his French diligently. He faces stiff competition from the handful of other MPs in contention.

Andrew Scheer, who just celebrated his 32nd birthday - he is half the age of Mr. Richardson - is considered the frontrunner as he was deputy speaker under Peter Milliken in the last Parliament. He was spotted recently at a downtown Ottawa pub, frequented by MPs, lobbying and talking up his candidacy.

Another candidate, Barry Devolin, launched his bid a news conference last week and others are sending notes around and making calls. The secret ballot vote is Thursday.

Follow on Twitter: @janetaber1

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