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Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page speaks to reporters in Ottawa on Feb. 18, 2010. (Pawel Dwulit/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page speaks to reporters in Ottawa on Feb. 18, 2010. (Pawel Dwulit/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

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Stimulus projects may miss deadlines; Harper joins Iggy on BBQ circuit Add to ...

Stephen Harper's $20-billion stimulus program is not going as well as it should, and there's a risk some infrastructure projects will not be competed by the March 31, 2011, deadline, according to a new report.

The report by Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, to be released later Monday morning, examines the progress of the stimulus spending at this halfway point in the two-year program.

Mr. Page says only a relatively "small proportion of the total estimated value of work was completed in the first year."

The officer, who has proven to be a thorn in the side of the Harper government for his blunt assessment of the country's financial state - at times he is at odds with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty _ provided some details of his report in an e-mail sent earlier.

Noting that the "busy season" for this $20-billion program is right now - the summer of 2010 - Mr. Page says that his paper "will provide details on the distribution of projects [majority of money going to water and wastewater and roads]and estimates of the potential for lapsed authorities [federal money not spent because projects will not be completed]"

"Our primary purpose for releasing the study is to promote fiscal transparency for Parliamentarians and Canadians - what is the status of the stimulus monies [all of which are deficit-financed]"

Later this fall, he says, his office will look at the impact of the program as a way of raising "understanding on the effectiveness of 'infrastructure' stimulus programs should Canada find itself in a situation in the future where the government is called on to support the economy in a time of weakness."

He says the report may "suggest" that the government raised very high expectations in the 2009 budget for getting the money out the door.

It may raise, says Mr. Page, debate about the "timing of stimulus money and its ability to support the economy at the depth of the recession."

He's Baaaaack …

Stephen Harper emerges later Monday from the shadows after a three-week holiday, taking his message to British Columbia, where he will attend a major gathering of the Conservative "family" in B.C.

This comes on the heels of a mini-cabinet shuffle Friday, an all-day national summer caucus meeting Thursday and a series of cabinet meeting earlier last week.

In B.C. Monday, Mr. Harper's most important event - for him personally and his party's election prospects - is his attendance at a barbecue at Senator Gerry St. Germain's ranch in Surrey.

He has been to the event before but his appearance later Monday to rally the troops is important, given that there is some speculation of a fall election.

The Prime Minister is to make a few remarks. No doubt, besides noting how well the Canadian economy is doing, he will likely remind the party faithful that Friday he moved B.C. cabinet minister Chuck Strahl from Indian Affairs to Transport, where he will handle the tricky stimulus file.

As well, he will probably point out that he promoted another veteran B.C. MP from the backbenches to the Indian Affairs portfolio. B.C. has strong cabinet representation - five big ministers.

Meanwhile, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff continues his six-week bus tour of the country with a stop in Pembroke, Ont. later Monday.

Sunday, he was in Windsor, Ont., where he met former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin.

The visit inspired Conservative Party strategists to deliver a missive to its supporters, criticizing Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Martin on Liberal health care initiatives.

"Today, Michael Ignatieff's Just Visiting Express is in Windsor, Ontario where the Liberal Leader will be getting a lesson in health care crisis-creation from former Liberal leader Paul Martin," says the Tory memo. "If anybody knows how to create a health care crisis, it's Paul Martin.

"As the Liberal finance minister in the 1990s, Paul Martin slashed $25-billion from the Canada Health and Social Transfer, creating a health care funding crisis that affected every single Canadian.

"Creating a health care crisis while punishing Canadian families and health care professionals is no way to balance Canada's budget," it says.

The Liberals, meanwhile, say it's flattering the Tories are following the Ignatieff bus tour so closely.

"The Conservatives are obviously feeling the heat on many fronts," says a senior Ignatieff official. "Criticizing Paul Martin just shows how ready they are to twist the facts. If Canada is in a good fiscal position today, it is because Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien showed leadership, not the Bush policies preferred by 'Steve'."

The Liberals wonder where Mr. Harper has been on health care for the past four years:

"So the question is a very simple one: Who do you want at the table on the federal side to negotiate a new deal? The party that implemented health care and brought in and defended the Canada Health Act? Or the party that is on a systematic campaign to undermine everything the government does?"

Could health care be emerging as an election issue?

 

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