BADDECK, N.S. - Stephen Harper's reputation as a competent fiscal manager has been sullied by his billion-dollar spending spree on prisons and military jets, Michael Ignatieff charged Wednesday.
The Liberal Leader says the Prime Minister has his economic priorities all mixed up, doling out $16-billion for 65 stealth fighter jets and $9-billion to build new jails. "Is this what Canadians want from their government right now in the middle of a $54-billion deficit?"
Mr. Ignatieff said his Liberals would take another look at the fighter-jet purchase. "We are not convinced the fighter planes are needed," he told reporters at the wrap-up news conference to his two-day caucus meeting in Cape Breton.
The Liberal Leader was standing on the shores of Bras d'Or Lakes. He noted, as he has for the past two days, that it is a real lake as opposed to the "fake lake" Conservatives had built for the international press at the G20 summit.
"We are not convinced we need this number of planes and we are not convinced at the moment of a $54-billion deficit this is the priority for the Canadian economy," he said.
His priorities are issues of economic security - including pensions - defending of the public health system, child care and post-secondary education.
"There is now a record of fiscal incompetence and waste of money in the Harper government, which I think shreds their reputation for fiscal credibility," he said. "And we are saying that the thing that is on Canadians' minds now is their economic security going forward."
Mr. Ignatieff also announced that he will build on his Liberal Express summer bus tour with a series of town hall "Open Mike" sessions with Canadians. They are to begin this month and will see the Liberal Leader in every region of the country.
He told reporters he will be taking unscripted questions from Canadians, a direct attack on the Prime Minister, whose events are usually carefully stage-managed.
The Liberal Leader criticized Mr. Harper's lack of ubiquity this summer, noting the announcement the Prime Minister made in Quebec Wednesday was the first time he'd been in the province in 110 days (not that he's keeping track). "It's as if he put a cross on Quebec and crossed it off his list."
A senior Ignatieff official, meanwhile, joked inside Liberal caucus that when "Stephen Harper travels in Canada it's like a prisoner transfer." The line provoked much laughter from MPs and Senators.
The Nova Scotia meeting has been a successful event for the Grits, especially when compared to the disaster of last year's retreat in Sudbury. It was there that Mr. Ignatieff vowed to take down the Tory minority at his first opportunity - a strategy that backfired badly.
As for what's to come on his "Open Mike" tour, Mr. Ignatieff offered the following anecdote:
"My mother used to tell a story about a report card she got back when I was in primary school, which said: 'This boy plays well with other children.' And she said that was the best thing she ever heard about me. She had heard a lot of bad things but that she thought was okay. He plays well with other children."
He added: "I like playing with the other children and that's very, very different style and approach to politics than Mr. Harper."