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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and his infrastructure critic, MP Gerard Kennedy, leave a farmer's field in Burlington, Ont., after a press conference on Sept. 24, 2009. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and his infrastructure critic, MP Gerard Kennedy, leave a farmer's field in Burlington, Ont., after a press conference on Sept. 24, 2009. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

War of words erupts over infrastructure Add to ...

Michael Ignatieff stood in a field of weeds on Thursday to illustrate accusations the Harper government is lying to Canadians about how many infrastructure projects are under way and how much money is flowing from its stimulus program.

The field is to be a park and should be by now, the Liberal Leader said in Burlington, Ont., but the Tories are slow in turning their words into action under the $4-billion infrastructure spending fund.

More than that, he said , the majority of projects announced are going to Conservative-held ridings. And his infrastructure critic, Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy, has prepared a report that appears to back this up.

One problem, however: Half an hour later, Infrastructure Minister John Baird stood at a construction project just five minutes away from the Ignatieff weed field, countering the Liberal Leader's claims.

That field, the Ottawa-area Tory MP said, should be empty because the project slated there was never meant to get started until 2010.

Calling the Liberal report "embarrassing," he said that 75 per cent of all the projects slated to begin in 2009 are now under way.

Not one to mince words, he characterized the Ignatieff-Kennedy press conference as "downright opportunistic and I believe it's shameful."

It was that kind of pre-election morning: Liberal vs. Tory, claim-counter claim.

Only 4,800 jobs of a promised 40,000 have been created so far through the fund, according to the Liberal report.

Mr. Kennedy's survey of more than half, or 946 projects, of the approved municipal and provincial projects was conducted over the last two weeks of August. The projects came with a "promise value" of over $1.1-billion.

It concludes that the Tory plan has "failed miserably."

"Virtually the only holes being dug for the past eight months were deeper ones for Canada's unemployed," Mr. Kennedy says in the report.

At his press conference, Mr. Ignatieff argued that you can't employ Canadians "with press releases," criticizing the Harper government for making announcements about projects that are three years away.

"This kind of game-playing is bad for our country," he said. "It's dishonest."

There was also much criticism of how the stimulus funding is being allocated.

Mr. Kennedy devotes a section of his report to the projects going to Tory ridings, especially those of Mr. Harper's cabinet ministers.

For example, Mr. Baird's riding has received $21.3-million in stimulus funding compared to $10-million for the average riding.

"There is a heavy systematic bias toward Conservative ridings," Mr. Ignatieff said. "And Canadians don't want political games played with infrastructure money. They want it to benefit all Canadians not just the areas that voted Conservative."

Mr. Kennedy called it a "breach of trust."

Not true, Mr. Baird countered. "I think if you look on balance this will be one of the most fair distribution of funds in Canadian history."

He argued that all projects are decided upon in conjunction with the local political leaders, noting that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is a Liberal.

"You can accuse Dalton McGuinty of many things, conspiring with Stephen Harper to reward Conservative MPs and help Stephen Harper get re-elected, I suggest, is not one of them."

Burlington Mayor Cam Jackson, who appeared alongside Mr. Baird, later criticized Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Kennedy for what he described as a disingenuous photo op.

"I can tell you it was a great visual shot, but I mean it just lacked the substantive facts that gave credibility to it," the mayor said.

He said there was never any thought that construction would begin on this $6.9-million project, which is to be a multi-use park, until sometime next year.

And he suggested Mr. Ignatieff doesn't understand how the infrastructure program actually works. He also said he found it "objectionable" that Mr. Kennedy criticized Premier McGuinty for being a partner with the federal government.

Mr. Jackson is a former Mike Harris cabinet minister.

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