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Finance Minister Jim Flaherty speaks to reporters in Ottawa on March 2, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters)
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty speaks to reporters in Ottawa on March 2, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters)

Jim Flaherty sets March 22 budget date Add to ...

The federal budget will be released Tuesday, March 22, ending the guessing game over when the Harper government will unveil its potentially election-triggering spending plan.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unveiled the date Wednesday following the weekly closed door meeting of the Conservative caucus.

"We just saw our sixth consecutive quarter of economic growth," he said, arguing the government should be allowed to proceed with its economic plans.

The House of Commons is scheduled to sit next week before MPs have a week in their constituencies over the March break.

When they return, the budget will force all three opposition parties to decide whether to risk a federal election in the face of several public opinion polls showing the Conservatives with a healthy lead.

The Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois have already signalled they are highly unlikely to support the budget, leaving the fate of the Conservative government in the hands of Jack Layton and his NDP MPs.

While answering questions from reporters, Mr. Flaherty said he remains open to hearing ideas from the opposition parties. He said contrary to common perception, final decisions on the budget can wait until just a few days before the document is released.

The NDP has asked Mr. Flaherty to include four measures in the budget: increased support for low-income seniors, expanded Canada Pension Plan coverage, an HST rebate on home heating fuel and the hiring of new doctors.

Mr. Flaherty appeared to dampen any expectation that his budget will move on two of those. He said both an HST cut and CPP changes are complicated matters that cannot simply be announced in a budget.

The Finance Minister also made a comment that suggests there may still be a chance the Conservatives will move on the principal demand of the Bloc Quebecois.

Gilles Duceppe has hinted his party would support the budget if it included over $2-billion in compensation to the province of Quebec for harmonizing the HST.

Having previously suggested such a deal was unlikely before the budget, Mr. Flaherty said Wednesday talks with Quebec are going well and that he hoped a deal could be reached.

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