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Question Period

Goodale's gotcha? Add to ...

So today's little moment of alleged Question Period gotcha revolves around what this sentence means:

"What we're not going to do, is every two or three months, come up with another economic policy, another budget, until we need to raise taxes."

That's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, rebuffing opposition calls for the Conservatives to come up with a new economic plan - or budget, or stimulus package, depending on the party - as the deficit spirals higher and the ranks of the unemployed grow.

But Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale decided it was a discovery of smoking-gun proportions, returning at full gallop half an hour later.

"Mr. Speaker, I have checked the record and earlier today in Question Period the Prime Minister said that we would not bring in a new budget until he 'needs to raise taxes.'," Mr. Goodale began. "I repeat, his budget will be brought in when he 'needs to raise taxes.' That is a massive admission of a Conservative hidden agenda to increase taxes in this country.

"When will he introduce that budget? What taxes will he increase? Who is going to pay? And by how much?"

Mr. Harper first said he had no idea what Mr. Goodale was talking about, but when the Liberal House Leader read his words back, the Prime Minister said everyone understood what he really meant:

"Mr. Speaker, once again I think everybody was clear on exactly what I was saying. We have a party opposite that has demanded billions of dollars of spending. This government has brought in an important stimulus package. Now every two or three months, that party wants us to bring in yet another budget with yet more spending with no idea how they are going to pay for it. That is a recipe to raise taxes and not what this government will be doing, which is why nobody is going to elect them."

The Liberals, of course, are smarting that the Conservatives are using an April comment by their leader, Michael Ignatieff, to assert that he's planning a tax hike. (The Kitchener-Waterloo Record reported in April that Mr. Ignatieff said "we will have to raise taxes" but not at the expense of hurting the recovery of the recession, and that "an honest politician" cannot exclude a tax hike as an option). And now they are claiming they've caught Mr. Harper in the same way.

The bluster was a fitting end to a rowdy Question Period where the heckling and jousting often drowned out the Q-and-A about our economy. But the politicians, including Mr. Harper, seemed to be having a good time.

It began with Mr. Ignatieff, noting that there were 65,000 new employment-insurance claimants in March, and arguing that 40 per cent of the unemployed don't receive employment insurance because there are 58 different criteria for getting it in regions across the country.

"Faced with this national crisis, why is the Prime Minister refusing to improve access to employment insurance," the Liberal Leader asked.

Mr. Harper replied: "This government has expanded the employment insurance system by spending a lot this year. If you look at the new figures, the realty is we have more new [EI]recipients this year than new unemployed. That indicates that the vast majority of new unemployed people receive employment insurance."

The EI question, the current flashpoint between opposition and government, gave way for much of the debate to more general charges that the government is mishandling the economy.

What we're not going to do, is every two or three months, come up with another economic policy, another budget, until we need to raise taxes. The response from Prime Minsiter Stephen Harper at the heart of debate in today's Question Period

Liberal finance critic John McCallum's question on unexpected deficits sparked Mr. Harper's insistence that he won't produce a budget every few months. The Bloc Québécois's Gilles Duceppe argued that Mr. Harper first denied the existence of an economic crisis (in the last election campaign), then Finance Minister Jim Flaherty predicted a light deficit, then a $34 billion deficit, and now he says it will be far larger - $50-billion, we learned after Question Period, the largest shortfall in Canadian history .

"Will the Prime Minister admit he's botched his homework, that his recovery plan is completely obsolete and he must act now by presenting a new plan thaht better responds to the needs of the population," Mr. Duceppe demanded.

Mr. Harper responded by criticizing the Bloc for voting against his last budget. But when Jack Layton pursued a similar line - arguing that Mr. Harper created the deficit with tax cuts for "the banks and the big oil companies," but the government must put out a second stimulus package to help ordinary Canadians - Mr. Harper fired a shot at all the opposition parties.

"We have the opposition parties, and I think Canadians will notice this, coming in and saying, 'The deficit is too large, why don't you spend more?'" the Prime Minister charged. "What was absolutely clear during the last election and every day since is there is not a person over there who has a single clue what to do about the economy."

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