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NDP Leader Jack Layton, right, looks at Conservative Leader Stephen Harper as he responds to a question during the English language federal election debate in Ottawa Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008. (Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press/Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press)
NDP Leader Jack Layton, right, looks at Conservative Leader Stephen Harper as he responds to a question during the English language federal election debate in Ottawa Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008. (Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press/Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press)

Analysis

Platform finances: Three plans, lots of assumptions Add to ...

Now that all three of the major national party platforms are out, the biggest potential for fireworks at the leaders' debates Tuesday and Wednesday could come from how each party explains plans to fund their priorities and also slay the deficit. Here's a quick snapshot of the funding elements of the each platform, and what to take with a grain of salt.

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Conservatives

The five-year plan pledges $6.6-billion in new measures, mostly targeted tax breaks, including some that won't take effect until the deficit is gone.

The plan, however, also promises a faster track back to a budget surplus, reaching that goal in 2014-15, instead of 2015-16. This would be achieved through a review of government operations aimed to find $4-billion in annual savings, even though the Tories were saying just weeks ago when they released their budget that cuts in government operating costs shouldn't yet be counted upon.

As a result, they have left themselves open to the charge that they'll only be able to meet their goals by imposing brutal cuts. And it's far from clear how the Conservatives would make good on a pledge to maintain (let alone increase) the 6-per-cent annual health-care transfer to the provinces after it expires in 2014.

The Tories will undoubtedly face questions about how to square provinces' health-care needs with the as-yet-unknown true costs of their plans to add prison spaces and buy 65 F-35 combat jets.

Liberals

They offer a two-year plan funded almost entirely by cancelling the last phases of planned corporate tax cuts, which the party says would give Ottawa more than $8-billion in fiscal room.

The plan does not spell out when they would bring the budget back into balance, despite Leader Michael Ignatieff's claim in late March that scrapping the tax cut might help him erase the deficit more quickly than the timeline in the Conservative budget. In fact, the Liberal plan focuses on a short-term target to get the deficit down to 1 per cent of gross domestic product.

A big question is how the Liberals might get the rest of the way to a balanced budget, especially since the amount of added revenue from maintaining the current corporate tax rate is anyone's guess. The 1-per-cent-of-GDP target is slippery, too, given that the total amount of GDP depends on how quickly the economy grows.

New Democrats

Their fiscal plan would look to increased revenue from faster economic growth, a crackdown on tax cheats, a rollback of some of the corporate tax cuts, and an end to billions in subsidies for the energy industry to balance the federal budget by 2014-15. It also promises spending on health care, job creation, education and measures to reduce pollution.

Highlighting how important it is for Jack Layton's party to gain ground in British Columbia, the NDP would allow British Columbia to keep the $1.6-billion it was given by Ottawa for taking part in the HST - even if the province ends up voting to pull out of the arrangement - on top of giving Quebec a $2.2-billion reimbursement. The NDP plan adds up on paper, but - as do the others - it relies heavily on intangibles and unknowns.

For instance, while a higher corporate tax rate would bring in about $10-billion a year by 2014-15, some would argue that as much or more revenue would be lost if companies cut jobs to cover the added expense.

Follow on Twitter: @jeremytorobin

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